Triumph over adversity
Hi, hope you are all well.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and we have again witnessed our fair share of such instances this season with regards to managerial changes.
Among the best examples in the Premier League have been the appointment of Alan Shearer at Newcastle, Harry Redknapp taking over at Tottenham and Guus Hiddink replacing Felipe Scolari at Chelsea (although it is worth pointing out that Chelsea's definition of desperate times is slightly different to that of the majority of football clubs!).
However, when it comes to clubs taking gambles to get themselves out of trouble, I have been particularly intrigued by the case of Bournemouth.
Having started the season on minus seventeen points, the Cherries still found themselves second bottom of the league come the turn of the year. That is when the club's new owners terminated Jimmy Quinn's contract as manager, a decision which at the time seemed to me to be made too much in haste.
I recall thinking that the next manager would be someone with a proven track record of saving clubs from relegation. Instead, Bournemouth plumped for someone with no experience of managing a club at all - their former player Eddie Howe.
Quite apart from never having been a manager before, Howe is the youngest manager in the Football League, at 31.
If Bournemouth escape relegation, a feat which looks likely following recent results, it will have proved to be one of the most inspired managerial appointments in recent times in my view. Many would argue that he has already done more than a lot of people might have expected and in view of the argument that there is a lack of young British managerial talent in our game, I do feel that the promise he has shown deserves to be highlighted.
In Notts County's recent match at Bournemouth, which we won 1-0, I was interested to see how a guy just one year older than myself dealt with the stresses of being a manager. What surprised me was just how good his temperament was. He was very calm on the touchline and seemed quite adept at getting his point across to his players. Most importantly, he struck me as a manager who knows how to get the best out of them, the crucial aspect of the job.
Perhaps his most notable move at Bournemouth was to re-sign centre forward Steve Fletcher, a 36-year-old who was released by the club two years ago, after some 600 appearances for them over a period of 15 years, and was playing for non-leaguers Crawley Town when Howe decided to bring him back into the Cherries fold in January.
Big Fletch is very much a cult figure at Bournemouth and his return has clearly had a galvanising effect. At 6ft 2ins tall and whose muscular build is accentuated by his habit of rolling up the sleeves of his jersey as high as they will go, he cuts the most imposing of figures. From a football perspective, his style can best be described as "effective". He is your stereotypical lower-league target man, and very good at it, too, with enough in his locker in terms of his aerial ability, hold up play and game intelligence to make the job of marking him a defender's nightmare.
It is not uncommon for teams to enlist veteran players to help get them out of the mire. Over the years, I am sure there has been many examples that you could share. It is not just the vast playing experience of such figures that can be so important, but also the type of characters they are in the dressing room.
I remember the influence that Michael Johnson had on Notts County when he joined us back in February 2008, according to him he kept us up single handed. To this day he still complains that his back aches from carrying us all to safety that season!
It was a massive coup to be able to sign him. It owed much to the fact that he was a Notts County fan and his first professional club before his moves to Birmingham City and Derby County.
I always thought "Jonno" was a good player, but sometimes you only appreciate just how good a player actually is when you play with him as a team-mate. The way he attacks the ball in the air and his positional sense are a shining example to any aspiring central defender. Needless to say he is going to be missed when he hangs up his boots at the end of the season. Good luck for the future, "Jonno".
Apart from Fletcher, two other cases of veterans attempting to help rescue teams flying SOS signals this season are 35-year-old central defender Gary Breen and 40-year-old striker Paul Furlong at Barnet.
Gary in particular has always been a great character and a leader, which was just what Barnet and their young squad needed when their season was in danger of going into freefall. I know Gary from our time together at Coventry City. He is a very cultured defender and a great motivator. I did wonder how his elegant style would stand up in League Two, but in his own languid fashion he has adapted very well.
Relegation is obviously a terrible experience to go through for players and supporters alike. I have suffered this fate on two occasions, with Coventry City and Hartlepool United. Whilst the implications in both instances were not good for the clubs, on reflection I would say that they were far worse for Coventry City - or any club being relegated from the Premier League for that matter - especially if they cannot achieve promotion again within a couple of seasons and the parachute payments stop.
There is no need for me to highlight the financial implications for clubs dropping out of the Premier League; for a number of clubs, it has proved more than just a financial blow. It has meant financial meltdown. I would suggest that relegation is generally easier to handle, and recover from, for clubs who drop out of the Championship, League One and League Two.
As far as the latter is concerned, the followers of Luton Town, already relegated from League Two this season, and other clubs to have suffered that fate in recent years, should take heart from the stunning turn around in fortunes of Doncaster Rovers.
Having lost their league status in 1998, they bounced back in 2003 and have not looked back since. Promotions to League One and the Championship followed, accompanied by a new stadium and a brand of football that has earned them many admirers.
Exeter City are another example of a club regrouping following relegation into the Conference and coming back stronger. I played for Southend in the game that saw Exeter relegated in 2003. They returned to league football for this current season, and the momentum created by that promotion has led to them establishing themselves as one of the main contenders for a place in League One next season.
So, for followers of Luton town and the other team to exit the Football League this season, the message is to take heart from some of the precedents that have been set.