November 2013

Let me start by saying it’s never nice to hear somebody has lost their job; especially a man who I feel represents many of the values this town is proud of. After the heroics of last season, most of the Oakwell faithful were behind the man who achieved what had seemed the impossible at the time of his appointment. So what went wrong?

The second half of last season was characterised by a side that would run their blood to water, would press for 90 minutes, and would bomb forward without fear. Everyone was given a chance, players were happy to make an impact from the bench, and most of all they were enjoying their football. I would argue that the mistakes were made mostly before we’d kicked a ball in preseason training. The likes of Marlon Harewood and Stephen Foster, who were seemingly pivotal in the dressing room and great with the fans, were released, whilst the likes of Jim McNulty and Tomasz Cywka, who the manager refused to play this season, were allowed to stay.

The signings of Jennings and Nyatanga, as well as the retention of O’Grady looked to be the makings of a squad that were going to push on to mid-table - especially when added to the players who had achieved the unthinkable. Since then, Jennings has gone out on loan, and Nyatanga has fallen off the face of the earth.

We can look at specific failings, such as Mellis being pushed out to the wing, Digby and Noble-Lazarus being promised 30-40 games only to disappear or be loaned out, or the general abandonment of everything that characterised our success last season; but the only feeling I have is that of genuine disappointment. I felt that Flitcroft had brought the good times back to Oakwell, was a breath of fresh air, and was the man to back for a five year period to try and build something great. But unfortunately for one reason or another, he couldn’t fulfil his promises.

So where do we go from here? Well firstly I’d urge everyone to have a look at my article on Short-Termism. The fans, the board and the players need to lay down the foundations for what will be Barnsley Football Club for the next five years, and stick to that plan. Let’s implement a style of football and have a genuine go at bringing through the best products of our academy; players with a genuine pride for this town and this team. If that takes us down, then what will be, will be. Of course there are no guarantees these youngsters could bring us back up, but whatever level we play at, we’ll find a team that will bust a gut for these fans, and want to play.

But what do we do in the short term? Firstly come the managerial appointment. Sky’s early favourites for the job don’t inspire me at all, and I must admit I can’t think of any obvious replacement other than perhaps Steve Evans from Rotherham - he has an eye for a player and is very demanding of his players. Whether he’d come to Oakwell is a different matter, but the Barnsley board need to learn from last season’s Butcher-O’Driscoll-fiasco, and appoint a manager ASAP.

All I ask then is that the new manager gives everyone a chance, and puts his own stamp on the squad. We will never be able to break the bank, however at this moment in time I believe there is much to be said for heavily streamlining the squad, and looking for the best bang we can get for our buck.

I’ll finish by wishing the best of luck for the future to David Flitcroft, and whoever else might leave Oakwell over the coming few moments. Thanks for some great memories and some of the most enjoyment I’ve ever had attending football matches. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and become your own man. You typified what I call ‘typical’ Barnsley values last season, and deserved success this season, but it wasn’t to be.

We’re all guilty of wanting things yesterday, it seems like a natural part of life, and when it comes to the Football Club, we can all be guilty of calling a player, only for him to go on a run of form, or criticise the manager, only for him to pull us out of the mire; but is short-termism killing our club?

Let’s be straight. Barnsley Football Club do not have the budget to challenge for promotion to the Premier League tomorrow, and, as I would argue, even if we did, we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in that one basket. As we all know, we in fact have a budget that wouldn’t even put us among the big hitters in League 1 - so what should our expectations of our supporters be exactly? Every season, at least in Don Rowing’s era, we were told that Barnsley is lucky to even be in the league, a view that many a level headed fan (or someone who considers themselves as such) supports. However, should we allow our budget to limit our expectations and make the supporters set out expecting failure?

The obvious answer to such a question is no, however every season since our promotion to the Championship, we have tried different formulae, different staff, and have thus far produced results with little variation year upon year. Cup runs and star players aside - the Championship period since 2006 has been much of the same year upon year for BFC.

As a marketing proposition, I can’t say I particularly envy Ben Mansford in the task of making the club more marketable and appealing to bigger crowds. That said, Mr Mansford certainly has a vision for the future of the football club, with the ‘Be Proud Be Barnsley’ logo rebrand campaign well underway as part of a long term plan to increase crowds by 8000 in order to end the vicious cycle where without supporters we have no money and no great team; but without no great team we have no supporters, and therefore no money.

