Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Naked Lunchtime Kickoffs - Burroughs, The One Show and the final day con act.

What is the bloke on this? He looks like a Gigalo crossed with touchy feely salsa teacher. 

I've just read a preview of the final week of the Premier League that was wetting itself about all the games happening in a time scale of less than 2 hours. A compressed spectacle of multichannel excitement where there are so many things going on at once that football will possibly explode and scatter the viewers to the winds on an orgasmic shockwave of dynamite behind closed doors action.

Imagine that. Literally 10 games happening AT THE SAME TIME.

A treat so exciting that it can only be served up once a season for fear that we'll gorge ourselves on the calorie rich football pie and die of football related obesity or a football heart attack, or football diabetes or contract football gout or need a gastric football band.

It's one big football day to end all big football days and it was invented by by Sky, the FA and some random evil guy from Monsanto in a red hot board meeting where the executives tossed around a bean bag and came up with ideas for 'how to make football better.'

When they'd rejected mad ideas like

- make it competitive
- don't play games on Friday night where fans have to do mad 500 mile round trips
- fuck VAR off cos it's shite
- do something about the mental wages that are driving club after club to the brink...

... they settled on the concept of 'playing the fixtures at the same time on the last day cos it's exciting'

Then they awarded themselves a solidarity payment or two and had celebratory dinner where they dined on the corpse of sporting integrity roasted in the fat of a bloated game, washed down by a nice glass of tears of the supporters of a defunct lower league club.

"Idiots" they chortled as they rested their glasses on their ten stomachs. "We've literally sold the same shit they always had back to them and told them it's a special occasion!"

That's how it always was. Football on Saturday, 3pm. And what a treat it really was. All the drama of the game, compressed into a neat package, starting at 2pm with the Sport on Two music and a breathless trek around the grounds to get the team news from Byron Butler, Peter Jones, Mike Ingham and let's not mention Stuart Hall. Fuck, I did. Anyway, he was more of a national treasure at that point than the national winner of the annual 'Is that cunt still alive? I assumed he was dead by now...' trophy. Is Rolf dead yet btw?

By 4:55pm the last scores had dribbled in then the music from Sports Report would play and it was reports, interviews and then all over by 6pm. Everything in all the divisions, wrapped up and the league tables all ready to be pored over in Football Pinks, Green Un's and Sunday papers, pristine and untouched, fixed in stone till the Tuesday night games rolled around, or sometimes for a whole seven days until the next action threw the pieces in the air again.

All the fun of the fair and all at once. 46 games in 90 minutes with 15 minutes to catch your breath. Not forgetting Roddy Forsythe rounding up Scotland adding a zesty icing to the moist rich cake of England. Every single week* 

No, you couldn't sit at home every night getting fatter and angrier and redder in front of the telly, watching never-ending football but does anyone really *like* football that much to give a shit about 8 or 9 games a week? 


Football just becomes a background noise, an unrelenting churn of never ending 'drama' and anyone who has ever watched telly can tell you that a programme broadcast weekly can maintain high standards, but a daily one becomes a soap opera or The One Show, forever searching for new ways to maintain your attention and avert you from the inevitable tedium. Forever trying to mask its tired sense of duty with shiny insincerity or absurd plot points.

After Sunday's games, the actual football will get back in its box again but the noise will go on. The airwaves will be full of pseudo matey chat about who is going where and what he thinks of him and what might happen if he does that and he doesn't like it and people throwing their heads back in laughter like they're having the absolute time of their lives talking complete shit about nothing and exchanging piss weak banter.

It's dismal as fuck telly and radio filling the abyss with meaningless inanity. Might as well just talk about what the weather might be in 3 weeks time to a cat as talk about whether Newcastle might or might not sign a Spanish full back or a Uruguayan one and whether or not those players might or might not be any good. Do something with your life instead. Read a random wikipedia page or something. Take up playing the spoons. Inject bleach, whatever. 

Football should just fuck off completely for 6 or 7 weeks and let cricket and whatever else goes on in the summer have its time in the sun. It should fuck off in the season outside Saturday and some Tuesdays and know its place. It's just a game. A brilliant one, but a game none-the-less.

Sky calling playing all the games at once a 'special' occasion and telling you it's a 'football feast - brought to you in conjunction with Rennie Deflatine - deflating your stomach like letting the air out of a matchball' is akin to someone smashing up your house but then telling you've they've 'sorted the cutlery drawer out' as a kind favour. It's essentially taking the piss.

It's like smack - A small controlled dose of heroin on a regular basis is a habit that can be maintained across a long life, William S Burroughs made it to 83 based on this principle of regulating his pleasure**. It's when it spirals beyond that that people start walking around with their arses hanging out and stinking of piss and criminal intent, clutching their worldly possessions in a filthy carrier bag.

TV companies are football pushers, telling us to gorge more, more, more. Telling us we *need* more. That we can't wait. That's there's nothing but the drug, no other poetry or life to be had but football.

Fuck that, I want to detox. I just want my weekly fix. I don't want to have to jack up on Friday night, all day Saturday, a big chunk of Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday just to know what happened in one fucking division. I'll get off my head on Saturday and then live a clean life till it comes around again if it's all the same with you.

Give me some semtex and a map of the TV transmitters. We could have this 'special day' every week.

*barring snow and Tranmere playing home games on Friday night like mentalists.
** shooting his wife was admittedly a low point. 
*** While I'm on a roll, when did 'Golden Glove' become a thing and what absolute fucking gideon thinks that there's genuine tension involved in 'who will get most clean sheets?' No amount of OPTA stats and charts can disguise the fact it's a shit season with nothing to play for for pretty much everyone and has been that way since about February and it's the same year on year on year (except for that year it was quite good when Leicester won) 




Saturday, July 18, 2020

League trophy or fascist occult ritual vessel?




It's not entirely clear to me whether the symbolic value that things possess is innate or culturally generated. Are our aesthetic values fundamental or contextual?

