I’m not a fan of Shakespeare. For sure he could pen a decent line, and when performed his plays can offer decent entertainment; but really it’s just a case of taking a few well-trodden human dilemmas and creating a narrative around them. Heard someone on the radio recently comment gushingly how ‘remarkable’ it was that even after 400 years he is ‘still relevant’. Well, the Greek tragedies are around seven thousand years old but just as relevant. Fact is the subject matter is the human condition and that doesn’t change. But the relevance to our current situation is that it is usually acknowledged that Shakespeare is so ambiguous when it comes answers to the questions he poses that any critique of his work says more about the person doing the critique than the work itself. And I think we’re seeing a fair reflection of that in the initial reactions to the news of the appointment of Dean Holden to succeed Ben Garner (along with three other ‘experience professionals’).
I’d venture that very few of us, certainly not me, have a good handle on Holden’s pros and cons, what style of football he wants us to play, how he views the game in general – and based around that whether or not he is likely to succeed. And let’s not kid ourselves, success this season would now amount to staying clear of the relegation zone and steady improvement on the pitch, to turn an underperforming group of players into a coherent team, sufficient to give us some hope that next season will be different (and better). Yesterday people were commenting gloomily that no decent manager would want to take the job, today people seem underwhelmed when we haven't brought in Guardiola.
Go back to June and the appointment of Garner. Thomas Sandgaard had, quite possibly unnecessarily, dispensed of the services of JJ in a clumsy fashion and brought in a young replacement, who had just had one good season with Swindon (but failed to get them promoted) after six months without a job after being sacked by Bristol Rovers. For sure there were a lot of positives flying around, the common goal to play attractive, attacking football and the possibility that TS had selected a real gem in the making. It’s not Holden’s fault that six months later those dreams have fallen away, that some consider the sacking of Garner to have been unfair, and that we find ourselves, in the Trust’s words, at our lowest ebb. The real difference between then and now is the change in perceptions towards the owner. The universal goodwill of September 2020 had by June 2022 been eroded but was still basically intact. The feeling now is much more grudging, with some openly calling for him to sell up asap, even though we have no idea what might follow, and the Trust, not unreasonably, looking for reassurances from Sandgaard about his plans before deciding on a position.
So let’s try some positives. First, at least Sandgaard must have realised after the Fans Forum and Saturday’s result that he needed to act sooner rather than later in getting a new manager in. Of course this could mean that he’s been panicked into a decision, but let’s wait and see. Also, the other appointments announced – a new technical director (whatever that means), new chief operating officer, and a new finance director – can’t have been plucked out of thin air and do suggest that he realised more changes were required than just another manager. I have no idea what the appointments might mean in terms of new investment/new owners and where things really stand on that that front; here too we have to wait and see. And this isn’t to gloss over the real concerns arising from the Fans Forum, including a TS account of transfer dealings in the summer over a new forward which is just not, in itself, credible. If Sandgaard was becoming more embroiled in the detail of club activities and keeping his head in the sand with regard to the bigger picture – ie how we are doing on the pitch – at least we have change.
On investment/ownership I’m not – at least not yet - in the corner calling for Sandgaard to sell up asap and move on. I commented after Garner’s dismissal that perhaps there were only two ways forward, first a mea culpa from TS and second new owners. The news today may perhaps come to be seen as a version of the former. He has appointed people who will for sure answer to him but will not be there simply at his beck and call. Saandgard may or may not have saved our club, but at the least he took it away from the vultures and has kept them at bay. He may not have the money to buy The Valley from Duchatelet, but quite frankly nobody in their right mind would pay the sum he seems to be asking for (it is possible that the value is determined by the figure for the asset on the balance sheet, which may have been used as collateral, causing problems if sold for a lower amount). Can’t help thinking this is still a serious stumbling block for serious new owners.
So for me, unless and until we know the identity of any prospective new owner(s) and their plans, we should hope Saandgard stays. If he comes through the current period a little wiser having learnt from mistakes, that would be so much the better. As for Holden, he deserves our full support as of now. We are in a bad place and we have made our feelings known. Some action has followed. Hopefully now we can play our part in the great turnaround on the pitch. I was perhaps less enamoured with Garner than others (but very much hoped he would be the new messiah and wish him well for the future) and have to say I’m quite looking forward to seeing how a new broom deals with the bunch of collective underachievers we currently have and how he will turn them into worldbeaters. I’m actually looking forward to it.