Lifelong fan Mike Holland contacted us and asked if he could write a blog, he has never written a blog before but here is his take on the current situation at Walsall FC.
WALSALL FC: THE CURSE OF BELONGING
I don`t think I`m alone in saying that I have not enjoyed being a Saddler this season. I almost had to pinch myself when looking at the league table this morning to see that we had only lost six games out of 20 – it feels so much worse than that. It has been a miserable season so far and we can`t get away from it. We may be nearer the play-offs than the relegation zone but I just cannot see a successful push into the top six. We may scrape into the top half but the feeling remains that our season ended with the cup defeat against Bury. I hope I`m wrong but it looks like a mirror image of last season.
After enduring the Newport FA Cup game on S4C last month, I felt particularly miserable. I felt even worse on turning over to Sky where the first thing I saw was a free flowing move by Brentford in a televised championship match (it came to nothing!). Dean Smith`s Brentford.
Deano. He wasn`t perfect was he? He was treated very leniently by the board during a number of awful runs and, in the first couple of years of his tenure, he lived off the miracle of survival in his first season in charge. And he should regret forever the way he set the team up at Wembley. Over time, he proved that his appointment was the right decision as he built a system and structure off the field that was eventually replicated by an excellent team on the field. Even when we didn`t play well under Dean Smith, we tended to control games and it was easy to see a discernible style emerging; it was a style and identity that the fans were proud of.
He left because of Walsall`s limitations as a club; and he had a better offer. We continue to punch above our weight when we look at attendances and finance generated. In fact, for much of this season we have been just below half way in the third tier of English football; and that is our ‘natural` position when averaged out over the last century.
I don`t know another fan at the moment who isn`t hugely frustrated but, as we all know, you can`t choose your football team. So that leaves us with Jon Whitney. His appointment was inevitable considering how close we came to promotion in May 2016 (is it really only last year?). We ran into an unstoppable Barnsley team in the play-off semi-finals. What was a little surprising was the length of his contract – three years. However, we know that the board sat down with Smith in the summer of 2011 (the year of the miracle) and looked fundamentally at the type of club we (they) wanted to be. When we appoint a manager, they have to buy into that philosophy. Whitney as an individual fits the bill and he didn`t need to buy into the philosophy as he had helped to create it. Sean O`Driscoll appeared to fit the bill but the reality was that he didn`t; I don`t recall many people lamenting his departure. Our board is not renowned for knee-jerk reactions regarding its managers and the recent run of positive results means there is little chance of a change in manager in the foreseeable future.
Whitney is a worthy man – and that is not to damn him with faint praise. He inherited the poisoned chalice in that he was seen as an appointment where the board was reverting to type by appointing someone cheap. He also inherited a squad that had been scandalously allowed to run down too many contracts of key players – definitely not his fault.
He has also made some basic errors:
· His record in the cups has been woeful. We have been beaten home and away time and again by teams below us in the pyramid. This is probably why I was so surprised at how few league games we`ve lost.
· He does not handle some of his senior players well and they have chosen to leave – O`Conner, Osbourne, (Devlin?).
· He appears to change systems with the wind; the structure and identity we had in place under Smith has gone (or has it? Read on).
· He is naive when making comments to the press; some of the things he says are contradictory and even ridiculous.
· His use of loan players is questionable at best.
· He was a defender himself and his team struggles to keep clean sheets.
· He has managed to put a decent squad together without convincing that he can ever get the best out of it.
In short, the jury on Jon Whitney as a manager is now out; my jury – many of you made your mind up long ago. I have called for him to go a number of times this season but only in conversations with friends and other fans; I have never joined in the chanting at games because I think it`s counter-productive to the team to play in such a negative atmosphere. My main problem with him is the lack of identity and structure in our playing style.
However, since Newport, something significant has changed. Possession and youth. The team is playing like a Dean Smith team and more of our youngsters are getting games. Of course, he should have done this from the start of his appointment and I cannot get away from the thought that someone has told him to do it or else. But we are playing with style and purpose again and I like it.
I remain to be convinced. But, instead of going to games expecting to be miserable, I`m going to sing a bit more and be more obvious with my support for my team. Perhaps it`s something we should all try; after all – I`m a Saddler – and I`m sick of miserable as a default setting for something I pay for!
Happy 2018 to you all.
All views expressed in this blog are that of Mike Hollands.