Has modern day sport lost its focus?
What is more important, crowd numbers, membership numbers or performances on the pitch?
Some will tell you it will depend on who you talk to at the various clubs. The CEO will tell you that he wants to see all three, but most important of all he wants season memberships to increase as these give the clubs money in advance and assist them in forecasting crowd figures. The coaching staff, players and fans will tell you that the only thing that matters is the performance on the pitch. If the club performs on the pitch the rest will fall into place.
Sadly though the emphasis has shifted and now clubs need to employ marketing people to try and make supporting a club more sexy.
Teams are now given tagline each season. Who the hell thought this was a good idea? As regrettably for many clubs they end up coming back to haunt them.
This writer’s team Swindon Town has a mantra or tag line for the current season made up of three words, “Pride, Passion and Belief.” Three words that could not be further from the way the team has performed.
There appears to be a distinct lack of pride in the history of this small Wiltshire club being shown by the current crop of players, which in turn is deemed as disrespectful by the fans they expect to come and support them each week. Is it their fault? Many of the players donning the red and white this year are players on loan from Premier League clubs. They may be young players who have yet to achieve anything in the game. However they are rewarded ridiculously well by those Premier League clubs before having achieved anything. Is it therefore any wonder that they feel that to drop down two divisions is beneath them?
Many of these players think they are Premier League players because they are part of a Premier League club, even though they have never played a Premier League game. They think that football in the lower leagues will be easy, and to some it is. To others the competition comes as shock. However the same principles apply no matter where you play, you must always respect your opposition, and always play as a team and then your individual ability will shine. A failure to appreciate that fact, and thinking you are too good to be playing at this level will almost always back fire. Just as playing for yourself will not only kill the team it will also kill your own career.
Of course some players come on loan with the right attitude. Swindon signed Alex Pritchard on loan from Spurs in 2013, the same time Australian Massimo Luongo signed for the club. Pritchard had come through the West Ham United academy and was clearly a class act. He bossed the midfield and won Swindon’s Player of the year award. His performances saw the 20 year old return to Spurs only to be loaned to Brentford, in 2016 aged 23 he was transferred to Norwich City for an undisclosed fee, but one believed to have been around GBP$8million. Pritchard went on loan with the right attitude. As his comments when he left Swindon reflected. “it was great for me to be playing first team football at Swindon this season, I needed to get out and play competitively and I loved every minute of it.”
It is fair to say he believed in his ability and knew that his loan moves were simply stepping stones. He did not sulk about dropping down a few divisions but saw it as an opportunity to play football and get first team experience. Luongo was the same and his application saw him picked for Australia, eventually signed by Swindon before a transfer to Queens Park Rangers saw him in the Championship.
The ‘Belief’ that is Swindon Town’s tagline this season is no doubt aimed at the fans believing the team will achieve success. They are facing relegation. Maybe the Belief needs to be explored with the loan players. Maybe it needs to be explored with the coach, Luke Williams.
Williams had a Youth career with professional football league clubs but never cut the mustard as an adult player. Williams came to Swindon having been a development coach at Brighton & Hove Albion where he managed the U21 for three years and also coached the reserves. Williams was assistant to head coach Mark Cooper and helped get Swindon Town to the 2015 League One Play-Offs before losing to Preston North End in the final. When Cooper was sacked he was interim manager and after Martin Ling’s short stint in charge was again appointed caretaker manager before being given a five year contract.
Questions are now being asked as to whether Williams, who had great credentials as a development coach, has what is needed as a first team coach. Does he believe in the players at his disposal, can he control them? Some players will no doubt look at his credentials and see he never played at the level he is coaching at, let alone the level of the clubs they have come on loan from, and if their egos are as big as rumoured, he will find it hard to get the best out of his players.
Swindon Town are not alone in coming up with slogans and tag lines that they believe will help them promote their club, but one wonders whether such words should be kept in-house, as they can end up humiliating the team.
Ultimately every player will be judged by their performance on the pitch, and every manager will be judged by his team’s performance on the pitch. The CEO and the administrators may not be judged by the performances on the pitch, but their jobs will be made a great deal easier by those performances. Sponsors will be more willing to come on board, fans will be more willing to buy a membership or attend more games and buy merchandise. IF that is the case then the back room staff will be judged to have done a good job.
Football has always been called a simple game. It is. All you have to do is score more goals than the opposition. Today though the approach is more that teams must not let the opposition score. Maybe that is why there has been the need to involve marketing people more than in the past, because the game has become boring, and at times incredibly negative. Flair has been coached out of players as they come through academy systems and are drilled to play a certain way, rather than to back their instinctive ability. Have these academies meant that players have got ahead of themselves, believing they have achieved before they have reached the first team? Maybe it is because some players believe they are bigger than the teams they play for, and are simply looking for their next move to bigger and better things. It is a worrying conundrum.
In modern day football ‘Pride’ is a hard quality to instil into a player when it comes to playing for a club. That is unless he has supported that club as a child, or has been nurtured from a young age by the club and understands the history and knows the great players to have gone before. Was there a player in recent times who epitomised pride in his club more than Steven Gerrard? So maybe coaches need to focus on personal pride. Emphasise to the players that when they walk of the pitch they need to assess their own performances and reflect on whether the shift they put in for 90 minutes was one that they can be proud of. Have they played to their full potential?
It is a tough environment and the internet has allowed armchair critics to find a voice. With so much football available on the net, or television, fans are in the main better educated as to what is a good performance and what is not. Also the salaries that players receive today make them less forgiving. So when a team has a bad run of results they look for ways to lash out at the one they love. The slogan, or tag line has now become the perfect tool.
(Swindon Town lost last night to their biggest rivals!)