The Diary

Cod Almighty | Diary

A whoop in Worthing

1 May 2018

Open Diary writes: The future is a funny thing. Nobody quite knows quite how it's going to work out. The last time I wrote a diary, at the end of March after Town had lost 4-0 at Coventry, it looked pretty dire, and 11 points from six of the next seven games sounded an impossible ask. But hey, that's how it worked out. Who would have thought it?

People in the bar at Worthing FC on Saturday looked round at my whoop of joy when I saw the table on the big screen at ten past five. Someone mentioned I was a Grimsby supporter and we were staying up, and the overwhelming reaction from them was that they were relieved that we weren't out of the League again. Someone pressed another pint into my hand. No wonder I was in no condition to write the diary on Sunday.

Five weeks ago, I truly couldn't see this happening, and was thinking we would be lucky to go to Forest Green without needing three points to scrape survival. But not for the first time, we dodged the bullet. So suddenly everything is turning around and we're looking optimistically for a better season in the fourth division next year. But many long-standing problems remain unaddressed.

Right now, we only have five players contracted beyond the end of this season. Speculation has already started about contract negotiations, with John Tondeur tweeting that we need to move fast to keep James McKeown at the club, with alleged interest from Motherwell and (unsurprisingly) Shrewsbury. Shades of Shaun Pearson and Pádraig Amond in all that then, and no surprise that at the end of Saturday's game Michael Jolley's mind was turning forward to getting ready for August.

There are plenty of places to look at to see how we might move forward. For a start, how Accrington Stanley have managed to win the league is a welcome lesson in starting out by paying attention to the basics and not being drawn into grandiose schemes. And thinking about about grandiose schemes, can it be any coincidence that we'll be swapping visits to Kenilworth Road and Adams Park for a trip to the magnificent Stadium MK now that the franchise football model has delivered a second relegation after a brief flirtation with the second flight?

In fact, it has been a bad year all round for new stadia. Chesterfield, long touted as a model for lower league clubs, won't be in the Football League next year. You have to feel sorry for Jack Lester, who probably took on an impossible job at the start of the season given the inheritance he had found. Next season Sunderland will be welcoming Wycombe, Southend and Fleetwood to the Stadium of Light, the seventh biggest club stadium in England. Evidently, they are going to mothball the upper tier given that even the most devoted Mackems aren't going to turn out in sufficient numbers to watch third division football. Even in the top league, six of the bottom seven sides have the dubious advantage of a new stadium.

This will continue the questions over Town's own stadium plans. It's a saga that has been running for 20 years, if not more. And it's a core part of the equation for the future. Now that our League status is secured for another year, you can expect the next episode to start running because future success on the pitch is inextricably linked to where that pitch is going to be. This is because players won't come, and managers seemingly won't stay, without having the latest facilities available.

Yesterday's diary warned against any excessive celebration. It made the point that we have been promised planning for the long term since what feels like the year dot, and yet we end up today having got no further forward in either the short or medium term. It's a conundrum.

The truth is that we, and the club, have long been between a rock and a hard place. For a start, we do need a new stadium. Sad though it is to say, Blundell Park is a relic from a bygone age of standing crowds, cold baths and Woodbines. Just after MJ arrived Sky ran an interview with his mentor Sean Dyche who showed off what they had at Turf Moor, and you can bet that Jolley aspires to work at a club with facilities of something approaching that level. Just like prospective players will come for a look around and compare what they see with what they have been used to elsewhere. Allegedly Hurst left because the set-up at the New Meadow was so superior to what we have to offer.

On the other hand, a new stadium imposes its own strains and pressures which create a different set of problems. Even Arsene Wenger wasn't able to bring any real success to Arsenal when they had to fund the costs of building a ground to replace Highbury. Seemingly the FA has seen the light that owning the new Wembley wasn't massively advantageous over simply playing at the old one. Darlington found out that a 25,000-seater stadium was a curse when you could only bring in 2,000 paying supporters.

So if we're not to simply continue the endless cycle of survival campaigns we've had since 2006, then the current regime needs to put its mind to making progress in squaring this very difficult circle.