Our regular blogger, Adam Guest, explains why he feels he’s falling out of love with the game.
It was the year 1789; Benjamin Franklin, the former President of Pennsylvania, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, had penned a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy concerning the establishment of their new Constitution. He claimed it had an appearance that promised permanency, before caveating it by stating “But in this world, nothing can be certain except death and taxes”.
At the time of course he was correct, but looking back it is now obvious he wrote it prior to the advent of the beautiful game. If he was penning such a letter today it would say “in this world, nothing can be certain except death, taxes, and football fans wanting the manager sacked after a bad result”.
Of course, it doesn`t have to be a bad result; if you happen to be the manager of the England national team then your comeuppance could come about if you happened to suggest ways of circumventing the FA`s transfer rules to under cover journalists as long as they paid you vast sums of cash for doing so, but you`d have to be really stupid to get caught up in a sting operation like that.
The demise of Big Sam however is pertinent, as it provides another example of how the games` elite have become so out of touch with the rest of the world, and how followers of the game have become so disenfranchised from the people at the top end of it. A man who at the age of 61 had managed to secure his dream job, on a £3 million salary, scheming in an attempt to get more money because what he`d got was not enough. To these people it never is, they always want more. It`s why we`re in talks regarding the restructuring of the EFL, the Whole Game Solution. They don`t just want a bigger slice of the cake; they want a bigger cake altogether. Happily, that level of greed, and the toxicity of the games elite, doesn`t filter down to our level.
Except it does.
One of the main reasons I go to the football these days is for the social aspect. My best mates are Walsall supporters, but with work and life getting in the way it`s very rare I see them outside of match days. We don`t really need too, match days will always be there and the social element fits around that. The football is important of course, but it`s not the be all and end all of the occasion. Obviously I`m happy if we win and I`m disappointed when we lose, but generally by the time I`ve left the ground and got home my mood doesn`t vary a great deal regardless of the outcome of the game. If we`ve lost, well there`s always the next game, and if we`ve won, well we`ll more than likely lose next week so there`s no real point going to extremes with it. There are exceptions of course, it took me a while to get over the Barnsley defeat and I was on a high for several days when we secured our Wembley day out, but on the whole I tend to be pretty placid about it all.
If you take the average lower league football supporter, the majority I would say are cut from a similar cloth. By their very nature, lower league supporters tend to be fans of their home town club, and because of that, even though there`s undoubtedly rivalries in the lower leagues such as the one we have with Shrewsbury, there`s never really an underlying hatred. Also, the fact you`re a lower league club means that most of the time you`re not really very good. Yes, there`ll be upturns when you`ll get promoted (or nearly promoted) and there`ll be downturns when you go on 15 game winless runs, but it all tends to come full circle and back to the same point and, as lower league fans, we accept this even though we are constantly wishing for more long term improvements in status and stature. Of course, all clubs have the odd moron who will happily start trouble with your opponents equivalent, but on the whole the rivalries are good natured. We`re supporting our local team, they`re supporting theirs, and geography aside there`s generally a certain amount of respect there for doing that.
Now put that same person in a room watching an elite level game, preferably one involving a team they have a vested interest in, either a Premier League or a Champions League game; it`s like they`ve developed a different personality. Domestically someone who has an interest in, for example, Arsenal has a hatred for Tottenham that is unmatched against any dislike they might have for one of Walsall`s opponents. The same can be said if you`re interest lies with United or City, or Rangers or Celtic, or even Chelsea and Liverpool. You literally become a big club supporter during that time, with the attitude and personality, and hatred of your rivals, to go with it. In Europe there`s either a genuine desire to see the English club if you`re patriotic like me, in the same way you`d support England in the World Cup, or team GB at the Olympics. Or, alternatively, there`s an overwhelming desire for the foreign club to turn one of our lot over based on a burning hatred of the Premier League and the way their unending greed has damaged the game. It doesn`t matter that Serie A, or La Liga, or the Bundesliga have done the same in Italy, Spain or Germany; what matters is the Premier League having its nose bloodied, with a loathing regularly unseen at our level.
I`ve suspected for a while that level of venom and bitterness has been filtering down to our level, but I`ve never really associated it with our club until this season. There have been times we`ve got on the managers back in the past, chanting at Hutchings to “Get out of our club” and following it with “I`d have rather have Swifty than the dog”, or the ‘five idiots behind the goal` at Brentford with their Merson Out banner, were deliberate shows of dissent against the then club boss. They were decisive, but they were needed. The abuse levelled at Jon Whitney recently however is not.
