Shall We Forget All That Happened?

If I were to say that this season didn’t live up to expectations or didn’t quite go according to plan, then you would know that those words were somewhat of an understatement. If I said it was an absolute shit storm, then that would be very unfair to shit storms.

Pre-season there was optimism. Signings were made, there was a new manager, and a lot of goals were being scored by us in pre-season friendlies. (Although to be fair, there were quite a few being let in at the other end as well.) The playoffs looked possible, albeit that wasn’t a view shared by the football magazines. Four Four Two had us coming fourteenth, whilst When Saturday Comes had us finishing twentieth. Perhaps they were being kind, and it may be easier to see from further away.

The wheels were coming loose before a ball was kicked in anger. Stalwart keeper Glenn Morris was shipped out on loan to Gillingham, and then the WAGMI wombats released a ‘hype’ video which slagged Carlisle off. It didn’t go down well, and not just with Carlisle, but our own fans as well. We started with an away loss and followed it up with a home loss and became the strongest team in the league – holding the rest of them up at the bottom of the table.

There was respite with a decent win against League One Bristol Rovers in the Carabao Cup (soon to be followed with another against Premier League Fulham’s reserves), but my first away trip, up to Harrogate saw a dreadful 0-0. League performances were not matching those in the cups. Kevin Betsy’s style of play may have worked at youth level, but it wasn’t suited to League Two battling. And after much clamour for it to happen, he was sacked. Lewis Young took over as interim manager and our results improved, but WAGMI saw something in the stats that made them go and take a gamble (yes, I went there) on Matthew Etherington. Not helped by being able to play Tom Nichols, who had been presold to relegation rivals Gillingham and WAGMI didn’t want him getting injured, that management tenure lasted three games before they parted company. Which meant Darren Byfield was caretaker manager as we played Stevenage the day before New Year’s Eve. He was joined on the bench by Preston Johnson, which considering the other co-chair Eben-ezer no good, had put a whole load of Ill-advised tweets up during the day didn’t go down well. Especially as it was obvious who the three senior players he was on about (but didn’t name) as they didn’t make the trip.

The mood at the game was ugly, but it was an amusing spectacle. Stand up if you love Crawley, sit down if you love Crawley, stand up if you hate WAGMI, sit down if you hate WAGMI, shoes off if you hate WAGMI, at which point I looked to my right to see three hundred Crawley fans waving at least one of their shoes/trainers in the air. The Stevenage stewards looked worried at the chants of ‘I know you won’t believe us, we’re coming on the pitch’ and ‘Preston Johnson, we’re coming for you.’ The pitch invasion didn’t materialise, but instead the fans were surrounding the team coach and the chant was ‘Preston Johnson, we’re waiting for you.’ They had a long wait as he was spirited out of another exit, and he didn’t appear on the bench at the next game away at Newport County.

January saw Scott Lindsey appointed as manager (and he’s survived to the end of the season). And he helped us to survive the threat of relegation. A lot of January games were postponed for various (and sometimes quite dubious) reasons, but it gave him more time to get used to a changing squad. A lot of the senior players were shipped out, including the three ‘not’ mentioned in the tweets. Teams recalled their loan players, and some of the fringe players were moved on. Part of the reason given for Tom Nichols’ sale and the moving on of older players was that they were looking at having a younger squad. Only for that to be trashed as after the transfer window closed two out of contract players were signed, both of whom were in the later half of their thirties.

It was around the same time that the long running investigation into previous manager John Yems came to an end with him being found guilty of various racism related charges. The FA then appealed the sentence as being too lenient, and they got a heavier one on appeal.

WAGMI out demonstrations and chants were the norm for the latter parts of the season. The longer the season has gone on, then the more withdrawn WAGMI have seemed to get. Ducking out of meetings with the CTSA, and comms have been poor or non-existent. A prime example being hugely unpopular acting CEO Chris Galley’s departure from the club happened on the 6th of April but took two weeks for it to be announced.

At the end of the day for the fans, the most important thing is to get results on the pitch. Yet with all the manager changes, what has been interpreted as WAGMI interference with team selection, bizarre transfer policy, and the constant upheaval, the performances haven’t been great. But the fans have got behind those on the pitch (with the possible exception of Caleb Chukwuemeka) and have supported them in larger numbers, both home and away than in previous seasons.

Off the pitch has been more chaotic. WAGMI have tried to improve various things. There are more food outlets and a Fan Zone, and the training now takes place on grass (which doesn’t seem to have helped with injuries) and a scoreboard finally (even if I can only see about 35% of it from my seat). However, the OTT USA style pregame videos haven’t worked. There was the Sidemen debacle, scouting players at a charity game to potentially play in our first round FA Cup game – it didn’t happen, but laughingstock was being bounded around a lot more now.

And the attempted improvements have an uneven feel about them, and don’t really address matters that should be obvious. The canvas at the back of the east marquee needs replacing (or perhaps the whole stand does). And the two turnstiles in the southeast corner just can’t cope with the larger crowds we are getting. It was obvious after the Fulham game with queues back to Redz Bar and hundreds getting in after kicking off that more was needed there. But it hasn’t been looked at. Against Harrogate in the second of the two for £2 games people were still queuing to get in half an hour into the game. The terrace and west stands have four turnstiles each and don’t have the same issues. And as for getting out it is lunacy, it’s ten minutes after the other two stands have emptied before we get out.

