Be careful what you wish for #3

So there I was gently bobbing, reconciled to the fact that this year was done and dusted with no chance of the play offs, looking forward to 2013/14 and BANG off Buckle trots back down the M4 from whence he came.

It’s becoming an annual event now isn’t it? It’s as much a spring phenomenon as daffodils and snowdrops.

All the talk is of Graham Westley being the favourite. Now that makes me chuckle.

Never before have our principles been challenged as much as this. This is the ultimate question of principle versus pragmatism: do we ditch every last scruple and everything we stand for in order to try get promoted? (I already hear people saying “yes!”)

It’s a little bit like the Labour Party, in order to become electable again from 1995 onwards they willingly ditched every last principle they were founded on. No room for socialism in New Labour, they were transformed into a homogenised, branded, principle-free, electorally expedient machine. For some it was victory at any price, for others it was an abandonment of everything they held dear.

And this is the stark reality facing us as Hatters fans. Westley to some is the devil incarnate, to others they’d abandon everything so that we can be in Fifa 2014 (whatever that is).

We have been here before, but to a lesser degree. When BFJ inherited, albeit indirectly, Ricky Hill’s team in 2001 many people were up in arms. Kinnear’s Wimbledon were synonymous with the long ball, bullying tactics and basically brash, in your face uncompromising football. For some, to bring him to the footballing academy of Kenilworth Road, where, for a generation or so we had been more or less treated to two decades of neat football. This was in great contrast to the long ball approach down the M1 and to some was a heresy. As it turned out, whilst the football was more direct, Kinnear’s recruitments formed the spine of what became a very successful team. He brought in the likes of Nicholls, Howard, Coyne, Robinson, Brkovic etc none of which we could argue were poor signings or servants to Luton Town. Furthermore Kinnear achieved promotion in his second year. Whilst the football wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t that bad, and perhaps having Big Mick and his knowledge of what Luton are all about on board made the difference. Whilst Nico acted like an attack dog in midfield and we got into trouble for discipline, he brought some much needed heart and soul back into the club. You don’t hear many people around the club regretting his time at LTFC do you? Those were good days.

So what of Westley? We really would be dancing with the devil if we brought him on board. His management style would be like a footballing tsunami. He is the living, breathing embodiment of “it’s my way or the highway”. At least with him in charge you would see our players grow some balls. But it’s all the other stuff too.

I’ve read about him extensively and read what he’s got to say too. I think he would constantly clash with the board, and with Gary Sweet, who would have to give him his hand to run the playing side entirely his own way – and this is something 2020 will have to reconcile themselves to. He wouldn’t be a quiet, play-it-safe employee, oh no, he’s in your face all the time. But, to be fair, that’s why you bring him on board. If you fetter him, you lose what makes him ‘special’ and different. Like asking Roy Keane not to tackle so hard, without the crunching tackles, he’s not Roy Keane anymore. It’s the same with Westley, you get the whole package or nothing at all.

You may also recall his tactical style and ethics too. Given a free hand at Stevenage he filled the side with 6′ plus lumps and the football was unattractive and long. When in the lead his sides cheat and manage the game – players go down left right and centre the match is slowed almost to a standstill and what’s more they get away with it. He turns his sides into the teams that everyone else loves to hate.

There would be yet another clear out of existing personnel and only those willing to work long hours, play the long ball and willing to compromise any last principles they have would be left. Why do you think Ronnie Henry isn’t a ball-playing wizard, even though he has come from two divisions above? He’s never had to be, that’s why.

Westley has admitted that at Preston he cut too far too soon, though the circumstances there were extreme because of the budgetary situation. He won’t make that mistake twice, but conversely he would be under pressure to bring quick results. Whilst I may have cast this season asunder, he would be targeted on getting us into the play offs. It would make things interesting. Saddled with the current shower of powder puffs we have at the club (with one or two exceptions) he himself would be compromised as he would have limited recruitment opportunities. It would be next season and over the summer where the changes would happen. We might want things to happen this year, I’m sure he would be looking at next to build a team in his own image.