Is a Porsche beautiful because it's a design classic or because it resonates with wealth?

Is a Fender telecaster an object of desire in its own right or because it's fundamentally linked to the birth of rock and roll and thus played its part in forging a culture of individual expression?

Are they objects of genuine beauty or cultural fetish?

I don't know. You could probably write a long book about it, I'm sure people have, but I can't be arsed reading it and there'll just be another book that says the opposite. I like my opinions to come in 144 characters, or better still in the form of a meme. I just count the likes on opposing opinions and work out who is right.

When has the crowd ever been wrong eh?

Bear in mind therefore, as you read the following article, that I am aware that my ire at the design of the object may in fact simply be ire at what it represents.

What object do I refer to? (if you haven't worked it out from the title and the whacking great big picture, then perhaps give up here.) I speak of the ultimate prize in English football. No, not the Marsden Lancashire Cup or the Makita Trophy but the one and only official FA Premier League Trophy.


I was there!

What's wrong with it?Isn't it just a trophy?

Well, for a start, it's not the actual league trophy that was perfectly usable for 102 sets of league champions then demoted to the League below when it was decided that the new league (which to all intents and purposes was the same as the old league) was better than anything that had gone before. I'm not a conservative in many aspects of my life, but given England's historical significance in the development of professional football, you'd think the trophy that symbolised that unique history would be more highly valued.

The actual league trophy is graceful and reeks of wood panelled rooms, it speaks of men with moustaches, pipes and games played out against a backdrop of smoking chimneys and the clank of looms. Let's not romanticise a world of rickets and industrially shortened life expectancy but equally, let's not deny that it was that world that gave us football as we know it.

On its body is depicted a goalmouth scene played out in front of netless goals on what looks like a pleasingly muddy field. It's burnished beyond any amount of tarnishing, a beautiful filigree history that speaks of Steve Bloomer, Dixie Dean, Alex James and countless others, right up to (and indeed beyond) that Michael Thomas goal that has never been equaled since for drama. The scale is perfect. Look at pictures of the trophy being lifted by the champions of yesteryear. It just looks right. Looked at nestled in the crook of a victorious arm. It's perfect.

Now, I don't just hate the Premier League Trophy for not being 'the lady' - I think I'm quite clear that it lacks the charm, class and elegance of its predecessor, but it's not what it isn't that makes me despise it.

It's what it is and what it is, is ugly, and completely without imagination. It's not just lacking in charm, it's entirely charmless. It doesn't beguile or bewitch with its ornate carefully worked embellishment or whisper quiet stories of long gone heroics in your ear. It's just a fucking horrible great lump of metal with a garish crown on top.

If you start to critique the design, before long, you start feeling contempt for the people who made it. As John Lennon didn't sing, all you need is hate and as John Lydon did, anger is an energy, so lets feed on some of the good stuff and lay into the big old pile of shite.

It looks like a cup that a kid would design. If you gave an 8 year old a packet of felt tips and few pictures of the European Cup and said 'design a football trophy but don't do anything clever or imaginative' then they'd come up with the Premier League trophy. When they'd finish, if you suggested drawing an aggressive looking crown on top, they'd probably give you a funny look and say 'that would be rubbish'

It's not entirely without character, but what character it has is a two dimensional marketeers idea of what football means. It's ENGLISH and thus it has LIONS. LIONS because, like, THREE LIONS. Because that's what English football is. It's lions and nothing else. Loads of lions wandering about doing big lion shits everywhere and mauling their captors and then having a right good kip. Did you know big cats can't purr? Good job too because purring would be soft and ENGLISH LIONS aren't soft. They're hard as fuck.

Why are lions synonymous with Englishness anyway? I'm not about to go on a big Guardian hand wringing rant about English character and conclude by explaining why lion imagery oppresses the rights of transgender folk and must be stopped now! ... But there are some cracking actual English animals that are bob on. Imagine a trophy with silver adders coiled around the handles or some otters popping their adorable little heads out when you took the lid off. What about a Kestrel or something. Nothing is more English than a Windhover above a motorway verge. Or a fox rooting in a bin. Or a vole. Or, the Vendace, a fish literally only found in two places in the Lake District. That would be English.

Not satisfied with adding the most predictably lazy image you could possibly imagine of 'Englishness' the trophy makers then added a crown. Cos England has QUEEN. With a CROWN. Do you see? LIONS/QUEEN/CROWN = England. Fucking genius. Why not add a Beefeater and Spitfire to it for the lols?

How long did that design them take? Ten minutes? Who came up with it?

Was it a marketing executive who had pencilled into his Filofax (remember, this is being dreamt up in about 1991) 'Soccer trophy ideas, brand synergy, England, glory, trophy, Big, statement, bold, trophy, English, England, Soccer'' then underneath 'Fuck it, Lions and a crown, it's only football, they're all thick as fuck anyway'

Was it the FA themselves?

Picture them brainstorming, over a boozy lunch, congratulating themselves on having finally cashed in on Thatcher's Britain after so many years in the wilderness, presiding over a game that resolutely refused to yield to the future whilst pits and steel works were razed, football had stayed stuck in a timewarp, with only the sponsors names on the shirts and the nylon in the kit telling you that it wasn't the 1970s anymore.

"It's got to have Lions Bert. Lions on it. Lions, like the England Shirt"
"Yes Graham, lions is good. What about a crown? Like the Queen. The Queen and Lions"
"That's good Bert, shall we have port?"
"Yes Graham, I think we've earned it"
*chuckle about duel meanings"

In case you doubt my interpretation, here's an excerpt from the official Premier League website

"The design of the trophy is based on the theme of "The Three Lions of English Football".

Two of the lions are above the handles on either side. When the captain of the title-winning team raises the trophy, and its gold crown, above his head at the end of the season, he becomes the third lion."

What the actual fuck is that?

