We have moved and now natter at the new home of NATTER football……
When Eddie Mitchell was leading a consortium to purchase AFC Bournemouth, this was met with mixed feelings. Locally, he is in the building trade, building rather weird Miami Vice style houses that are for sale for multi millions of pounds in Sandbanks, the multi-millionaire haven, home to a certain Harry Redknapp and other top flight players. His company Seven Developments are rumoured to be his Seventh Business Venture after going bankrupt the previous six times, affecting a lot of local people, whilst he still managed to remain wealthy and come out in a positive light.
So, when all was signed and sealed, the fans were already split about the owner, but fully thankful we still had a club to support. Initially, the signs were pretty positive. Talk of trading the club out of the crazy debt that had been created by the previous regime in just seven months and the club being treated like a business, this is exactly what we wanted to hear. No more over spending and mainly mismanagement. He told the fans he was not going to take a wage and would work tirelessly, while the club had a transfer embargo, preventing anyone coming in. Some of the first signs of the type of figure Eddie is were shown in the first few weeks. He tried to keep his sons board members at Dorchester Town while he ran AFC Bournemouth. The FA were not impressed and threatened both clubs with expulsion from the FA Cup, soon Dorchester was in new hands. On the pitch, Eddie Howe and his troops were doing the impossible. For a lot of games we had just three subs and somehow maintained a genuine promotion bid and finished runners up to Notts County, taking us back into League 1.
During this period the signs were quite good as the embargo had been relaxed and we were told that the Football League were being sent monthly profit and loss accounts, therefore the Football League must have approved them. Eddie Howe was given money to strengthen, spending £150,000 in transfer fees before the 2010/11 season, something that was unheard of for a long time at Dean Court. We were told that in October, the club were virtually debt free and if we didn’t have to pay the ridiculous rent for our ground (something a previous chairman sold along with fans representatives, at a staggering £365,000 p/year) then we would be trading at a profit. Whilst Brett Pitman had already been sold for approximately £800,000, he had been replaced by the emergence of Josh McQuoid. With his contract running out, Mitchell bizarrely allowed him to leave on loan with him signing in January for £550,000. The fee was good, but losing a player in November, when you have made a great start is disappointing, fortunately Danny Ings stepped up to the plate.
Eddie announced that some of his family would be joining the board and being paid by the club, while he also sold his offices and moved Seven Developments into Dean Court. An arrangement that no doubt benefited both parties. Eddie Howe left for new pastures in Burnley under a bit of a cloud, although it was common knowledge that during a game away to Notts County, the chairman entered the changing room at half time drunk and decided to air some feelings of his own about the performance, whether this had any influence over Eddie Howe leaving only he would be able to tell you. Most sides build on what they achieved in the first half of the season and as we sold two strikers in the first half of the season, lost the brightest management duo in the country and failed to sign anyone as well as selling our hard man midfielder on deadline day. Combined with the lack of any proof of accounts and the rising CCJs, the discontent among the fans had started. Lee Bradbury was appointed by Mitchell, maybe as a cheap option, but the season ended in the play offs and the side were unlucky to lose on penalties. A very successful season all in all.
During the summer, AFC Bournemouth lost 2 players to retirement, 2 loanees going back to parent clubs and sold 6 players (don’t forget the 3 sold during the season), the most notable Danny Ings going to Burnley for up to £1 million. The squad had been decimated from the previous season. Seven Developments were given plenty of work around the ground, some of the work was needed, like a decent car park. I’m sure numerous lower league fans remembered the dustbowl, but also some work that probably wasn’t high priority like security gates and the changing rooms. The signings of 4 permanent players and a few loans did nothing to encourage the fans as deadline day arrived, only to find out we were signing no one despite Bradbury confirming he needed at least 2 more players, but it was okay Eddie Mitchell came out and said Feeney was going nowhere (he said the same for Pitman, McQuoid, Bartley.. All of them basically) and so we knew Liam was off. True to form, a couple of hours later and Liam Feeney was a Millwall player. Yet more non-truths from the chairman. All the fans wanted were replacements, not big money signings or breaking the wage cap. If you lose 14/15 players during a season and don’t see replacements, it is a bit disappointing. There were also bids for a few League Two players for upwards of £200k, possibly showing money is available, but it also screamed a large noise of desperation.
