Written by ElephantintheRoom on Wednesday, 29th May 2019 19:03
The season is over, the Lambert love-in has cooled and the dust is just about settling on the season ticket hype.
Finally, with Sunderland’s heartbreak and Charlton’s joy, we know which teams will actually be in division three next season. But in all honesty, even now, can we can begin to see the picture of what life in division three will be like?
Or accurately ponder on how Town will fare in the looming depths of the third division with anything other than wishful thinking? Signings have started - with a very big goalie and encouraging sounds from Tranmere. But can anyone say after such a dreadful season that Town could or should feature in the promotion picture?
Probably not. In the cheap seats towards the bottom of the league there is even more churn than higher up as clubs struggle to make ends meet. Most clubs in division three will be in a state of flux for some time yet. Ours being one of them.
Town’s future is looking a bit like Brexit. A step into the unknown on a parlous footing with clueless, weak leadership and uncertain economics.
Some people think we should be aiming for the top two or the mythical top six. The arrogant Farages amongst us, maybe. Others believe the squad is pretty weak and will inevitably struggle. Remainers perhaps.
Still more say ‘give Lambert until Christmas’, presumably blindly believing in a God-given right to success in a division they know very little about. Tories with their strange sense of entitlement?
Me? I’ll be happy if the club survives. One thing seems fairly certain. The lessons of history for very poor clubs with delusions of grandeur is that life down below can be harsh. It can be a long haul back. And those that do, remember are usually football clubs, not offshore investments.
Town’s fall may be just beginning. But there is perhaps considerable light at the end of Town’s self-inflicted tunnel of despair with the recent on-field recoveries of basket case clubs Blackburn and Charlton. If they can recover lost ground, so can Town, even with the current millstone owner around their necks. Which raises the question – just how hopeful can we realistically be now the season is finally over?
First (and most obviously) the on-field performance last season was an unmitigated failure. We contrived to finish behind destitute Bolton and hapless, hopeless Rotherham.
Last season Town were not just rank bad, they were startlingly inept. By my calculations we were one of the worst second division teams ever. So to expect an immediate renaissance with a manager who has seemed incapable of knitting an effective team together from a still unknown pool of players is akin to believing the pie in the sky peddled by Nigel Farage.
We are also asked to assume that the young players will show talent, fire and commitment in a lower division. To do that they have to get in the team and stay there. Does Lambert have the moral fibre to play them, or have it in him to create a team from what he has? Not on the evidence so far. Maybe necessity will be the mother of his reinvention.
On the plus side, the toxic atmosphere at Portman Road has given way to a slightly deranged sense of positivity. There WILL be jam tomorrow. But are we as clap-happy and loyal as the publicity? Almost inevitably, after well over a decade of frustration and decline in the second division, division three with its plethora of new teams and promise of relative success is something to embrace and look forward to. But for how long will this veneer of positivity last?
On the same side of that positive coin, IF Town can begin to look upwards, the second division aka The Championship has suddenly become something rather glamorous and out of reach to aspire to, rather than take for granted and sneered at. But again, for how long?
There is also a glimmer of hope in Town’s new structure. Lee O’Neill has a golden opportunity with his poisoned chalice. Can he actually get the owner to focus on the football club, or is he simply another yes man passing on bills for paper clips and A4 to be approved from ‘somewhere in the far east on business’? We can but hope it’s not the latter - again.
But does he really seem the type or personality to stand up to an owner who barely exists and whose motives seem so questionable? Town’s managers in the Evans era have all had to operate in a football vacuum with our small provincial football club coming somewhere well down the priority list in an offshore in-tray focused on global ticket touting, hot air conferences et al, not to mention a changing international marketplace for those often dubious services.
Has anything changed for the better there with Town’s relegation? I think not. So Lee O’Neill may well find the Whatsapp calls and messages go just as unanswered as those of his predecessors.
It’s easy to be flippant about Town’s evasive, offshore owner. He IS quite comical after all. But the situation is also quite alarming. Leadership and vision comes from above. Little wonder then that the managers and players attracted by the current set-up have largely been third rate and in it for what they can get.
We’re led to believe that the owner is a consummate businessman, but on the evidence of what we have seen in his dealings at Town, he seems utterly clueless in every aspect, apart from footing the bill for his own incompetence, eventually.
That old cliché about a crisis at Portman Road being when there are no bottles of white wine left in the boardroom urgently needs updating. With only two directors, even a half bottle will see them through a board meeting – if they ever have one.
A board of directors should be a talent pool of differing views focused on the strategy and future. Town’s has been reduced to a non-dom and a financial director of no known provenance. It’s hardly a visionary team to inspire much confidence. Although on the plus side the decision chain is short.
And so we have come full circle to the now known quantity of the third division. How will Town stack up as a perceived big fish in a small pond? Not well based on recent form against lower league opponents. And how will it feel to be drawn against say Luton reserves in the cup and be seen by the fatuous media as the underdogs hoping for a giant killing? It doesn’t bode well.
BUT we still don’t know the make up of the squad and whether Paul Lambert can make anything of it. Lambert’s PR skills are not in doubt, just his ability to do anything remotely close to what he says. Not unlike the gurning Farage, it’s easy to be glib and PR friendly when you spout the obvious clichés have no policies to be accountable for as the disillusioned and disaffected lap up your every word.
To spin the Brexit coin one last time, the supporters’ expectations appear distinctly divided. Many think we’ll do well (with no real knowledge of what we’re in for). Others think we’ll struggle. It’s certainly a new world and it’s up to Lambert and Evans now to deliver on those promises of a brave new future or the feelgood vibe will quickly fade. We can be fairly certain Evans won’t change and will act (or fail to act) as he has always done.
Which leaves us with Lambert, O’Neill and the tangible feel-good factor. Lambert simply has to develop a competitive, or at least a vaguely promising team from the off. Worryingly, or to be charitable, realistically, he is already kicking the can down the road and looking forward to six years of restructuring. I think that is eminently sensible, given the abject decline in absolutely everything in and around the club. But will those allegedly positive supporters give him six months, let alone a wistful six years?
It would be nice to think he will build around the core of ‘promising youngsters’. I would be nice to think he has a key role in mind for Alan Judge, having signed him. Who knows? Last January he said all the obvious things then promptly brought in a nap-hand of no-hopers. Perhaps this time it will be different.
Half the appeal of football is in the anticipation. It was always thus. For now I’m happy to be cautiously looking forward to taking on division three with a largely home grown team. Hopefully that is not a forlorn hope – and I don’t expect to know the answer before August at the earliest based on previous chaotic close seasons. Only time will tell what’s next.
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