The whole thing is just unsubtle. It's ugly and crude and speaks volumes of the mid to late 80s and early 90s (when the Premier League was dreamed up) - It's garish and speaks of no ideals other that shininess and making a statement of wealth. It's the sort of trophy you could imagine coming from the mind of someone who thinks Trump Towers is fabulously decorated.

"I want shitloads of silver topped with shit loads of gold. And big. Make it big. And put spiky bits on it. And extra handles it doesn't need."

It's too big. It just looks uncomfortable. Look at this picture of former Seasider Gary Ablett (RIP) and then compare it to the pictures below. It's clear the former is better, not least for its ergonomic design.



The thing looks horrible to hold.

If you took the crown and ribbons off, sanded away the 'Premier League' engraving, stuck it in a museum and said it was a vessel used by Nazis in one of their weird occult Nazi rituals then people would probably buy it. It has the air of borrowed grandeur as a statement that German architecture of the 1930s possesses. Dictatorships make things that are bigger than they need to be. Albert Spier evoked classical reference points in the way the Premier League evoked the European cup.

To return to the old trophy for a moment. This article might be a bitter nostalgic swipe at the all pervading, all powerful influence of the Premier League. I don't care, I am bitter and I am nostalgic. I'm nostalgic for a football where competition was prized and the game hadn't been reduced to "which multi billionaires have bought the best players this year"




When you look at the old trophy (or as I'd have it, the real trophy) you can see the game is being played out, not in a stadium but in front of a picket fence, with a backdrop of trees. This is a low key game of football being played by normal people. It's not an elite match played in billion pound stadium by thoroughbred atheletes.

The imagery isn't that of power or an aggressive statement of pseudo identity - it's just a picture of a football match. It's a trophy that is awarded to the best team, but at the same time, acknowledges all the teams, acknowledges the universality of the sport.

It is a trophy for the whole pyramid.

In the unlikely event that I am ever the captain, manager or owner of a Premier League winning side I'd refuse that monstrosity of a trophy and not allow the ceremony to take place until they brought me the real one.


I'd rather have the Canon League one. It's that bad.

UTMP

Will the kids be alright?



In my last blog I pontificated about the difference between youth development under Neil Critchley and Simon Sadler and the same thing under Ian Holloway and Karl Oyston

What this article seeks to do is work out one key thing: Who are all the kids we're signing? Where do they come from? What do they offer? 

It's raining in the cricket and so I've nothing better to do than correct my ignorance of the future stars of tomorrow by obsessive googling in the hope it will help me follow their progress over the next few years and add another level to the rich tapestry of joy that is every minute of following the greatest club in the history of the game. 

New to the club: 

Sebastian Wyllie (left back) - scholarship: He's from South Croydon. He has (according to 'football talent ID' and Manchester United regional scout Aleksander Kuye)
"a technically gifted player with an abundance of talent" who was part of Hackney based Onside Academy player development programme.  

James Harrison (forward/winger) - scholarship: This one is a bit confusing as he was trailed on twitter this week, but according to facebook, he was offered a scholarship in Dec 2019. That aside, he's a Sunderland lad. 

Nathan Tshola: - midfield (pro deal) -
He's from North London and is a midfielder. I found a lovely description of him scoring a "25 yard shot that was impossible to stop" for his school team and setting up a goal for Islington and Camden in a junior FA Trophy. Also part of the same 'Onside Academy' as Seb Wyllie and is described as have had an outstanding trial. 

Tayt Trusty: (attacking midfield) - scholarship: Easy to find a bit about as he has a fantastic name that makes me want him to make it for that reason alone. He was captain of the North Kent district schoolboy team and appears to support Arsenal. Another Onside Academy graduate. 

Arnold Matzhahi - winger (scholarship) - One of the few who've come from 'somewhere' as opposed to 'nowhere.' He's an ex MK Dons junior and has already played and scored in front of decent crowds and has an instagram highlights video

Cameron Hill - Defender (pro deal) - An ex Dinnington Town (somewhere near Rotherham...) player who was a year into a 2 year scholarship with Salford City (whose youth team were top of their division). He also qualifies for the USA national team and was previously on the books of Lincoln City.

Luke Mariette - midfielder - scholarship: Hailing from Rhyl, was on the books of Liverpool when he was very young and more recently turned out for Wigan Athletic age group sides.  

The other players we've signed up for the academy for the season ahead have come from within. 
 
Bradley Holmes Striker - 2 Yr Scholarship: All I can find out is he's a local lad. That's it. 

Joe Strawn - midfielder (scholarship) Described as an exciting attacking midfielder he also plays cricket for Great Eccleston. 

Michael Fitzgerald - defender (scholarship) - Don't know where this lad hails from but was on the books and playing for the u-18s last year. 

Alex Machlaclan - Goalkeeper (scholarship) who also featured several times for u18s last year. One thing my research turned up is his parents both appear to be classical piano teachers! 

Will Squires: defender/midfielder (scholarship) A previous winner of 'most outstanding player' (foundation phase) and a local lad. Described as versatile. 

Finally, Cameron Antwi graduates from within to link up with the first team squad: 
An ex Fulham player who featured in the Premier League u18s the season before last. Antwi is from London but also qualifies for Ghana via his parents. There are some mystifying videos of him training when at Fulham on YouTube and a nice little 'best of' compilation from the clubs Twitter account. 


Good luck to all of them! 
 
UTMP

 



Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The longest close season: Something resembling an actual football article.

Based on absolutely nothing other than instinct, I feel like this lad is going to be decent

Wagwan bluds. 

It's all been going off down Bloomfield. We've finally got a kit not made by a comedy company and we've been getting players left right and centre. Let's not bother with a run down of who, what, where, why and when - lets just note we've possibly answered one of the main doubts about Critchley - namely, would he attempt to get us out of the division by getting a load of Premier League cast offs who'd inevitably look OK for a few minutes but ultimately be too lightweight and by November we'd be 20th and staring grimly down the barrel of another change of direction with fans shouting 'Get Madine on!' 30 minutes into the game as some kid from an academy flaps vaguely at the ball before doing a few step overs, sighing wearily at having to play football instead of FIFA, taking a call from his agent and doing his hair?

