So here we are, a handful of games into the brand new football season, depending on where your allegiances lie, how has it been for you? Sitting pretty at the top of the league on maximum points? Mediocre and yet to win or are you languishing at the bottom, already worrying about the season ahead?
It’s crazy how over reactive we as football fans can get, already I have seen perfectly serious reactions of ‘sack the manager’ based on just 2 or 3 games and the infamous ‘I’ll burn my season ticket’ threats. Why? Well a lot of this has to do with the weight of expectation of certain fans often created by the media and unrealistic perceptions.
Cast your minds back to the heady days of June and July, when your pre-season was in full swing, eager just to ‘get back’ you happily headed to some ground that was more like a Sunday league pitch and witnessed your beloved team beat the Dog ‘n’ Duck or the local semi pro team and although in your head, you’re thinking pre season doesn’t really mean all that much, you can’t help think ‘Yeah! We’re going to be dangerous this year!’ ‘Our new number 9 looks LETHAL’ etc. Before you know it hope rapidly turns to optimism and in turn expectation and everyone starts the new season thinking ‘this is going to be our year’. It’s not just pre season that can build up our hopes either, from the bloke down the pub to the journalists and bloggers, everyone is eager to offer their pre-season predictions, the more respected the pundit, the more weight it carries. If Dale down the road says you’re going to win the league you might not get all that excited, but if Gary Lineker says the same, well that must mean it’s going to happen because it’s bloody Gary Lineker, the bloke off Match of the Day. The holy grail of all predictions is of course the bookies, they assess your chances and give odds accordingly and create ‘favourites’ and once your team is a ‘favourite’ in comes the expectation from the supporters, the chairman and the pundits alike.
So, with all that in mind we roll around to 3pm on the first Saturday of the season (or some other obscure rubbish time and day if your team is ‘lucky’ enough to be featured on Sky) and for some by the end of the 90 minutes, hopes will still be firmly intact, and for others all your pre season optimism will have come crashing down. Message boards countrywide are awash with reaction, ‘He’s shit!’ ‘Our defending was awful’, ‘the manager does not know what he is doing’. The first instance of this kind of reaction was seen after the opening football league game on Friday 5th August. Blackpool beat Hull City 1-0 at the KC Stadium with a late goal to condemn the hopes of the expectant home crowd who had seen their new look team, record an impressive 3-0 pre-season victory against Kenny Dalglish’s equally new look Liverpool side. Of course nobody was going to get carried away with such a result but it had certainly looked promising, with Hull justifying their tag as one of those expected to challenge for the promotion spots in the Championship. So defeat and particularly a continuation of last season’s KC achille’s heel of lack of home goals was disappointing.
Bristol City were beaten at home again by a 3-0 score line for the second season in a row. They followed this up with defeat to Cardiff and Internet murmurings about the manager were already starting, just TWO league games into the new season. It seems utter madness but when is a legitimate time to start considering a managerial change if things are not going your way?
Well, surely not two games in, since then Bristol City have steadied the ship with a win and a draw and the murmurings of discontent have gone away for now. One of those wins was at highly fancied, uber ‘favourites’ Leicester City, who after recording a content opening day victory have lost two home games and drawn one, which clearly is not a good enough start for a side who have spent big in a bid to make a return to the Premier League. Attention naturally falls on the manager and when you’re as high profile as Sven Goran Eriksson, the scrutiny is going to be pretty intense. Are the Foxes faithful demanding his sacking just yet? Perhaps some are less than enthused with his start at the helm but four games in calling for his head, surely not? Well, it may be a minority but there are definite shouts.
And Sven is far from the only manager feeling the heat already just three weeks into the start of the season. Despite notching victory at Ipswich, Hull City followed that up with defeat at Leeds and another shot shy display culminating in home defeat to Crystal Palace has resulted in the knives being sharpened for manager Nigel Pearson, with some fans flooding the local radio station demanding he be ‘axed now’ before it’s ‘too late for the Tigers to recover’.