The fans also had the first opportunity to look at the accounts from his first year in charge, after being extremely late at the Companies House. Having been told plenty of times that the club were virtually debt free, the fans were in for a surprise for finding the club made a £1 million loss and we had around £700,000 in creditors.
Seven Developments (Mitchell’s Company) has received a winding up order from a local kitchen company. This coincided with his other sons being brought onto the board (just in case his company goes under and he fails the fit and proper test? Me cynical..Never..) Embarrassingly, that kitchen company has a box at Dean Court, next to Eddie Mitchell’s. This guy knows how to roll. Having not seen much re-investment and the Chairman’s company looking like it needs money, fan’s raise suspicion to a new height.
The Solent Fans Forum provided the perfect opportunity for Eddie to answer some of the fans questions and quash any fears. Questions about accounts, player sales and arrivals and the future of the club were met with defensive and angry answers. One gentleman politely asked about the accounts and if a third party could look at and verify them, while Eddie responded he wasn’t the person to ask as he isn’t an accountant and insinuating the guy was calling him a thief. An extremely bizarre reply. When asked about player sales, he gave us his version of events, the fans want to believe him, but we know nothing and don’t know the truth anymore, however, he managed to insult 2 ex players in doing so. Classy Guy. Then the comment that made the press, his reply to questions about the wage cap. ‘This is how I’m going to run the club, if you don’t like it go and support Southampton’. Well Eddie, this is exactly what the fans have wanted, make money from a FEW player sales and replace them with cheaper players with potential and keep us competitive. We want it run like a business we really do. Now the second part was not clever by any means. Southampton are AFC Bournemouth’s closest league club and a fair few Cherries fans tend not to like them, for a variety of reasons, although it would be harsh to tar all Cherries fans with the same brush. I’d love to see the reaction of Hammers fans told to go support Millwall or Sheffield Wednesday fans to go and support the Blades, so the comment was ill advised and was unlikely to be forgotten.
Roll onto Saturdays events. A home game against Chesterfield and the Cherries needed a win for a variety of reasons. AFC Bournemouth were trailing Chesterfield 0-3 and there were no signs of negativity from the fans. Supporting the boys to the final whistle and staying behind to applaud them. In the last few minutes of the game, the north stand, quite humorously but with a bit of intent chanted, ‘we’ll never watch the scummers (Southampton)’ just reminding Eddie we are here for the boys.
The final whistle went, and fans stayed behind for the team huddle in front of the North Stand. With both teams on the pitch, Eddie Mitchell comes bumbling out of the tunnel and starts applauding the fans in a slow, waist high clap, that seemed extremely sarcastic in reply to the mentioned chant. The Cherries players looked bewildered and embarrassed as if a ‘Oh not again’ moment and this wound up plenty of the remaining fans who used the opportunity to tell him what they thought. He then offered a fan onto the pitch, while the fan didn’t react, mainly because he would probably be banned, the rest of the supporters were not impressed with the chairman’s behaviour and vocally showed it, Eddie was moved away from the fans. He was given a microphone, he is the boss afterall, and tried to address the fans. He again tried to talk about the play offs just 4 months ago and then offered the fan onto the pitch again. With the team non-existent to the one 4 months ago, just witnessed a 3-0 reverse at home to a team who hadn’t picked up a win, offering a fan onto the pitch and being/looking a drunken fool, the fans were furious. Chants of ‘off’ to get him off the pitch were sung, followed by ‘we want Mitchell out’ of which he took offence to. Finally, some passion from him. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only event. Apparently, he then was an unwelcomed visitor to the home changing room again, ranting at the players about how the poor performance is dropping the gates and how this will affect their wages. The local paper reported that there was a clash with one of the young strikers in our squad in front of the fans too. It is fair to say this episode brought embarrassment on everything to do with AFC Bournemouth. Michael Owen and Tom Cleverley tweeted about it and Chris Moyles mentioned it on his show. With SkySports News and TalkSport carrying the story it was fair to say AFC Bournemouth were in the limelight for all of the wrong reasons.