It is clear that however much we complain about the quality (or lack of) of the manager and players, chopping and changing has had little or no effect on our results in the period since returning to the Championship. Mark Robins mustered the best league positions in the period, but did so under conditions that would have killed the club financially in the long term. The idea that chopping and changing has little effect in the longer term isn’t unique to BFC, and it’s something that’s explored in Anderson and Sally’s ‘The Numbers Game’, which looks deeper behind the stats in football. Stats have their value, sometimes they can go towards confirming what you already (thought you) knew, but sometimes they can be overused; with conclusions that aren’t necessarily true drawn from them.

Whatever your opinion on the use of stats however, it is clear that our short-termist strategy is bearing less and less fruit as the years go by, with average results and performances seeming to deteriorate year on year, but for the little runs that ensure our championship survival at the end of each campaign. It is almost unanimously agreed that Barnsley cannot continue with the same strategy if it is to remain in the Championship, with the financial and quality-of-player gap continuing to increase. It is for this reason that I urge the hierarchy at Oakwell (fans included) to look to the future and embrace a change in culture.

Barnsley FC needs to create a brand for itself - and by that I don’t mean a logo, a motto or whatever else you can think of in a marketing sense. What I am saying is that the football should speak for itself, we as fans, together with the board and management should buy into a philosophy - but what would it be?

Born and bred - in recent years our academy has seen somewhat a revival in producing the likes of Jacob Butterfield and John Stones who have since moved on, as well as the likes of Danny Rose, Jordan Clark, Paul Digby, and Reuben Noble-Lazarus who are yet to get a sustained run in the team. Many will labour at the point that when a player comes into poor form we should ‘throw these lads in’, but are we willing to change our behaviour in order to make this work? Will we actually give them a chance, or condemn them as being ‘rubbish’ and boo for making the most minor of mistakes? Do we accept that if we are to give these players the playing time they need, they could make errors that cost us games - and will we stick by them?

Playing style - the great and memorable teams play with a distinct and memorable style, be that tiki-taka or not. Plan B aside, are we prepared, as fans to agree upon a style of football to be played, and stick by it through thick and thin? Swansea fans are receiving great dividends for investing in a style of football over a long period of time - which the chairman has insisted stick even if the manager should change - should we demand as a set of fans a certain style of football, and TURN DOWN managers who won’t agree to play it?

Squad size - do we demand marquee signings year upon year at the expense of a larger squad to fall back on when injured? Do we use loanees to plug the gaps or give the youth a chance? Do we opt for mercenaries and change the team every year, or try and develop players in the hope that it will come good in the long term?

Budgeting - do we build a ground, or an expensive squad?

Time scale - where do we want to be and when? what sacrifices will we make to be there?

The questions I’ve just posed are naturally what you’d expect to be questions that the likes of Ben Mansford should answer to, but I believe we as fans have a responsibility to answer those questions for ourselves, and buy into something for the long term. Each of the alternatives that are given can reap huge rewards, but they can ultimately be extremely costly.

A combination of administration, which led to a lack of quality playing staff left Southampton in the mire, but they have since resurged with a strong English backbone and the results are clear for all to see. Swansea nearly dropped out of the football league, but a long term philosophy has brought them European football. I guess the overarching question is, what are we prepared to sacrifice in order to make it work at this football club?

Many will argue that we cannot at any price, lose our league status - but if it meant we had given a young squad, full of potential, some vital championship experience - what is to say we couldn’t come back stronger? That said, we may never return to this division, which, as the club who have played the most seasons in it, would be a real shame and a tough pill to swallow.

I guess I talk as a desperate fan who wants to see some ‘good times’ come back to Oakwell again. I had desperately hoped that last season’s exploits would translate into something even more special this season, but I think that we can all agree that it has been nothing short of lacklustre.

So I ask you, the Barnsley faithful - do we look to the long term, adopt a philosophy and give it at least 5 or 10 years, or do we continue trying to make ends meet and hope for a miracle? Comment below or tweet me @MichaelRoach55 - thanks for reading!