The Lower League Week – Where in the World is Keith Ryder?
Port Vale Must Remain Valiant
Although Port Vale’s financial problems aren’t as attention grabbing as the other club who share their first four letters, their problems go deep. The League Two side’s woes date back to mismanagement by former chairman Bill Bratt and his group of four hated directors. In fact, the same underlying problems have been dogging the club for so long that during that time, Micky Adams left to manage Sheffield United and returned.
Matters came to a head earlier this year with Vale breaching terms of a loan from the council, and underpaying their tax bills, sending them into administration.
Keith Ryder had been named as preferred bidder by the administrators back in May, with his purchase supposedly imminent ever since. In fact during the summer Ryder agreed terms with Port Vale’s players, which would come into effect as soon as his purchase went through, but when the PFA threatened to look into the legality of these contracts, the administrators finally accepted his word may not be worth what it seemed.
David Artell, a summer signing from Crewe, moved on to Northampton, while the other 17 professionals who’d signed similar deals agreed new ones with the club.
Statements from the HMRC suggest that Port Vale could be targeted as part of a process of clamping down on clubs who don’t prioritise paying tax, with a statement released in March saying
Ensuring tax is paid on time should be at the centre of a football club’s business strategy, just as it should be for any other enterprise. Any business that regards paying tax as an optional extra, or that uses tax collected from employees or customers as working capital, is heading for trouble.
The Keith Ryder bid now appears to be dead, but there’s been no official word from anyone as to why a man who placed £100,000 into the club in January, paid a non-refundable deposit of £70,000 on being named preferred bidder and paid the July wage bill of £60,000 has pulled out. In a statement this week the administrators announced they’d not heard from Ryder since August 6th. However, in the same statement, joint-administrator Steve Currie said:
”Whilst this is incredibly disappointing and frustrating for the fans, the club and the administrators alike, we are encouraged by the number and calibre of new interested parties and we remain confident that a buyer will be found. We remain in negotiation with six parties and these negotiations are progressing.”
So for fans of bland corporate positivity, there’s always that.
On the field things have been much better this week, as Vale became only the second team to beat Tranmere Rovers, (at the time top of League One) the first team being Aston Villa. This was followed up by a 6-2 victory over Rotherham, pre-season favourites for League Two, and almost certainly the league’s best squad on paper. Thanks to clinical finishing by Tom Pope and sharp passing from Chris Shuker (moved to a position behind the main forward despite spending almost all his career as a pacey winger), Port Vale led 4-1 at half time against a team who had beaten a talented Bradford team 4-0 a week earlier.
journalists marketing men at Sky Sports argue that unpredictability is what makes the Premiership the best league in the world – if Martin Tyler and Ian Darke start watching League Two on a regular basis, their heads may end up exploding.
For some reason I totally missed this story last week, but in my defence, so did the referee. Shortly after Oldham had taken the lead they would keep hold of at Portsmouth, and with just under half an hour of the match remaining, Jonathan Obita and Oldham’s Connor Brown clashed on the halfway line. Obita was sent off, followed by Oldham’s Cliff Byrne – the referee apparently getting the two mixed up.
As seems to be traditional in stories like this, not only do the pair not look alike, they have different hairstyles and skin colour. The ban was overturned on appeal during the week, leaving Brown to belatedly receive punishment for his actions.
From Boundary Park to Brazil
Brown and Byrne’s team-mate Dean Furman, this weekend became a South African international, making his debut against Brazil in São Paulo. Without wanting to sound patronising, playing against Dani Alves, Ramires, David Luiz and Neymar must have been an interesting contrast to his day job.
Harry Redknapp Returns to Football
Since being sacked by Tottenham, Harry Redknapp has been keeping himself busy as a Match of the Day pundit, as well as becoming possibly the world’s first professional Fantasy Football manager with Sky Sports. But he has expressed interest in getting back into competitive football in some form. He’s been linked with the Liverpool, Chelsea, and Nottingham Forest vacancies. The media’s been keen to point out that he ‘was widely expected to be named England manager’, as if repeating the fact their previous reporting was extremely wide of the mark will make anyone look better.
