Whitehaven RLFC can today announce that the 2021 season will be Gary “Charlo” Charlton’s last season as head coach, as he moves upstairs to take on the reins as Director of Rugby.
Charlo replaced Carl Forster as head coach at the end of the 2018 season, which saw the club change direction on and off the field, going back to its West Cumbrian roots with a much more local approach to recruitment. After his sterling work with a similar approach while joint head coach of Workington Town with Martin Oglanby a few years earlier, Charlo was seen as the ideal candidate as Head Coach going forward, and what a decision that turned out to be.
With his selected coaching team and newly assembled squad, Charlo led the club to the League 1 title in 2019, his first season, against the odds and the so-called experts' predictions. A spirit of togetherness coupled with a game based on fitness and defence, culminated in a big end of season win at Coventry to seal the title over the much bigger spending clubs below.
Although the 2020 season was curtailed, the 2021 season has been another season of dramatic improvement on the pitch, with the club likely to finish the season between 6th to 8th place. This again flies in the face of those who predicted that Charlo’s squad would be quickly relegated back to League 1.
During Charlo’s tenure at the club, he maintains a fantastic win percentage of 56% in all League games, with two games still to go. He is also the current League 1 coach of the year, picking the award up in a clean sweep for the club at the end of the 2019 season and he will no doubt be in the running for Championship coach of the year for 2021, given the results so far this year.
On making this decision Charlo made the following statement "I was approached by the Board in 2018 and was immediately interested in the vision shown by the club, going back to local players, as me and Jonty both knew that the area has the talent if done right. We put together a great set of lads who really bought into what we wanted, and the result was a team full of enthusiasm and commitment. Our achievements, although above other people's expectations, were up there with what we believed we could achieve, and 2019 will always be a highlight of my career in pro rugby.
This season we were again written off, some even going as far as to say we wouldn't win a single game, in what is the toughest Championship I've seen, especially for a club like Whitehaven given the difference in spending and funding levels. Pound for pound spent we're right up there with the top clubs in terms of on field performance. We did have to look further afield in our recruitment this year, this was highlighted to us in the short 2020 season, but what we brought in was only to complement our core local talent, and as the season has gone on, as a team, we have got better and better.
My decision to step back from coaching and move upstairs so to speak hasn't been a sudden one. I have been talking to the Board about this for the past 3 months. I have been involved in pro rugby nearly all my adult life and felt it was time to take the step away from the front line, but I also want to give something back to the game and local area, so the role offered to me by the Board was right up my street. To continue working with Ashley, Mark Stamper and the current Board is great as they have shown their total faith in me and my staff over the past 3 years, they're great for this club and the area and I am more than happy to continue working with them in this way.
During the 3 years I have been head coach at the club the players have been unbelievable, their attitude, commitment and enthusiasm has really been second to none, even when physically and mentally pushed, they have still gone above and beyond. I am sure they won't miss my pre seasons! Off the field I cannot thank the staff enough, Jonty, Macca, Barry, Kev, Des and all the medical staff. What a great team they have been, not only making my life easier but also enjoyable too. A special mention to the fellas that have sadly passed away in this time, Jimmy and Vic, 2 amazing gentlemen who I and the club will always hold in the highest regard. The fans have also been amazing, getting behind the lads, I am happy we managed to achieve what we did together for them. I would also like to thank the current Board who have always supported me and my team to the best of their ability and have been a pleasure to work with. Last but definitely not least I wish to thank my wife Susan, who for 30 years has had to put up with my sulking, anger, tantrums and mad Mondays, you have been brilliant. We can now take summer holidays again!"
The Board are sure that Charlo will receive a sendoff worthy of the hard work and success he has brought to the club, at the Halifax game this Sunday. This is really shaping up to be some game, our last home game of 2021, with a potential chance of entering the playoff places and it being the last home game for Charlo’s tenure as Head Coach and Jesse Joe Parker’s last home game before his retirement.