It’s the Grand National on Saturday. Easter is just around the corner. It’s nearly time for the plaudits and brickbats to be dished out as the football season draws to a conclusion. Several of the leagues are close, especially at the bottom, which makes for some nerve shredding afternoons at board level, in the dressing rooms and on the terraces.
Even at this late stage – and I suspect the peak has passed – clubs think a change of manager can have an impact. In League 2 alone, Oxford have brought in Gary Waddock, Bristol Rovers have promoted Darrell Clarke, and Portsmouth have turned to Andy Awford, a former player who was looking after the club’s Academy. All clearly felt a change of voice, with the potential energising that might bring, could get them to their short term target.
Awford’s appointment interested me not because I have any loyalty to Pompey, but in that it now means half the teams in League 2 are managed by men who previously played for the same club. He is though, an exception in the sense that most of the others are at what you might call term the division’s lighter weights.
I’m sure there is an element of “better the devil you know” in such appointments. If a player has played over 200 games for a club, you would be hard pressed to find a large group of fans who didn’t warm to him, and in Awford’s case that figure is over 300, as it is for Jim Bentley at Morecambe.
The “200 club” includes Neal Ardley at Wimbledon and Mark Yates at Cheltenham.
In each case the board probably knew there would be little dissent from the fans, and that the former player would understand the history and expectations of the club, and how it was run. I accept Paul Tisdale and Chris Wilder only spent time on loan at Exeter and Northampton respectively, but they had still been there before.
Perhaps it says much about the ambitions of some of the better supported clubs in League 2 that Plymouth, Chesterfield, and Southend are all managed by men with no previous connection to their current employers. They don’t, at this stage, feel the need for a familiar face.
For teams who have recently edged over the 50 point mark, there is relief in the knowledge they can start planning for next season in the same division.
In League 2, 16 of the 24 teams average fewer than 4,000 fans at the turnstiles, so every pound counts.
At Cheltenham, the chairman has seen the crowds dip below 3,000, and as he and his manager finally expect to put to bed negotiations over a new 2 year contract, that loyalty card will be increasingly important.
The club has been drawing on money put up by an investor for the last two seasons. There is only one more season left in the kitty, with possibly some loose change to help with cash flow in 2015-16. By that stage, it is also possible that tenants Gloucester City will have vacated Whaddon Road, meaning that two sources of revenue have disappeared.
It would be wrong, however, to think there is no impact until that time. The club would be prudent to work towards a smaller playing budget 12 months from now, the net result of which could well be only offering 1 year contracts this summer to potential signings.
Increasingly, it looks like a hand to mouth existence without the bonus of a run in one of the cup competitions. One season contracts for players may become the norm, coming as they do with lower risk but equally less likelihood of a sale at any profit. In that situation, a manager who has real feeling for and cares about the club is, you would think, the one you would trust to steer the ship.
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