Departing Atherton Collieries manager Brad Cooke says his decision to step down on Friday was one of the hardest decisions he has made.

The club released a statement announcing Cooke’s exit after almost four seasons at the Skuna Stadium.

It read: “The club would like to place on record their gratitude and appreciation for Brad and his backroom team, who have presided over two record high league positions for Atherton alongside a first Lancashire FA Trophy final appearance for the club.

“Following a tenure of 126 competitive matches as manager, alongside 261 appearances as a player, Brad’s status amongst us all at the club remains without question, and we will remain forever grateful for the memories created throughout his decade with the club.”

Cooke said: “The decision to step down as manager of the football club has been one of the hardest decisions that I have ever had to make. But it’s a decision that I have to make for myself, and the timing is right for both myself and the club.

“I am proud of what we have achieved as a group at a football club that has punched way above its weight, I hope the club can continue to build off the field to match the achievements on it.

“First of all I would like to thank Paul Gregory [chairman] for giving me the opportunity to manage the football club at a young age with little experience. He believed in me, and I would like to think that I have paid that back “ I would like to thank Emil [Anderson, secretary] for his constant support, I know it hasn’t been easy and I can be hard work but you have been brilliant, without people like Emil there would be no football club.

“I would like to thank the volunteers who work tirelessly to keep the club going and I would like to thank the fantastic fans for your time and support through the good times and the bad. You have backed me, my staff and the lads at every step.

“I would also like to thank my staff for their loyalty and their efforts in really difficult conditions with little rewards. Especially my best mate and assistant, Rob Sadler. I couldn’t have done it without him by my side.

“Finally I would like to thank the players past and present. However big or small your contribution, I can hand on heart say that every player in my time as manager has given me everything. Special mentions to Gaz Peet and my skipper Danny Laff, two lads that have shown loyalty and commitment that is not seen in football anymore.

“I am proud of what we have done as a football club. Colls will always be my club, but after over 10 years of association it’s time for the chapter to close.

“I don’t know what the future will hold, but I know I will be coming back down to the Skuna as a fan at some point.”

Colls chairman Paul Gregory said: “I would like to add Brad is the most amenable manager I have ever worked with, and the hardest working one to boot. Good luck to Brad in the future.”

Colls say the club will provide a further update with regards to the search for a new manager in due course.