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REPOST: Statement of Intent?

Last campaign gave us many things to chew over, most of it pretty unpleasant. However, a year ago yesterday we got one of the strangest occurrences of a pretty strange season.

For those who have forgotten, twelve months ago we released THAT statement that is still in my top ten of odd things to happen at Wimbledon. In truth, it’s probably in my top five.

I still remember my reaction in the press box at the Madejski when I first saw the OS headline, and managed to be even more confused after reading it. It felt like a statement of painful compromise, and somehow managed to pour sludge into ever muddying waters.

I repost the article put up a year ago today below, because I think releasing that statement changed the club in a fundamental way that one could argue we’re still being affected by.

In a good way, though.

Obviously, it permanently changed the relationship between TB and AFCW. Reading it again twelve months after it was put up, and I’m still amazed at how public a rebuke it was.

It practically told the world that TB was failing and that we were being rank amateurs with Stuart Cash. I shudder to think what a non-AFCW fan reading that would have thought of the club, but they wouldn’t be unfair in thinking it.

When our ex-boss made his now-notorious “piles of toilet” interview afterwards, we know the rest. He’s now apparently applying for the Gateshead job, although if he is he should be careful what he wishes for…

But AFCW in August 2013 is a much better place, and I think this statement went some way towards that. There were some fans out there who actually thought that Stuart Cash was there full time, and I remember the genuine exasperation by one AFCW fan upon finding out – via the club – that he wasn’t.

Put it this way – when wool gets pulled from your eyes, don’t expect a quiet reaction to the light being shined on you.

Perceptions changed from that day, and so did expectations. We now spend six-figure sums on a u21 squad, and nobody complains about it. It won 2-1 this week against Swindon by the way, KSL netted the winner.

So read below and see exactly where we were this time last year. And if we do get gubbed by Fleetwood on Saturday, it really will be just a bad day…

In football, as in life I suppose, the only time to be surprised by something is when something non-surprising happens.

After I finished my, ahem, vigourously argued last update, deep down I knew that I wouldn’t be writing about TB’s sacking but instead be “eagerly” awaiting more games with him in the proverbial hot seat.

Needless to say, I am. But not in the way I expected.

As you all know by now, the club issued a statement yesterday evening about this, ahem, challenging set of results. For those who have difficulty with the clusterfuck of an OS, which is most of you, here it is in full:

We wish to make the following club statement in light of recent first-team results.

Following the heavy defeats in the last two away games, the AFC Wimbledon board held detailed discussions with the club’s manager, Terry Brown, earlier in the week. 

The discussions were frank and constructive and focused on the actions that are needed to ensure that results improve before the season gets too much older.

A number of actions were agreed, and Terry confirmed that that our defensive coach, Stuart Cash, will be working with the defence at all training sessions so as to ensure we improve over recent performances.

All the agreed actions will be implemented immediately.

Hmm, and hmm again.

We all know exactly why the club has done this, the results have hit a raw nerve that something simply had to be said. Even if it was along the keep-calm-and-carry-on cliche lines, although this is a lot more stern and serious than something like that.

On this alone, at least we now know where we stand – sort of. In some ways, that’s better than saying absolutely nothing – if there was a wall of silence then the club would have either looked shifty or looked to have adopted a bunker mentality.

The thing is, I read this statement a couple of times when it first came out, and have since read it a couple of times last night and this morning, and one word keeps popping into my head every time I do so.


Not awe-inspriring, jaw dropping, perhaps not even bewildering, but odd.

I’ve been watching football for 30 years, been watching them on a professional basis for just under ten, and this is one of those times where I’m always going to remember such a statement. And I’m not totally sure that’s a good thing.

Let’s take it in terms of how it was intended. The club simply had to act, and do something. For whatever reason, it won’t part company with TB, although this is the closest you will get to the proverbial vote of confidence. One may suggest that it is the AFCW equivalent of the final written warning.

“Frank and constructive” – in other words, not particularly chummy or jovial – and the intriguing “a number of actions” seem to stand out. Additionally, and in what is presumably intended to be the main talking point of the statement, Stuart Cash is taking more charge of defensive duties.

So things are being done, finally.

All this should have been done the first free Monday after the Shrewsbury game at the end of last season, of course. It’s a public admission that the close season and pre-season was horribly ballsed up, and that it should never have got to this stage in the first place.

What the hell did we do between early May and the Woking game, when it was pretty bloody obvious that things hadn’t gone well? On second thoughts, perhaps we shouldn’t want to know.

We will never know what these “actions” are, but the fact they’re being implemented immediately suggests they’re pretty fundamental things. I can only guess here, but I expect it might involve longer hours on the training ground, more intense individual training, that kind of thing.

The revelation about Stuart Cash increasing his involvement with the club seemed to surprise a lot of people. The general reaction appeared to be wondering why the hell the defensive coach wasn’t, er, coaching the defence before.

It’s been the worst kept secret at the club (if it even if a secret) that SC is part time – he’s a bailiff by trade, a well paid one by all accounts, and I suppose that the club and manager believes that it’s the area that needs the most urgent repair done to it.

This doesn’t actually mean that SC has gone full time with us. Read the words again :

…will be working with the defence at all training sessions so as to ensure we improve over recent performances.

