Taking Stock


I really wish it didn't have to be like this - it must average out at about once every six months that I find myself sat at a keyboard in the middle of the night, dissertation to one side, trying to put into words my thoughts on where we go from here as the club look to find yet a new manager and a bubbling undercurrent of dismay festers amongst the fans like sewage in the bath. The thing is that this time I find it all a little bit melodramatic, like a Joey Barton toys-out-of-the-pram moment on Twitter before he finds peace in quoting some Nietzsche and replacing his hairband. 

Obviously our start to the season has been useless. Laughably so. But from amongst the rubble I can see some movement, some signs of life - we actually seem to have some sort of plan. For all of the disappointments this seasonfrom the lukewarm form of 'marquee' signing Danny Haynes to the bizarre disintegration of one of League One's strongest defences to the very existence of Mark Fotheringham, there have been signs beneath the surface that can give some positivity for the future. The performances of Greg Tempest and Curtis Thompson, locally born products of the club's fledgling youth system, have outshone their more experience teammates at varying points when given the chance, whilst another graduate in goalkeeper Febian Spiess can consider himself extremely unlucky to find himself behind the finest goalkeeper that Notts have had in some time (that we could afford, anyway) in Bartosz Bialkowski. Results and performances of Steve Hodge's development squad have been promising, too, with his side being one of just a handful outside of the top two division and with just Category Three academy status to have made it through to the 'proper' round of the inaugral Premier League Under 21 cup. The youth team may be struggling slightly, in no small part down to the fact that the majority are young, underdeveloped first year scholars, but second years such as Brad McGowan and Elliott Hodge look more than capable of following the achievements of Thompson and Tempest.

The worst thing that Notts can do now is abandon their plan by appointing someone who doesn't believe in it, who doesn't follow their vision. Chris Kiwomya was patently a mistake, and the very fact that you believe in a long term idea is not a sufficient qualification for the position of first team manager on its own, as the board must now have learned, but it would equally be a mistake to appoint someone with different ideals and different philosophies. They must find someone with Kiwomya's belief in working towards a long term goal that is coupled with the charisma, man-management ability and tactical nous that our former manager sadly didn't seem to have in his armoury. 

When advocating this kind of idea it is becoming kind of clichéd to quote Huw Jenkins and Swansea City, but i'm going to do it anyway because it took them plenty of time to get things right in South Wales. When the consortium headed by Jenkins first took charge they quickly dabbled with Colin Addison and Nick Cusack, both managers quickly sacked as it became evident they were massive mistakes - the Swans hurtling towards relegation to non-league. It was only when Brian Flynn, who kept them up but was also moved on, and rookie Kenny Jackett came through the doors at the Vetch Field that the plan began to take shape after a couple of aborted attempts. Importantly, they didn't abandon their belief in a philosophy that a manager must believe and adhere to, eventually allowing the organic growth and consistency of management style that has taken them to the position that they are now in.

Drawing parallels between the two clubs is, of course, foolish - Swansea were reasonably well-backed and their image and prospects as a club changed when they moved into the Liberty Stadium, but they are an important example that should reaffirm the idea that Notts need to stick with the foundations that have been put in place. This brings me to the real point - the seemingly imminent appointment of Shaun Derry as manager with former Carlisle United boss Greg Abbott as his assistant. The gnashing of teeth on social media has seemingly focused on the fact that the duo are lacking in EXPERIENCE, despite the fact that the latter has nigh-on two decades of coaching time under his belt and has spent the last five years managing in League One. Just as importantly, though, his record of working with the productive academy at Leeds United sees him fit as a useful piece in the long-term development jigsaw.

Experience in management, in lower league terms, is a strange concept. Those managers who are good move upwards, meaning that a truly experience manager who is going to be available to a club in our position will have a record that is not entirely positive. This isn't always the case, but there are simply no experienced managers with a track record of building foundations over a period of time available right now - no Phil Parkinson, no Russell Slade and no Sean O'Driscoll. This has left Notts with a difficult choice - appoint one of the two experienced candidates that appear to be available in Danny Wilson and Dean Saunders (the latter's experience being something of an illusion with little more than twelve months of league management to his name) but accept that neither have a track record of developing a club over a period of time or take another gamble on someone who believes in the plan but is yet to show that they can deliver it. Personally, I believe that the latter option is probably the best. 

Appointing managers though, is around about as inexact of a science as economics, so I don't entirely understand what all of the fuss is about. Judging by some of the reactions you would think that Notts were considering offering the managerial job to the ghost of Joseph Goebells, as opposed to a well-respected professional with a genuine love for the football club assisted by a manager with extensive experience in coaching and recent League One management. History tells us that, at pretty much every club in the world, most managerial appointments turn out to be rubbish. Whether they're experienced, inexperienced, or the former manager of the Cradley Town youth team (as in one of Swansea's more strange efforts at getting it right). Threats of diminishing crowds are slightly odd, also, considering that this applies whoever is the manager. It is simply wrong to assume that, were Ray Trew to appoint a populist choice, fans wouldn't abandon ship the moment that things began to go wrong - if they were even to return in the first place. Equally, if Derry turns out to be a success, then people will come and watch. That is how football works - Chelsea fans were genuinely upset about Rafa Benitez taking charge but the pathetic A4 sheets of disgust only lasted until they started winning a few games.

Notts' attendance issues go far beyond who the manager is - only appointing someone who can guarantee success at the top end of this division would guarantee big crowds at Meadow Lane and such a manager simply isn't available, let alone the fact that they would probably command a budget that swallowed up all of the additional income anyway. Notts' issues, as with the majority of the bottom two divisions, are inextricably linked to the fact that ticket prices can now only be justified for many if they are being rewarded with successful football, but the beauty of football is that very few teams can be successful at once. This is an issue that I have said many times is one that Notts should be doing more to address, but is something that football is probably going to have to solve more as a whole than individually - only at somewhere like Bradford City with a potential fanbase far beyond what Notts currently have can justify lowering ticket prices as there is the demand to make up the short fall. 

For a club like Notts, with an owner who is financially generous and allows the club to operate with a playing budget above that which the fanbase should justify but without the significant funds to guarantee success, their only chance of genuinely moving forward in the long term is adhering to a plan and not being blown off course by short term setbacks. This means trying to unearth your own manager who is capable of overachieving on a reasonable budget, as opposed to one of the 'experienced' ones such as Wilson whose entire career is based upon just about meeting expectations. That is no longer enough for Notts to get the crowds that are required to make the club self-sufficient and financially viable - Wilson's career suggests that he is likely to stabilise us on a mid-table budget but not go any further, if he has been unable to achieve promotion with huge resources at Bristol City, Swindon Town and Sheffield United. The only way that this club can genuinely move itself forward is by continuing to take calculated risks - if we keep continuing to put our chips on red, then surely the roulette wheel must land there eventually?