It seems a shame to take such a negative outlook on the football league, but it appears that there is very little to be positive about as things stand. Controversy shrouds many of our beloved clubs and it is hard to predict when the darker times will fade away. Gone are the days when a bad season was simply not winning enough points to avoid relegation. A season of despair can now manifest itself in a whole plethora of different forms.
Take first the example alluded to in the October 5 article. Points deductions are all too common an occurrence in today’s game. Yes, clubs need to be punished for irregularities, but should it really be the fans who suffer? There is also the aspect of new owners at a club. Arriving with promises of new investment and a transformation in fortunes on and off the pitch, expectations are not always met. As an example, can anyone really explain what has been going on at Portsmouth over the last few weeks? One new owner, seemingly more problems with wages not being paid, followed by more new owners. Surely some continuity is needed here? Can the players and staff really feel settled with all this confusion?
It was suggested in the previous article that John Barnes would soon be out of work and, sure enough, he was sacked shortly after. However, Barnes was not the only managerial casualty in League One on Friday – it was announced on the same day that Peter Taylor had parted company with Wycombe Wanderers by mutual consent. Despite a difficult run of fixtures in their first season back in the third tier of English football, by Taylor’s own admission the results had not been good enough. However, now that the dust has settled, it appears that not all is as it seems. Sensationally, Taylor has now said that he was in fact sacked and that the decision was not a mutual one.
This brings us back around to the issue of club ownership. The situation at Wycombe is certainly a unique one. The club have shared their Adams Park home with rugby union side London Wasps since 2002, and it is the relationship between the two clubs which has now developed that presents something totally different. Wanderers’ Managing Director Steve Hayes arrived at the club hoping to use some of his fortune to help out the Buckinghamshire side. Since his initial investment in 2004, Hayes has gone on to take full ownership of the Chairboys. In between this, however, he has made an initial investment into Wasps, followed by taking complete control in 2008. Needless to say, the Wycombe fans are generally sceptical of his motives.
As with most clubs in the football league, finances are tight for the Buckinghamshire outfit. The condition of Hayes taking ownership of the club was that the debts would be written off – an offer that few lower league clubs could realistically turn down. Despite this apparent act of generosity, Hayes remains a controversial figure for the club’s fans as he has not yet endeared himself to them. Prior to his takeover, the club had in place a unique charter stating that no single person could take a controlling stake in the club. With Hayes’ offer, the shareholders felt as if they had been backed into a corner and thus had little choice but to accept a revision to the tradition of the club.
The fact is Steve Hayes is a businessman and the vast majority of Wycombe fans appear unable to see past this. They question his need to ally himself with Wasps as well as the Wanderers. Of course, all clubs want to be independent bodies and although Hayes has reiterated on numerous occasions that he has no plans to merge the clubs in any way, many appear unable to take him for his word. Simply put, however, London Wasps represent an extra source of revenue for Wycombe Wanderers that few other clubs could claim to have. How many lower league sides could really afford to refuse extra revenue at the moment?
So what of Peter Taylor’s successor? In the fickle world of football an uncountable number of candidates have already been mentioned, ranging from the currently unemployed Steve Coppell to a sensational (and surely unpopular) choice of seeing Lawrie Sanchez return to the club. There are a couple of names, however, that stand out. Firstly that of Kevin Keen. Currently on the coaching staff at West Ham, Keen once played for the Chairboys and his father also managed the side in the 1980s. He has apparently come close to taking charge on two previous occasions only to be pipped at the post. Third time lucky, perhaps? The fans’ choice though would be for the return of John Gorman, a man who claims he has unfinished business at the club. Unfortunately for the Blues fans, the Scot has already ruled himself out of the running for the job this time around. He was relieved of his duties by Hayes as it was felt that he needed more time to grieve after the passing of his wife in 2006. Gorman and the supporters were disappointed by this decision but he has since admitted that he was not ready to lead the club again. Perhaps his is a name to look out for on another occasion.
What we can see from all of this is that a new owner has brought on more controversy and uncertainty at a club than clarity and optimism. If anything, a club that has always valued itself a as family club, and prided itself on its relationship with its fans appears to be losing this close bond. Perhaps this is an inevitability of football. Steve Hayes’ motives appear genuine but can he win over the ever suspicious football fans? Can a club still be run successfully, whilst still maintaining a strong bond between the board and the supporters? The case of Wycombe Wanderers would appear to suggest not but in truth only time will tell.