He then had the opportunity to explain himself on national and local media outlets and to apologise for the completely embarrassing and inappropriate behaviour, only to say on Sky Sports News that he didn’t do anything wrong and would do it again.
In my opinion, Saturday’s events are down to our chairman. I can guarantee the fans would have gone home as there were no protests before, during or at the end of the game. Key footage is the clapping. No camera has picked it up, so we can’t see and judge how he was clapping. I think it was sarcastic and inciting, despite him claiming it was genuine. I genuinely feel the players leaving were down to money talking and the chairman had his hands tied. Players go, but not a whole squad within 12 months! Unfortunately it happened, but the fans are unhappy with the lack of replacements. The chairman needs to be open and honest, just a little transparency! He needs to show some figures to prove the money is being used correctly and that we have little or no debt. Eddie Mitchell needs to sort his behaviour out and hire a PR guru. It is 2 PR disasters in two weeks and the erratic and inappropriate behaviour to all needs to stop. Eddie needs to concentrate on running the club and leave Lee Bradbury to running the team. He can then be judged on results. At the moment, morale around the club is low. If he goes now, with no one to take over then the club could be in even worse trouble. We have endless rumours of Russian investment and a potential bid, maybe Eddie is being extremely clever and wanting to find his excuse to get out, using the fans as the perfect reason. I have seen many fans around stating the AFC Bournemouth faithful are getting above their station, but they have been some of the most patient fans around. The media only showed a small clip of this 6-7 minute event. They have been very patient and sensible, just distraught at how their club has been ripped apart. Everton fans were protest marching about a very similar situation. I think the chairman has one more chance in him and then the majority of Cherries fans will not want him around.
Since this piece was written, Eddie Mitchell has responded to a fans email and made his response to the email public -
Letter to Eddie Mitchell from a fan:
Eddie Mitchell’s response:
By Adrian Lee – AFC Bournemouth fan – @Adr1anL33
Date and time: 17/9/2011 – 1:00pm
Location: City Ground, Nottingham
Both Derby and Nottingham Forest have experienced mixed starts to their seasons leading up to one of the biggest fixtures of the campaign. Derby County got off to a flyer, winning their first four games for the first time since 1905, however, tasting defeat in their last two games has brought them back down to earth. Nottingham Forest, starting the season optimistically with the arrival of ex-England manager Steve McClaren and boosted by some decent signings, results haven’t gone their way, only picking up five points to date and the goals aren’t exactly flowing.
Recent history between the two clubs is well documented with fights occurring multiple times and some embarrassing results from both teams. The winner of each match between the clubs wins the Brian Clough (an obvious legend at both clubs) Trophy, and in the result of a draw, the previous winner keeps hold of the title. Since the competition started in 2007 Derby kept the title for over two years, playing Forest five times during that period. Since then, Forest have won three out of the last four meetings, including their first ever win at Pride Park and a 5-2 demolition at the City Ground last December.
Derby’s start to the season has been promising, picking up wins while not playing to their full potential. Winning their first four games is impressive; however, only one of them has been convincing, coming against bottom club Doncaster. Wins against Birmingham, Blackpool and Watford all could have gone either way, but nevertheless, Derby scored more than their opposition and collected three points on all occasions and you can’t ask for more than that.
Nigel Clough has had a disrupted and incomplete squad, with key players suffering from injuries such as Shaun Barker, Paul Green and Nathan Tyson, with a number of squad players also on the treatment table. Meanwhile high earners, Stephen Bywater and Dean Leacock sit in the stands without a squad number and available for transfer. Due to the amount of injuries Clough has had to deal with, 18 year old Mark O’Brien and Jeff Hendrick, 19, have been thrown into the deep end and responded positively, Hendrick particularly impressing me. Having brought in ten new signings and only letting Luke Varney go, Derby don’t have a complete squad (believe it or not), needing another central midfielder, right back and striker. Jason Shackell and Craig Bryson arriving from Barnsley and Kilmarnock respectively have been the Rams’ best buys so far. Even with a positive start to the campaign, I think Derby may struggle this season with the board failing to deliver a squad cable of challenging for the play-offs, as promised in the close season.
