Saturday, 26 March 2011

Wrexham Needs a Steady Hand

I am so confused! Could someone please explain to me why the WST get so much grief? They seem to me to be the only ones who are emerging from the ongoing WFC farce with any credit or dignity to me.

Okay, I suppose I'm being a little disingenuous. Some of the concerns fans voice about the trust make sense, even if I don't agree with them. I understand some people's anxiety at a perceived slowness on the trust's part to act as it's based on a fear for the club if someone doesn't sort it's future out quickly. However, it's hard to see what else the trust can do. It can't act as quickly as an individual investor or consortium could, as it has to canvass opinion from its membership and also has a responsibility to them to fully investigate all possible options rather than being able to act unilaterally.

Of course, their ability to move swiftly is also limited by their reliance on the incumbents at the club. They can't carry out due diligence until they're allowed access to the relevant information, and the timing of that simply isn't in their hands.

The trust are damned if they do and they're damned if they don't. If they divulge that they are talking to an interested party they are criticised for doing so, or not showing such urgency to talk to others; if they don't make a public statement they are attacked for inaction.

I think it's fair to say that the trust board, made up, let's not forget, of fans with their own lives to lead and jobs to maintain, are doing a sterling job of representing their members' interests and trying to protect the club. Surely no one should be able to dispute that they're doing all they can. Furthermore, they show the sort of professionalism, discretion and restrain you'd hope for in such a delicate situation. They don't make inflammatory public statements, unsubstantiated claims or provocative gestures. And they're the ones without a background in such matters.

I'm as anxious as anyone to see a favourable resolution to the current disgraceful mess the club is in. But I'm also trying to maintain perspective, and ensure I can see the wood for the trees. While dramas like the claims of a winding up order spring up at us regularly, it's easy to be panicked into rash decisions which could prove costly in the long term. I'm glad the trust has a measured hand at the tiller as it tries to negotiate its way through the storm.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Learning from the Pirate Club

I’ve already said I’d like to see Wrexham run by the fans. I’m not saying I’d exclude the experience and knowledge that a well-intentioned businessperson could bring to the party but they’d have to be willing to work with the WST and accept that, ultimately, the club belongs to the fans and is run for their benefit.

I’ve also already offered up AFC Wimbledon as a superb example to follow. Well, here’s another club we can learn from.

Saint Pauli is, through no fault of its own, in danger of becoming a cliché. The venerable German anti-institution has stood for all things counter-culture since it was, as the club badge says, “non-established in 1910” in the red light district of Hamburg.

As word of its famed rebellious attitude has spread, it has become increasingly the subject of media attention, and that has changed how it is perceived. That doesn’t necessarily mean the club itself has altered, but the world’s view of St Pauli seems almost to be taken through Disney-tinted spectacles. They’re seen as that cute, naughty club who don’t play by the rules. However, they’re much more than that, and in many ways offer a blueprint which a club like Wrexham would do well to heed.

Simply aping another club would be madness. You can’t recreate the set of circumstances which brings a club with a certain je ne sais quoi into being. The St Pauli attitude was born from a close proximity to the Reeperbahn and accentuated by its association with the Hafenstrasse protests of the 1980s, when anarchists, punks and a wide range of liberal and left-wing thinkers occupied some houses which were scheduled for demolition and fostered a radical non-conformism which seeped into every corner of the suburb. That can’t be recreated. But some of the positive innovations that have developed from that certainly can.

Certainly, St Pauli the club and St Pauli the neighbourhood are indivisible. They share a common outlook on life and support each other. The club runs a project, set up by fans, which supports kids with problems in the area, for example.

The fans have real power at St Pauli too, so when the idea of the Millerntor ground being renamed was mooted by the club president, the idea was swiftly shot down. Are you starting to see why there are elements of Saint Pauli’s approach which appeal to me?

Another innovation at St Pauli is one which shows this is a club mature enough to break from the accepted, mindlessly unquestioned way of doing things, and is also able to have a clear view of what is actually important at the club. Fifteen minutes before kick-off at every home game, the PA system s switched off, not to come back on until the bells of AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” toll the teams onto the pitch. The idea is that the fans then can have a quarter of an hour to sing, getting themselves ready for the game, and creating a proper atmosphere.

