Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Caley Wars: The Manager Strikes Back

I was introduced to a genuinely new experience at the weekend. Sadly, it wasn't the result. Defeat at home (this week to the titans that are Queen of the South) and conceding three goals are becoming awfully familiar. But never has it got to the point where the manager can be seen shouting back at the fans!

Now, up North we are not exactly used to Terry Butcher-type characters in our dugout. In the past we have tended towards quiet coaches, whether because of dignity (Charlie Christie), a mixture of dignity and hangover (Steve Paterson) or just plain incompetence (Craig Brewster). Butcher is another thing entirely. Shortly into his reign it was noticed by many that he is proactive during games, in terms of making changes and shouting instructions. But, with results, and confidence, decaying faster than Michael Jackson’s corpse (too soon?), we got to see another side to TB on Saturday. First, he berated fans for leaving en masse after QOS struck to lead 2-1 with seven minutes left, then he responded to one particularly abusive supporter – who, I understand, deserved what he got – with a curt “f*** off”.

I guess the most surprising thing about TB’s outburst is that these responses happen so rarely. The abuse from the stands at football matches is often horrific, and I can’t imagine being able to take it in my stride, particularly when it is quite clear that football fans actually know jack about the game (if I remember, I will come back to this point later). Some of the slurs that are hurled at coaches and players would be construed as criminal offences if they occurred in the street. It’s easy for us to say “they’re being paid megabucks, they can handle it”, but of course, at Scottish First Division level, footballers are not actually paid these huge salaries, particularly considering that their careers generally last for not much longer than a decade. In addition, I wonder whether that, at larger grounds such as Ibrox or Celtic Park, the general hubbub means that, while widespread disapproval is often made obvious by booing or widespread indecipherable shouting, personal insults are harder to make out than at Caledonian Stadium, where there were only 3,000 spectators on Saturday. I don’t know whether that last point is entirely accurate, though.

On the other hand, one of my favourite hobbies is playing Devil’s Advocate, so let’s look at the flipside. In the 21st century, watching football in the flesh is a pretty expensive thing to do. The fans want to be entertained, and they also want their team to win. However, crap the game is, I have never witnessed a team being booed off after winning (though I bet it does happen on occasions), and equally I have never seen a team booed off after losing 4-3. On the other hand, Caley once more set out in a 4-5-1 formation, and showed a complete lack of flair, creativity and will-to-win. In short, it was boring, and we lost. Is that good value for £15?

And, since I’ve remembered, let’s go back to the “football fans know jack” point of view. While most of the criticisms from the stands border on the ridiculous at the best of times, it is quite clear from my spot a few rows behind the dugout that there is a huge degree of tactical ineptness. Butcher wants ICT to pass the ball from the back, but picks defenders who have the ball control and skills of a paraplegic and midfielders with the creativity of a blind hedgehog who lives in a paper bag. His plan B is the long punt forward – to a striker (Richie Foran) who often does a smashing job of holding the ball up but never has any support. And every home game this season has been exactly the same. The management team are there to optimize the team’s chances of winning, and the players are being paid to go and play as hard as they can (I’m not going to claim that a bad performance is worthy of a slagging, but I firmly believe a lazy one is).

But at Inverness, too many players are not producing the efforts and the management team just won’t change things. And, as much as I deplore the actions of some of my fellow supporters, I have to admit that I exclaimed “this is rubbish, again!” at the dugout myself when Queen’s grabbed their third goal in injury time. And it’s difficult, just now, to see how things can change under the current management.

Of course, it would be just typical if we beat Raith tonight in Kirkcaldy, then embark on a ten match winning run. Not that I would be complaining, mind…


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