Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Over-reaction

I wasn't going to write a blog on last night's game, then I came home and clicked through my Twitter timeline and changed my mind.
The reaction to the defeat was, in many cases, over the top, and a complete over-reaction in my view. It just mirrored what has been happening all season.
Recurring uses of the word 'disaster' and describing the campaign as 'the worst in the club's history', which doesn't completely fit in with what I have seen over the past eight months.
I am not kidding myself into thinking this has been a wonderful season - it hasn't. But it certainly hasn't been the unmitigated disaster some would lead you to believe it has.
It is not a disaster. A plane disappearing, and crashing with the loss of 200-plus people as we have seen in the Far East is a disaster. A football club losing a few games is nowhere near that.
The worst season we could have in our history would result in us losing our league status, going into administration, or suffering huge financial issues. None of those things have happened, even if the doom-mongers would have you believe it could still happen in the next few weeks.
All we have done this season is reverted back to our natural level in the footballing pecking order after two seasons of over-achievement - a mid-table team, financed by a mid-table budget, watched by mid-table crowds.
Last night we came up against a confident side, on a 22-game unbeaten run, with some top-quality players on decent money.
Paddy Madden cost £300,000 - just under a third of our wages budget - and won't be on peanuts having come from a team two divisions higher. Gary McSheffrey once cost £4million and I am sure has not gone to Scunthorpe for the fun of it, while David Syers has also left a club two divisions higher for Glanford Park.
It is a simple fact that we cannot compete with that sort of financial clout.
Good luck to them if they can sustain it, and continue financing it, but last night, for the first 45 minutes, we competed with them on the pitch.
Then one silly free-kick given away, and a half-chance seized upon in the box by an in-form striker, and we were chasing the game. Then another unnecessary free-kick and some poor marking gave him another goal.
The penalty gave us an opportunity, but it was missed - good save in my view, rather than poor penalty - and after that we looked deflated, bereft of confidence, and Scunthorpe showed us how a team closes a game out when they are 2-0 down midway through the second half.
We never looked like getting back into it, and so now we have seven games left of a season which I think we all just want to see the back of.
As usual, the accusations were of a lack of effort, and the players not trying, not caring, not being bothered etc. It is all too easy to throw barbs like that about, but I don't agree with them. Only the players know how hard they try, and how much effort they put in.
I thought the effort and commitment was there, but we are simply not good enough, and were beaten by a better side, with better players.
If you think they don't care by the way, if you get the chance to see Sido's post-match interview, do so. Hopefully Jon Palmer will put it up as a video in the next few days - it is worth a listen.
And of course the defeat brought back once again to the fore the names of Russ Penn and Keith Lowe, mainly because we lost and York have moved into the play-off places.
I have to say I am finding it all very tiresome now. They have gone. They wanted to go and we need to move on.
Believe it or not, we lost matches while Penn and Lowe were here. We dropped points from winning positions with them in the side (just as many as we have this season).
Penn was not in the side at times this season on merit. He admitted it himself. Lowe, in all of his time here, was never a long-term first-choice player at right back or centre-half.
They were good players (as were Pack, Summerfield, Bennett and all the others who crop up with monotonous regularity after a poor result) but they are not here now. It's the way football goes, players come and go .
Penn and Lowe are not the sole reason for York hitting a good run of form, and their departures are not the sole reason why we are not in the hunt for the play-offs. We weren't in that hunt when they were here.
We will finish somewhere between 11th and 17th - disappointing given the heights of the past two seasons, but not a complete and utter disaster. Ask Torquay, Northampton, Portsmouth, Wycombe and Bury if they would swap places with us. I am sure they would.
This is only the third season in 15 League campaigns that we have been in this position, floating along in mid-table with nothing to play for.
The other campaigns have seen us challenging in some way shape or form for the play-offs, trying to stay in the division above, or staving off the drop in Mark Yates' first half-season, so I don't think we have had it that bad overall, for a club of our size.
Yes, our size. Face facts, we are not a big club, however much some like to massage their ego by suggesting we are. The middle of League Two is our rightful standing in life.
This season never got started. If I sat down and wrote a book about our League campaigns, this one would have a pretty short chapter. It will be forgotten quickly.
Whether it be poor recruitment, managerial tactics and organisation, players not performing, individual mistakes or a combination of all four, it will be glossed over.
Those things were not a huge problem for the large part of the previous two seasons, as most of the time we were playing some good football and winning games. This season we haven't done enough of either.
The problem is that the mindset of the fans has changed. The supporters who were once just happy to be in the Football League now want more, and after nearly getting it for the past two seasons, the bar has been raised.
Mid-table in League Two is not what they want. The club has competed for the past two seasons against the bigger-money sides like Scunthorpe, but it hasn't happened this season, so many of them have turned their backs, which is their right of course, but which I find a huge disappointment.
Look around. Portsmouth, Luton, Grimsby, Wrexham, Hereford. Five clubs who have all played at the two highest levels of the Football League in the past 30-40 years, and have since slipped down. Their supporters have stuck by them, through thick and thin.
Isn't that what being a football fan is all about? Sticking by your side through thick and thin? Maybe I am just being old-fashioned, but I thought it was, rather than chucking in the towel during a sticky patch.
