Deal Town have revealed long-serving manager Derek Hares has retired in a shock announcement.
The news came on Sunday, just a day after the Hoops had started their pre-season campaign with a 6-2 loss to Charlton under-23s in front of a crowd of 467 at the Charles Sports Ground.
Hares first took charge of Deal’s first-team way back in 2003 before he resigned 10 years later but, after a stint as chairman, he returned to the hot-seat in 2015.
In the club statement, the Hoops say “the current coaching team will continue pre-season preparations”, with coach Steve King having taken charge of the team last season as Hares missed games having contracted Covid-19.
“The board would like to announce that Derek Hares has decided to step down from his role as first-team manager,” Deal said in a statement.
“He feels now is the right time for him to retire from a management role at the club.
“Del has been manager of Deal Town since 2003 and, as such, is one of the longest-serving managers in the whole of the football pyramid.
“He has been a fantastic servant to the club for 19 years and, while first-team manager, he has seen the club grow on and off the field substantially, with the team finishing fourth in the SCEFL [Southern Counties East League] last season and an average attendance of 306.
“The club has been on such a journey and Del has been there through it all - memories to last a lifetime. The club wouldn’t be where it is today without Del.
“We would like to thank Del for all of his hard work, dedication, perseverance and love that he has shown the club as a whole and we [are] very much looking forward to having him around off the pitch.
“Del will always be a Deal Town legend and part of our family.
“The current coaching team will continue pre-season preparations and we will make any further announcements in due course.
“Thank you Del!”
Deal, who have signed goalkeeper Henry Newcombe, attacker Riley Alford and winger Euan Sahadow this summer, are due to play a Gillingham side at home on Tuesday night.
Plenty of tributes have already been paid to Hares, describing him as "a true legend" and the backbone of the club.