Well, this week Redknapp took a new position as an unpaid advisor at Bournemouth, where he began his managerial career. Redknapp won’t have an official title, and in a line seemingly designed to prove he’s a straight up salt of the earth bloke, explained that
“It is not a financial thing in any shape or form. If they give me a cup of tea at half-time in the boardroom, I would be delighted. That is all I want out of it. This is home for me, this is where I live. I spent nearly 10 years here as manager so I love the club.”
Despite Redknapp’s insistence that he’ll be hands off, he originally joined Portsmouth under similar circumstances. In 2001, he’d just been sacked by a Premiership club, with the fans divided over the decision and the media banging the outrage drum. Both times, at the invitation of a Football League chairman, he took on an advisory role. At Portsmouth, seven months later Graham Rix had been sacked and Redknapp stepped in as replacement.But would the man who was widely expected to be named England manager drop to the third tier?
Well, Redknapp rejected the chance to move from Portsmouth to Newcastle, with talk that the need to relocate from his Sandbanks home was a key factor. And Bournemouth have decent financial backing – MK Dons manager Karl Robinson’s claim that Bournemouth have wages “five times more than us” may be an exaggeration, but the Cherries do have money behind them. And, after a slightly disappointing start to the season, (and not setting the world on fire as caretaker manager last season) Paul Groves is already under a little pressure. For a man who seems to value his family life, the opportunity to manage Bournemouth for a second spell with greater resources than most of his rivals may prove an attractive option – whatever reservations their fans may have.
di Canio Should Probably Shut Up
Swindon’s embarrassment got worse in the Football League Trophy, going out 1-0 to local rivals Oxford, now a division lower. Then, after the match, renowned introvert Paulo di Canio placed the blame on giant centre back Aden Flint, a key player last season:
“Flint came in tonight as if he was on holiday and this is not acceptable. He has to take the responsibility. We lost because of him.”
Defeat to Oxford – their third in a row against the Robins’ local rivals – was followed by a 1-0 defeat to struggling Leyton Orient. But key play-maker Matt Ritchie signed a contract extension during the week, suggesting that, for now at least, the players are behind him.
The Media Should Probably Shut Up About di Canio
Every high profile story will cause a backlash, and the di Canio situation has provoked an eloquent argument that his coverage has been overshadowing the other interesting stories in the lower leagues.
I don’t know whether I’m being a little hypocritical here, as I discussed my thoughts on di Canio here last week and I do find his personality, in addition to his team, interesting. John McGee, however, makes a relevant argument concerning the media’s focus on personality over performance. There seems to be a lot of focus on the fact di Canio is a ‘character’ who does wacky things. Personality does have its place in sport – Cantona’s feign of indifference after scoring a lob against Sunderland made it seem even more effortless and otherworldly, and great rivalries, from Nadal – Federer to Pistorius – Oliviera give their contests a little extra spice.
During last season’s title run, Swindon went on a 10 match league winning run at the turn of the year, which completed a run of one defeat in 21 – regardless of the quality in the playing squad, to maintain those high standards someone on the coaching staff was doing a lot right. Like Cantona, and di Canio as a player, di Canio the manager is intriguing because there’s something in him that’s useful in the drive for success.
From Ian Holloway’s working-man’s club routine to Chris Powell’s joviality to Steve Evans’ comic book villainy (more on that next week), these managers are intriguing because somewhere in each is a sharp-minded winner, who can organise and gee up their players to impressive results.
I’d say that people with the ‘natural winner’ personality type are by definition interesting, but the coverage of di Canio has at times focused on celebrity and ‘wackiness’. Despite the huge attention given to ‘Paulo di Canio’s Swindon’ in the national media over the past year, how many readers and viewers of those pieces will have heard the names Matt Ritchie and Paul Caddis?
Preston Hit Their Stride
Despite a radical overhaul to the squad, Preston started their league season relatively poorly. Victory over Huddersfield in the League Cup was followed by two points from three games, all three winnable matches. But a thorough 4-1 demolition of Crystal Palace was followed by an identical score against Swindon, themselves riding high after victory against Stoke City. The Lilywhites then followed this up with a hard-fought penalty victory over Football League Trophy specialists Carlisle in midweek and a derby victory at Bury.