And that’s the crux of it. If you (we) are willing to adopt the ‘no one loves us we don’t care’ attitude, if we are willing to sit through some fairly unattractive (but reasonably successful) stuff, if you want to see Luton transformed into a team of hoofball cheats then that’s fine.

In his defence, apart from March 2010 we’ve not really been playing any pure football have we? It’s not as if we have been sticking to all of our footballing ethics in this division. It’s not as if we are still in non-league because we have been in splendid isolation, refusing to ditch our short-passing principles in order to get promoted. The point I am making is that whilst the club has a heritage of good football, and we are known as a footballing club, it isn’t as if we would be abandoning a brand of total-football in order to embrace Westley. There have been some good displays of passing, and Buckle at least has tried to play on occasions, but we’ve been treated to pretty poor quality football, rather than passing-football in recent times – so we are not going to be ditching Arsenal’s methodology to be adopting Wimbledon’s. It’s just a few notches down on the footballing scale, not a volte face.

So people will say that we’ve had enough of non-league and that we would do anything **anything** to get promoted out of this league. If this includes selling your soul to the devil then so be it. I think fans have had enough of being humiliated by the Dartfords and Braintrees of this world and it is time to swallow out pride and get down and dirty. And boy would it be dirty.

The more I type, the more I’m thinking that it would be a rollercoaster that might be interesting to ride. I know there are no guarantees at the end of it, but I guess we’ve got more chance with Westley than anyone else. What are the alternative on the table right now? Gary Sweet said he’d already had dozens of agents and managers getting in touch about the vacancy. So that’s good. But how many of them are any good?

Ideally, I’d like a footballing manager to be put in charge, to take this division apart and to play the time-wasting thugs of non-league off the park each week, but it’s not going to happen is it? That’s pie in the sky. There’s not that many fantastic ball-playing individuals hanging around non-league at the present, so I’m not sure how much joy a Pleat or DiCanio (as if!) would get. But again, a footballing manager would be an interesting recruitment – but we might still be playing in the 5th tier in 2016…

Who are the alternatives to Westley? I think we should seriously consider them, because whilst Westley is the shoe-in, the obvious choice, who I suspect would accept the job without thinking twice – he might be a step too far for the board. After all it’s some sort of committee doing the interviews and making the decision, so it will be a compromise rather than an assertive choice by an individual Chairman.

Micky Mellon has been mentioned – he had a brilliant record at Fleetwood and was truly unlucky to get the push, but was successful on the back of lots of cash, and many managers can do that. Steve Robinson is another one – the fan’s choice you might say. Now he would be largely untried. I know he is at Northern Ireland U21s or whatever at the moment, but how have they done under him? No idea. I’m sure he would take the job too, if his Mrs wants to relocate (Northern Ireland to Luton – tricky choice). What sort of football does he play? Would it just be another lucky punt by the board? What experience of this level has he got? It’s a bit of a stab in the dark isn’t it? Who else do we have? Steve Evans – no ta, there’s been enough crooks at this club down the years. Gary Waddock? Good man, good player, been there and done it at this level. Who else? Terry Brown? Doesn’t set the world on fire for me.

I think that the alternatives to Westley should be considered – it would take a ballsy decision by 2020 to appoint him and I suspect we might get a compromise candidate.

Still…you never know…

My first interview question would be: “99% of the clubs that come to the Kenny come here to draw, frustrate us, time waste and score on the lucky counter attack. What would you do to combat this?”. I’m sure Westley would look the questioner in the eye, fix him with a steely glare and say “We’d fuck ’em”.

If Westley does come, we’d have to turn a blind eye to the antics and remind ourselves that it’s all in a good cause. Clubs in a loftier position to us can afford principles – we’ve had enough of non-league and want to get out.