I know that the entertainment value, especially in home games, this season has been negligible. People pay a lot of money for football these days, not just here but all across the leagues, but they haven't had the rewards for that this season.
I am not criticising those who turn up every week and those who will be on the road to Hartlepool. They deserve a lot of plaudits for their loyalty, especially this season as it has not been an easy watch.
But their number is diminishing, and that trend will ultimately cause the club big problems, and will eventually lessen our ability to compete at this level - which is exactly the reason some have given for turning their backs.
You cannot force people to come, and people can spend their money the way they choose. But it is disappointing to see people giving up on the club after one middle-of-the-road season.
They talk of a lack of investment. The board invest what they can, they invest back in the money which comes through the gates. That money goes down, the less gets invested, the lower the budget becomes, the harder it becomes to compete. You cannot spend what you don't have, and I do not get why people expect the club to do so. Speculate to accumulate, boom or bust, is the road to ruin.
Fans all over football want more all the time. If their club finishes 12th, it should have been 11th. If they win 2-0, it should have been three.
There is no bottomless pit of money. The board cannot keep putting in money and finding funds that are not there, that is a simple fact of economics. Financial fair play rules will hopefully stop clubs spending money they don't have in the future.
The board have done a fantastic job over the past 15 years in looking after the club, improving the ground and steering through some sticky waters, but now they face a vicious circle, which the sacking of a manager or the shipping out of a bunch of players this summer is not going to solve.
I wish I had the answer, but it is not a change of chairman or a new board. The succession to Paul Baker is the biggest decision this club will make in the coming years.
Get that one wrong, and this season could pale into insignificance compared to what might be over the horizon - ask Notts County, Leeds, Luton, Portsmouth, Wrexham, Hereford or Coventry City fans about having the wrong people in charge. It's the old mantra - be careful what you wish for.
Sack the manager. That always seems to be the solution. Torquay did that. So did Northampton. And Portsmouth. They are in the bottom three, and may wonder if the change has been worth it.
It is not a magic wand for success. Sometimes it can give the club a lift for a few weeks (Crystal Palace for instance - but they have faltered again) but rarely can it bring a massive change. Scunthorpe are an exception, rather than the norm.
Mark Yates came into the club when it was at a low ebb, saved us from the drop, stabilised us and then nearly took us up. Nearly. This season has been unable to sustain that challenge for whatever reasons, but I think he deserves the chance to see if he can re-ignite it.
This summer (and the first 10-15 games of next season) is massive for him. For two years he got his recruitment right, and was rewarded with two play-off campaigns. Last summer he got it wrong, as has been proved, so he has to find that magic formula again.
I'd by lying if I said next season doesn't worry me a bit with some strong teams coming up from the Conference, again with big crowds and financial power which will make League Two stronger, but after what he did over his first three seasons here overall, he deserves that chance to take on that challenge, in my view.
Cut the prices, they say. That is no magic wand that automatically bring more people through the gates. We did that against Southend a few years back after the first game was abandoned, and the crowd of 2,229 was one of the lowest in our League history. Last night's was, by the way, our second-worst of the season.
The £1 for students offer against Bury was not a great success. The club are trying, with free football for under 11s, and other incentives, but the bottom line seems to be that people are not interested.
Same goes for the Trust, who get negligible support from people wanting to join, or get involved in the running and staging of events. These people work very hard but get little or no backing from the rest of our fanbase and deserve better.
Why not join it? The Trust is one of the biggest shareholders in the club, and the best way the fans will get a say in the club, by hopefully one day getting a seat on the board. Yet the membership is about 120. Poor.
Entertainment or results is something that forever crops up. In my view, results are the more important. A season of scrappy 1-0 wins wouldn't be good to watch, but you would get promoted.
It is no good playing tippy-tappy football and not winning matches, as you will get relegated.
Scunthorpe were not spectacular last night, but they got the job done. No flair, no frills. Just a well-drilled side who put in the perfect away performance. Solid at the back and ruthless up front - putting away their only two on-target efforts. We all aspire to that, but we are short of it at the moment.
People also say 'we were told we'd be going for the play-offs'. Yes, that was the aim. Of course it was, but things don't always work out.
I am sure Torquay, Northampton and Portsmouth didn't tell their fans in pre-season that they aim to be in the relegation fight. Every club has aspirations, but they won't be met every season, it's a fact of life.
'The club promises us big signings to make us buy season tickets - they never happen'. This is another frequent complaint.
This summer, we signed Jamie Cureton, one of the biggest 'names' the club has had in its history. It hasn't worked out.
 Last night, Scunthorpe's two goals was scored by Sam Winnall, a player freed by Wolves after loan spells with Burton, Hereford, Inverness and Shrewsbury (scoring nine goals in total, in 33 games), taking his tally for the season to 21.
Imagine if this summer we signed Winnall, and Cureton had gone to Scunthorpe. "Why have we got a Wolves reject". "He is just a kid, we need experience". "His record isn't very good". "We should have signed Cureton".
All signings are a gamble. Cureton could have come here and scored 21 goals, and Winnall could have struggled. Nothing is ever certain.
Big names and huge salaries are not a guarantee of success. We could sack Mark Yates tomorrow, and appoint Robbie Fowler as our manager. Crowds might go up for a few weeks, but we would probably end up in the Conference.
There is no easy answer. I wish I could find it.