Sometimes it’s not nice to be proved correct, especially when your predictions are of the glass half-empty variety. Back in July, when my club, Stockport County, appointed Paul Simpson, I feared that he would turn out to be nothing more than the ‘proverbial sacrificial lamb’. Less than six months on, Simpson has been unceremoniously sacked, despite being on course to achieve his target for the season – namely, to keep County in the division. Although sitting four points clear of the relegation zone, albeit having played more games than all their relegation rivals, Simpson’s record was obviously not good enough for the County directors, who evidently decided that, if action were to be taken, it had to be taken now, at the start of the transfer window, with crucial games against relegation rivals Hereford and Lincoln also imminent.
I should state my bias here and now. I am gutted that Paul Simpson has been sacked. Granted, the football has been pretty dire and some of lthe performances – including last week’s spineless submission to 20th-placed Morecambe – have been terrible, but the fact remains we are above the relegation zone and therefore Simpson was doing the job he was brought in for. County are hugely restricted financially, both due to the lack of income streams due to not owning Edgeley Park and because of the financial restrictions placed on clubs by the Football League after they have exited administration, as County did in July. Simpson was appointed in July with very little money to spend and without the opportunity to carry out a proper pre-season programme Most supporters expected a season of struggle as a result – that it has come to pass should not be a surprise to either supporters or directors. Moreover, I am hugely ashamed at the lack of class my football club has shown throughout the whole process. Having previously told Simpson there was no money to spend
unless players could be moved out, the club then released a press statement stating that, not only had Simpson been sacked, but that the club had discussed transfer targets with caretaker manager Peter Ward and County fans could expect the arrival of ‘four or five’
new players in January. Where has all this money suddenly come from? Either there is some new investment that nobody knows about – and considering there is not even a rumour of this anywhere, this is frankly unlikely – or the Board have been less than open and honest with their manager. The headline ‘Simpson Axed’ on the official website (now removed) emphasises the complete lack of class shown by the club concerning this. Whatever your view of Paul Simpson – and, whilst I think he did a reasonable job given the fact he came in three weeks before the season started and has had barely any money to spend, I appreciate others differ – this is someone’s livelihood we are talking about, and to use the word ‘axed’ on the official website is unthinking at best, heartless at worst. Stockport County are supposed to be a professional organisation, not a tabloid newspaper.
More worryingly, there are strong rumours
of a boardroom split over the decision. Rumours continue to circulate that the chairman, former cake magnet Alwin Thompson, has resigned after he was outvoted over the strategic direction of the club for the remainder of the season. Thompson apparently supported Simpson and was keen for the club to live within its means, irrespective of what that meant on the field. Other directors felt that staying in the League was the biggest priority, above and beyond anything else. Whilst investment in the January transfer window is painfully needed, it surely cannot come at the expense of the club’s future existence. This lesson should have been learned from the past few years, where overinvestment led to short-term success but medium-term ruin.
Whether the rumours of boardroom unrest are true or not – and time will tell on that score – the County Board have made a bold decision. Changing horses at this stage of the season might work; it might not. County have dispensed with the services of an experienced manager who, whilst relatively unexciting both in terms of leadership and style of football, was on track to deliver safety. Who knows who his replacement will be. Many supporters
were, unsurprisingly, calling for the return of legendary player and manager Jim Gannon
, but his appointment
as Port Vale manager this morning rules that particular option out. Other rumours indicate that the Board will go for an unproven option such as Ward (who was assistant manager under Gannon but has never managed himself and who many believe to be too soft to be a No. 1), Woodley Sports manager Tony Hancock or former County player Andy Preece
. The new man’s task will be made even more difficult given that whatever transfer budget was available will presumably have been dented by the need to pay compensation to the departed Simpson. If the future looked uncertain last week, it looks even more so now.
When the 2015 consortium took over, it was well known that they did not have a great deal of money, and that, post administration, financial pressures would continue to make life difficult for the club. Despite promising to operate in an ‘open, innovative manner
‘, however, precious little has been heard from the consortium since the takeover. Indeed, the (possibly ex) chairman has issued just one statement
since the takeover. The anticipated ‘feelgood factor’ has vehemently failed to return to Edgeley Park this season, and crowds have continued to dwindle. Having decided to act, whoever the Board appoint will be a statement of intent and will be a good indicator as to where the Board’s priorities lie going forward. Following the return of four loan players to their parent clubs (including the club’s only two senior strikers), the first team is painfully weak. At the same time, the structure of the club off the field also desperately needs strengthening given the shell 2015 inherited as a result of administration and the mothballing of all non-essential operations at the club last season. With the club’s footballing and financial future hanging in the balance, the appointment of a new manager will be a very tough decision. I wish them the best of luck, and can only hope they treat the new manager with a little more respect than the did Paul Simpson, an honourable man who did his best in extremely difficult circumstances, both internally and externally. I wish both the best of luck in the weeks and months ahead – the directors of Stockport County, in particular, are going to need it.