Can you imagine how blissful that would be? No inane chatter from pitch-side. No artificial attempts to whip us up into a frenzy. Just pure fan power. Anyone who has been through the New Wembley experience would surely prefer such a genuine atmosphere would be to the artificial racket generated by being told to make some noise for your team (do we have to be told to do that?) over blaring play-backs of the Black Eyed Peas and Status Quo.

One accidental but potentially beneficial side-effect of having such a clear identity is that St Pauli has become a brand. The skull and crossbones, apocryphally first hoisted at a match by a punk who, strolling through a fair to the ground, stole a children’s flag on the way, has become synonymous with the rebel state whose national team plays in the Bundesliga.

Clearly having such a clear identity, backed up consistently by the club’s actions, creates something you can sell. Not that St Pauli have been too successful in doing that. When they were on their uppers they sold away their merchandising rights for thirty years, a move which almost defies logic. After all, what club operates without being able to fully exploit its commercial potential? Which club would hobble itself in its ability to benefit from its own name? It’s like a club running its stock down in an embarrassingly empty club shop, isn’t it? And which club would do that?

Oh yeah.

We do have a brand though. We’re the only club of our scale in North- or Mid-Wales, a fact I notice Stephanie Booth has been quick to pick up on. Andy Gilpin wrote an excellent piece in the Daily Post a while back discussing how we ought to exploit the unique position this puts us in to become a genuinely inclusive community club with a wide-ranging remit.

I’ve grown up with stories of how the club treated local businesses badly, and heard more tales than you could imagine of disgruntled sponsors turning their backs on The Racecourse after being messed around. Well, a club run on decent principles and values, which treats people well, is the sort that creates loyalty. And when that loyalty is manifested in people being willing to sponsor the club, or fans proud enough to want a quarter of an hour before the game to create their own atmosphere, you know you’ve got a club to be proud of.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Trust The Trust

There’s not much point in writing this. By the time I’m half way through another fifteen consortia will no doubt have been announced as being in control of the day-to-day running the club, having preferred bidder status, or being about to lower the price of Yorkies in the snack bars.

It’d be a joke if it wasn’t so crushingly unfunny.
The least amusing part of it all is being taken for a ride like this. If the ongoing farce proves anything, it’s that only a fan-led movement could actually be trusted to have the interests of the club at heart. Ignore the bluster and positive sounds of businessmen; all they’re trying to do is win us over. There’ve been enough broken promises over the last few years to show that they mean nothing.
Perhaps it’s futile to support the WST. After all, it seems to me that Moss and Roberts would sell to Colonel Gaddafi before they sold to the fans, no matter how much they protest they want a fan-led consortium to take control in order to deflect attention elsewhere.

However, if something’s futile but morally correct, you should still do it. Don’t do what’s expedient; do what’s right. Take the course of action which, even if it’s doomed to failure, at least allows you to look in the mirror in the morning with your dignity intact and know that you did the right thing.

Never mind the divisive games which profiteers have played to dazzle and divide the supporters. They’re only acting in their own interests, looking to manipulate us to protect their profits. There’s only one group we know have only the best interests of Wrexham Football Club at heart. That’s the trust. Trust the trust.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Good Tolley

Have you noticed how unsung heroes don’t get much credit for what they do? Ain’t that something? Well, let me point you in the direction of someone who deserves a bit more credit than he perhaps gets.

I’m impressed with Jamie Tolley. I think he was an astute signing by Saunders, although at the time I must admit that I had my doubts.

The circumstances weren’t terribly auspicious. He arrived on trial in the Summer, didn’t look particularly fit, and after scoring a superb goal in our first pre-season friendly, at Vauxhall Motors, didn’t really catch the eye again.

However, he was given a contract, and I worried that Saunders might be falling into a familiar trap; one which has made a habit of catching a succession of Wrexham managers out in recent years. Basically, what happens is you see a player with a bit of quality, whose pedigree suggests he should be playing at a higher level, and you ignore the fact that he isn’t fit, blinded by the prospect of what he’ll be like when he actually does return to his best. The problem is, of course, that they rarely do rediscover their mojo. There might be the odd exception, I suppose, but there are many more gambles like that which don’t come off. Juan Ugarte anyone?

I was therefore rather bothered that Tolley might fit into this category. He looked a bit laboured in the middle of the pitch as he looked to get his condition back, and that great strike which was burned in all our minds was beginning to look a little bit like a fluke.

