Singing the blues

Just having a look, my last article was in April. I guess, much like our squad last season, my enthusiasm petered out somewhat.

I really didn’t see the point in kicking the dog that was our end of season run-in. We could all see for ourselves that the squad wasn’t performing for reasons of ability, coaching or management and the season seemed to reach its inevitable conclusion of an early holiday for the players (mentally if not physically) once they knew they were safe followed somewhat predictably by the departure of Dermot Drummy.

Sadly, Dermot’s departure became somewhat inevitable as the season progressed. His early misplaced faith in some poor under 23 academy players was confounded with a very lacklustre run-in and surely put the board in an impossible position. Under his guardianship the 8 year progression to the Championship seemed less of a distant vision but more of a ridiculous fairy tale.

On a personal level I was very sad to see Dermot go. Whilst performances on the pitch are what he should rightfully be judged on, his was an extremely pleasant and engaging character who did a huge amount of work in understanding the importance of the fan base and applying what he believed in to develop that environment.

Dermot was always going to be a bit of a gamble. An academy coach untried in the football league was always going to be a long shot and it simply didn’t pay off. Yet here we go again…!

Harry Kewell has an excellent CV as a player, but again comes to us after a brief and reasonably unsuccessful spell as an under 23 coach. Another gamble. Another long shot. And the early signs aren’t encouraging.

There have been very few additions to the squad and even fewer of proven quality but more worryingly as I wrote back in April, the club should be judged more by the players it releases. On that basis the verdict isn’t positive. We appear to have retained a large number of players that weren’t good enough to make the match day squad last season and you have to question why they’re still here.

It’s getting to something when the best business of the summer appears to have been re-signing a player on a longer contract. Whilst the extension to Mark Connolly’s contract is a huge positive, it says a lot more about the other business done off the pitch this summer.

We are constantly reminded by the club and the media that we are a small club, with a small fan base and a small budget. As was once ever so delicately put by a former member of the CTSA Board; “you can only piss with the cock you’ve got”. But right now (and I apologise in advance for the extension of the analogy) we seem to be waving our tiny cock all over the place in the vain hope we might occasionally hit the urinal.

There is a huge amount of time and effort spent by the club looking to attract new supporters to the club. I fully applaud that as an initiative, but in doing so the club has to ensure that it doesn’t alienate the fans it already has. To do so is to say that whilst the club is happy to take our money, it’s other people’s money that’s more important.

Never was this better illustrated than Tuesday night’s debacle against Birmingham City. In the lead up to the game we were given the following quotes from Harry Kewell in an interview to be found on the club website: “You know you’ll be into a battle straight away – we have to be up for that and we have to have the right mentality. We want to go up there and express ourselves and show the fans who’ll be travelling that we can put on a good performance. It’s a cup game that we’re looking forward to – but we know it’ll be tough. They’ll be looking to make amends for their result at the weekend – as will we – so it’s important for both the team and the club.”

I’m sorry for adding in such a lengthy quote, but it clearly gave the impression to me (as it did for 132 others) that we would be going to Birmingham with a strong team to win, that the cup run was important to the club and that the fans would be rewarded for their efforts in kind, with a committed performance from the team.

The thought among most, if not all fans an hour before kick-off when the team sheet was announced was: “why the hell did we bother?” Clearly the club didn’t care about the fixture, yet we were still supposed to. 133 of us finished work early and drove the 300 mile round trip on a wet Tuesday night to watch a second string team give a weak and apathetic performance quite frankly not worthy of the shirts that they were wearing.

For those that aren’t aware of what happened, we made 9 changes to Saturday’s starting line-up and essentially took a league 2 reserve team to play a cup game against a Championship team who were clearly taking the fixture a lot more importantly than we were. Whilst it’s easy to lay the blame at the feet of the players (although having seen a few of them on Tuesday there are some that would still fail to control it!) the blame has to be laid squarely at the feet of our Head Coach. He made the decision after one league game to rest the majority of his squad and then after the game he talked about the need for players to adjust and get used to the way he wants them to play. That’s pretty hard to do when half of them are still at home. A place many Crawley fans wished they’d stayed as soon as they saw the team sheet.

On Tuesday night the Head Coach and the club failed it’s fans. Two games in to the season and we have lost both games with an aggregate score of 8-2. As a fan I could forgive the slow start to the first game. I was pleased to see the change in effort and impetus in the second half following what by all accounts was a very “lively” half time team talk. Even if I remain bemused at the removal of Enzio Boldewijn just as he appeared to me making the difference we so clearly needed. But Tuesday night was an opportunity for the Coach and the players to put Saturday’s slow start to bed. Unfortunately for the players, the Head Coach took that opportunity away from them, instead loading on the pressure for Saturday’s away game with Cheltenham.

Three games in to the season and the game against Cheltenham is already a must win. I wouldn’t want to he Harry Kewell going in to the game against Cambridge with only three defeats to his name. Whilst I applaud the Head Coach’s commitment to the club in taking a flat locally, at this rate I fear that a six month lease might appear a tad optimistic. Ziya Eren clearly has aggressive plans for this club, but they need to be matched with action. Four defeats in a row and a total disregard for the existing fan base may be an early test for the famed ruthless management of the steel magnate.

Tuesday night was Harry’s first opportunity to do something special. He had the opportunity to give the existing, travelling fans something to enthuse about and a cup run would give some much needed publicity and impetus to connect with the as yet untouched fan base that the club is so preoccupied with attracting. Sadly, in both regards he failed miserably. The lack of contrition or apology after the game seemed to compound both the failure and apparent lack of respect.

A sad fact of League Two football is that a reasonable league performance does not provide the interest or enthusiasm to bring in fresh blood. What you need is the romance of a cup. The David v Goliath battle that peaks the imagination. I can’t in all consciousness include the trophy in that bracket, nor the Sussex Senior cup. What matters is the League and FA Cups. This is our opportunity, as we have proven before, to excite the local, untapped support. Already this season we’ve thrown one of those opportunities away. Harsh I know, but two games in and time already appears to be running out.