Once, Twice, Three Times Martin Allen
This week, Barnet Football Club turned once again to an old hand. Here, Tim Fletcher provides his reaction:
Who did you say we’ve appointed?
It is perhaps typical of the lot of a Barnet supporter that the moment you go on holiday and beyond reach of a mobile phone, let alone the internet, that once again we have an end of season change of manager.
For a club that used to have a reputation of never sacking the boss, this is getting habit forming, but sadly, so is our annual dalliance with falling out of the league and into the clutches of the Blue Square – clutches that a succession of relegated sides have shown it is very difficult to escape. We don’t want to follow the likes of Luton, Wrexham, Lincoln or Grimsby – to name only a few.
Getting back to the League appears to require financial resources beyond those of our chairman and whoever else is putting funds into the club, if indeed anyone else is doing so. From comments expressed at the time of our past two final day escapes, a club like Barnet (or indeed Hereford and Macclesfield) stands to lose far more than just missing out on automatic entry into the FA Cup or having a run in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Loss of assorted sources of TV money, youth facilities and other things that goes with being a professional football team would be disastrous.
Here, I suspect, is what has caused Tony Kleanthous to once again reach for the P45 and show Lawrie Sanchez the exit, but before coming on to the merits or otherwise of his replacement and the timing of the change it might be worth asking whether Mr Sanchez deserved his fate?
I have a general dislike of the cult of sacking managers, especially when chairmen or owners appear to have forgotten that football is a game played by human beings who like everyone else have their weaknesses, off days and failings, and are not automatons, or virtual elements in a computer game. Sending 11 men (or boys if you are my age) across the infamous ‘white line’ doesn’t guarantee success, no matter how painstaking the preparation.
However, there do seem to be occasions when the situation calls for a change – and given that sacking the team or even large parts of it is a non-starter, no matter how useless they are, then it’s the manager who has to go.
Barnet’s season has never really got going this year, and if it hadn’t been for a run of good results early in 2012, we would probably be down. That run came on the back of some astute loan signings and coincided with success in the JPT and a tantalising glimpse of Wembley. Once we had lost to Swindon that seemed to seal things and we started to drift back down to our usual place in the great scheme of things.
What seems to have got under the skin of a lot of Bees fans is that Mr Sanchez didn’t seem to really have a way to change things. Players were moved around, or substituted and dropped apparently for showing that they were human and making mistakes. They are Barnet players, we are used to having them make mistakes!
Then there were the instances of his not talking to the media and making little or no acknowledgement of the fans. All in all he appeared to be a bit of a cold fish and although I’m happy to have a cold fish in charge if they are doing the job and providing some degree of success, or at least meeting realistic expectations, there seemed to be no attempt to sell an idea or vision of what we as paying spectators should be expecting to see. What we did start to see more and more of was a long ball game that didn’t even seem to have any merit or tactical nous given the average height of our midfield.
We were also aware of this was only likely to be a season long affair at most and that we were a bit of a stepping stone back into bigger and better things. Sanchez’s comments about Nigel Worthington and other statements on non-Barnet matters didn’t endear him to the fans. A steadying of the ship and comfortable mid-table finish and these would have been overlooked but, combined with our current predicament, it is little surprise that he was shown the door.
Should it have happened sooner? Well, if we escape the drop then yes is the obvious answer. What I don’t know, and neither I suspect do many contributors to the message boards, is what any contractual arrangements involved and simply how much money it takes to sack a manager – especially if you are not a Russian oligarch. On occasion the team has played well, and with some show of spirit, but this was not backed up by results. Silly mistakes, injuries and having to play teams in search of promotion all conspired to set the scene for another end of season filled with tension and anxiety, and ultimately forced the chairman’s hand.
On balance, I think it should have been done sooner – this is once again a last throw of the dice, and I’m not sure that you can do that three times in a row and get away with it. If we do escape I’m not sure that many Bees supporters want to go through another season of this – and will demand changes be made sooner if, heaven forbid, we do struggle again next year.
And so we come to the appointment.
I suspect that when word started to spread many people reached for a calendar to check that it wasn’t April 1st. As is well known, Martin Allen is now in his third stint as manager at Barnet. Having walked out on us twice, to have him back is quite a shock, to put it mildly. It must have taken some nerve on the part of Tony Kleanthous to make the call, if indeed he did make it, but perhaps it took some on the part of Martin Allen to accept.
Who knows? Is there a feeling of unfinished business fuelling his apparent abandonment of the still struggling Bees last year to go to Notts County? When the club did escape on the last day, Giuliano Grazioli praised Allen for his contribution even when the fans were singing his own name.
Allen will certainly have an impact and perhaps it is simply that a change and a sign of a positive move is what is required at the moment. It’s too late to change the team and in the view of many fans the players are not a bad bunch, just poorly managed. Allen knows the club, is available and simply has the balls to take on the challenge. What I think is also relevant is that Paul Fairclough is back in charge of the football side of the club and Martin Allen will be reporting to him – presumably providing a buffer between him and the chairman and also leaving the latter to deal with other problems including our perennial ground issues.
Do I welcome the appointment? – to be honest I really don’t know! If it works it’s great, but I’m not sure many of us will forgive past sins real or imagined. I can’t see what other choices there were – I do think that Allen’s past work stood him in good stead despite the way each tenure ended. Would I welcome him back next season? Not sure, we shall wait and see, but I would advise the club to get any contract set in concrete!
There are so many questions surrounding all this that I have no doubt that every Bees fan will have their own opinion on the whole situation. Ultimately it comes down to the simple fact that there are three games to go and we have three points in hand over our rivals. I find myself working out all the permutations and then wanting to lie in a darkened room until it is all over.
I then found myself looking up how to get to Burton for the last game – although I really hope that things will be settled by then – in our favour of course (no offence to Hereford or Macclesfield). Once things are sorted out then we need to hope that we don’t spend another season turning up and banging our heads against a brick wall as defeat follows defeat. In the meantime there is a small matter of a visit to Southend for yet another Friday night game and then monitoring our rivals progress on Saturday. Squeaky bum time indeed!
Tim can be followed on Twitter at @timbee_bfc