It started at Northampton away but, following our subsequent improvement in form, that particular argument appeared to have ducked its ugly head again until Tuesday night. We seemed to have at least steadied the ship, picking up 5 points from 3 league games, two of which have been away from home, and we`d only lost one of the last six in all competitions, scoring 11 goals in the process. In fact, if it weren`t for that disastrous second half showing against Bury when we threw away a three goal lead to draw 3-3 (something I still think is the catalyst to this vitriol directed at our former Physio), we`d have been sitting comfortably in mid table prior to Tuesday night, with 9 points out of 12 at home, and what would surely be considered a very satisfactory start to the season given our rookie manager and the high turnover of players over the summer. It makes the shenanigans of people calling for Whitney`s head after the Northampton defeat look ridiculous.
However, even before the Scunthorpe game, there was a flip side to that argument.
We may well have taken 5 points from those 3 games, but we`ve been indebted to Neil Etheridge in order to pick them up. In fact, had our goalkeeper been in less sublime form, we may not have picked up any points from those games at all as he`s been forced to make multiple excellent saves to earn us the points in each of those games. Without Etheridge, we`d be bottom of the league and propping up the division. You could also argue that 5 of the 11 goals we`ve scored recently were against Grimsby in the bastardised trophy, and therefore we should probably focus more on just the 6 goals in the 5 league games and the fact we`re yet to win on the road in 5 attempts. Without Etheridge, really would have been mounting on Whitney.
So I can understand the scepticism, in part I agree with it. What I do struggle to deal with however is the haemorrhaging of emotions all over social media that accompany every bad result. The owner of one fan site (mentioning no names!!) keeps labelling them Merson like performances. One often forgotten fact is that at one point during Merson`s reign we rattled off 7 straight wins, split across two seasons admittedly, but I do doubt should we go on to win the next 7 matches if those same sentiments will be tweeted. That`s not a defence of the Merson era, far from it, but an illustration of how far out of context things can be said when emotions aren`t kept in check. We`ve all witnessed “The worst performance since Hutchings” at least 20 times since Hutchings, very few of them were actually as bad.
I think part of the reason I`ve become so laid back towards it all over the last couple of years is the fact I`ve become a dad; suddenly things that seemed vitally important before no longer seem so, and I do feel I can take a step back and view things with less tinted specs now. I do wonder however, how I`d have fared in my early days as a parent if my attempts at becoming accustomed with the role had been being observed by a present day football crowd. I`d have been booed for not knowing how to do up his vest, been called clueless when I couldn`t stop him crying in the middle of the night, and the sack demanded because I couldn`t breastfeed him as well as his mother could. Had that football crowd had their way I`d have been dismissed and my fledgling son passed from pillar to post as the fans called for one sacking after another until he was sold into a life of buggery to a consortium from the Far East, such is the disconnect between being an average football supporter and the events of real life.
Real life terms are what Whitney described after the Scunthorpe game, how he`d be down the dole office with many more performances like that and how it affects his family and his mortgage. In truth he`s probably right, but he`s not really helping himself by saying it; not only is he effectively at the mercy of football supporters, he`s now reacting like one. The board need to take him to one side, not to issue his P45, but to tell him they`re not going to do that, that he should knuckle down and get on with learning his job, and stop acting like the end is just around the corner. Losing 1-4 at home to Scunthorpe is never acceptable, we`ve now done it three times in four attempts. What that does show however is that it`s not a sackable offence, Dean Smith would have been sacked for it twice if it were, and was a point I tried to make on social media the other night. In response I was told that at least there was a plan under Smith, which has become another of those too often pedalled lines that gets wheeled out by the Whitney bashers.
Was there? Clearly there was as we worked on it for five years but, until it came to fruition, how long had it been visible? Was it visible when another Scunthorpe side, who hadn`t won in something like a dozen games also turned us over 1-4 on our own patch a couple of years ago. To a lot of fans Smith brought himself a couple of years with the great escape, and more leeway when he stumbled across the Grigg-Brandy-Paterson partnership. It was only in the last 12 months of his reign we started to get the impression he had a fair idea what he was doing, and that was four years in the making.
Jon Whitney won`t get that much time to get things right; despite his three-year contract supporters won`t tolerate someone learning for that long. Personally I don`t think he will survive much longer, we as supporters will see to that. But a man who has served this club with distinction for over a decade deserves to be treated far better than he currently is. I really hope he pulls it round, so I can dance in the faces of those frothing at the mouth at the thought of him being sacked, with Premier League levels of enthusiasm.
Such a turnaround may even rekindle my passion for the game.