He’s just increasing what his second job is.

One wonders how substainable that arrangement will be even mid-term, let alone long term, especially if SC is still keeping his day job. I can’t imagine he gets much homelife as it is without this new rota in place.

Of course, I shouldn’t be writing about the second most important member of the management team being part time anyway. I’m actually genuinely struggling to find the words for why a club in the Football League allows – and perhaps even encourage – Ryman League level standards of coaching. Well, maybe I do know, but I’ll come onto that later…

So looking at it on face value, the club recognises there is a big problem, and is trying to rectify it. It’s obviously trying to head off a revolt that could have possibly happened this Saturday – and may well still do – and is an attempt to calm the waters again.

Mind you, face value is one thing…

To be honest, I’m not sure what this statement is going to achieve, at least beyond the initial set of games coming up. If we lose again on Saturday, then it will probably backfire – it would just look like the club giving TB chance after chance after chance*.

* – of course, one or two people think that’s the case anyway. Not me, honest 

Indeed, I wonder what our manager thinks when he reads that statement? No doubt it is trying to put him in a position of strength – as in, he’s doing something about it so he’s in control – but if anything he’s now become very vulnerable.

Why? Because the club has effectively said in public that he’s in trouble.

What the hell that does to his authority now remains to be seen. It’s only going to take a couple more bad results – not even stuffings – and it’s totally gone. The “actions” we’re putting in won’t have worked, and it would demonstrate that even with a defensive coach doing, er, defensive coaching, nothing has improved.

Perhaps this is the first stage of the managerial changeover that may/will happen before Xmas? TB may not be on notice, but he’s pretty close to it. It depends on whether these “actions” really are the missing parts of the jigsaw that will drag us away from this shit, or whether they’re just implementations for the next manager to take up on.

See, it’s all very well saying in public that SC is taking more training sessions, but the defence was a problem back in December 2011. If not before. Since then, our problems have been allowed to spread, now manifesting itself in doubts about fitness, quality of coaching, motivation and all round planning.

Is this just rearranging the deckchairs on a big ship that left Southampton a while ago? If a management team is not good enough, then no matter how much you do to help them – they’re not good enough.

Also, what message does this send to the players? If they’re not happy about TB being their manager, they’ve now got a window of opportunity to exercise the dreaded “player power”. It won’t be very nice to see, but we’ll now find out how much our squad are really behind their boss.

The real tragedy of all of this is that it was just so easily avoided. It’s hard to feel too sympathetic for our manager, because many if not most of these problems he faces now are self inflicted – stubbornly clinging to an ineffective style of play, general sense of undercoaching, wildly vicious culls of players etc. If he’s feeling a bit humiliated right now, perhaps he shouldn’t have been so stubborn and instead listened to Marcus Gayle once in a while.

It’s not all the fault of the management team, needless to say. The club itself must take some blame for letting it get to this stage. It really does appear that it has been too trusting of the manager, that it seems to take his word far too readily, and to be blunt is simply too friendly with him.

I mentioned earlier about why I think SC has been allowed to be part time. I really do think that TB tells the club that it’s OK and the club believes him. Instead, it should ask why such an important position isn’t a full time job (not the new arrangement about taking charge of all training sessions), and why it’s acceptable that a Football League club still operates such lowly non-league practices.

Our manager certainly owes a helluva lot to the club for keeping him in his position – it’s hard to think of another club in the Football League that bends over backwards as much to keep a manager in the job as AFCW does.

Because let’s face it – at any other club in the Football League, Terry Brown would have been gone by now. In fact, he would have been gone at places like Luton, Mansfield, Wrexham and Lincoln too. In the last twelve calendar months, there have been at least four separate times when he could have been released with some justification:

– the run between October and early January, where we couldn’t even win a rigged game of Subbuteo (although the illness of TB’s wife in November would have been some mitigating factor)

– THAT Plymouth game. Although in plenty of other clubs, he would have been gone even before Hereford.

– at the end of the season, where he would have had a nice send-off and a carriage clock as a retirement present.

– last weekend.

That he’s still in his job is one thing, but that we’ve had to even release such a statement is something else. Even so, I think it’s a release that suggests they will do everything to help TB succeed, although given the above list it does seem more a case of delaying the inevitable.

And I hope the club itself has learnt something from this episode – it cannot allow itself to be dictated to by its personal friendships with the manager. We all know that TB is a lovely bloke, that his wife has gone through hell, his disabled son, him getting from the Ryman League to the Football League etc. Sadly, football is a cruel, unforgiving business, and none of that matters when you’re losing 5-1 and 6-2.

When TB finally goes, the club must take a more “business” attitude to its relationship with the next manager. By all means make it a cordial relationship, even friendly (in a footballing sense), but it cannot be as “close” as it is between our current manager and the top brass. That we have to issue statements like this one tells you exactly why you can’t run a Football League club as an Old Boys watering hole.

Still, the club has said its piece, and we all move onto the next stage. Whatever that is. We have Daggers on Saturday, in case you’ve forgotten, and we’ll probably win that now. It won’t make much difference to us mid-term even if we do win 5-0, but it might give us a nicer weekend…