One of my particular bug bears is with the programme. It is a bit of a shambles and has been all season. Issue numbering (same issue number for different issues, and then a gap of three numbers in the middle), the results page and its labelling is random, lots of games that don’t have the scorer marked. Issue one had a league table in it, but only the top twenty teams. It was dropped for issue two, which probably was good if it were going to stay the same size, as we wouldn’t have appeared on it most of the time. Sizing issues affected the great retro reds section. Titles were carried forward from one issue to the next with different text beneath it. Having the squad listing on the back should be easy to manage, but Anthony Grant played in the last nine games but still didn’t make it onto the programme. Surely the ability to size a page and proofread should be a basic skill for someone putting a programme together.

Anyway, enough moaning from me, on to what would be my team of the year. I have gone with a 5-2-3 formation. I have looked at anyone who has played for the side at any point during the league season. The keeper was the most difficult choice for me, but I have been swayed towards the end of the season with his penalty saves and have gone with Corey Addai. Three central defenders – Dion Conroy, Harry Ransom, and Joel Lynch, two wing backs – George Francomb and Nick Tsaroulla. Two central midfielders, Ben Gladwin, and James Balagizi, and then Aramide Oteh and James Tilley playing just off Tom Nichols. Yes, there is no Jack Powell, the club’s player of the year. He has scored some good goals and has really gone on a charm offensive and interacted with the fanbase well, but he’s been far too patchy and lightweight at times.

What we could have done with all season is more pace, we haven’t been able to beat teams going forward, and have been skinned at the back far too many times. And the other thing is, JUST FUCKING SHOOT, stop trying to pass the ball into the net, take a shot.

And breath and onto next season.

Come on you reds.

Four Quarterbacks Is Never Enough

My review of the 49ers season

I still haven’t watched the game. I haven’t really had a chance to. I’ve only read bits and pieces about it. But I know the 49ers season came to an end in the NFC Championship game for the second season on the trot. I know how our starting quarterback on the night got an UCL elbow injury in the first quarter that effectively put him out of the game, and that our second string was knocked out of the game in the third quarter. We didn’t score after a Christian McCaffrey touchdown run in the first quarter to make it 7-7, and that the Eagles ran out easy winners. But none of that really tells the story of the 49ers season.

There were high hopes at the start of the season. We had kept the core of both a decent offense and a very good defence, and we were moving on at quarterback from Jimmy G to last year’s first round pick Trey Lance. It was a positive vibe.

And it was fine whilst it lasted. Right into game two when Trey Lance went down to a season ending injury. And so after all the pre-season kerfuffle, the quarterback leading the team was back to being Jimmy G, who hadn’t even practised with the rest of the squad.

Now we started to limp along, there were injuries to Kittle and Deebo, and by the end of October we were 3-4. Fortunately our division was a basket case and we only a game back from the surprising Seahawks, and with a victory over them already in the bag.

So, unusually for the 49ers, we went out and did a big trade midseason and brought in Christian McCaffrey from the Panthers. And with that we started winning. And we took over the lead in our division and were on a roll. Only for Jimmy G to go down to a season ending injury. We were now on to our third string quarterback for the season, this year’s draft’s Mr Irrelevant, the last man picked in the draft – Brock Purdy.

Doom and gloom were predicted. But it didn’t come. Purdy played well. Yes, there was the occasional misfire, and he got lucky with defensive penalties wiping out mistakes a few times in his first few games, but he linked up well with a seemingly fully fit and fully functioning Kittle, and we kept winning.

Only for him to get an oblique injury and for part of a game, fourth string quarterback, J Johnson, a long in the tooth replacement picked up off the waivers was in. And still we won. And Purdy remained the starter, even with the injury. And we kept winning. I did another of my rewritten lyrics songs in his praise, changing Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” to “We Love Brock Purdy” with “Throw another dime to George Kittle baby” in there. And not even that stopped the 49ers winning.

We won the last ten regular season games and finished with a 13-4 record and the NFC second seed. Up in the wildcard weekend were the Seahawks and we took our record to 3-0 against them for the season, despite the extra hard mastication on his gum by Pete Carroll. And in the divisional round it brought up the Cowboys. And it brought up another win, as it had the previous year, still a tight game but not so reliant on Cowboys mistakes. The defence doing a stellar job as they had all season.

Part of me wanted the Giants to beat the Eagles. A terrible thing for me to be wanting with my hatred of the Giants. But it would have been an easier game for us, and it would have given us the chance of knocking out the holy trinity of shit eating fuck face teams in the same playoffs (it could extend to four if the Raiders were to get to the Superbowl, but let’s be honest, that’s never going to happen). But it wasn’t to be.

And so nine months after flights had been booked I was flying from New York to Miami at the exact time the NFC Championship game was being played. The Delta flight couldn’t get their plane’s wi-fi system working, and so there was no Direct TV as had been promised, and so no way to watch the game.

I turned my phone back on once at Miami airport and the first inkling of how things had gone were a text message from a friend who had been a housemate back in my Manchester days. He lives in Philadelphia now, and the text was just a single emoji – an Eagle. A few minutes later data services kicked in and I found the full details.

It was disappointing, but how we were after week seven, if you had said NFC Championship game I would have snatched your arm (and probably a couple of other body parts as well) off you.

And so, we need to go again. Get our quarterback one and quarterback three fit and keep them that way for a whole season and make it third time lucky in next year’s NFC Championship game.

Postscript.

The above was written on the flight back to the UK ten days ago. I’ve only gotten around to typing it up today. And so, I watched the Superbowl last night. There were reasons to not want either side to win; the Eagles because their fans are morons who smashed their own city up on their only previous Superbowl win five years ago, and the Chiefs because of the racist connotations of their name (I’m sure they could change it and find a better name than the truly dreadful Commanders or Guardians).

It was a great game, the Eagles tactic of trying to cripple the opponent’s quarterback didn’t quite work this time, and the Chiefs (quite literally) limped to victory 38-35, overcoming a ten point deficit again as they had four years ago, though I’ve blocked out who that was against.