Lots of people suspected that things would be difficult after we got knocked out of the FA Cup, but I don’t think any of us would have guessed just how quickly and dramatically our fortunes would have gone downhill. Thankfully some football has come along to interrupt the soap opera, but it is worth looking back and assessing this torrid five days.
One of the biggest influences on the way that news in now reported has been the rise of social media. In the good old days, events would be reported once a day, maybe even just once a week. Even at the launch of 24 hour news channels, news was still just a one way conversation. We found out about an event when a journalist wanted to tell us about it.
With websites like Twitter this all changed. Now we can all respond to stories as soon as they happen. We can report news or, more regularly, rumour and speculation ourselves. We can become the story. An event that gets a lot of momentum and a big public reaction becomes newsworthy in itself. Journalists can report on the growing reaction or backlash to an event. A story can escalate by the minute, when in fact nothing new has actually happened.
Last week’s FIFA poppy fiasco is a perfect example of this. I am sure that the ‘events’ that would normally move a story forward consisted of just a couple of letters or emails, maybe a few phone calls and probably two or three meetings at the FA and FIFA. The actual time the FA and FIFA collectively spent working on the issue was probably only minimal. But to watch the news, and especially the internet reaction, you would have come away with the impression that there were constant high level summits, with both sides working late into the night to solve the crisis.
This phenomenon of a ratcheting up of tension has also been seen with Kettering Town this week. Before even the Sports Report theme-tune had ended, rumours began flying around about failures to pay wages and bills, by Tuesday reporters were hinting at what they knew but were unable to tell all, and players were venting their frustrations in public. There may have only been one or two actual key events at the club during the week, but constant access to the rumour mill made it feel like things were getting worse by the minute.
Of course, all of the rumours that started coming out at the beginning of the week were pretty much on the money. We do appear to be in a financial black hole. This is nothing new. At this time last year the Chairman gave an interview almost identical word-for-word to the one he gave this week. The last few seasons we have escaped. But in the last few seasons we weren’t paying for Nene Park.
It now sounds like the only way out is for many of our better players to move on. We will have to hope that Mark Stimson has a better knack for signings that the last manager. He can start by not being so easily swayed by agents. This week the Chairman suggested that the club’s summer transfer policy was based on agents ‘working their magic’. Anyone who makes a signing on the basis of what they are told by a man who has a major financial stake in you signing that player has little right to pass the blame on to anyone else.
But even if Stimson has his best scouting goggles on, it is likely that by the end of January we will have more players on non-contract terms or short term loans. The fact that Hughes-Mason, Swaibu and O’Leary don’t even appear to be received travel expenses shows what a dire state we are in. The team seems to be increasingly made up of players who are essentially volunteering for Kettering Town. Maybe the club is planning on becoming one of the leading lights in the Big Society. It certainly puts an end to the ‘we pay your wages’ moan.
Whoever ends up in the starting XI, we need to give them our full support. The atmosphere under Masson was toxic, and no one wants to go back to that.
In the middle of all of this the fans are left wondering what on earth is happening. Many of us bought tickets on the promises made to us in pre season. In football, no fans can seriously demand or even expect success, but people surely have the right to be just a little miffed that the season was built on such a foundation of sand.
It was just 15 weeks ago that the club was talking of its play-off aspirations. The speed of the turnaround, from a two-year plan to be in the Football League, to ‘these players we’ve signed are all rubbish and need to leave’ has left fans angry. But it is an impotent anger, a feeling that there is nothing they can do to help.
Those who have given many years service to Kettering Town have been systematically sidelined over the past four years. The growing professionalism of lower league football, taking the running of clubs like Kettering away from supporters and supposedly managing them as businesses, has meant that when things go wrong, when clubs most need fans to pull together, they find that the people they could rely on in the past are no longer there.
It is worth remembering that fans of lots of other clubs are going through very similar events. Kettering Town is not unique and we are not alone. It is also worth remembering that we have been here before and survived. But there are only so many times that you can continually lean over the cliff edge and pull yourself back. At some point you will become so weary that you will be unable to stop yourself from falling.
I haven’t written anything about Kettering for a little while. I started something after the Grimsby game but found it too depressing, so gave up. It wasn’t about the game itself, but about the solace that football fans seem to find in defeat by being able to complain about it.
