For someone who has become utterly disillusioned with Bristol Rovers Football Club, to the extent that I no longer go to games, I found last night that perhaps I didn’t have a heart of stone towards the club I once loved. After yet another dismal defeat last night, I made a rare audio trip to Radio Bristol and after quickly remembering why I don’t listen to the station anymore (even if I am nearly old enough), I found myself saddened. Because football is, for many people, their be all and end all in life, something that comes before most other things in life and the emotional attachment runs deep. And I imagine the hurt.
First, I feel sorry for the manager Darrell Clarke who sounded, in a angry emotional outburst, at the end of hit tether. “Sack me,” I imagined him saying, “and pay me off. I can’t work like this anymore.” Second, my sympathy lies with the supporters who commit their money, not to mention their emotional energy, to a football club they now see as failing. I am even more saddened that the latter seem to blame the former in large part for the mess the entire club appears to be in.
I have not been there to witness a single game this season and nor shall I for the foreseeable future and perhaps the unforeseeable future. I have not witnessed the abysmal football friends have told me about, so I bow to their superior knowledge, I have not suffered watching Clarke’s latest less than stellar signings. I have not seen my weekends ruined by a football result, I have not spent hours, as I used to do, on pointless football forums arguing about what we don’t know about.
Who is telling the truth? Darrell Clarke when he says that everything he has built since becoming manager is falling to bits, that the owners have not backed him financially, that the training ground is wholly inadequate, that he has no idea where the club is going? Or chairman Steve Hamer when he suggests all is well and good and that the manager has spent – squandered? – all the money the club received for Taylor, Bodin and Harrison? Having heard the chairman’s car crash interview last week with Geoff Twentyman on the aforementioned Radio Bristol, I am in little doubt. Make of that what you will.
For all I know, Clarke’s selection and tactics may be all over the place. But as a qualified coach, I would suggest he still knows more about football than people who have never so much kicked a ball in anger or even run the line for a Sunday pub team. In truth, none of us really know the reality facing Clarke but last night’s interview suggested a man who had had enough.
If Steve Hamer is right, that everything is just dandy and the current owners are staying in charge for the long term, then I fear for the future of the club. The owners are secretive and largely absent and Hamer appears to be their human shield. The so called ‘evolution not revolution’ slogan they used was clearly nonsense, unless they were referring to the survival of the fittest, in which case maybe they were more honest than we realised. Anyone who has watched David Attenborough’s shows will know that whilst some species evolve, others die because they didn’t. Is that what Wael Al Qadi meant when his family bought the club? Makes you wonder.
In the meantime, Bristol Rovers sinks ever lower towards League Two and who knows where else. It surely can’t go on like this. The owners surely owe it to the manager, the players, the staff and above all the supporters to spell out their vision for the club. Do they have a plan beyond mere survival? Do they really want to be here at all? That’s the main thing at the moment: communication. There isn’t any. But who asks the questions? Not the ever compliant Supporters Club or their wretched in-house ‘fans director’ Ken Masters who cost supporters over a million quid to put on the board to achieve precisely nothing. The club under its various owners has seen off any potential opposition from the fans. Anyone who offered something different, or simply stood up to the status quo, failed because they failed to attract sufficient support. No one represents the supporters anymore, no one has for over a decade.
Where the club needs clear leadership, it has nothing but drift. And the lightning rod is the manager who has no alternative but to put his head above the parapet. A good man who restored pride to the club after the humiliating Higgs era.
If the club axes Clarke, they will replace him either with someone from within, who has no managerial experience or, more importantly fire-fighting skills, or a manager who is currently out of work because they failed elsewhere. Wow. Catch 22.
Of course Darrell Clarke has made mistakes. Who hasn’t? However, he is the only visible person who has made mistakes. The rest hide in the background, sometimes not even in this country. Sack Clarke, by all means, but who will be left to tell it like it is?