And having Westley at the club would be the footballing equivalent of filling an alley cat full of LSD and then tying a firework to its tail.

So – who’s along for the ride?

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22 thoughts on “Be careful what you wish for #3

  1. I always read your post avidly and frankly can’t find anything else to say that hasn’t been said above. That said, I for one want our club out of this league and the more I watch this football I do not think you can achieve it the prity way. Games need to be won ugly and I believe Buckle was getting around to that way of thinking? He called for captains and characters all over the pitch. If these were what he signed then they have let him down.
    Westley, well he does know how to win ugly ask any Stevenage fan. As for proud Preston they were just glad to see the back of him.

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  2. Westley would be a disaster.

    The fans have had zero patience so far with managers, what makes you think this would change?

    Look at Westley’s first spell in charge of Stevenage, does it not ring any bells? Losing to part time teams at home, winning only 4 away game sin his second season, falling out with players, completely overhauling the squad a couple of times, fans chanting for him to go, lack of discipline from the players.

    It took him five seasons, give or take, over two spells to get Stevenage up. If he did come, I’d support him and be delighted if he took us up. But it wouldn’t happen overnight IMO.

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  3. Westley surely not the answer, whichever way you look at it. He’d fall out with players, fans, Board and it would all end in tears even quicker than the last four managers. If he could guarantee 13 x 1-0 wins and 4 x 0-0 draws from the final 17 matches then, yes, sign him till May. But he can’t. So don’t.

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  4. If I’d wanted to watch football played the Westley way I would have gone to watch Stevenage (it’s closer to home and would have been cheaper).

    So it’s a no from me.

    I also think Evans would be a bad call and Robinson doesn’t have the managerial experience. I would be happy with Gary Waddock, Terry Brown and Micky Mellon.

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  5. Ad says:

    A young Jimmy Ryan type would do for me. He was an amazing motivator “there have been many great players who have given much blood, sweat and effort for the Town and I expect the same of you -(the current team)” he stated on local radio. Followed up with a point from Anfield.
    Excellent tactically and technically (Sir Alex snapped him up for Manure).
    The fans loved him long choruses of Jimmy Ryans blue and white army….

    I saw the passion in his eyes when we stayed up on the final game of the season and we all ran on the pitch.

    No compromise 2020, try harder and get it right.

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  6. Well its all about opinions, mine no worse or better than anyone elses.
    If Westley wants the job, give it him. Let him knock a few people at Luton verably
    and see what happens. Pretty football is nice, where have we seen it at Luton ,
    not this season. Lets match the thugs of our plight at the moment.
    We all want out of this division, anyway no matter what anyone says.

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  7. I don’t care if Vlad the Impaler takes over at Luton as long as he ‘rights the wrong’ and gets us out of this division. On second thoughts he might be more effective at centre back …

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  8. I do not pretend to know the answer but I am sure it is not Westley. Luton Town’s loyal support does not come purely from success, otherwise there would be less going at present, instead it comes from style and substance. As long as the evidence is there that the Town are pulling in the right direction the fans will keep coming, they are not however stupid, and can see when things are not right. Many were concerned before the Barrow game but those that weren’t surely nust have started to worry after that result. It does not make sense that good footballing sides CANNOT get promoted from the Conference otherwise football would be a long ball physical game at higher levels just with better long ball teams. Perhaps it needs a mix of both, with strong physical players in key positions providing protection and creating room for more skillful players. Would like to see Neilson given a shot but it would be so sad to see him have to leave after a year if things went sour. Like I said, I do not know the answer, bit I do not think it is Westley.