The answer appears to be no. We won't. 

The average age of the new signings is, by my rough maths, about 23. Between them, they've racked up well over 200 games of lower league football. If we do get Jerry Yates, he'll fall right into that bracket, a 23 year old with 70+ starts in the football league. These are players who are young and hungry, but coming into their peak years. These aren't green players unused to crowds or the rough house tactics of actual competitive games. 

It's worth noting, that for all his Liverpool pedigree, Critchley spent longer at Crewe than Anfield overall and is no stranger to lower league realities. It's hard to hit the ground running in professional football. In a curious way, it's harder to do it in the lower leagues if you are used to playing a higher technical standard. 

This is crucial. We are signing players who are ready to play, now. Players who have come with some pedigree and some experience. We saw how Nuttall struggled and it's worth reflecting that he has still only started 22 games in his career and 8 of them were for Stranraer. 

We don't have to get promotion next year. It would be absurd to suggest a manager with only youth coaching experience to draw upon has to win the league. What we absolutely can't afford is another year of complete turmoil. 

This is the second summer in which we're more or less starting again. Last year's attempted restart ended up being more of a non-start as McPhillips bought a load of players then panicked and ran away, leaving Grayson to confusedly continuing to sign the players McPhillips didn't want to manage and he wanted to play even less, before getting everyone on earth in on loan in January then taking a long walk off a short plank with Sadlers cutlass in his back which left Dunn and then Critchley to wade through the squad of left backs and goalkeepers, before a global pandemic came and cut a mediocre season short. 

We're not the biggest club in League One and we certainly won't be a big club in the division above. Building a squad is the way to punch above your weight. Building a squad is the way out of the division. Coventry have astonishing team spirit given their circumstances. Rotherham are the definition of 'stability and steady progress'. Oxford and Wycombe fought the play off final. Oxford are the best team I've seen this year and Wycombe are without doubt the side playing furthest beyond their perceived level. Both of them have carefully constructed squads built on players who have been around the club for a while. The same could be said of (whisper it so they don't hear it) Fleetwood Town and Portsmouth have essentially reprised the previous season again. The moral is, it takes a bit of building to get to where you want to be.  

I think it might be fair to say that if we had a three year plan to build for promotion, on the pitch itself, we made very little tangible progress against that last year. There's no one who could be said to have really established their credentials aside from flashes of what Kaikai can do and some solid effort from Virtue and Husband. Few players really shout out 'pick me' from what we have left over and fewer still suggest they are the foundation stones of the future. 

I've all the time in the world for Fonz (yes, I do, so there) and Feeney but apart from Ollie 'unlikely contract mystery' Turton and Michael 'unlikely contract signed' Nottingham, they're the only players on the books (apart from a couple of kids) who've been with us for 2 whole seasons. 

What that means is we don't have is a defined character. We don't have an 'ethos' or a presence that is uniquely ours. We don't have people in the dressing room who will define what the club is and how it does things. That culture can't just happen instantly and we're signing players the right age to build that. We're also signing players who, should they prove to be good enough, will still be young enough to command a fee in two or three seasons time having given us decent service which is crucial in building a situation where losing players generates income to bring in players of equal potential and see us maintaining success. 

The lack of dressing room presence and a well defined culture is possibly a curse but also potentially a blessing. Critchley and his assistant are inexperienced at this level. Some senior pros or a strong, established atmosphere could help them. Conversely, if Critchley want to do something different, he has an open goal to kick in to. He can very soon be in a position where the majority of the first choice players were signed by him. They'll be the ones to set the standards, the ones who the rest of the squad have to knock off their perch. There'll be little grumbling from the 'old guard' or the ones who liked it the way it used to be, as no one's been here all that long and Fonz, Feeney and Nottingham all seem like lads who just get on with it. 

We've lacked a real definitive presence for a long time. There's no doubting Jay Spearing's commitment, but his decision to move on was probably for the best. He wasn't pulling up any trees and whilst his experience might have been valuable, the electrifying form of Kieron Dewsbury Hall (as an aside, how is he not even making the squad for Leicester?) showed the impact that a fearless young player can have on a midfield. It's fearlessness that we want to see and a 31 year old whose game is largely based on stamina and retention of possession might have been an ill fit for a side we hope will take the game to the enemy in a forthright manner. 

We clearly need more players but I'm also curious to see what Critchley does with the ones we've still got. It's lazy to link Klopp and Critchley but I'll do it and risk falling into cliche - One of the most admirable qualities of the professionally affable German is his ability to see what others don't in a player. Who'd have imagined Milner had it in him to take already worthy career to new heights? Who saw Andrew Robertson as a realistic candidate to be the best full back in the world? Who know Winaldum was more than just a precocious talent and could win crucial matches at the highest level? 

This leaves us with interesting questions... It's easy to say player X and Y are 'shit' or 'not what we need' but what can a coach like Critchley make of the talent of Kaikai? Will we find out what possessed us to buy Teddy Howe and Jordan Thorniley? They must have *something* about them. We presumably scouted them and thought 'they're good at football' on some level.   

Will Ben Garrity having the same name as the assistant manager help his cause for a Football league debut and will his signing turn out to be a stroke of genius? Has Critchley spotted something in Michael Nottingham no one has ever quite noticed before - was he about to slip him his P45 when he noticed an almost imperceptible echo of Van Dijk's gait and thought... 'I can work with this...'?  

What the hell will he do with Gary Madine? (seriously, how will that work?) Will Ryan 'deserves a chance after what he did for Plymouth and honestly, he looks decent on YouTube' Hardie get a chance? Will Critch be able to find whatever it was that Joe Nuttall lost on his way down the M65? Imagine if Yussuff hits 20 in a season next year. Ok, I'm going too far now...

What a good coach can do, is bring out confidence and skills the player themselves didn't even know were there, let alone the mugs in the crowd. They can feed ideas and practice skills and find a way for that player to contribute in a way that we or they might not have expected. 

