Sunday, 11 November 2007

Singing for your last supper

First published in The Grecian, 10 November 2007, Exeter City -v- Stevenage Borough (FA Cup First Round)

How does the old song go? If my memory serves me right, something like: “Y’ put yer Ramos in, y’take yer Jol out; you add Taylor at Stevenage, and shake it all about; Y’do the hokey cokey ’cos Mourinho’s out…that’s what it’s all about…”

Forgive the doggerel, but the modern managerial merry-go-round gets more surreal with every swing. Naturally our own Paul Tisdale has had his “must go-ers” in Exeter’s lean spell.

In most cases, unless a number of other factors are thrown up in the air all at once (usually with massive pound signs printed on them), it’s stability not panic that makes for footballing success. But try telling that to punters and pundits.

I recall the press conference that luckless Graham Taylor gave when he was elevated from Watford to the disorienting heights of the England job. Surveying the assembled hacks, Mr Soon-To-Be-Turnip-Head emitted a wry grin.

“Just so that I can make sure none of you gets there first”, he mused, “let me be the first person to say ‘Taylor Must Go!’” I loved him for that. Some of the journos laughed, to give them credit. Others no doubt sat there figuring out how they would get say the same thing with a different set of syllables some time in the future. Which is partly why the vegetable metaphor got cooked up, I guess.

Sven suffered similarly, with shouts of “mash the Swede”. Now they want ‘carrots’ McClaren for the soccer minestrone. My friend Jim fancies Klinsmann to succeed. If he’s right, you read it first here. “The sour kraut must go!” is presumably how the Sun will dispatch him.

Closer to the pitch, it’s just as daft. At Bolton recently, Gary Megson received a “sack the boss” cry from one terrace wit before he’d even warmed up the bench. No wonder the compensation package is the first thing a coach’s agent looks for before his client signs up.

It may be mad, you’re thinking, but what’s the alternative? If a team is going downhill and there are fans, league places and bucks on the line, what do we do? The temptation to look for a quick fix and a new injection of adrenalin and personality to re-motivate the players isn’t hard to comprehend, given all the pressures.

As Trusts expand their influence over the lower echelons of football, it will be interesting to see if the ‘snap fingers management’ culture changes, at least as far as the grass and keepy-uppy end of things is concerned.

Meanwhile, a rather different approach is being mooted by a bunch of slick web operators. Back in May an entrepreneur persuaded the BBC to give some publicity to his ‘My Football Club’ idea. 50,000 people sign up, pay £35 into a fund, generate £1.5 million and buy and run a small club through an Industrial and Provident Society. Then, hey presto, you pick the team and manager every week. Well, you and 49,999 others.

Sounds great. A grassroots trust democracy. But how are decisions made? How many different opinions will thousands of people have? How is consistency possible? What if the owners are hopeless? What happens in year two? What becomes of the club if the IPS closes … and what if someone just waltzes off with your cash?

Several ‘clone’ operations have already appeared on the web, sought money and disappeared. The truth is, there’s no short cut to getting managers or players to succeed. But loyalty, relationships and patience are better starting points than greed and agitation, whether the owners are a company, a trust – or a web lottery.

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