Question of the Week
Do you support Cleethorpes Town?
The Proof's in the Pudding!
RECENTLY I started a thread naming and shaming who I believed were the worst Town players since our success in 1998. At first it was nothing more than a bored, random post, created in the feel-good glow of retaking (briefly!) top spot in League 2.
The names came swiftly. Ah, how memories can bring back pain and suffering! Menno Willems, Adam Buckley, Andy Love, Alan "Whoopsiedaisy" Neilson... I tell you, it was like picking at a scab, knowing it's wrong but needing the release. And still they came. Jeffrey, Raven, Antoine-Curier. I felt I was reliving the York City FA Cup fixtures all over again.
(Interestingly, when posting this message, I was given an error for bad language. The word the board disagreed with? "Knut", as in "Anders Fostervold". Nice little safety built in there, I thought.)
Anyway, over the keys my eager fingers typed trying to cut that list down to a mere eleven, when I noticed something. There were many names there, so many disappointing names... but something was amiss. And I knew exactly what it was. With the exception of just two names, none of these players had been brought in by Russell Slade.
With a list encompassing a time span of only seven years, and five managers in that time, and with our current incumbent now well into his second year, you'd have expected a number of the Damned to have been brought in by him. But the only names I could blacklist him for were Anthony Williams and Terry Fleming. Buckley, Lennie, Groves and Law were all responsible for many, many names.
Now I understand that my list of the "Worst Recent XI" is going to be a personal thing, and everyone's is going to be different. For instance, a minor outcry went up when I included Lee Ashcroft in my final XI. But I realised, paused over my keys, that this was not purely about who the worst players were; it was about what, or more precisely whom, was responsible for them. And that final responsibility rests with the managers, who need to examine their short- and long-term potential to the team when bringing in new players.
Ashcroft I included because a vastly overpriced figure was payed for a player who could not outshine any of the strikers we already had. It was a complete waste of the money that the Wembley successes had given the club, which could have been better spent. And it was a reflection on the prowess of Alan Buckley in the transfer market, and thus on his ability to manage the club. He had resources available and did not need to immediately strengthen, yet rushed haphazardly into spending the largest transfer fee we've ever paid on a player who was inferior to both Jack Lester and Bradley Allen for the largest part of his Blundell Park career.
Thus it seemed clear to me that the success of a manager was in creating his image of a good footballing club, in finding the players that would create that image, and maximising them to their full potential. In Buckley's second spell, he was able to do that temporarily by bringing in all the players from WBA he'd been managing before. Dropping into a lower league together and having been managed by him before, they surpassed themselves... particularly in Kevin Donovan's case.
But it didn't last long, and soon it became apparent that Buckley would not be able to succeed forever on past glories. His signings and team selections afterwards can best be summed up with his inexplicable decision to stick stubbornly with his son, little Adam, in the team. The man had lost his way; Town went downhill, the end. It's a mini adventure.
Lennie? Did he ever start? Not really. With an unclear mind as to what kind of football he wanted to play, we experimented boundlessly with formation, position, and above all exciting new players. Occasionally going all out for unrealistic signings such as Zhang Enhua and David Nielsen while at the same time courting for the affections of Willems and Fostervold demonstrated an unclear path. For the most part (with the exception of a brilliant, short-lived start in 2001) we diced with relegation again and, with no sense of direction, Lennie left the building.
Paul was inexperienced. He was so focused on the object of survival that he didn't put any thought into a coherent team idea of his own. So he played with his mates, and for a short while it worked, and we stayed up one more year. But then, rudderless in terms of a team idea for nigh on five years, it went wrong. We fell apart. With strange signings coming in and not a clue in the world we fell. Oh how we fell. Down, down, down, and still Paul did not create a team based around his own idea. Into the depths of the old Division Two and still down we fell.
So Paul gave way to Nicky, who could do little but watch as a group of people who didn't know each other wander in a daze onto the pitch and come back two hours later beaten, bloodied and bewildered. Crashing into the newly formed League Two it was Law's turn to face the axe, but he left with not a stain on him, realistically. He had failed to keep us in the division, but how can one fail when presented with an impossible task? And that is precisely what we had. He signed players in panic to desperately try to keep us up. Had he succeeded, perhaps he would then have built a team around his own image. But he never had that chance.
Russell took over. He started in the same manner as Law. Well he didn't have a team and had only weeks before the season, you can't blame him. And that brought about his mistakes, such as Messr Williams. But of all the players he persuaded to come to Town, the foundation of the team was coming together. He had this idea, you see, of what he wanted in a team. He brought in all the right components with a couple letting the side down. And those few, over time, he was able to move on to pastures new, while motivating those remaining to play together as a team. A team in his own image.
If you've read this far, well done! the patronising conclusion is coming up!
It is therefore hardly a surprise to see the team doing so well this season. A good team is brought together by a good manager. The proof's in the pudding. Russell has created Grimsby Town FC from scratch, mastered it as he needed to do - and as Lennie, Paul and Nicky all failed to do - into his own image of what a football club should be. And with almost everything against him, he has succeeded in keeping the club in this division's top three longer than anyone else.
We've been up there longer than Wycombe, Leyton Orient or Northampton. We've obliterated the automatic promotion prospects of Rochdale and Notts County, who have only the playoffs as realistic targets. Through it all the team - our first team in seven years - is still coming, still facing the division's diverse array of squads and still bringing home the points. And if this analysis isn't enough to convince that small but vocal minority that Russell Slade is the man for the job - a man who stopped the rot of not three years, but nearly a decade, of the club's neglect - then I'm baffled. Because he has done more for the club than even Buckley did in his second coming. After all, Alan had the sales of Oster and Clive backing him. What did Russell have waiting here? A lot of unhappy fans and no money.
The man hasn't earned a chance; he hasn't needed to. What he has accomplished - and you need to have looked back at our recent history to take it all in - demands our respect and admiration. Where other people have failed, he has more than triumphed. No wonder the country's media is baffled at the rise and rise of Grimsby Town FC. From the ashes that started in the last year of Buckley's reign, and the others who followed him into ruin, Slade's phoenix is still rising, and showing no signs of slowing. And from it comes a message to all those fans that still don't believe in him:
Sit down and shut up!
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