Nottingham Forest have not produced the quality expected from them and have had some largely disappointing results. Drawing at home to Barnsley and Leicester, while losing at Millwall and Southampton and being trashed 4-1 at home to West Ham. Doncaster Rovers are the only side Forest have picked up three points against. Their performances haven’t warranted much which is odd with their squad, as it includes high profile names such as last season’s player of the year and newly appointed captain Luke Chambers, Jonathan Greening, Andy Reid, Matt Derbyshire, and Wales international Chris Gunter at Steve McClaren’s disposal.
The former Derby assistant manager McClaren has constantly echoed former Forest gaffer Billy Davies’ comments and urged the board to invest in new players and has threatened to quit within three months of being in charge at the club. I think Forest have added some good players in Greening and Derbyshire, however, Andy Reid’s return to the club has so far been disappointing. Given time under McClaren, I think Forest should push for the play offs. But defeat against Derby and if McClaren continues to fail in perusing his transfer targets, the ex-England manager could be out of a job soon with his relationship with the owners already on the line.
Back to the game. Derby will be determined not to see a repeat of their last trip to the City Ground, while Forest will be looking to record their first home win of the season. Derby haven’t beaten Forest for 18 months and I can’t see that changing this weekend, if I’m honest. Even with Forest’s poor start, I think they’ll be too strong for Derby, with young lads who could potentially freeze in front of a hostile crowd. But, can McClaren rev his side up like Davies did for this fixture? And will the Nottingham Forest faithful see the return of former fans favourite Nathan Tyson in a Derby shirt? We will see on Saturday…
One to watch for Forest: Ishmael Miller
One to watch for Derby: Nathan Tyson (doubtful), Craig Bryson
By James England – @jamesengland121
Twitter has become one of the most prominent forms of social media in recent times, hitting the headlines time and time again, as great news stories of our time, are played out in real time with a stream of updates and photos or even broken first through Twitter. Over the last two years in particular, Twitter and the world of football have had a somewhat turbulent relationship, with the social network firmly in the headlines for a variety of reasons. The use of Twitter amongst the football world has certainly grown with more and more footballers at all levels setting up personal profiles, as well as a myriad of football agents, press officers, and journalists all tweeting regular updates to provide the average football fan with an unrivalled access to all the best up to date news from their club, it seems on the face of it that it’s a great development and Twitter certainly does have its perks for football fans.
Then, there’s the real time aspect of the service, where often transfer news and speculation is seen first on Twitter, certainly on transfer deadline day, Twitter was as much of an invaluable source to those seduced by the drama, as Jim White was. Indeed even to Sky Sports themselves, with ‘sources’ actually being attributed to Twitter ‘in the know’ accounts in many cases, and Yossi Benayoun answered the question of just where he was signing, by tweeting a big clue.
With so many footballers opting to set up a profile, there can be no doubt that the service has brought fans closer to those they idolise, than ever before. Arguably, it gets us too close, as we discover that actually a footballer’s life isn’t as exciting as we were led to believe after endless tweets about watching TV, and how amazing they are on computer games. For the most prolific of the football tweeters, like Rio Ferdinand, with over a million followers you can expect his inane comments to be retweeted thousands of times, grammar mistakes and all. In addition to football tweets being an endless source of amusement for fans as players banter between themselves and occasionally other tweeting celebrities, (the ongoing ‘battle’ between Manchester United striker Michael Owen and Arsenal ‘fan’ Piers Morgan being a prime example), it has become an invaluable resource for the media. Journalists can create whole stories based on just one or two tweets. Recently, Joey Barton’s tweets drew inspiration with quotes from the likes of Che Guevara and that was enough to fill an entire week’s news stories on Sky Sports News, with the channel monitoring Barton’s account like a hawk in case they missed something juicy. This was all much to Barton’s amusement, just how could Sky Sports News and tabloids, like The Sun, manage to create entire articles based on his tweets? Is it really news? It also presents the question, is Twitter helping to promote lazy journalism? After all if newspapers are stuck for something to fill space all they need to do is hop on Twitter, look for anything interesting and run with it. Case in point here being Wayne Rooney, after arriving on Twitter to much fanfare and excitement, it didn’t take Rooney long before he was courting controversy, responding to taunts from a Liverpool fan by telling him ‘he would put him to sleep in 10 seconds’. Unsurprisingly, given Rooney’s high profile, the tweets were printed in most newspapers, clearly only banter it was still unwise for Rooney to post such comments and prompted his manager Sir Alex Ferguson to certainly consider monitoring the output of his player’s messages, lamenting they have a responsibility and that he didn’t really understand it.
