Part 2: The Manager
(What a brilliant and productive use of my lunch hour this has been!)
It’s impossible to avoid the rumblings on the terraces, over beers and on social media (not a Pandora’s Box I’m going to open any time soon!) about the future of the manager. I think it’s fair for the jury to be out on him, I think we’re approaching the right time to begin to assess progress given that he’s had five and a half months since the end of last season to get his own players together and get the season underway.
Things felt pretty positive in the summer, the personnel that had come in looked mostly better than those they had replaced and you could sense a team being built. Performances were good in patches and if we’d shown any level of ruthlessness in front of goal when on top would be outside the bottom three with a cushion in our favour over those below us.
Over the past couple of weeks things feel as though they’re beginning to unravel.
As football supporters we have a tendency to look back with understandable fondness at the good times and romanticise them somewhat whilst turning a blind-eye to the more difficult times. Everyone talks about the wonderful seasons that were 2014/5 and 2017/8, yet with no mention of the two intervening seasons which were utterly grim. We all remember the treble Middlesex Senior Cup triumphs and top four finishes under Dave Anderson but forget that we were still in the bottom 3 in February / March time of his first season and having to watch some absolute dross.
Taking those two seasons, 2015/6 and 2016/7:
2015/6: We actually began fairly well. A draw at Grays followed by a rare win over Enfield Town, a draw with Dulwich and then absolutely playing Needham Market off the park with a performance that was outstanding. On a blazing hot day we passed them off the park, looked a million dollars. A week later and we’d been abject at Leiston losing 2-0.
Then things began to unravel. Players were getting sent-off, injuries began to bite, players became disenchanted and either went missing or left the club and in the end we had to really graft to drag ourselves just over the line, but for long periods of the that autumn and winter were reliant on a series of younger lads trying to help us out on-loan from pro clubs.
2016/7: We had a tougher start than the season before but everything seemed to be coming together when we beat Dulwich in the FA Cup at Champion Hill 2-0 with the perfect away performance.
A week later we’d lost 6-0 at Enfield Town, our coach walked out at half-time and we spent most of the autumn and winter looking like a shambles. The door began to revolve with increasing regularity as a string of players that were either not of the required quality or who lacked the required fight for a relegation battle came and went whilst those that did have quality were shown the money elsewhere and understandably went.
That’s not even going near the 2006/7 season where we took 2 points from our opening 11 league matches, were out of four cup competitions yet declined the manager’s resignation after our FA Trophy exit at the hands of Ramsgate.
Or 2010/11 where after beating champions-elect Sutton United 1-0 in February, we ended up winning four and drawing three of our next 21 matches through to the end of the season. Half of those wins came in the London Senior Cup.
I’m sure some fans were questioning Gary at times during those runs but there seemed to be a tacit understanding of the challenges he was facing, which meant that he retained the backing of the overwhelming majority throughout – quite rightly, in my view.
I don’t feel that Jimmy has been given the same level of understanding. The explosive start that we had last term was probably the worst thing that could have happened to him upon reflection, it probably raised expectations to an unreasonable level. My own expectations before a ball had been kicked was to avoid relegation – he achieved it.
This season my expectations given the summer business was to stay clear of the bunfight at the bottom of the table. That doesn’t look like it’s going to be met and another long, hard, draining season looks on the cards. However, we’re not get a quarter of the way through our league campaign, we have games in hand on most of those within touching distance above us and we have been in positions like this before.
Is Jimmy the right man to take us forward? I honestly don’t know. He has a good track record at other clubs yet the current evidence of the past year or so with us perhaps points to the contrary. I suppose this might be where you can legitimately compare him and Gary. Gary showed, that with patience, he could turn things around and 9 months of bad was often followed by 9 months of much better. Our current struggles have lasted 10-11 months with Jimmy and it’s not yet apparent whether or not he can turn it around. Perhaps this is, if push came to shove, what might end up determining his fate.
There are some valid concerns – his body language on the touchline worries me – but he seems to be on a hiding to nothing with some.
I like the guy, I admire his honesty. He’s asked some much more searching questions by Steve Lytton than Premier League managers often are by powderpuff Sky and MOTD reporters and always fronts up with honest answers. He doesn’t shy away from them and, like Gary, always looks at himself first before blaming any external factors. I remember when we were struggling under Neil Price in the mid-90s and week after week in his programme notes, he’d be blaming referees or injuries or luck – anything but his own shortcomings.
On Saturday evening I left the ground at 6:45pm after my son had been on the pitch for a while. I was astonished as I popped into the bar to use the toilet to see that Jimmy was still there, dissecting the game, searching for solutions with one or two others. Last night, as I got a lift home with Daz, he was one of the last to leave the ground again, sitting there reflecting, searching for solutions. Whatever his limitations as a manager might be, hard work, honesty and introspection aren’t among them and quite honestly, that’s the minimum I want in a manager.
I get the impression that some won’t be happy until Jimmy’s run out of town and either Gary returns in a blaze of glory (highly unlikely) or Big Dave is installed as player-manager (highly unlikely).
Until such time as Jimmy, or the board decide that the time is right for a change, he has my support. That’s not to say I’ll agree with every team selection, but whilst he’s in that dugout leading whichever 11 players are fit and willing to wear the shirt, I’m behind him.
Re: Part 2: The Manager
I don't do Facebook, but I have recently discovered the Hendon Fans Page. Some great stuff. One of Phil Rogers posts the most sensible post I've ever read. As emotions are riding high. Why not join the party?
My take:- I go back to FAC Hayes. Sitting there thinking to myself. Even if we win, this needs ripping up. The defending in my view, similar to that served up by Staines last season. Three weeks later, James has gone in and torn the defence to shreds. I say good on him. I think the lad is currently addressing a lot of long-standing issues. Some may advocate he should have done this quicker - Objectively, I don't think the lad could have done more in the timeframe. Significantly, I think the lad is also addressing wide midfield - the right and left back positions, long-standing deficiencies. With the lads eventually coming back from the sick-bay I do believe the actions undertaken have all been correct. Has to how such wholesale changes pan out individually and collectively remain to be seen - but no-one could have done more. Some of the recent transfers, in what clearly was going to be period of churn or more likely immense upheaval, look intriguing. If not, I'm sure James won't stand on ceremony. Hayes, FA Cup. may have been the catalyst to instigate driving things forward. Personally, I maintain player wise, he has had a challenge akin to scaling Everest. This is and remains a massive construction job. Crazily, I would compare us to Manchester United on that one. Hopefully, underlying progress is being initiated. My only critique of the lad, which maybe somewhat harsh given his back-drop is the lack of apparent style of play. My hope is that as players come back and hopefully the newer recruits are incorporated into the mix a genuine semblance of normalcy and identity can take hold. This ain't a quick fix - but we maybe heading at last in the right direction. Questions will surround the new recruits but we have to work through this. We undeniably have some reasonable players. James is working to identify and improve things. The lad deserves our support right now.