We often rue and bemoan the seemingly fading relevance and power of the ordinary fan in modern English football. This was summed up in a banner unveiled by a Manchester City fan in January during the Champions’ visit to Arsenal which criticized the £62 asking price for an away ticket at the Emirates on the day.
However, this month, we have perhaps seen an example of the more unfortunate side of fan power at Notts County.
At the beginning of the month, the League One side dismissed manager Keith Curle after less than a year in charge. This was despite the club being tenth in the league table and only five points off the play-offs after narrowly missing out on a spot on goal difference last season.
Curle’s departure means the Magpies are now searching for their seventh manager in three years! On paper, the former Chester City and Mansfield Town boss’ sacking would come as a complete shock. Curle lost just nine league games as Notts County manager, and only suffered his first away defeat with the club a week before his dismissal.
However, County’s notorious record for dismissing managers meant his exit following defeat to bottom of the table Hartlepool came as no shock. It had been, as the club’s Chief Executive Jim Rodwell said, “on the cards for a while.”
Curle’s departure has shown that County’s ruthless attitude towards managers shows no sign of halting. Even the club’s promotion from League Two in 2010 has not bought some much needed stability to the club. If anything it seems to have raised the standards higher and shortened the patience of those associated with the club.
Craig Short was shown the door in October 2010 after just 4 months and 16 league games in charge, despite the club being only being a few points off the play-off places and it being his first job ever in English football. Martin Allen suffered a similar fate to Short and Curle after he was axed last February following a dip in form, despite leading the club to the fourth round of the FA Cup and vastly improving the team’s fortunes.
It seems that certain individuals at Notts County have disregarded the years that preceded their successful promotion season in 2009/10 when venting their frustration at the club’s recent form.
Following relegation to England’s bottom division in 2004, the magpies struggled to adjust to life in League Two, and finished in the bottom half of the league table for five consecutive seasons. In fact, they only secured their Football League status in 2006 and 2008 thanks to results in their final home games of the season.
There were days where the idea of becoming an established League One side seemed a million miles away. It was this hugely exasperating period that made the enthralling 2009/10 promotion season all the more sweet.
However, the success of that season seems to have given a section of supporters (and to some extent the board too) the idea that success in football is easy. The indication that they were destined to climb the football pyramid as easily as they claimed the League Two trophy three years ago. The brutal way in which Short, Allen, and Curle were dismissed as manager certainly seems to suggest so.
There was no indication that the team’s League One status was under threat when all three left their posts, which is the only issue that might have warranted a managerial change.
Like all managers, they ran into difficulties, particularly Curle, in the form of the falling attendances, disappointing home form, and the departure of striker and fan favorite Lee Hughes to Port Vale in January. But the managers are not being given enough time to address those problems and are being removed as soon as the side hit a poor run of form.
It’s almost as though the club are paranoid of being sucked back into their old ways and thus are taking unnecessary, drastic actions. Their experiences in League Two should have helped them appreciate the progress they have made since promotion. The recent criticism and questioning of the club’s ambition by fans has been ridiculous.
Chairman Ray Trew has bought much needed financial solidity to Meadow Lane since purchasing the club in February 2010, all at great personal risk too, investing an estimated £12 million of his own money. One thing Trew must now do is decide on the type of manager he wants at the club and stick with him.
He is running out of options when it comes to the category his managers come under in terms of style, having already tried riskier, more inexperienced managers such as Short, more experienced coaches such as Ince and motivational characters such as Allen.
When he does finally make his choice, all Notts County fans must get behind him and the manager for the sake of the clubs stability. Most importantly, they must continue to remember that things could be, and until recently have been, a lot worse.