Villa Park, 2001. As the Sky Blues found themselves suffering relegation for the first time since 1958, a lone figure stood defiant. Visibly anguished, his message was a simple but powerful one: “We’ll be back”. This iconic image became a symbol of hope for the Sky Blue Army struggling for ways to come to terms with the seemingly unthinkable.
11 years on, there’s little defiance in me right now. I truly wish there was; it’s tiresome being so annoyed all the time. But I can’t feel any given the lifeless resignation of our Championship status and the subsequent messages about our club’s future this weekend. Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat to bottom of the league Doncaster may have only been one of the many nails in our coffin, but it’s one that’s going to haunt me for a long time.
I will be doing a more structured and composed review of things once the season ends, but for now, I just need to write some words, any words, to try and get the disappointment out.
What those words’ll be, I’m not quite sure. The thoughts are running around my head as I process my club being relegated to League One. I can only apologise for the jumbled nature of this, but here we go.
Many see the fact that we were able to take it this far in the season, as some sort of achievement. What I’m really struggling to understand is how we managed to give ourselves such an opportunity, then throw it away so pathetically. It may seem a harsh word for a squad as meager as ours, but regardless of the perceived quality, we at least expected a giant effort in the remaining games. Each has been bigger than the last, but you’d never have known it – things have been so flat and disorganised. It’s impossible to ignore that.
I can’t stand to let this season go unanswered for in the same way that previous years have. In a truly naive fashion, I wish there was some way that the people who are paid to run the football club, the people who are paid to prepare this football team for matches AND those who are part of the football team, were able to genuinely acknowledge and accept responsibility for what they have done, and how unacceptable they have been.
I think it’s important to say that I don’t see it as being black and white – there’s no single point of responsibility or individual that has caused this relegation. There needs to be accountability across the club. Everyone who has a job which impacts the performance of the team surely has questions to answer. This wasn’t fate, this was the very real result of poor planning, organisation and a fundamental inability to learn from mistakes or improve, on and off the pitch.
But this is a football club isn’t it. Wider accountability doesn’t happen. It’ll be the manager or the owners who take the flack, regardless of the other problems. Thorn’s certainly got a lot to answer for, but if it’s just him identified as the scapegoat, what happens to the other contributing factors? Do they simply carry on happening even though they’re so clearly failing?
Assistant Manager Steve Harrison is just one of those who’s been at the club for a while now. He seems a lovely guy, and everyone thinks an awful lot of him – but during his time he has overseen a rapid decline in technical standards. These are professional footballers, but nothing is natural about what they’re doing. Every pass, every first touch, every feint – it all looks so uncomfortable. There’s also a worrying correlation between his time here and our inability to see out games. Thorn is the manager so the final decision on what goes must lie with him, but Harrison is charged with training our team, and it’s clear just by watching the matchday behaviour that his influence is huge too. If the assistant doesn’t have an impact, what’s the point him even being in the job?
I’m sure they all look at each other too. The coaches must be wild that the players can make such basic and costly errors so persistently. How hard can it be to pass a ball 5 yards?
In the same way, I’m sure the players get frustrated at the rigid and negative approach to each game, the baffling tactics, along with rumoured strategies such as the “6-pass rule” which are enforced upon them.
I refuse to accept blanket excuses like “we just weren’t good enough”, or “it wasn’t meant to be” to explain an entire season. It’s too easy to sweep things under the carpet like that all the time. Why weren’t we “good enough” when we were good enough to take the lead in games so often? We need to forget the lack of investment for a second – that’s a massive issue we all agree is the root cause of the club’s decline. It’s been a titanic effort supporting the team game by game this year, and while at times we seemed doomed, we were given hope recently and found ourselves in with a great chance of scrambling our way out of this situation. If we’d done our job in a half-way acceptable manner, we’d be safe by now.
But we blew it in the tamest of fashions, in what was the easiest run of fixtures we could have wished for. The way the games went, the team seemed to have given up long before the fans. Nice of them to tell us.
It’s not just the quality of the play, which we all expect to be hit and miss given how we have a team littered with sub-Championship players. There was no tempo, no conviction in what we were trying to achieve, and each game since that Hull performance has fallen well below the levels required. For a club that lives by the clichés, why could we not throw everything at it? Where were the Cup finals that supposedly epitomise relegation battles?
Yes, this season has been made far harder by the owners sending the team into battle with insufficient resources, but by not being able to raise their levels for these final few games when the fans were counting on it the most, it’s very difficult at the moment in time not to feel as though the players and coaching team have failed us too.