THE WEIRD AND WONDERFUL WORLD OF GRAHAM WESTLEY
You'd be forgiven for forgetting that a football match went on at Deepdale tonight, with all of the controversy that has come following the 0-0 draw that was marred by a horrific broken leg suffered by Preston left back Scott Laird. Needless to say that NCM wishes Laird all the best in his recovery and that he is back in action for North End as soon as possible. However, a fractious and physical game that ended in such circumstances has given way to one of the more incredible post-match interviews i've ever read, from Preston manager Graham Westley, which I felt I just had to take a more detailed look at. It can be read at the link below and it is incredible.
Now, Graham Westley is an interesting character. He first turned up on the football scene whilst manager of and shareholder in one of those doomed throw-money-at-everything-that-moves non-league teams in Farnborough Town, who he took to a promotion and an FA Cup tie against Arsenal, which was moved to Highbury so the non-league side could net an estimated £600,000 in gate receipts. With that cheque just about having cleared, Westley up sticks and heading to Stevenage, pulling all of his financial support out of Farnborough. The club saw none of the Arsenal money and were eventually liquidated in 2007. Off to a good start there, Graham.
But, getting to his interview, his comments on Jamal Campbell-Ryce's challenge that caused Laird's injury are the first moment of insanity. To describe a challenge that, whilst a clear red card, appeared to be a one-footed attempt to block a cross coming into the box as having "no other intent [...] other than to put someone else in serious danger" is a grave allegation to make against a professional footballer. Having watched the challenge numerous times on video, there is nothing to suggest that Campbell-Ryce goes in with any intent to cause danger, and indeed his immediate reaction is one of shock and compassion for the stricken Laird.
The meat of Westley's complaints, however, seem to focus on some sort of bizarre conspiracy theory he's managed to cook up - that the entire world has it in for Graham Westley and Preston North End. He alleges that Nicky Wroe, the midfielder, told him that the referee had told the North End players that "we know what you lot are like" - a reference to the allegations of gamesmanship that seem to have followed Westley wherever he has gone, like a lingering odour. This time, however, it was the Preston man who accused Notts, as well as Carlisle and Brentford, of trying to "stop the game" and employing tactics of "gamesmanship". The thing is, Westley addressed the issue of gamesmanship himself just a matter of weeks ago. When his players were accused of feigning injuries during their 3-1 win at Doncaster, Westley replied by saying that it "starts to happen to any side that's got success on the horizon" and that "because you're winning, you're guilty of dark arts". Not a great believer in the existence of this whole stopping the game, gamesmanship business, Graham? The thing that Notts, Carlisle and Brentford definitely do have in common, however, is that they all took points away from Deepdale in games that Preston and their fans will feel as though they should've won.
For Westley, this discussion of gamesmanship provides a convenient way of distracting attention from him side's inability to win games that they have dominated at home - particularly ones against sides like Notts and Brentford who are clear rivals with Preston for a play-off place. As Graham himself once said, "people start pointing fingers to try and take an edge away from them." That's not to say that claims against Westley's sides are unfounded, however - indeed, his former side Stevenage received correspondence from the FA whilst Westley was still manager, asking them to explain allegations that their side had been exaggerating and feigning injuries on a number of occasions.
His claims that officials are somehow institutionally biased against Graham Westley are equally laughable. When he asks "whose prejudicing these officials and we are getting incidents were we are getting players stretched (sic) off and incidents going unpunished", he barely manages to make sense. Firstly, in this incident where their player was stretchered off, Campbell-Ryce was punished appropriately with a red card. Secondly, he seems to be suggesting that somehow teams are making games against Preston over-physical and putting his side at risk of injury. Graham Westley sides and physicality, like timewasting, also go together nicely. For instance, after a game at Wycombe in which his Stevenage side had been accused of being overly aggressive and physical, Westley stated that "we are not a side who shies away from the physical side. There is never a complaint from me. If a game gets physical it is up to you to match and overcome that". You said it, Graham. The thing is - Preston comfortably commited more fouls than Notts last night and, within the first five minutes, had put in two robust challenges that left Alan Judge stricken. Seeing if we could "match and overcome" their physicality, presumably.
That's without mentioning Westley's pre-match comments, which were clearly designed to inflame the situation and make the match into a full-blooded battle. Perhaps he should consider this when wondering why he is getting players stretchered off. Westley stated that Notts are a side who "park the bus", leading to their record-breaking unbeaten away run, accusing Keith Curle's side of overly defensive football. That Notts put in by far their most defensive performance in that whole nineteen game run and were able to come away with a point is just an amusing irony. Clearly, Curle had to set up his side defensively, facing a side and manager of whom everyone is "jealous" of their "success" at reaching just outside the League One play-offs. The comparisons to our own manager are certainly interesting - it was less than a fortnight ago that Keith Curle refused to comment on an utterly baffling refereeing performance during the home draw against Crawley, prefering to focus on the positives of Notts' performance as well as their inability to beat a side whom they had dominated. In a similar situation tonight, Westley's comments seem like little more than a smokescreen - a way to divert attention away from his own side's inability to break down a Notts side who put in, by all accounts, their worst performance of the season in terms of ball retention and joint most insipid, alongside those awful home games against Walsall and Doncaster.