No coach in the world can turn everyone into the best version of themselves, some don't listen and some players already are that best version and have no more to offer but I'm interested to see who Critchley will surprise us with. What player he feels has untapped potential or needs a new role or style of play. If he's the intelligent coach he's made out to be, there'll be one or two who fit that bill. Gary Madine, tricky left winger maybe? Again. I'm going too far... 

I'm also intrigued to see how far the policy of signing our own players will go. We're clearly short up front, in central midfield and at the back still to name just the glaring holes. Will we get in at very least three more permanent signings with similar pedigree/promise or will we just see a burst of loan signings? 

I've never been comfortable with the idea of being Liverpool reserves and I'm encouraged that doesn't seem, at this point, to be the entire plan. Of course I'd welcome a wonder kid or two, but too many loan players doesn't build that ethos or identity that teams need to have success in the first place and then sustain it. Rely on loans too much and every 6 months or year, you are looking to replace the best players in the side and that isn't sustainable. To my mind, you judge a cake on the cake itself and Dewsbury Hall and Ronan were the icing on something that wasn't especially edible. 

To torture the analogy to a point where the UN would consider intervention on the grounds of cruelty to my readers, if I was Paul Hollywood judging last season as a cake, I'd do that twinkly eyed thing he does and then my face would go hard and I'd say something like

'It tastes as if it was baked by 4 different people, all with their own ideas. The first baker obviously bought terrible ingredients, the second baker seemed to be following a completely baffling recipe that I can't make head nor tail of, then when he realised it wasn't going well, at the last minute chucked loads of different flavours in it and tried to cover up the mess he'd made with some fancy icing. The third and fourth bakers actually did quite a good job of presenting that mess as a coherent whole, but look, the icing has all run off it now and it's just left a right stodgy old mess'  

That's what we have to avoid. We need a well constructed squad, designed to last us a couple of years or more. What is very encouraging in that regard, is the noise we're making in signing youth players. Last time we tried that, it was more or less presented as Ollie chucking on a load of YouTube videos and letting Kim pick the ones she thought looked decent - It's safe to say the 'development squad' didn't develop many great players - when you're citing Jake Caprice as relatively successful in relation to the rest of many of his cohort, then you are clearly not dealing with Fergie's fledglings... 

What makes me think Critch's kids' will be any different? It's a question of knowing what you are doing. Critchley and Garrity between them have more than 25 years experience in working with players below first team level. Critchley's time at Liverpool is frequently cited, but his experiences at Crewe ensure he understands the needs of a lower league side (which, despite what we all want, we currently are) 

Holloway had the right idea back then - we clearly lacked a youth set up - but he himself tried to set up something he simply wasn't qualified to do and the brilliant Seasider Podcast interview with GTF reveals a chaotic set up with nearly 40 players all training together. A far cry from the disciplined formula you'd imagine Critchley will apply as one of only 16 UEFA elite coaches in the world. Our management team aren't simply 'ex Liverpool' - they're experts in player development and the part youth development plays in a bigger picture. Holloway was an expert in motivating players in the first team, the classic charismatic ex pro built to coax belief out of players in the dressing room. He wasn't the man to build a youth set up and tend to the minor details and expecting him create a regime and overarching coaching philosophy at the best of times, let alone with the paper thin resources at his disposal was unrealistic. 

The previous eras efforts at youth development smacked of a car boot sale approach. Buy a load of unwanted tutt and hope some of it turns out to be worth something. Ollie was an enthusiastic shopper, but frankly Nathan Eccleston, James Caton, Adda Djezeri, Anderson Banvo, Gerardo Bruna, Craig Sutherland and all the rest turned out to be actually not really worth the 50p we paid for them. They were the football equivalent of carboot landfill after all. Unwanted footspas, rusty tools and faded t shirts with peeling screen print. Half of them have retired. Was that just because they were rubbish all along or was it also because at a crucial point in their football development, they weren't coached effectively as the set up simply wasn't there?

Who knows if the qualifications of the management team will translate into a reality of youth team players pushing first team players hard for their places. Will it mean we see (for the first time in ages, really since Richie Kyle left) some of 'our own' (whatever that means in modern football) actually making the grade? If this management team can't do it, then who knows who can.

It should be cause for optimism and in my humble opinion, even if Critchley leaves us 13th in League One after trying for two years in vain to move us on, we'll doubtless have a much better structured club and maybe the foundations in place for future success. That can't be said of Simon Grayson and indeed many of his predecessors. The question about Critch is really the inverse of the point above about Ollie. There's little doubt about whether he can do the youth stuff and bring on talent. The question is, can he motivate a dressing room on matchday. Only time will tell. 

What I noticed in the Reading games this year was despite them being only about 15 places above us in the pyramid at the time, their reserves gave what was more or less our first team more than a run for their money and frankly, in the replay more than a bit of a run around. It's frightening to think what their reserves would have done to our reserves and whilst the youth team doesn't win you trophies now, it would be genuinely fantastic to be excited about our own kids, not simply the ones we've borrowed from elsewhere. It was an object lesson in how far behind even a struggling championship club we are outside of the first team. In 2 years time, that, at least, should be remedied. 

For all that realism and measured words, what I really want to see is Sullay and the new lad from Swindon absolutely tearing defences apart, pulling them all over the place whilst Virtue scrats and holds things, Sarkic pings it about, Jerry Yates or Ryan Hardie or whoever else finish off sumptuous moves and the crowd purr appreciation. I want Fonz to finally click (cue loads of comments about 'how many chances does he need' etc) and do what he does from time to time week in week out. I want Feeney to be the old head, leading by example - maybe he's our James Milner? I want Madine (I still don't get how he fits in?!) to come off the bench and plunder goals when we need a change of tactic, I want Husband to develop into the captain I think he could be, I want the Leyton Orient lad to be imperious at the back. Most of all, I want to see anything other than the ghost football I've completely lost all interest in on telly. 

