The Guest Blog 2015/16 - Episode 11
Our regular blogger, Adam Guest, explains just how significant a moment in the clubs history O'Driscoll's departure is.
I was surprised and pleased in equal measures yesterday afternoon when the news broke of Sean O`Driscoll`s departure from WS1. There are a number of reasons why I believe it to be the correct decision, and to explain why we have to go all the way back to January 2008 and the decision to sell Scott Dann to Coventry just minutes before the transfer window closed.
It was a move that shattered the soul of this club, a deep wound to the very core of the organisation which would take us years to recover from. The club lost its direction and almost its identity as disillusioned fans deserting us in the firm belief that the club had sold a chance of promotion back to the Championship as we didn`t want the hassle and were happy bumbling along as a mediocre League One club ran as a business, that turned a small profit, paid its bills and, most importantly, its rent.
We had the departure of Richard Money at the end of that season after he`d also grown disillusioned with the direction, or lack of, within the club. Over the course of the next couple of seasons we fell to the bottom of League One; we had fan protests against the owner, supporters being banned for expressing their right to freedom of speech, and Jeff Bonser himself exiling himself from the stadium on match days because of the stick he was getting. The football club and its supporters had never been so far apart in my time of supporting the club, as Bonser, Roy Whalley and Co gave the distinct impression the club didn`t want, care for, or listen to the concerns or requests of their fan base.
The arrival of Dean Smith and the great escape that followed it, while good at the time, didn`t really heal the wounds. It had stopped us going down which is what the club had wanted, but only because there was a belief in that going down was as bad for Bonser as going up was, and mid table League One was still what we were aiming for. Even into the last two seasons when we`ve been on long and well documented winless runs under The Ginger One without the manager`s position ever really being called into question and contract extensions even being handed out to him during these periods, the feeling was always Smiths job was safe unless we were in serious danger of going down whilst there was always a feeling that he`d never be given quite enough tools to do the job of getting us out of this league. Stefan Gamble and Dan Mole had spoken a good game at events like Fans Forums, talking up our five-year plan to get back to The Championship but many, myself included, questioned whether they really meant it and whether such a plan even existed.
Wembley fever came and went, having gripped the town for an all too brief period, but it didn`t result in fans returning to WS1 in their droves as many still believed we were a club not really going anywhere.
This season has felt different, but there`s still even recently been an air of cynicism amongst the support. We had a good start but we`d surely sell our finest in the transfer window at the first sniff of pound signs. Smith went before that window even opened; surely he`d simply be replaced by a cheap option rather than someone any good. The fans choice, and mine too, was Sean O`Driscoll, who on paper looked a good fit both with his footballing philosophies and his previous successes in this league with Doncaster and Bournemouth; the club, to their credit, went out and got him.
January came and went with no significant departures, apart from James Baxendale making his loan move to Mansfield permanent. We all thought we`d lose at least one of Henry, Sawyers and Bradshaw, but at a recent fans forum the club revealed they`d rejected bids for players in an attempt to stop being seen as a selling club who`s assets can be snapped up cheaply in the transfer market; the statement released by the club on deadline day of "Tom Bradshaw will not be sold so please stop talking about it", or words to that effect, showed genuine ambition. Promotion seemed ours to lose.
Yet lose it we`ve appeared to be doing. From ridiculously late substitutions at Crewe that couldn`t possibly have made a difference, to the strange loan players that have been signed but are yet to get a sniff of first team action (O`Driscoll`s quote in the press last week of "I only want to sign loan players I don`t have to play", was so insanely stupid you could have been forgiven it had fallen out of the mouth of Dean Smith), to the lack of wins, goals and even chances in recent games have suggested things weren`t quite right. But it was the falling out with Rico Henry that was doing the real damage.
Let`s assume for a moment the ankle injury was a work of fiction dreamed up by O`Driscoll after the apparent falling out with the youngster over his comments about not seeing Henry as a left back. He was wrong of course, but he`s the manager so it`s his decision. He`d then been playing Milan as his first choice left winger; again, it might have put Rico`s nose out of joint, but he`s the manager and you trust his judgement. However, by replacing Milan with Morris, he was effectively saying that not only was Rico not a left back but he was now only our third choice left winger; it was at this point I realised just how bad things had got.
The match itself saw us stick to the same tactics that had failed to work for the previous month until we were 1-3 down and the game had gone. By this point the crowd had turned on O`Driscoll who responded firstly by making a double change and going 4-4-2, and then moments later with us chasing the game withdrew our top scorer and replaced him with Jordan Cook, a substitution so bewildering we couldn`t even be bothered to boo it.
It was on the way home when I realised how angry I was; me and my best friend, who I was dropping off in town after the game, barely spoke a word to each other in the car. It was obvious from that showing that the players just weren`t together and didn`t want to play for O`Driscoll. My own views that I shared on Facebook that night was that the rift had caused him to lose the dressing room, Henry was worth more to the club than O`Driscoll and for that reason he had to go, immediately.
But we didn`t really expect it, even his criticism of the supporters wreaked of the club of the early part of the decade and something that we`d just shrug and accept, nothing would come of it. We`d bumble along until the summer, failing in the playoffs as a team out of form, assuming we still made them at all, when we`d probably change managers again, lose all our key players who had spent the first half of the season proving they could play at a higher level, and go into next season back where the club always wanted to be, a lower mid table League One club. Up until Sunday morning, that`s what we all believed, it was what we all expected.
Then at 13:11 I got a text, from the same friend, and all she`d put was "O`Driscoll gone. Is this true?"
I checked Facebook to find that it was, and it was at that moment that us as supporters, almost unanimously, had our epiphany moment. The club were serious, things had changed, lessons had been learned, supporters were being listened too, and now we really do mean business. The results may not have been great, but rifts within the squad and between the team and the supporters would not be tolerated and swift decisive action was taken at just the right time. The fans wanted him out, and the next day he was gone. After Scunthorpe it would have been deemed (by me at least) to be harsh, but after Chesterfield may have been too late, especially with a midweek game at Fleetwood next Tuesday night.
We may still fail; we may not go up and we may well find ourselves next year back in our natural position of mid table League One next season. But the desire from within the club to actually progress and succeed is back, and they`ve showcased that in spectacular fashion; sooner or later we will get out of this league at the right end, but because we want too, because we`re doing everything in our power to make it happen, and anything that threatens it will be cut loose, ruthlessly if needs be.
Forget the criticisms from outside, forget the moronic comments from dinosaurs like Tony Mowbray ("They`ll regret sacking him, just like Man Utd did with Moyes or Celtic did with me". Yes, of course they did mate). "I hope they get what they deserve" he said, and do you know what, so do I. Because if we go up we will deserve it, for being brave, for showing ambition, and for making the fans proud again not only of the team but have the board as well.
The soul of the club has been repaired; we`re one again.
Let`s do this!!!