Barnsley appointed a new man in the summer, prising away Rochdale’s talented manager Keith Hill to take the helm at Oakwell and it’s fair to say Hill has already suffered something of a rough ride as they collected just one point from their opening three league games, prompting Hill to hit out at the fans calling for his head: “There is a lot of negativity and I think it is uncalled for. The finances will not change whether you sack the manager or not.” It does seem unfair and perhaps there is something in the air in Yorkshire as Huddersfield boss Lee Clark also took a swipe at his critics and a section of the Huddersfield support after the highly fancied Terriers also made a stuttering start to the new campaign. A goalless draw at Hartlepool prompted 600 or so Huddersfield fans to chant “You don’t know what you’re doing” much to Clark’s fury as he let rip in the usual pre-matchday press conference: “I don’t deserve that, the reaction of the fans on Tuesday night was bordering on disgraceful after what I have done for this club.” It’s hard not to sympathise with Clark, as disappointing as a third successive draw was for a club installed as firm favourites, it did set a new club record of 28 league games undefeated, a quite remarkable feat, which went unnoticed.
Interestingly it wasn’t just the fans that Clark was clearly unhappy about. He was as equally angry with the press which raises again the huge role that expectations can play even in the infant days of the season. Clark rapped the local press:
“You are obsessed with us having to be six or seven points clear at this stage of the season, you don’t look at the bigger picture, and quite frankly you don’t have a clue about football.”
An extraordinary rant at first glance but with a semblance of truth, the press do help to create massive expectations on teams and in turn it can’t really be much of a surprise when fans turn so quickly on their managers.
It’s not just the teams with big budgets or big expectations, Leyton Orient have suffered a terrible start to the season with four defeats to put manager Russell Slade, firmly under pressure. Meanwhile, one of Slade’s old side’s Grimsby have had an absolute horror start to their second season in the Blue Square Premier, sitting bottom with two defeats (one 5-0) and a draw, with fans less than endeared with the management duo at Blundell Park.
But if things aren’t going too well, are you ever justified in sacking your manager before we even hit September?
Last season Sheffield United sacked their manager Kevin Blackwell just two league games into the new season as a reaction to a 3-0 home reverse against QPR, Blackwell was replaced by Gary Speed, but when Speed accepted the Wales job in December, it left the Blades in turmoil again and ultimately they didn’t survive in the Championship.
On the other hand, Alan Pardew was sacked by Southampton on the 30th August 2010, following a record of just one win in three, the club appointed Nigel Adkins as manager, and haven’t looked back since, sweeping to promotion from League One and have so far racked up twelve points out of twelve in the new campaign, with Adkins credited with the club’s rejuvenation.
And who can forget the extraordinary events at Carrow Road on the opening day of the 2009/2010 season as Norwich slumped to a shocking 7-1 home defeat at the hands of Colchester United. The result caused shock waves amongst the media and Norwich fans with two Canaries memorably tossing their season tickets at manager Bryan Gunn as a measure of their disgust. Six days later, Gunn was axed as manager, and in a cheeky but clearly shrewd move the Canaries appointed the man who had masterminded their humiliation, Colchester’s Paul Lambert, and what an appointment it turned out to be. Not only did Lambert ensure Norwich finished top of League One but the following season he led the Canaries back to the promised land of the Premier League. It’s the sort of blueprint that Nigel Adkins will be hoping to replicate at Southampton.
The pressure keeps on coming too, Paul Jewell may have started well, but Ipswich have nosedived horrifically and following up a 5-2 defeat to Southampton with an even poorer 7-1 reverse to another newly promoted side, Peterborough, has put him firmly in the firing line.
Sam Allardyce is under pressure to get West Ham back in the Premier League and producing two wins, a draw and a defeat is obviously not enough for a section of the Upton Park faithful, who are already calling for his head.
The pundits say that it is 6 games before you really start to see league tables take on any real meaning so does that mean that after this time, is when we will start to see the managerial merry ground start to spin once more? Given previous form for August managerial upheaval it’s perhaps surprising that nothing has changed just yet but make no mistake for some the pressure is certainly on and some managers may be only a couple more bad results away from losing their jobs. It’s become a tougher business than ever, and it seems more than ever that managers are paying the price for poor results, even if the leaves have yet to turn golden.
Is your manager under pressure already, do you support him or would you advocate an early change?
By Nicola Kilmore – Scunthorpe United fan – @Footychick25