Of course Rooney is not the first footballer to get into hot water on the social networking site, with a succession of players courting controversy, the most high profiled of which was Ryan Babel’s infamous tweet in the wake of Liverpool’s defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford. The resulting ‘twitpic’ Babel posted of match referee, Howard Webb mocked up in a Manchester United kit led to a new landmark as Babel was the first footballer to be charged with improper conduct and fined by the FA over a remark made on Twitter.
Prior to Babel, we saw then Tottenham Hotspurs’ Darren Bent use the site to voice without a doubt where he wanted to go in the transfer window, urging Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, “Do I wanna go Hull City NO. Do I wanna go Stoke NO do I wanna go sunderland YES so stop f***ing around levy’. Bent did eventually get his wish and then upped sticks to go to Aston Villa not long after, so obviously wasn’t that desperate to move to Sunderland in the end.
By far the most controversial Twitter and football related story occurred this year when Imogen Thomas was named by a court as having had an affair with a footballer. The footballer of course was not named, but unlike scandalous ‘mystery footballer’ stories of the past where the identities were rarely confirmed, in this day and age of social media, it didn’t take long for Twitter to make a mockery of the so called ‘super injunction’ that prevented the superstar footballer from being identified with a name spreading like wildfire, and re-tweeted by thousands, weeks before he was finally officially named, prompting a widescale “I know something you don’t know” situation. The whole unsalacious episode raised many issues with regards to censorship on Twitter and how courts were powerless to prevent users flaunting the injunction on the US based site.
Recently, there was a lot of sadness and then later bewilderment as fans tweeted the same sad message about ex Sunderland ace Steed Malbranque. For all of Saturday and much of Sunday, fans commiserated about the terrible situation that had led to Mabranque quitting football, and many prayers were said as well as sympathetic tweets sent from a number of footballers including Ferdinand and Rooney. On Monday Malbranque’s solicitors confirmed that the message amounted to little more than a hoax. In this case, it doesn’t look like the hoax itself originated on Twitter, like a few other Twitter rumours about misfortunate celebrities.
For me though, the number one major issue I have with football fans having easy access to players on Twitter, is abuse. I mentioned the tweets to Wayne Rooney earlier that provoked a reaction in the United star but this isn’t even scratching the surface when it comes to footballers and dealing with abusive comments on their personal Twitter profile. Rooney’s United team mate Darron Gibson set up a profile and was hit with such a torrent of abuse from his own team’s fans that he promptly deleted his account within a couple of hours. Getting ‘stick’ from fans is part and parcel of football and prominent football tweeters like Robbie Savage and Stan Collymore have taken their fair share of criticism, but in the case of Gibson and others, there are times when it’s taken too far. Last weekend, I was horrified to see one of the players of my team, having to defend himself against a string of abusive tweets after one fan was more than disgruntled by what he thought was a lack of effort on the pitch. It was the kind of criticism you hear week in and week out on radio phone ins and on club message-boards, but there’s a big difference between voicing your unhappiness on a phone in or even from the stands and deliberately targeting a player on his personal twitter. Don’t get me wrong, I made disappointed comments to a friend, on leaving the ground about the player concerned but I wouldn’t dream of voicing my comments directly to him via Twitter. The comments were of a very personal nature and although there’s an argument to be made as fans that ‘we pay their wages’ and have the right to criticise, then surely through a player’s personal Twitter account is not the way to do so, especially if you couldn’t do it without resorting to hurtful, personal insults.
