Stephen Baxter to step down as Crusaders manager at the end of the season

Former striker has won three league titles and four Irish Cups with the Shore Road club

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter is now the longest-reigning first team manager currently in the job, in world football.
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter will stepped down after 19 years in charge of the north Belfast club at the end of this season

As the saying goes “all good things must come to an end”, but there was still a sense of shock and disbelief, when Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter announced he was to step down as boss at the end of the season.

The man who holds the title as the world’s longest-serving manager, is set to call time on a managerial career at Seaview that has spanned a breath-taking 19 years.

It has been a hugely successful period for the man who went from player to manager in 2005 after taking over the reins from Alan Dornan.

Baxter already has his name in the managerial hall of fame in the local game, alongside such greats as David Jeffrey, Roy Coyle and Ronnie McFall.

During his tenure he has masterminded three Irish League titles, four Irish Cups, one Setanta Sports Cup, one League Cup and three County Antrim Shield successes. A feat not likely to be repeated at the north Belfast side anytime soon.

However, the 58-year-old now feels the time is right to step away from the club.

“After 19 incredible years as Manager of our Football Club the decision for me to step away was always going to be a difficult one,” Baxter wrote in a statement published by the club.

“After long consideration I feel that now is the time to plan for the club’s future and I have informed the Chairman of my decision to step away at the end of the season.

“It has been an honour and privilege for me to serve the club and the special memories we created together will forever be ingrained in our hearts.

“I would like to thank all the players, staff, board members and our incredible fans who have walked this journey with me from start to finish. It’s been an incredible ride.”

Despite the successes that Baxter has enjoyed throughout his tenure, this season has brought some trials and tribulations that has left him frustrated at times with some decisions that haven’t gone his way on the field, and perhaps some frustration that he has not been capable of turning things around.

Crusaders have lost their last five games in all competitions, including an Irish Cup fifth-round exit at the hands of Championship strugglers Ards in January.

Early season promise in European competition, followed back-to-back Irish Cup wins back in May, but autumn brought with it a gradual decline in form as the realism emerged of the scale of the challenge he faced to compete with the “big three” full-time sides, Linfield, Glentoran and title-holders Larne.

There will be no doubting Baxter’s endeavour to succeed in the remainder of his final season in charge. For him, his goal will be to ensure European qualification for the club, to ensure whoever follows him gets the best start possible.

Crusaders defeated Ballymena United after extra-time in last season's Irish Cup final at Windsor Park
Crusaders won the Irish Cup four times under Stephen Baxter

“Planning now gives the club time to prepare for the next chapter but rest assured with a number of points still needed to make the playoffs, it will be foot to the mat to the end of the season as we chase another European adventure,” he said.

“So in the only way we know how, let’s get behind the team and give it our lot and see where it takes us.”

It is clear that the struggles he has faced in recent weeks will in no way define the managerial career of the man who has given everything to “his” club.

He is held in the highest esteem by his fellow managers which speaks volumes of his father-like stature in the league.

What he does next is unknown but it would be difficult for him to take over the helm at a rival of Crusaders. His loyalty to the Shore Road team is undisputed and his final comments using the motto of the team shows that they will have a special place in his heart.

“Always in my heart.

“Keep the faith.