Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Jeff Whitley??!!?!!??!???

I'll admit I'm totally thrown by the thought of Jeff Whitley returning to the club, and don't know what to make of it.

Part of me says that taking him back would be the most noble act of forgiveness you could imagine. After failing to play in that huge showdown on the last day of last season you would think he was persona non grata. To welcome him back, to understand he was a troubled man and give him another chance, would be remarkable; it would be gesture which, in its humanity, would be incredibly out of place in the cut-throat world of football.

Or, if you want to look at it in a more hard-nosed way, if he shows on Colliers Park that he can be the player he was last season, he'll be able to make a difference to the side and we should bring him in for that reason alone. Adding Whitley, Danny Sonner and Sam Aiston to the midfield, not to mention Neil Roberts, would be a big stride forward from what we had available at the beginning of the season.

On the other hand, can we afford to take a chance with someone in recovery when we're in this situation? If we were mid-table we probably could, but we're not. We're in a position where we have very little margin for error, either on the pitch or in the market place. Can we afford to commit a chunk of our salary allocation on someone who might disappear if he has a relapse?

Please God that he doesn't, because we have a tendency as football fans to forget we're dealing with human beings, and I'd hate to see the anger Whitley would attract from people who put the team ahead of his tragedy. But it could happen, and that thought scares me on many levels.

All sorts of rumours fly around a football club and if you have any sense you soon learn to grade your sources in order of reliability. One guy I know constantly tells me the inside line from The Racecourse, and is always wrong. In fact, he's so reliably ill-informed that I've often taken solace when he has said a key player is leaving as I know he will be staying! However, when the most reliable person I know, the person who measures his words more carefully than anyone else I know, said in the Summer that Whitley should never show his face at The Racecourse again you know this is a gamble!

I guess on balance my hopes for this are predictably inane. I hope he can return, offering a glorious story of redemption which shows we can be big enough to shrug off petty issues and offer someone another chance. Then he plays a central role as we get out of trouble. But then I spent my childhood reading "Roy of the Rovers"! It was such romantic thinking which brought poor Juan Ugarte back despite his fitness problems, and sadly we all know how that has ended.

Whitley is an intelligent, articulate man who has been on a terrible journey and his ability to articulate it might be a big factor in his chances of recovery. I truly hope that this is the case and he can have a happy ending. If it turns out to be ours as well, so much the better!

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