20. Jul, 2022

A lesson from 21 years ago....

There’s been lots of false dawns in our history.

Times when you walked out of the ground thinking that better times were just around the corner and that all of our fears were unfounded.

Dame N’Doye scoring the second at Palace to secure three points for a City team finally starting to fire and surely set to stay up in 2015 under Bruce (we didn’t)

Middlesbrough being eaten alive by a rampant, rebranded Marco Silva City team 4-2. We looked like they could score at will and this surely meant we were going to pull away from relegation danger with ease (we absolutely didn’t)

However one of the biggest false dawns that I’ve ever known however was after the summer of 2001.

We’d made the play offs the year before and somehow dodged liquidation after the exit of the Sheffield Stealers, and under new chairman Adam Pearson we’d been spending money like a drunken sailor. We went to Exeter first game of the season and after a slightly wobbly start we cruised away to a 3-1 win. We pissed it. New signings like Laurie Dudfield, Gary Alexander, Ryan Williams and Matt Glennon had the rest of the league green eyed with jealousy and I walked out of the game that day, completely certain that we were on the way to certain promotion, probably as champions.

We did neither.

We would stay unbeaten until late September and were still in the play-offs when the much loved and respected Brian Little got his marching orders, however something really wasn’t right about the season even by the end of 2001. We were soft at times and if rival teams were jealous of the money we spent that summer, they soon realised that we could be put to the sword with some physical and well organised play.

 City had some serious ability but in the swamp that was League 3, you needed to match the unscrupulous play of physical and hostile opposition and unfortunately the sorts of players we needed to win the battle had left that summer. Jon Whitney, Gary Brabin, Kevin Francis, John Eyre to name four, whilst others like Rodney Rowe or Rob Matthews were on the outside looking in mainly.

Sacking Brian was one of Adam Pearson’s worst ever decisions. We didn’t win another game after a February 2-1 home win over Rushden and Diamonds and finished steeped in mediocrity in 11th place. Winning 16 and losing 17.

Now, dear reader, you might be wondering why I’ve taken you down this deeply disappointing wormhole? Well, I think there’s currently some serious parallels…we’re all excited for the first time in a while about the upcoming season, we’ve spent some serious money, we have a new owner that came in during the previous season, some combative but effective players have left and the pre-season win over Malaga felt like a slightly warmer version of that day at St James Park (the nice one, not the sports washing version).

It was a long time ago, sure, and at a much lower level, but I do think there’s some lessons to learn from this flashback. Players like Richie Smallwood, Tom Eaves and George Honeyman went with normal fans best wishes and several players who have either left or will surely soon (Moncur, Huddlestone, Cannon, Wilks, Scott) are not going to be major players at this level. We just need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water.

Just in case I get my “fan boy fan club” © coming for me, let me be specific. We need to keep Brandon Fleming and Lewie Coyle, extend Jacob Greaves, feature regularly Regan Slater and keep a keen eye on the promising youngsters from one of the best youth systems in the country. We’ve moved on several players and most followed a logic. The players we’ve brought in all seem instant upgrades and that’s a good thing, but we should not forget that teams like Luton and Hudderfield made the play-offs last year by being hard working, organised and featuring players who weren’t necessarily household names. We are more like Luton and Huddersfield than we are like Fulham or Bournemouth.

There are genuine signs however that we are being ran from top to bottom by people who are a lot more skilled and savvy than twenty years ago. Baxter being brought back, and Ingram being extended were both signs that they know the reality of the league we’re in. As well as adding Figurado to the already impressive Greaves and Jones combination. I think there’s reason to believe that they’re not going into this season naively and that if we do challenge for the play-offs this year, that only the deeply flawed national press and tedious rival fan bases will be surprised.

If you wanted to use a more positive parallel you could say in 1982, Don Robinson and Colin Appleton soon realised they’d inherited a surprising array of riches in Marwood, Skipper, Norman, Whitehurst and Roberts. As long as Tan and Acun look back in years to come and say the same about Fleming, Coyle, Slater, Greaves and Baxter, we might not be talking about this as a false dawn in twenty years.

Thanks for reading UTT.