….is not something that’s been heard at Priestfield at any point in Ronnie’s reign, or if it has it’s been restricted to a few isolated nutters. Not when collapsing spectacularly at Colchester and Bristol City. Not when we appeared to be heading for a second consecutive relegation last March. Not even during the grim spell a couple of weeks ago. In my time watching the club, Gills fans’ have demonstrated admirable patience with managers.
From memory, I can only recall dissent towards Gerry Summers during the lamentable 80/81 season (though that didn’t stop him being shocked when the axe finally fell in the close season), and Damien Richardson when it became apparent during the disastrous 92/93 season that he had taken the club as far as he could. Even then supporters were split, many demonstrating an understanding of what had been achieved beforehand, particularly in the impossible situation faced by Damien.
Verbal outbusts against our managers tend to be restricted to the sort of “Pulis, Pulis, sort it out!” chants heard when we went on a long run without victory in the 97/98 season (just after Southend had thieved two injury time goals at Priestfield, if I recall) – we knew the team had potential and was underperforming (demonstrated over the next two years) and of course Pulis knew this as well. I think it’s incredibly mature to let the management know of dissatisfaction in this way without resorting to the knee-jerk calls for someone’s head.
Same with Hess – there were no direct calls for his sacking, just a “Time to go” cry, laced with sorrow, when 4-1 down at Crewe and it was clear to everyone that the only option was for Scally to accept his earlier resignation. We even appreciated the jobs being done by Mike Flanagan and Neale Cooper, and while there may have been debates in cyberspace regarding the latter there were never any organised calls for his dismissal even when we were losing against Scouse pub teams and signing tipsy Scottish forwards and flapping, floundering goal-keepers.
And over time, I think it’s worked. Where would we have been if Scally had sacked Pulis at Christmas 1997, before he had a chance to complete his squad with the captures of Asaba, Taylor and, er, Darren Carr? Probably in much the same state as we ended up when we sacked Keith Peacock ten years earlier, surely the rashest, most short-term action ever taken by a Gillingham board concerning the playing side of the club. Other clubs might have got jumpy over Peter Taylor’s early days – remember, that season didn’t get going until the end of September, which was nearly too late for a concerted promotion run, and there wasn’t even a contract to be paid up in that instance. Ok there was initial concern over Taylor, but it came at a turbulent and emotional time and protest never went further than outbursts concerning particular players (eg when Bob Taylor was substituted at Cambridge), which sent out a clear indication of our irritation but went no further.
So why do supporters of other clubs feel the need to demand the head of a manager when things go wrong? This particularly seems to afflict those who have fallen on hard times and believe that they should be cosseted in the beautiful garden of the Premiership forever – on Radio 5’s 606 last Saturday, there were calls for Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Nigel Worthington and Kevin Blackwell to be sacked, yet it’s likely that the “have faith” approach will see all four of those managers’ clubs in or around the play-offs come the season end. Robson has already paid the price even though he’s taken West Brom up before and they are currently ninth in the table, unbeaten at home and two points off third place. Now, I don’t personally rate Robson as a manager, but I guess the disgruntled callers had seen Sunderland appoint a big name and wanted one of their own. They probably feel they could snare someone like Cruyff, or at the very least Alan Curbishley / Lawrie Sanchez. And I’ve got little time for Dirty Lids either, but dismissing managers has hardly got them very far financially or on the pitch in recent years – they’ve barely finished paying for O’Leary and Venables.
Worse still, there was dissent over Warnock at Sheffield United, Martin Jol at Spurs, Stuart Pearce at City and Christ-on-a-bike recent Champions League winner Rafa Benitez. What is it with these people? Do they seriously believe they should be performing above their station every single season? The Blades should already be challenging for a UEFA Cup slot? Liverpool should be dominating Europe like the good old late 70s? People talk such bollocks.
I guess it’s a result of people being given a voice through radio phone-ins, internet message boards and websites of former cruddy fanzines. But bloody hell, calm down. Some clubs have got such vastly inflated views of themselves that their supporters demand nothing less than victory week-in week-out. The logical conclusion is a league full of wannabe Real Madrids, chopping their manager every six months. I can’t believe Reading needed penalties to beat Darlington in the League Cup…bloody Coppell, what’s he ever done for that club?
The Morty Vicker