In my opinion, Twitter hit a new low yesterday when a small minority of so called Manchester United fans bombarded an account with hateful and disgusting comments after a player was injured in a game at the weekend. The target of their abuse however was not the player, Bolton’s Kevin Davies whose challenge put Tom Cleverley out of the game with a feared lengthy injury lay off (later confirmed to be as not as bad as expected) but sickeningly Davies’ wife. Somewhat ironically, Davies himself closed down his own Twitter account following personal abuse in the wake of Bolton’s FA Cup semi final humiliation and some other comments that he deemed as “abuse that nobody needs really”. Wife Emma was yesterday subjected to some incredibly vile and unnecessary tweets as she defended her husband. No matter what people may think of players, and even Mr Ferguson was vocal in his criticism of Davies, there is something seriously wrong when fans are using the easy access Twitter gives them, to abuse players wives.
Overall, I still think players on Twitter is quite a good thing, bringing fans closer to the players they love than ever before, the chance to interact or get a message from their idols. It’s also an opportunity to see the really good things players do in their spare time, Liverpool’s Charlie Adam is constantly running Twitter competitions for his followers, and without Twitter I never would have known about Jack Wilshere’s amazing and unselfish relationship with a terminally ill little boy in my town. The players do however remain an easy target, and I think we will see more players leave Twitter as a result of abuse, and who could blame them, there’s only so much that players can take, as for the fans, it’s clearly easy to tap out a hate filled tweet to a player and sit back in the comfort of their own home, would they be so brave to confront them in person and tell a player he was lazy or fat? In most cases, I think the answer would be no.
By Nicola Kilmore – Scunthorpe United fan – @Footychick25
After a disappointing campaign last season Morecambe continue their excellent start to the season with a 6-0 hammering over promotion rivals Crawley at the Globe Arena to take them top of League Two.
Rotherham put last weekend’s first league defeat behind them with an impressive display at home to Dag & Red thanks to a brace from Lewis Grabban and a tidy finish from Gareth Evans.
Shrewsbury’s Marvin Morgan scored two as they beat struggling Hereford at The New Meadow, at 2-1 Shrews keeper Ben Smith gave Delroy Facey a chance with a poor clearance but his effort hit the bar and Shrewsbury went on to win 3-1.
In other selected results, Cheltenham’s rise up League Two continued with a 2-0 home win over Macclesfield, Burton came from two goals down to earn a draw in Oxford and Swindon won their second home game in a week over Southend.
Bradford’s new manager Phil Parkinson is still waiting for his first win as new boss as Bristol Rovers left the Valley with a point after leading twice. Port Vale piled more pressure on troubled Plymouth with a convincing win at Home Park thanks to two goals from Gary Roberts.
Highlights of Morecambe 6 Crawley 0 -
Team of the Week
GK – Bobby Olenjik – Torquay
DR. Nick Fenton – Morecambe
DL. Ryan Green – Port Vale
DC. Adam Dugdale – Crewe
DC. Kelvin Langmead – Northampton
MF. Izak Reid – Morecambe
MF. Gary Roberts – Port Vale
MF. Simon Ferry – Swindon
ST. Justin Richards – Burton Albion
ST. Danny Carlton – Morecambe
ST. Marvin Morgan – Shrewsbury
Sam Walker, Jason Price, Lewis Grabban, Jonathan Smith, Mehdi Kerrouche, Alfie Potter, Luke Murphy and Mark Byrne also had good weekends for their clubs.
Tonight’s Fixtures (key games in bold, with added predictions):
AFC Wimbledon (3) v (0) Northampton, Accrington Stanley (1) v (2) Rotherham, Barnet (1) v (1) Plymouth, Bristol Rovers (2) v (1) Shrewsbury, Burton Albion (2) v (2) Crewe, Crawley Town (1) v (1) Swindon Town, Dag & Red (1) v (1) Oxford, Hereford (2) v (1) Aldershot, Macclesfield (0) v (3) Morecambe, Port Vale (3) v (2) Bradford, Southend (2) v (0) Gillingham, Torquay (0) v (0) Cheltenham.
