‘F***ing shit’ shouted the bloke in front of me as we traipsed out of The Valley last Saturday. ‘Absolute garbage’. I wasn’t so sure. Frustrating I’d grant you; disappointing likewise, not quite good enough, sure. But what I’d just watched hadn’t been ‘shit’ – and I’ve supported Rovers long enough to know what ‘shit’ is.
When did football fans become so intolerant of average? When did we decide to stop being accepting of anything that occupied that wide plain that exists between terrific and terrible and decide instead to corral everything that happens into one of two binary pens; ‘shit’ and ‘brilliant’? What have we done to deserve any more than average most of the time? Life isn’t like that – most of our days are mere tokenistic, eventless steps toward the grave – so why should football be any different?
Only three teams in League One can truly succeed this season, six if you count getting to the play-offs a success. Four teams can fail. That leaves 17 or 14 in between. We’re on course to be one of those sides, I don’t think there can be many fans who expected us to be anything other than one of those sides this season, so why is losing games along the way such a disaster? Why to some is it seemingly an insult?
I’ve been present at just shy of a third of Rovers matches this season, but on only one of those occasions – Wimbledon away since you ask – was I particularly underwhelmed by what I saw. I’d say that was a decent fairing. I don’t expect to be thrilled every time I watch Rovers in the same way I don’t expect to be thrilled by every time I go to the cinema, or read a book. Sometimes the writer and the material are there, but it just doesn’t click. It happens.
Of course I’m not saying you can’t strive for greatness, or that you can’t hope and wish for more. We all do. And similarly, we don’t have to be happy with where we are just because we’re not storming the pitch every week in protest, and no-one’s tried to set fire to the ground in two decades. Comparing now to our nadir, doesn’t help anyone. But we must be realistic in our progress; it’s more likely to take years than weeks.
So long as every defeat is viewed as a disaster, the pressure on the manager increases. Shouts of ‘Fergie out!’ were audible at The Valley – they could be even more audible today depending on how we fared against Portsmouth whilst this issue was being printed. Whenever the subject of sacking the manager comes up, I am reminded of Sean O’Driscoll’s candid and compelling interview with Goalfood, seven years ago.
The average tenure of a [manager’s] job is less than 18 months. You’re trying to put something together which is long term and all that really matters is trying to win the next game so f**k everything else, managers just need to win the next game. Then you win the next game and you’re supposedly a better manager for it, then you win the next one after that and all of a sudden you’re going to jump ship because someone else wants you. The whole thing is cyclical.
Ferguson, or at least the perception of him, appears stuck in this cycle. He is managing a team in a division where they are set to lose around as many games as they win, perhaps a few more. Yet, each time he loses he’s shit, and each time he wins he’s earned a stay of execution. Mercifully, it would seem those in charge at Rovers know such knee-jerk reactionism isn’t the way to run a football club.
Whilst the results of the first team are of course important, there is more to what we’re doing and what we are achieving as a club than that. We appear to have a solid set- up, we’re starting to bring younger players through and look to the non-leagues for talent, and we’ve a squad of players who get what it means to represent a community.
I expected this season to give Rovers a mid-table finish – indeed if you look back at issue 89 you’ll see all five respondents to our fan panel felt similarly. As I write, we’re only around four points off that, which is what? Matty Blair’s opening day effort against Gillingham not being cleared off the line, and Northampton’s goalkeeper not making a brilliant save from Ben Whitman. Fine margins.
Personally I believe, as frustrating as it is to see your team lose, the only time to get rid of a manager is when things are truly rotten; when the position the club is in is fundamentally wrong, when the situation is beyond repair. I don’t think anyone could argue this is where Rovers are at right now.
But then I realise – particularly so when walking out of The Valley – that I’m perhaps in a minority. I’ll accept a couple of seasons of struggle if we are, as a club, doing everything right to garner long-term progress. It’s not ideal, but I’d argue it’s better than throwing the dice over and over again only to tread water. Just look at Oldham Athletic. They’ve been in League One for 20 years straight now. It’s a wonder they still bother. Two decades in League One; the punishment for terrorism charges is more lenient than that.
by Glen Wilson
This article first appeared in print in issue 90 of popular STAND fanzine.
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