However, as he started getting games under his belt, he showed us a few things. Firstly, that goal wasn’t a one-off. He has chipped in with goals from midfield, including a screamer against Southport, and looks to have the technique to trouble goalkeepers from distance.

More encouraging though, is his ability to run beyond the strikers and get into goalscoring positions. He gets into the box well, and you suspect there are more goals in him as the season progresses. In that respect he reminds me of players like Terry McDermott or John Wark (showing my age here!), who often would be fairly peripheral in general play, but would consistently pop up in scoring positions.

Perhaps more crucially though, the amount of ground he covers in getting up and down the pitch these days shows that he has worked hard to attain peak fitness, and you certainly couldn’t fault his attitude as you might some players who’ve arrived in similar circumstances. (I can’t imagine why, but the words “Lamine Sakho” just drifted into my mind! Tolley’s scored five times more goals than he ever got in a Wrexham shirt already despite the fact that he plays in a deeper position!)

Furthermore, I think Tolley does an important job when we haven’t got the ball. Quite apart from his height, which is a useful asset in a physical league, we’ve shown an impressive ability to keep our defensive shape when we haven’t got the ball, and Tolley has often been part of our most determined rearguard action. He reminds me of what people used to say about Mel Sutton in that respect; he does a lot of the dirty work that people often don’t see, but team mates and managers appreciate.

The value his team mates put on him shouldn't be under-estimated either. I get the impression he's a genuine changing room character.

Now you might read all this and wonder why I’m praising someone who isn’t holding down a place in the first team. Fair enough, but I think that’s the main reason why I’m positive about him. We’ve seen already this season that Saunders has compiled a decent starting eleven, capable of sustaining a position near the top of the table. Now we’re seeing that he also has a good squad; there are back-up players at his disposal who, when injuries, suspension or loss of form kick in, are more than capable of stepping up to the play.

Teams like AFC Wimbledon are flying high, but they know their squads are thin and a congested fixture list could hurt them. whereas the cover we’ve got in most positions means we probably don’t have to fear that eventuality quite as much. The sound recruitment Saunders carried out in the Summer is now bearing fruit.

Wrexham FC v Eastbourne Borough FC Podacst

featuring Dean Saunders and Chris Maxwell

Wrexham FC v Eastbourne Borugh FC Audio Highlights

fweash10x.mp3 (audio/mpeg Object)

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A Call To Arms

My Leader column was online again yesterday (But the ancient photo they use of me's horrendous!) However, I had to edit it down as the original version was twice as long as it shpudl have been: here's the rest!

My appeal doesn’t limit itself to tomorrow. I hope we can get good crowds on Tuesday and next Saturday too. Part of my reasoning is that there’s no point making a big effort for one game and then putting the club back on the shelf. A club’s for life, not just for the weekend. I’m also looking at how the next week could pan out, and it could be pivotal to our season.

The next three games are absolutely massive. In fact, never mind the Crawley double-header or any of the other six-pointers we’ve played: I think the next week could go a long way to deciding our fate this season.

We’re in a six horse race for the five spots at the top of the table. Winning the league seems unlikely, although not impossible. Our first priority is to ensure we don’t end up being the one side which finishes six and misses out completely.

We find ourselves with three matches in a row at home, all against sides who are out of the running for promotion at best, staring relegation in the face at worst. None of them are easy games, but all are certainly winnable. Contrast this with what’s happening across the Blue Square Bet Premier at the same time. All five of our promotion rivals are playing three games in the same period, and all of them will, at some point, face at least one of the other contenders for a Football League spot. Indeed, Kidderminster play Luton, Crawley and Wimbledon this week! So the sides around us have got to drop some points over the next eight days. If we can make the most of our three matches, we will have either opened up a gap between us and sixth place or narrowed the gap to the top of the table. In an ideal world, we might have done both!

I’ve got a gut feeling that it’ll be the two sides in fifth and sixth that will suffer most this week. Kidderminster and Fleetwood have the toughest trio of games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, after playing them, they still haven’t overtaken the fifty-nine points we currently hold. As we also have a game in hand on both sides, you can see how beneficial a good haul of points would be over the next week. It would leave Fleetwood and Kidderminster trailing in our wake, fighting over the final play-off spot, and we could stop having to look over our shoulders.

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