Although no one ever likes losing, I do wonder whether as fans we find comfort in being unsuccessful. You know where you are when you are struggling, even if that place is very messy. When you win, or are top of the league, there is always that nagging worry that it will all go horribly wrong to stop you enjoying it. And being able to shout and swear at a scapegoat gives us an outlet for our emotions. Who do Manchester City fans get angry at now? I’m convinced that being able to shout and swear in public is why most people go to watch football.
Anyway, there is no need for this article now. John Dempster is back, being a red and hating Diamonds, and we picked up three points away at Bath. It is amazing how quickly emotions and atmospheres can change. On Poppynet on Wednesday we were all doomed and the world was coming to an end, then a single one-month loan deal later and we are on our way back. Sometimes we are very much like Homer Simpson.
Picking up a win against Hayes and Yeading on Tuesday now seems more important than ever. Mostly this is because a win is very achievable, so failing to do so would be crushing for everyone, not least the players. It would be nice to get a little bit of momentum, to make sure that it doesn’t always feel that every time we take a step forward we get knocked back.
Most of all, we need a win to make sure supporters get fully behind the team. If we are going to make this season anything other than a horrible relegation scrap we need to have a good home record.
It has been suggested that Fabio Capello thinks the pressure players feel to win at Wembley might be the reason why England seem to perform better away from home. It may well be this, it may be because teams that come to Wembley tend to defend deep and don’t allow England space, or it may be because the England team are a load of rubbish who lack creativity and football intelligence.
Whatever the reason, there does seem to be a sense that home grounds can no longer be relied on to be the fortresses they once were. Other than the Britannia Stadium when you hear managers say ‘it’s never an easy place to come it’, do you believe them? Mainly, it is the quality of the team that makes an away trip difficult, not the atmosphere. All-seater stadiums, the overall aging demographic of football fans, and the general apathy and cynicism towards players has reduced the hostility of home fans.
Having said that, the least we can do is to try and give the players the confidence that we are not going to get on their back at the first opportunity. Of course there is going to be a tense atmosphere, it is inevitable, but we need to fight our natural urges to complain and grumble.
So, many of the fans have got what they wanted. Morell has gone and, if the Chairman is right, we will have a new boss in time for the game against Lincoln. Reading through some of the posts on Poppynet this morning it seems opinion is more divided than I had anticipated. More than I expected agree with the Chairman that the booing of Morell was out of order.
The idea of this blog was to give a fans eye view of the season, but these are just my opinions on this unhappy period and it turns out that there are quite a few who won’t agree with me.
Very few fans actually enjoy seeing a manager sacked. If a manager goes, it is almost certainly because the team is playing poorly, for whatever reason. And no one in the crowd wants a team playing poorly.
When things get too bad, some fans will want a manager to go. Some will chant, some will boo, and some will just grumble and, as was the case on Saturday, in the heat of the moment some of it may turn into personal abuse. But when a sacking or a resignation actually happens there is always a sense that whatever else, this is still a man who has lost his job and has had to suffer an embarrassing personal failure.
This is why I think the Chairman got it so wrong in his interview with BBC Radio Northampton. Suggesting that it was only a few fans who were upset with Maison and calling for him to go was simply wrong. It may only have been a small group at the back of the terrace that were doing most of the chanting, but a lot of the time they are the only ones who are singing in support of the team as well. They are the most vocal section of the crowd, but I don’t think there were many around me who felt that their sentiment was wrong.
For the Chairman to say that those calling for Maison to go were not true fans is simply insulting. It may have been that the Chairman was upset, having just had to accept the resignation of a friend. But isolating fans at this critical stage of the season, especially when it turns out we need to double our crowd sizes, seems crazy.
The fans on the terrace may not have put as much time or money into the club as the Chairman, but we will be here long after he, the next manager, and all of the players have left this club. You can say that you don’t agree with the people on the terrace, but remember, they are the ones who were willing to follow the club and try and make this project work.
The supporters’ goal is to see a successful club. That is all. I think that most fans thought that we weren’t seeing that and most worryingly that there was no prospect of it.
I understand the argument that the team had a lot of injuries, and that the manager should have been given the time to get the players back. I think that many other mangers would have been given that time.
It is true that all teams would struggle with five first choice players out of the line up. But on the other hand, the manager had signed seven of the staring 11 on Saturday. He obviously thought they were good enough, if not to start then at least to do a job. I actually agree with him. I think they are. So why were they so comprehensively out-played and out-thought in several games?