Each of those matches provided a different challenge – Palace were the team Preston shouldn’t expect to beat, Swindon a potential promotion six-pointer, Carlisle are creative and hard-working cup specialists who reached the Football League Trophy final in 2010 and 2011, while Bury represented a slippery banana skin. The fact that Preston maintained their high standards against all four is a positive sign for their season.
However, there will always be flack from neutrals while their current manager is in charge, with a Carlisle fan this week having some particularly harsh words to say about Graham Westley.
Despite the common depiction of him as a long-ball manager, when I saw Westley’s Stevenage in his last year and a half there, they played a decent passing game. And highlights of Preston’s matches this year seem to indicate a mixture of sophisticated and physical football, which is not only smart but difficult to achieve.
In the match at Hartlepool in the FA Cup last season, Stevenage made three or four of the most melodramatic dives I’ve seen in a lower division match, and reports indicate that’s not untypical of a Westley team. I backed Preston for the League One title in a division that doesn’t look like having a Charlton running away at the top, but I’m not entirely happy about the idea.
The Grecians Bounce Back
Relegated last season, Exeter were torn apart by three goals to nil on the opening day of the season. They’ve since followed this up with four wins to sit second, suggesting perhaps that Coventry and Chesterfield’s decisions to sack their managers so early may have been a little mistaken.
Martin Allen Returns Again, but Only for a Day
This week Martin Allen returned to Barnet, the club he managed for the final three games of 11-12, for three games towards the end of 10-11, and 47 games between 2003 and 2004. Despite sitting on top of League Two with Gillingham collecting four wins and a draw from his first five league matches in charge, Allen admitted that he would have stayed on at Barnet were he offered the job.
Things aren’t going well at Barnet at the moment, who are in pretty much the exact opposite position to Gillingham – bottom of the league having drawn once and lost the other four. In fact the chairman has felt the need to publish a statement reaffirming the vision Barnet are working towards.
Not keeping Allen on has widely been interpreted by the media as an act of foolishness, ‘proven’ by each team’s start. But the teams’ respective resources were likely to tilt things in Gillingham’s favour, whoever was in charge.
I’d argue that by appointing first-time manager Mark Robson – a highly rated coach – Barnet are looking to a more technical style of play than would be the case under Allen, who’s generally been a short-term motivator at most of his clubs. Robson is still in the process of putting his stamp on the team, so it’s hard to tell how things will turn out, but he seems to be in a similar situation to Brendan Rogers at Liverpool. As well as at first team level, Barnet are currently in the process of moving their administrative staff to The Hive, their impressive looking new training centre.
Barnet have one of the lowest average attendances in the Football League, and are located in an area surrounded by bigger name clubs, making The Bees a hard-sell to young fans. But rather than just getting along and keeping the clubs’ collective heads above water for a few months at a time, Barnet are refusing to accept the bad hand the club has been dealt, but looking into creative and ambitious ways to succeed in spite of their natural limitations.
Jake Robinson Earns his Chance
A week and a half after being left out of Northampton’s match day squad, Northampton’s Jake Robinson was chosen to start in the Football League Trophy against MK Dons.
Robinson scored the winner against MK, a scooped thirty-five yard volley, and earned an ovation from the crowd at the end of the game. (The only highlights of the game I’ve been able to find are behind a paywall on the Cobbers’ official site, but the goal’s worth going out of your way for if you have a Player account at your own club.) Robinson made all the right noises about support he’d received from the fans, and had surely pushed himself into contention for a weekend start… at Luton, where he was loaned out for a month. Robinson was chosen to start ahead of Stuart Fleetwood, who’d scored seven goals in eight games for Luton so far this season, so he at least has a manager who has faith in his ability.
Looking at Robinson’s goalscoring record a few weeks ago, I was surprised he’d scored so few goals over the years. A pacey, hard-working and technical forward, he was an eye-grabbing talent even when I first saw him as a teenager for Brighton. However, aside from scoring sixteen goals for Shrewsbury and Torquay in 2010-11, and a few sporadic bursts of goalscoring form, his goal record almost non-existent, a shame given his obvious ability. Still only 25, Jake Robinson is a lower league talent worth keeping an eye on.
What do you think about what we have to say about your club? Are those mentioned under-appreciated or overrated? Did we miss someone or something that should be covered? Join in by commenting below, or find me on Twitter @Joe_Bloghead