With both teams at the wrong end of the table Barnet take on Plymouth at Underhill, where Plymouth will try and get there first win of the season.
Paul Buckle’s Bristol Rovers will want to get their season finally moving at home to on form Shrewsbury at the Memorial Stadium.
After their humiliation at Morecambe, Crawley play an in form Swindon Town who will want to carry on their winning streak. 5th placed Cheltenham take on 6th placed Torquay at Plainmoor which also promises to be a mouthwatering match up.
Saturday’s fixtures (key games in bold, with added predictions):
Port Vale (1) v (1) Shrewsbury, AFC Wimbledon (1) v (0) Cheltenham, Accrington Stanley (0) v (2) Crewe, Barnet (1) v (2) Oxford, Bristol Rovers (1) v (1) Aldershot, Burton Albion (1) v (3) Swindon, Crawley (2) v (2) Bradford, Dag & Red (1) v (1) Morecambe, Hereford (0) v (3) Gillingham, Macclesfield (1) v (1) Northampton, Southend (3) v (0) Plymouth, Torquay (2) v (4) Rotherham.
More next week!
By Dan the fan – Swindon Town fan – @danjohnson6
Over the past few weeks, as transfer deadline day rocketed my burgeoning Twitter reliance into a full-blown addiction, it has struck me the wide array of debates that people get into when discussing sport. While Michael Owen and Dan Walker were discussing their favourite wrestlers, and Joey Barton was continuing on his crusade to convince people he has a brain by tweeting his favourite exhibits in the Tate Modern, Daily Mirror journalist Oliver Holt was tackling an altogether more important subject: the Rooney Rule.
While, from my time spent endlessly refreshing Twitter in those long summer hours, Holt does seem the type to get a fairly large bee in his red-top bonnet quite regularly; his persistent and dogged arguments regarding the Rooney Rule struck me as unique. I approached my research of the subject with some cynicism – Ollie Holt had, after all, been almost equally persistent in his defence of Manchester City Chief Executive Garry Cook not a few days earlier. I wondered if this ‘Rooney Rule’ was another instance of Holt getting involved in a debate for the sake of involvement, but as Garry Cook sensationally parted company with Man City to make Holt’s defence seem ill-advised, I discovered that his latest debate may be his most important.
The Rooney Rule, for the uninformed, is a ruling in the USA’s National Football League that requires NFL teams to interview ethnic minority candidates for head coaching positions when they are open. Like many, I assume, I was previously unaware of the rule’s existence and again, like many, I was eager to understand more about this fascinating solution to issues of race in such positions. Named after Pittsburgh Steelers chairman and league diversity committee Chairman Dan Rooney, the law came into existence in 2003. Since that point, several African American coaches have entered jobs that they may not have ever had the opportunity to if the Rooney Rule didn’t exist.
Ollie Holt, in combination with his Daily Mirror colleague Darren Lewis, has begun campaigning on Twitter for the introduction of some similar ruling in English football, given the startling lack of black managers in the game. When one considers the issue for the first time, the initial natural reaction is to reel through your mind to name all the black managers there have been in the last few years. While these are numerous, the amount of black managers, and black english managers in particular, is shockingly small. In the English game at the time of writing, while over a quarter of professional players are of black origin, only two clubs employ black managers. Chris Houghton, for so long an assistant manager is currently at Birmingham City, after a spell at Newcastle United. Chris Powell is currently manager at the club where he is considered a legend after his illustrious playing career, Charlton Athletic. The name so regularly wheeled out in this context is Paul Ince, but the Guv’nor currently finds himself unemployed after plying his trade for several years in the lower leagues, following six months at Blackburn Rovers.