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  9. Luton are heading for a fifth season in this “poxy” league, to paraphrase an Oxford manager. Anyone who can get us out is the right man for the job. However, I agree with the comment above: it’s not about “long ball” or “winning ugly”; it’s just about being better than the rest. Very few teams play long ball these days anyway, as most defenders know how to handle it. All good teams have a strong, tough, resilient streak and concede few goals – look at Barcelona. It’s not as if our teams have been serving up mouth watering displays these past few non-league years! Luton are not a “pretty passing” team at present so we can’t blame that on our failures. Indeed, teams such as Forest Green put us to shame football wise this season. It’s just about being a winning team, whatever that takes.

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  10. I’ll go with Westley and whatever coaching setup he brings with him. Everybody going on about the Luton way, why? I’ve been watching since 1952 and witnessed all types of play, some very successful, some not so. One things is an absolute certainty. You are not going to get out of this division playing attractive football. The players haven’t got the skill, the pitches are generally rubbish and other teams are full of monsters intent on intimidating.

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  11. No one yet has mentioned Paolo Di Canio. He did a superb job at Swindon and would fit LT like a glove! Two problems? One, would he come to a non league club and two, could Luton afford him? The Jury is out but I would be amazed if the so called wise men didn’t seriously consider him.

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  12. The argument that you cannot get out of these league playing attractive football is an oxymoron. If you have the best players and pay the most skillful football you will win the league, in fact you will piss all over the opposition. We all know this is true from when we have seen Barcelona play or when we have played 5 a side and lost by 10 goals to a bunch of teenagers.

    The problem is any proven skillful footballer will be playing 2 or 3 leagues above and not want to come and play at that level. The chances are you will never be able to recruit enough proven skillful footballers at this level.

    Therefore the alternative is use unproven skillful footballers. These you get from the youth set up and they are happy to play at this level for a couple of seasons. Some youth players will adapt to the first team immediately, some wont. Therefore if you build the whole team around youth, the chances are you will need to allow them at least a couple of seasons to mature into a team that can go the distance and win the league.

    Build a team by bringing players in and chances are you will recruit players for this level and have a team which in to paraphrase Richard Money you hope is competing at the top end each year and eventually might win it.

    Build a team from youth and you could win it by being much better than the others but chances are you are going to have to be patient for a few years and there isn’t much of that at KR these days.

    The solution surely then is a blend. Half a dozen journey men pepped up with 3 or 4 young players who ultimately will be too good for this level. That for me is the biggest disappointment of recent years. Other than JJ O’Donnell hardly anyone from the youth has been given a chance. (And even JJ has been replaced by Dave Martin recently and if Dave Martin is a better footballer than JJ then I am the pope.)

    If we can find a manager who is prepared to find that blend then we have the best chance in my opinion. A name? No idea dont know enough about the background of the names in the frame but something tells me a more senior experienced manager might be better suited to it.

    Su

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  13. As a fan from afar, (I’m Australian) it might not be my place to say anything, but I have often read on this blog the suggestion that Luton should be building a team around younger players with the potential to play a couple of divisions above. It’s an idea I certainly agree with.

    Why not though expand this idea to the manager. Search for a new up and coming manager, one who might like to cut his teeth in the non-league with the idea of making a name for himself as he carries Luton forward and up the table.

    I can’t beleive that you could find any worse managers than some of the dross that Luton have had over the past couple of years.

    Sign him to the end of the season. 17 games should be enough to see if he has the potential to have Luton play well.

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  14. Steve Cotterill would be my choice of the next Manager of Luton Town, providing he was prepared to join? I think he has a ‘good track record’, is highly rated/regarded within the game, has managed in at least four different divisions, and has three promotions on his CV, (two with Cheltenham, one of which was out of the Conference, and one with Notts County). I believe he is currently working as a coach at QPR on a short-term contract.

    ‘Other’ possibilities, in my opinion, would be Terry Brown, Paul Fairclough, and Garry Waddock, ALL of which have led clubs to promotion from the Conference! Both Brown and Fairclough have ‘plenty’ of experience of non league football! I would also NOT rule out Steve Tilson (did a good job over seven years at Southend), or what about ex Hatter Ian Allinson (doing a good job at Borehamwood!)

