We're not all in this together

Cod Almighty | Article

by Alistair Wilkinson

5 December 2010

I know what it is. I know why we have to suffer: everything's taxed, right; Blundell Park is a division of HMRC's leisure tax. For all those people that enjoy a visit to a cinema, a theatre, a gallery or stay in and watch HBO, there are others who have to balance and subsidise that enjoyment.

We are those others. We're the ones trapped in a leisure underclass. We're untouchable, looked down on by the rest as a drain, a weight around society's ankles. And we're joined by our chairman, a fan who's paying with the rest of us, and by our manager who has paid even more. There's no sympathy for our plight; we're not the deserving poor - just rude villains who refuse to lie down. We're chavs, we're tucking our tracksuits in our socks and taking it on the chin. Well, some of us are taking it on the chin; others, thousands of them, have ditched the Burberry and gone to Next.

The Barrow game saw a 3,000+ crowd. I was surprised at this. I'd expected less. The four away points that came with a 1-1 draw at Cambridge and a 3-0 win over Hayes and Yeading added a few hundred to the list of undeserving poor. Those four points were a timely boost, keeping us in touching distance of the play-offs and maintaining a little optimism in an otherwise bleak season.

The fans' forum had failed to yield anything more interesting than a question of flasks and we're still assuming everyone should lose to us. Cue Barrow and their 70-odd tax-dodging fans. They took their role of party poopers and revelled in it, stopping us from playing and applying pressure of their own. With an attack about as abrasive as blunt sandpaper, they needed a heavy hand - and, of course, even blunt sandpaper will rub something away. They took the lead and even managed a handball in the build-up. The players had a whinge, the crowd sort of moaned, sort of stood, sort of... we didn't do much. Lowered expectations fulfilled, we paid our tax.

"That things could be worse is always true, we know this, but to have it pointed out by the flask-banning few is patronising at best and disrespectful, dismissive and disillusioning at worst"

The blank-faced Peter Bore continued his positional tourism, coming on up front for Ademeno, and when he eventually switched wide he should have set up the winner with a driving run and low cross. The game wasn't that bad. Whether that's by the standard of a season's lowered expectations or not, it wasn't that bad. I've seen much worse in and out of the Football League, so the tax was one of those not-too-bad lines on your payslip, the one that goes towards hospitals, binmen and the universal benefits that help the right people. No-one minds paying those, right?

Our chairman, and others' councillor, thinks the tax is a bit steep but we're all paying together, pulling toward the same goal. That we had nothing to do with the fall, but must all suffer through this interminable period before The Rise, matters little. He saved our youth set-up and he's making that set-up work for the first team, and he's definitely going to stay and the club's £2.5million debt is benign.

He's bailed us out, he's stopped a collapse and he's still paying. It must be frustrating for him. It's his efforts that see this club where it is today. Whether we'd be up, down or out without him, no-one knows, but the idea that we're all doomed if one man changes his mind leaves us all standing on the edge of the abyss. How long would it take the club to generate that £2.5million? With gates averaging 3,000 our income from a season's worth of home league games will be less than half that. The 'benign' debt can surely only rise even if we achieve promotion within two seasons.

He's taken some responsibility, admitting to the Telegraph that things have "gone wrong" and that the club has "gone backwards". He continued to state the obvious and remind us all that neither he nor the board have ever picked a manager to fail. He shares our pain because he's a fan too and, like all fans, he's disappointed. But we're all paying the tax that comes from the bail-out. Pain, pain and more pain; bring on the whips and the clamps to liven things up a bit.

Gobern forgot the safety word, came out of training with a broken nose, and appears to be on his way out of the club. Sinclair has returned and assured Woods of his fitness but is yet to convince supporters. Wright has been recalled to Scunthorpe and our ready replacement, Peacock, is to do the decent thing and hang up his boots poised to drop back into the first team after injury. Has-beens and never-will-bes continue to dog the club. Fans continue to accept less. The snow won't go. I want football.

Woods has leapt on the S&M bandwagon and confessed that "however low [the fans] were feeling [after Burton], myself, the players and the staff felt twice as bad". A throwaway comment impressively delivered from around a ball gag that cheapens the fans' pain or highlights his own passion? This snow is killing football and journalism. Why, in November of the following season, are we still picking over those particular bones? Is it a bit of grave robbing to warm us on a winter's day? A morbid reminder that a winter break from football would be dull? Or the sharpening of knives for the inevitable demise of another managerial career?

It's a risky business when the people in charge tell the people in service that they're not as unhappy as they could be. We've all got to pay but "we're all in this together" just doesn't wash. That things could be worse is always true, we know this, but to have it pointed out by the flask-banning few is patronising at best and disrespectful, dismissive and disillusioning at worst. We're at a low point; we need to keep some kind of faith in some kind of leadership. Chairman Fenty has improved his public relations of late but he needs to be careful not to go too far toward the brothers-in-plight sentiments. We're not brothers. We have similar ambitions and desires, but we're not equal. Trying to point out the similarities only highlights the differences.

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