Elsewhere over the last decade, Ruud Gullit added to the contingent of black managers, along with Fulham’s gaffer of three years Jean Tigana. The tragic death at the age of 53 of the league’s first full-time black coach, Keith Alexander, cut the number of black league managers at the time by a third. Previous black managers have included John Barnes, Viv Anderson and Luther Blissett, but among them none of these managers have ever come close to the managerial role at a sizeable club.
Why is this? Is there a troublingly archaic attitude at the heart of this issue? While England is one of the more forward-thinking nations when it comes to racism and racial issues in football (the shocking scenes during England’s game in Bulgaria, where Ashleys Cole and Young were subjected to racial abuse from home supporters, emphasised just how far ahead we are of some areas), certain problems do still persist. While minority players are thankfully not subjected to the same kind of wholesale ‘monkey-noise’ racial abuse seen in some Eastern European countries, and on a smaller scale across Spain and Italy, racial abuse is still an issue in our game. Tottenham fans last year subjected Real Madrid’s Emmanuel Adebayor, ironically now playing for them, to a well-known chant that exploits racial stereotypes, much to the disappointment of UEFA. England fans themselves harked back to the seventies against Bulgaria, and while not quite going as far as the home fans, chanted derogatory cursive about ‘Gypsies’ amongst other things.
Given the success and prevalence in England of campaigns such as ‘Kick it out’, it is shocking when one really begins to consider the deeper lying reasons behind the perpetual struggle of black managers to fight for opportunities in the English games. Take Houghton – a manager who successfully guided a decimated and destitute Newcastle side to promotion from the Championship at the first attempt and was sacked after just three months of Premier League life. Keith Andrews, a Lincoln City legend who took the team to four consecutive play-off campaigns, passed away in 2010. His death was recognised by the England national team, who wore black armbands for their next game, and by footballing luminaries across Europe. If he was so well respected, then, why did he never manage at a higher level than League Two?
Footballing greats such as Andrew Cole and the aforementioned John Barnes and Paul Ince have been unable to find any truly great opportunity in management, in spite of the great heights they reached in their career. In my opinion, not all of this can be explained purely by discrimination. In fact, for the debate, as life in general, we must look past the colour of their skin and examine their credentials. Paul Ince may not be that great a manager, while Barnes’ record is sketchy at best. I am not arguing that either of these men should be offered the Chelsea job should Villas-Boas prove unsuccessful, but I, like Holt and Lewis, wish to highlight the fact that bog standard white managers are offered opportunities time and time again. How many clubs can Ian Dowie get relegated before Paul Ince is offered a shot ahead of him? How many times will chairmen turn to Alan Pardew, Nigel Pearson, Aidy Boothroyd or Steve Kean before John Barnes is deemed worthy of another chance? It seems that when white managers fail, a chance for redemption is never too far away. If a black manager doesn’t succeed immediately, he is confined to the lower leagues, or indeed unemployment, for the foreseeable future.
So is the Rooney Rule the answer? It is certainly an intriguing option. It is reassuring to imagine a world where capable, skilled minority coaches are at least considered for the biggest roles. Without action, it is easy to see the size of the problem at hand. Ex players in particular deserve better. Take Manchester United – one could easily imagine Gary Neville or Paul Scholes being considered to replace Sir Alex Ferguson if they expressed an interest, but would Andrew Cole? When we are completely honest, most of us would admit that he would not.
The obvious argument in favour of the introduction of the Rooney Rule in English football is that certain scenarios would be largely bypassed. Black coaches would be given the legitimate and exciting opportunities they deserve, and if a white manager was chosen instead we could be more sure that at the very least the decision was fair. As things stand, the white elite by which the game is governed seem to be completely oblivious to the problem, rather than ignoring the plight of black managers.
Anti-Rooney Rulers establish the argument that the law is tantamount to positive discrimination and affirmative action, and while I can see the relevance of this point I would argue that affirmative action would be preferable to inaction. In the modern game as it exists, there is a definite gulf in equality, as time and time again black coaches are bypassed when new managers are hired. I sincerely hope that the game is brought into the 21st Century before more time and opportunities pass by.
By Liam Smith – Arsenal fan – @RowZBlog