Stephen Cleeve: Football focus... and the focus on managers

Sonny Carey scores for King's Lynn Town at Port Vale in the FA Cup

The joy of the FA Cup - Sonny Carey celebrates his winner at Port Vale - Credit: Gerard Austin

King’s Lynn Town find themselves in the FA Cup first round this afternoon for the second year running.

Last year, Sonny Carey’s strike saw us beat Port Vale, this year we take on Walsall at The Walks.  

The major difference between this season and last year, of course, is that fans will be present in the stadium and they are, of course, every team’s 12th man.

At least 600 supporters will be coming from the Midlands to ensure a great cup atmosphere and for the first time ever Alex Scott, Dion Dublin and Leon Osman will be presenting Football Focus live from The Walks.  

All fans are invited from 10am to be inside the stadium’s bar where they will be filmed and possibly interviewed for the BBC’s popular program with extended highlights being broadcast on Match of the Day tonight.

Whilst the club has not got a lucrative live TV game, we are at least firmly in the media spotlight.

The managerial merry-go-round has continued not only in the Premier League, but also in the National League. Simon Rusk was a coach with a great track record at Brighton, but he was sacked from Stockport County last week and has been replaced by Dave Challoner, who achieved promotion with Hartlepool last season via the play-offs. He has dropped back again into the National League to try and repeat his previous success. One can only guess that he must have been offered a huge financial incentive to do so.

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Last season, Simon went 18 matches unbeaten, today he is unemployed. There is no questioning his coaching abilities, but what seems to have cooked his goose is the recruitment of players at Stockport. Now I have no idea how Stockport recruit; is it done for the manager or does the manager decide on the transfer targets?  Some clubs give managers a shortlist to choose from, others allow managers total control over recruitment, although this latter approach is increasingly becoming outdated.

Chairmen have a hard time when the manager makes wrong choices. Fans may ask for him to back the manager with new signings when he has already done just that. If the club’s footballing recruitment side and not the manager signed the players, then can the manager be blamed?

Alternatively, could one argue that the players are up to the job, but the manager is playing the wrong system? Sometimes a new manager arrives and there is an instant upturn in results, the footballing equivalent of a dead cat bounce. There are myriad possibilities and, in reality, there are only a handful of people at any club who know what has gone wrong and who is to blame when the team falter.

Sometimes, of course, no one is to blame; injuries happen, a player can fall out with the manager and down tools, systems can be put in place and worked on in training and a key player vital to their success can fail to perform. Sometimes, an important player can be sold - whilst a club may hold his registration, it can be very difficult to keep a player at a club who wants to leave. Managers are then left with the difficult and lonely task of explaining to the press why things are not working.

There are also many managers who work well as a double act, but may not work well without their partners. There is no doubting Brian Clough’s brilliance, but I bet that he would not have had half the success that he enjoyed without Peter Taylor at his side helping out with the recruitment.

The point which I am probably labouring to make is that football is a game played with fine margins separating sides and maybe we should not be looking at who is to blame. It is entirely possible that everyone has made decent decisions, but they simply have not worked. The key here is to accept the situation and take action, not to bury your head in the sand and think that the situation may resolve itself of its own accord. 

Sometimes it maybe a blip, but the statistics may make uncomfortable reading - they often spell out the truth in black and white. The chairman’s role is to steady the ship, take the right decisions and guide the ship into calmer waters until the storm has passed.  

Ian Culverhouse on the sidelines

King's Lynn Town boss Ian Culverhouse - Credit: Ian Burt

Looking at King’s Lynn's own situation, our manager, Ian Culverhouse, recruited Gold Omotayo and Junior Morias as a dynamic partnership, but due to injuries and suspensions he has hardly been able to field both players together at the same time. This situation can hardly be the manager’s fault.

Feeding those two players, of course, was meant to be Cameron King who, sadly, has had his own recent medical issues, and his replacement Joe Rowley was stretchered off during a recent fixture.

Should I, as chairman have insisted on having a Plan B or would that be interfering too much in the footballing side of the club? Some chairmen would feel that they need to be involved in all areas of the club, including the playing side. Some managers would feel this interferes with their role.

With so many outcomes and variations, fans can talk football for hours - for every fan there is a manager in waiting. After the final whistle today, thousands of individuals will leave the stadium discussing the game from their personal perspectives in animated fashion. Every fan will feel that their truth is the truth. In essence, there are no rights and wrongs, it is simply a game of opinions.

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