I'll even take wandering away grumbling about 'false dawns and stupid youth coaches with shitty certificates' whilst around me people opine 'should have got Warnock or someone like that, Steve Evans,  that sort of bloke, proper football man, not this tippy tappy kids stuff.'

I'll take anything really, as long as it's tangerine.  

Fucking pandemics. 

UTMP







Thursday, July 9, 2020

Yet another bad owner. Where do they breed them?

This is Brooks Mileson. He owned Gretna FC. If you don't know who he is or what the score is with Gretna, it might be worth giving it a once over, otherwise my carefully crafted conclusion will fall flat. It's a story about what happens when the 'good owner' leaves and the club can't cope. It's relevant.  
Bad owners. Won't someone think of the fans. We've got to stop the bad owners. The thing that is wrong with the game these days is bad owners. Tut, tut, tut, bad owners. Blah, blah, blah, bad owners, fit and proper, bad owners, EFL, FA, Bad owners, something should be done tut, tut, tut. 

I'm sick to the back teeth of hearing about bad owners. Of hand wringing on podcasts and in newspaper columns about bad owners. Naughty, mean conniving owners who don't respect the traditions of the game and the culture and communities the clubs are supposed to represent. Sneaky, cheating, dissembling owners who to everyone's utter surprise, don't represent the absolute best values that humanity has to offer.

What I'm specifically fed up off, is the generally circuitous discussion that goes something like this:

(end adverts/news)

- Well, let's look at what's happening at Wigan/Oldham/Bury/Charlton/Blackpool/Macclesfield/Bolton/Newcastle/Sunderland/anynumberofotherclubs, things aren't going well are they?
- No Alan, you've got to feel for the fans.
- That's right Alan, it's the fans I feel for.
- Yes, I mean the fans want clubs to go out and spend money, but they've got to be careful what they wish for
- It does make you wonder
- It does, yes, you've got to wonder
- The owners passed the fit and proper persons test
- They did
- I wonder if that test is fit for purpose?
- Well, you've got to have questions don't you.
- Ultimately Alan, it's the clubs who set the rules
- That's right Alan, if there's going to be change it's got to come from the clubs
- Yes, the responsibility for all of this lies with the clubs and you've got to say, the bad owners.
- That's right Alan, it's the fans I feel for

Ok, let's move on.

Even more erudite sources, don't really move beyond that level and literally pages of broadsheet coverage are expended on saying very little at all about anything. We're given the lurid financial details and the patronising colour pieces about 'what the club means' to a few local fans, but it's rare to read a piece (and rarer still to hear one) that asks any bigger questions or gets beyond paying lip service to the idea that anything is really wrong with the game.

I'm not expending much time on the particulars of Wigan's recent crisis here. Other sources will give you chapter and verse on what has happened with greater authority than I.

Wigan are a club I'm simultaneously quite fond of and actively dislike at the same time. I spent many an afternoon at Springfield Park in the pre Dave Whelen era (when Blackpool were away or my dad was otherwise engaged so Bloomfield was too distant) I am fond of these memories. Winston White's two goals on his debut remain vivid in the mind, as does his singular failure to repeat anything resembling that quality thereafter. Bryan Griffiths, Alan Tankard, Kenny Swain, Graham Barrow, a spindly Keith Gillespie, Bryan Hamilton, Graham Barrow, Tony Pennock, Joe Parkinson... These are proper football memories and I'm glad I shared them with a few thousand people in a ramshackle ground.

The Wigan I'm less fond of is the 'Plucky Little Wigan' story. Spending their way through the leagues, building a lego ground, attracting crowds of 'life long' Wigan fans when United and Liverpool were in town. Wigan, the little bankrolled miracle. I can hear Latics fans now, telling me that's a very bitter and cynical reading. Yes it fucking is. I don't care. I'm not sorry. 90% of you 'lifelong latics' over the age of 35 supported Liverpool on TV when you were shite and you know that's true. I know it's true cos I was stood on the St Andrews terrace with less than 2000 other people with my mate Quinny on any number of ocaissions. Sneaky little Blackpool badge hidden away beneath my coat. Sometimes even wore my INENCO top under a jumper. Watching a shite team that was touch and go as to whether it was as shite as ours or not. Then Dave W turned up, I moved away and he brought (bought) you to where you went.

Ok, we've got the tribal bitterness out the way. Lets be clear - I don't want Latics to go bust. I want to beat them. That's the point of rivalry. There is no point wishing your rivals out of existence. I don't want any football team to go bust. I wish relegation on the ones I don't like but not financial disaster. It's only a sport and you hate my team and I hate yours, but without each other, it would really be a lonely old world and actually, hatred is a right waste of energy outside of 90 minutes of noise and tension. 

What I want is for us to start thinking about the bigger questions. 

Let's start with these two:

Why are there so many 'bad owners' at the moment? What is causing this instability, where so many clubs are seemingly in a precarious position (Covid aside) and so many fans disgruntled with their owners?

Why don't we do anything about it?

I vaguely remember Newport and Aldershot's troubles. My first Pool game was against the soon to be defunct Maidstone United. I very much remember the Chester City madness as a spectacular example of mismanagement and Michael Knighton's Carlisle shenanigans. The point is not for me to try and explain the gruesome details of these cases - I've just plucked them from memory as examples. I merely wish to illustrate a simple point - that we've had plenty of warning that 'bad owners' can and will ruin football clubs. Whether willfully in the case of the property speculator or asset stripping types or through ineptitude and over reaching themselves in the case of plenty of others.

We've also had plenty of warning of the scale of the financial issues. There seems to be general shock at the idea of Wigan's plight yet I (a mere fan with no special financial insights - I'm not even a fan of Wigan - I don't even look for their results unless they're on the cusp of coming down to our league) was aware the club had significant debt and was running at a daily loss of about £20,000.