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  15. I think Ian Bogie is being massively under-rated here.

    If you’d seen what he done at Gateshead, you’d be begging for him. Took them from the depths of the Unibond league and two successive promotions, and the squad was a lot worse than it is now.

    And let’s not forget the trouble Bogie’s Gateshead gave us, 2-2 at home on the opening day of last season, a 1-0 away defeat (When Atiento got sent off) a couple of seasons ago, we never had them sussed.

    I’d like to see Bogie have a chance.

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  16. Di Canio?? You’re having a laugh – he’s on his way up not back down to a non league club. You state “Steve Evans – no ta, there’s been enough crooks at this club down the years.” have you not read about Westleys track record at Farnborough where he dissappeared with the £500k they earnt from a cup tie at Arsenal? Not only has he a dubious business past he also sends teams out to cheat from the first minute of a game. I can accept a Town team playing direct football but I will not accept a Town team cheating.

    So who wull the next manager be? I haven’t a clue, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the new man is someone who is off ebverybodys radar.

    Cheers

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  17. i travel from near oxford every home match and supported for 50 years, there is no passion and fight at this club at present so bring on westley and call him topcat,im all for long and bullish football to get us out of this league

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  18. Thoughtful article as ever, David Mosque, but you suggest that hiring with Westley would be an unpleasant pact made palatable by the likelihood of success. I’m afraid there’s far from any guarantee of this. Westley has not had unqualified success all his career – in fact I would say he underperformed at Stevenage for a long time before finally getting the formula right, and most observers would probably say that the Conference’s longest-serving club should have won promotion to the League long before they did. Is a manager who couldn’t get the best out of Andy Drury’s undoubted talents necessarily a guarantee of improvement?

    As far as I know, Westley’s major strength is on the training ground, or rather in the gym, getting players fit by running a 9-5 bootcamp style club. This might have had an effect if he had come in immediately after Brabin, when our squad was notably flabby and lacking in stamina, strength and grit. But really, Buckle has already done that job and the players are visibly fitter now, and Buckle has shipped out or frozen out gentle, meek players like Willmott and Watkins at the expense of ugly battlers like McNulty and Smith. The Westley shock-treatment has already been done, and it hasn’t really got us anywhere.

    For me the outstanding candidate would be Steve Burr. Unlike Brabin, Buckle, Westley, Harford etc, he’s not a manager who is unemployed after having failed elsewhere, but somebody whose career is on an upward trajectory and he has had some level of success at every club he’s managed. His Kidderminster team consistently play good football and overperform in the Conference, and he knows the non-league scene as well as anybody thanks to his scouting and coaching job with England C. This is borne out by his excellent player recruitment skills, as he manages to put together a good team every season despite his best players being cherry picked by bigger clubs every summer.

    He’s under contract at Kiddy and they are above us in the table, so he might not fancy it and he would come at a price. But he’ll manage in the Football League one day, and it might as well be with Luton Town.

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  19. BB – I couldn’t agree more. The more you look at it – Westley’s success like many managers came after a number of years in the job establishing his ‘style’. It may be that given 4 years here he would also do the same, but it isn’t an instant fix certainly, just a nasty one.

    Steve Burr sounds like an excellent choice to me.

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  20. Acts of desperation rarely result in success. Whilst every effort must be made to appoint the right man for the job with the resources to build a successful squad, overnight success is an unrealistic ask. I didn’t enjoy what I saw under PB and I always felt he was the wrong choice …and our worst season so far demonstrates that my fears were well founded. Two things need to happen. Firstly, the board need to demonstrate their credibility and show that they are competent enough to appoint the right person for the job. Secondly, the fans must put their expectations to one side, just for the short term, to ease the pressure, get behind the team and show a little patience. It isn’t going to be our season…we all know that. Angry and disenchanted as we are, we need to create an atmosphere that nurtures confidence and belief, not destroys it.

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