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?