That's a spectacular level of financial worry to any normal business and yet somehow, Wigan weren't considered an 'at risk' club which seems absurd until you acknowledge they are far from exceptional within the Championship. If Wigan were at risk then so were half the other teams in the second tier of 'the world's best competition ever'

This is a club who haven't turned a profit since 2012 (I don't know when they last did, it's just as far back as my googling is prepared to go) and had £20 million's worth of debt.

A club who has consistently operated at a loss for 8 years and has racked up debts that are eye watering by any conventional (i.e. non-football) standards.

As I said above. For a championship club, Wigan are not remarkable. There are many of them operating with the same conditions.

For Wigan, it's been fine to date - they've been propped up by owners willing to make debt disappear and fund a (fairly) competitive side (Wigan has also made a loss on transfer fees in every season since 2012.) This isn't unusual. Many other teams exist in the same way. Perhaps Blackpool do. We don't know, we haven't seen any post Oyston accounts yet, but it's a safe bet that we rely on the munificence of our benefactor for our own progress.

Of course, in reality it was a surprise what happened. Wigan seemed to be at peace with their finances and didn't have creditors kicking down the door - but the broader point is - if football is a business, what other business would survive running at a loss and racking up debt for 8 years, then get sold for 41 million pounds? What sort of people are out there buying that sort of business?

Why are there so many bad owners? Perhaps, it's because the finances of football are so fucking precarious, because so many clubs are debt pits and no one sane would invest in them if they didn't have a couple of billion quid spare. Alternatively, maybe the only people mad enough to pay £41 million for a club like Wigan are those who don't really understand the financial set up of English football. Perhaps they saw 'FA Cup winners' and assumed it wouldn't be that hard to set them back on that path.

I wrote at length about the hypocrisy of a media that cheers Premier League largesse and then complains the only people who can realistically buy out Mike Ashley and create a Premier League team are the Saudi's. If you collude in creating a circumstance where it costs billions to build a team good enough to win the top flight, don't complain when billionaires try to buy clubs.

In a similar vein, if a side like Wigan whose cumulative losses since 2012 run at well over £50 million quid and who are saddled with significant debt cost £41 million quid, don't act surprised if there isn't queue of responsible investors waiting to buy them.

To understand this point (one rarely made in the football press, where everything is fine, if it wasn't for the bad people) just play along and use your imagination in this (admittedly a bit sexist) piece of whimsy. 

Scenario - You own a successful business in the Wigan area. You've earned a decent amount and what to give something back to the community/get one over on the lads who mercilessly bullied at school by buying the football club and flaunting your wealth on the pitch in front of them.

Context - You are well off. By crap town English standards you are very rich. You've got a tasteless new build mansion and the car of your dreams. Your wife is bedecked in luxury and you've bought her loyalty through an endless series of foreign holidays and by helping her to amass a small property portfolio, including some Air B+B's in the Algarve. Your children are privately educated of course and have certain expectations about their opportunities in life, borne of the success and wealth they see in front of them. You've already bought the local golf course. You remain hands on with your main business which is doing well. Remember, you are not the head of Microsoft or a Gulf state though. You are very rich, but by crap town standards. £35k a year is a very good wage in this town. Wealth is relative.

Underneath all of this, is the fact you've worked very fucking hard to get where you are. It's required you to be a complete cunt to some people along the way and to protect every penny you have and use it to make you another. It's not easy to lose that mindset, for that's exactly what got you where you are. A mixture of business sense, hard work and hard nosed bastardry.

Now you understand the character, let's proceed to the actual imagination exercise.

Exercise - You examine the finances of the club when you consider making the bid. You note the club is losing considerable amounts of money. You consider what could be trimmed from the running costs, but you keep coming back to the fact the wage bill is £30 million pounds.

You realise you can't trim that because it would make the club less competitive. It would be like taking a loss making business and making the product worse and reducing the number of customers. The club is already at the wrong end of the table and has recently slipped to the league below. (where losses increased significantly)

You think 'maybe we could ride those losses for a few years if we get into the Premier League' and think about a different approach. You could invest now and reap the rewards later. You do a bit of maths and realise the clubs that come down from the division above you (and those who came down the year before) are starting from a considerable financial advantage as they not only received a cool £100 million quid for just being in the Premier League, but will receive another payment of around £50 million as a further reward for being relegated.

So you're now thinking about investing in a club that is making a loss, is £20 million in debt and facing shelling out another huge sum on top of that to try and plug the gap between you and your competitors in terms of income. Add to this the fact that you are also someway behind other clubs in revenue from matchdays, sponsorship etc.

Not only that, but if those sides don't go up, they'll receive yet more money the season after and another team will come down with an extra £50 million (ish). Plus, (remember, you're a realistic businessman) in all likelihood it will take at least 2 or 3 seasons for you to get promotion (meaning you're looking at 2 or 3 years of sustained losses and considerable additional investment to reach that goal)

Thus, optimistically, you could say it would cost you (assuming promotion after 2 years, which is highly optimistic) upwards of £120 million to get the club to the Premier League. You've also got to bear in mind that's a conservative estimate. It could easily take 4 years or 6. It might take 10. You might *never* (hello Preston!) make it. - How on earth would you recoup the money you put in? Remember, this is a club that has turned a loss on transfers for the last 8 years.

IF you get there, you'll get £100 million, but of course, to remain competitive, you'll have to increase the spending on wages and players and you're likely to spend much, if not all of that sum just trying to stay afloat in a league where the likes of Liverpool will be starting from a basic position of having earned in excess of an additional £150 million in TV rights ALONE. (not withstanding their considerable global income as multinational brands) 

Thus, the £100,000,000 seems smaller every time you think about it. Remember - you went into this with good intentions. You didn't want to make a profit, but did you want to risk everything you'd built?

Question: When your wife and kids ask you "Can you really afford to buy the club? - Will it put us at risk? - Will you be able to make a success of it? What if it goes wrong?" - What would you actually say...?

