Editorial: Managerial hope not hate

Two pairs of football supporters, one a dad and his daughter, walk past the gates of Crewe Alexandra's Gresty Road ground ahead of a match.

When he was still a player, Gary McSheffrey dated a girl at our university. He even turned up for a Christmas Ball once, wearing a pair of remarkable brogues, and thus without prompting everyone who saw him in Lincoln’s Engine Shed that night remarked, ‘he’s smaller than you’d think… nice shoes though’. To the point that it became a catchphrase among our friendship group, used whenever he popped up in any of our football-watching lives. ‘I see your lot have signed McSheffrey, what’s he like?’ ‘Oh OK… smaller than you’d think… nice shoes though’.

I think the saddest thing about his tenure as Rovers manager – and arguably it’s most damning indictment – is that even after almost a year in charge of my football team, that catchphrase will continue to be the first thing I think of when I hear his name. Not Gary McSheffrey, Doncaster Rovers manager, but still, and always, Gary McSheffrey, smaller than you’d think… nice shoes though.

So yes, farewell Gary McSheffrey, an official reign of just under 10 months, that in years to come will be looked back on by all of us as ‘Oh yeah, McSheffrey, God I forgot about him.’ Looked at objectively, this was a tenure that was remarkable only in its unremarkableness. OK yes, there was that win at Sunderland, and then there was… erm… the, er… nope. I’ve nowt more. Ultimately, he was this generation’s Steve Wignall, a man who once played for us, who undoubtedly meant well, and was certainly there, but that’s about it.

The preceding paragraphs should leave you in no doubt of how far from impressed I was at McSheffrey’s management. But at no point, not even during a bafflingly limp approach to a must-win game at Fleetwood, did that disappointment grow into anything approaching hatred. If anything I felt sorry for him. He wanted to succeed, I wanted him to succeed, but ultimately want is no substitute for tactical nous. 

So as I sat in the stands at Brunton Park in no doubt that something – specifically the man in the technical area – needed to change, I stopped short of joining in the chants of ‘Gary McSheffrey; get out of our club’. Why? Because it just felt like far too harsh a sentiment; the sort of thing to be chucked in the direction of crooked owners, not under-performing managers. It’s not like he was asset-stripping us, he’d proved himself a decent coach before taking the manager’s job, and I wouldn’t have been averse to him returning to the youth set up. But then I suppose it’s hard to make ‘Gary McSheffrey; step back from your current role and put your skills into an area more fitting’ scan within the confines of ‘Sloop John B’. It’s why I don’t start chants any more.

There will be those within our support who rationalise the anger towards McSheffrey, by suggesting that he brought it upon himself. Not necessarily through what he presented on the field, but also through some ill-thought through comments to the press. Seemingly chief among these was his response to being asked why he hadn’t touched his Twitter account in months. ‘It’s taken a back seat,’ he told the Free Press. ‘It’s not good, even when you are doing well you can still get drainers draining your life. I don’t need any energy zapping out of me’.

I can only speculate, but I imagine that shortly after this interview McSheffrey was locked in a room by the Rovers media team and forced to repeat the phrase ‘At the end of the day, they’re supporters, and they’re entitled to their views,’ over and over, until it was all he could say. Like that bit on Father Ted when the bishops are visiting and they teach Father Jack to say ‘That would be an ecumenical matter’.

But to go back to what McSheffrey said about social media. Yes, it’s a comment that is a little misguided when fans are already doubting your credentials. It’s also a comment that shows a sizable bit of media naivety. And it’s a comment that could most certainly have been worded more carefully. But also, and crucially, it’s a comment that isn’t in any way wrong. Social media is draining; facing relentless negativity and abuse is undoubtedly draining, and taking yourself out of that negative space to keep yourself motivated is an incredibly sensible course of action.

Years ago when your football club was rubbish, it was rubbish almost exclusively in the prism of Saturday afternoons, that and the odd midweek interaction with colleagues or classmates who shared your support. Now, with what were once weekly newspapers needing daily hits, and with social media as ubiquitous as Bradley Walsh, when your football club is rubbish, they’re rubbish almost everywhere, all the time. It adds weight to every defeat; turns momentary blips into week-long crises, and it is, without doubt, draining.

As I write Danny Schofield has made a positive start to his tenure as Rovers manager; he’s played the press conferences with a straight bat and he’s given us glimpses on the field of what his management approach is about. Hopefully he can continue to do both these things and in doing so give himself the room to mount a proper crack at dragging Rovers back up the pyramid. After several false starts, to get away from the negativity and the inexplicable hatred it fosters, this needs to be a proper managerial shift, for all our sakes. Something we’ll look back on as an ‘era’ rather than a forgettable spell. Godspeed, Danny, lad.

by Glen Wilson

This is the editorial from issue 110 of popular STAND fanzine, which was sent out to subscribers on 4 November 2022.

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