Fans can accept a performance like the one against York if we can see that we have learnt from it. But to continue to make the same mistakes is what makes fans angry. That is why the crowd was so angry against Fleetwood.
Now the fans have what they wanted, it is up to us to get behind the team and the new manager. There were unique circumstances as to why Maison wasn’t given any time before the crowd was on his back, whoever is given the job must now be given that time and the support they need. That may be unfair on Maison, but that’s football.
So, onwards and hopefully upwards. Between now and Saturday we have JP’s testimonial. Hopefully this will bring some light relief to what has been a troubling few weeks. The hope is that Tottenham will bring a strong side. As one of the most popular and entertaining players I have seen at Kettering I hope that JP gets the attendance he deserves. At times in recent years it has been worth coming to games just to see JP, his keep-ball session at the end of the Hartlepool FA Cup game was worth a testimonial on its own.
Whatever David Cameron may think at the moment, there is no doubt that the internet is a great thing. Among its many benefits is that we are now able to be constantly engaged with Kettering Town. But is this actually a good thing?
Firstly it allows people like me, who have no insight, ill-informed opinions, and barely any wit, to set up a website and type out 400 hundred words of nonsense every couple of days. Up until about 10 years ago these words would have remained unread in a notebook somewhere. Now they have an audience.
I have found out that some people have arrived at my blog after searching for information on Rohit Chand’s transfer to the UK. I do hope they were able to tell they shouldn’t have believed anything I’ve written.
But the most damaging thing for our emotional health to come out of the internet is obvious: message boards.
Don’t get me wrong, PoppyNet is great at keeping people to stay in touch with the club. People can now share information 24 hours a day in a way that wasn’t possible in the past.
In the past we may have had the Monday Night Moan-In on local radio or 6-0-6, but none of these resulted in the level of rumour and speculation that occurs on a message board. And it is this that is no good for our overall wellbeing.
We now seem to be constantly worrying about our club. The finances in football are terrible, they always have been. They make no sense. But now we can read about the speculation surrounding them, we worry about them more than ever. And this is the same at every club in the land
Reading PoppyNet, it seems that some fans live in a constant state of fear that Kettering Town won’t be there when they wake up in the morning. Some fans clearly love the rumours (especially those who start them), but I do worry that some people seem to enjoy the state of panic that the rumours cause. That can’t be healthy, can it?
The obvious answer would be to stop reading PoppyNet. But anyone who reads message boards knows (and there are many more who, like me, only read than who post) they are the crack-cocaine of the internet. You know they do you no good, but they have an unbreakable hold on you.
But the genie is out of the bottle now. I’m now resigned to living in a state of constant paranoia, always worrying that our club is on the verge of collapse. I’m sure our club is in no more danger now than it was in the past. And it could be much, much worse: we could be Grimsby.
If I were you I’d turn the computer off and go to the pub now you’ve read this. You’ll still talk about Kettering, but at least you will be drunk.
So, for the first time ever I will have a season ticket for a Kettering Town. Despite the fact I’ll no longer be able to stand on my regular slab and I’ll have to suffer the convenience of being dry during the winter, I will be heading over to Irthlingborough to watch us in our new home.
Whatever you think of the chairman, you’ve got to admit that he has done a pretty effective job of building momentum during this preseason. The reports are that we have sold a record amount of season tickets and people are even putting actual money on us to win the league.
This is no mean feat. Close seasons with no international tournaments always seem to drag on, even when the English team try keep the difference down to a minimum by getting knocked out of tournaments as early as possible.
And with only a few days to go before the start of the season it certainly feels a long way from that stormy night at Wicksteed Park. As the rain beat down outside, and as the insults and threats of violence simmered inside, I am sure that there were many in the room who though that it could be the beginning of the end for the club. They may yet be proved right.
But, a long list of signings, coupled with some truly fantastic work by one agent, and a pretty generous offer on season tickets has convinced many, including me to hand over £200. Even Poppynet’s most ardent pessimists are itching to get going.
Before a ball has been kicked £9 a game does seem like pretty good value for money (especially when compared to the outrageous £18 payable on the gate). Whether it will still seem like good value in January when we are fighting against relegation and have conceded our third goal to Gateshead is another matter.
This might not be Kettering anymore, but we just have to keep our fingers crossed.