Maybe you'd watch Netflix and Sunderland Till I Die and see what happens when people who aren't as rich as they probably need to be, try to run a football club like a conventional business. Maybe you'd think about how they come across and decide 'that's not the look for me' and decide it's better to invest in a swimming pool instead. 

Maybe you'd gaze around your gated palace of tack, cast a glance at the garage containing the expensive motorbikes you never ride and look at your 'Greater Manchester Businessman of the Year award' and think 'not worth the risk'

----

We're constantly listening to podcasts, radio and TV wondering why 'we' let 'dodgy foreigners' with dicey values and questionable records take over clubs.

The simple fact is - because most local people, be it well to do business people or communities pooling resources simply can't afford to buy into football clubs and when they do, it often stretches their resources to breaking point just trying to remain competitive.

This is why there are so many 'bad owners' - it's not simply because the 'fit and proper' test fails. It's because there aren't enough 'fit and proper' people who can actually afford to own a football club and 'fit and proper' people look at the spiralling costs and absurd and anti-sporting financial barriers to progress and think 'fuck that'

Which leaves the naive, the misguided and the asset stripping sorts as the only options.

What do we do? 

In conventional debate, the answer to this question seems to revolve around the need for the FA or the EFL to regulate club sales. The problem is, the FA and the EFL are often desperate for sales to go through as there are a lot of clubs in Wigan's position - clubs who are essentially not financially viable businesses in and off their own right. Clubs who desperately need to be 'owned' but without a lengthy queue of millionaires who want to lose their money (by definition, that's not really something most millionaires do well) the options are few and far between. Raising the 'Fit and Proper' test just kicks the can down the road. It stops the takeover by the genuine shark, but it doesn't drain the ocean the shark swims in.

If the 'fit and proper' test was highly stringent, we'd still be stuck with the financial conditions outlined above. It wouldn't lower player wages (and thus club outgoings) or deal with the vast inequalities of income between teams and between divisions. It wouldn't regulate agents and control transfer costs or solve the problem whereby rich clubs are able to hoover up the best talent in vast academies and thus make themselves a) more competitive and b) reduce the likelihood of smaller clubs being able to trade at a profit by producing talent themselves.

Yes, Wigan might not have happened and Steve Dale might not have had Bury and maybe the Oyston's could have been challenged but ultimately, none of those individuals are the root cause. They're merely symptoms and as a Doctor of blogging, I can say that treating the symptoms might make us feel better for a while, but if our illness has an underlying cause, if we want to actually recover from it, we have to look at that.

When so many clubs are in some form of 'crisis' - (again, it's vital to point out that this crisis predates Covid 19) and even greater numbers are running at significant loss and/or saddled with significant debt then sooner or later we have to ask...

- If 'bad owners' are the problem and they keep reoccurring, why don't we get rid of 'owners' in a conventional sense? Investment within, alongside others and ownership of, with full control over, are two very different things. The German model is oft cited, but we seem nowhere near even thinking about it. Barcelona manage fine (well, to be fair, they're in crisis too, but they've done better than Macclesfield in general) 

- If we see stuff like supporter oversight in the boardroom as a dangerous lefty fantasy, then what does the sport do to attract 'good owners' who will run clubs responsibly?

- If 'good owners' (i.e. responsible people who will run clubs within their means and for the good of the local community and supporters) are priced out of the equation then how do we reduce costs in football to make the game attractive to these people?

- If we don't, why would we be surprised when the next club owned by a shady company or a dodgy egotist is in crisis?

The crucial point is this - it's not about simply rallying round or pitying the clubs who have suffered ill fate. Unless you support the biggest clubs (and even then, you've got the Glazers and the unrest at Arsenal) - whilst you may have the best, most generous and accommodating owner in the world, if they lose interest, suffer ill fate in their main business, or even worse, die, then your club is cast into this world. The chances are, unless you are Liverpool, you are running at a loss or your breaking even but have either stagnated or hit the limit of your ambitions and are desperately trying to stay afloat in the waters warmed by the Premier League TV money (basically, the Championship)

At an extreme level, a club like Gretna was an absurdity - but they show what happens when a team is reliant on one person, when their success is bought. In the world of football as it is, the reality for any side beyond an elite few (who have their own distinct problems in the main) is that to get success, you have to be a bit like Gretna - and when your Brooks Mileson (see! I told you he'd be back...) cannot fund you anymore your fate will be uncertain and possibly very tragic. Whilst your implosion might not be as absolute as theirs and there's a chance you might get lucky, we could be going from Uncle Jack to the Venkys. From John Hall to Mike Ashley. From feast to the beasts sniffing at the leftovers hungrily...  

There will be nothing you can do about it and bleating about 'fit and proper people' won't fix it.

You deserve better.

Wigan deserve better. I may deride them for living off Uncle Dave's money and their self mythologising of their bought success, but I used to get the 634 bus to Springfield Park and I love playing Wigan as I can go and see my much missed best mate after the game. It's my own personal derby match. I wouldn't wish their demise for all the money in an agent's pocket. Because, despite my words above, their dream is my dream in a different coloured shirt. Having dared to get above their station shouldn't be rewarded by being ripped from the community that they belong to. The people who stood on the St Andrews terrace with me, the people who dragged the club from non-league, always in the shadow of the rugby club, people who sobbed when the FA Cup was won, the fans in the town who grew up Latics, not Liverpool or Man Utd as a result don't deserve that. Wigan is every slightly shit town that needs a football club to give it a bit of a lift. We're all Wigan. We're all Bury but for a few twists of fate. 

We've got to face it. The game is sick. The bad owners are just a symptom. We're all at risk. It's up to those who govern to take charge and make it better. Stop demanding things that won't fix what causes the problems and start demanding things that will. Then football might be good again. God forbid, we might even win something one day


Success. At what price?  



UTMP

Yet another bad owner. Where do they breed them?

This is Brooks Mileson. He owned Gretna FC. If you don't know who he is or what the score is with Gretna, it might be worth giving it ...