Shankly’s Village

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‘As somebody who cherished the friendship of my great fellow Ayrshireman Bill Shankly, I am delighted that the story of the remarkable mining village that produced him is being vividly told. Physically, Glenbuck has been expunged but its name will always have resonance for anyone interested in the importance of football to the working-class communities of what used to be Britain’s industrial areas.’ Hugh McIlvanney

Shankly’s Village is not only an important book about a lost community, its football teams and its history, but in its rebirth with the Glenbuck Academy, a magnificent inspiration of what football could be and mean again. . . it has so many great stories . . . very moving and powerful scenes, and is really well written.’    – David Peace

My new book, Shankly’s Village is out now.

Written in conjunction with football coach Robert Gillan (@robertpgillan) it tells the remarkable story of the tiny former mining village of Glenbuck that was the birthplace and home of Bill Shankly and over 50 other professional footballers. The book features:

  • The most comprehensive, exhaustive, and fully researched study of Glenbuck, birthplace of Bill Shankly
  • Never-seen-before detail on Bill Shankly’s playing career and his life after leaving Liverpool
  • Exclusive in-depth interviews with Ian St John and Ian Callaghan, providing fresh and revealing insight into their relationships with Bill Shankly
  • The truth about the ‘football is more important than life and death’ quote
  • A sweeping portrait of football and social history across Britain, from the birth of the game to the modern day
  • The former mining village was home to over 50 professional footballers; per capita, the equivalent would be a small non-league club in London producing nearly 250,000 pros over a 40-year period
  • Unprecedented coverage on each Glenbuck footballer and the clubs they played for
  • Detailed chapters on FA-Cup and League-title winners, their remarkable careers and lives
  • Fascinating interviews with relatives, former villagers, eyewitnesses and experts on a whole range of clubs, stories, and related subjects
  • Packed with detail, stories, anecdotes and insight.

For more details, and a FREE downloadable chapter, go to the Pitch page

From the book jacket:

Glenbuck is a name that resonates through the history of football in Britain. Once a tiny village in the Ayrshire coalfields, it produced an unprecedented roll call of professional players. Its most famous son, Bill Shankly, shaped not just Liverpool’s destiny but exerted a huge influence on the evolution of the modern game.

And yet virtually all that remains of ‘Shanks’s’ birthplace is his marble memorial. Glenbuck has not only been physically erased by de-industrialisation, but from football’s consciousness. The pitch which once rang with the shouts of players and partisan fans is now a boggy, neglected field. It is eerily, unforgivably silent.

The Football Village brings back to life the birthplace of Shankly and the exploits of 49 other wonderful characters. Glenbuck’s sons range from stars of English and Scottish football to more parochial heroes, all combining to form a compelling story of the British game across the divisions.

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LEGENDARY TALES

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IT’S that time of the year, when I have a new sports book out just in time for Christmas. For 2014 it’s Legends – a visual celebration of 40 of the finest domestic footballers to grace the English league in the post-war era.

Part of the highly popular When Football Was Football series, it’s an unashamedly nostalgic look at some of the great names of the game. And not simply the best players, but the most compelling, charismatic, and captivating characters – from Best to Bowles, Moore to Matthews, Greaves to Gascoigne.

There are full profiles, stats and facts on each player and a host of photos drawn from the brilliant Mirrorpix archive. Many of the colour and black-and-white pictures show each player behind the scenes, and away from the action, showing then in a unique light during their heyday.

  • Legends is priced £25 and available from Haynes publishers and all good high street and online bookstores.
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Postcards from the Spurs edge

Here’s an ideal Christmas gift for the Spurs fan in your life – a 50-strong postcard-style selection of Tottenham players, legends, sights and moments, from the glorious past and not-so-inspiring present.

The obvious gag is that they can be used to send SOS messages about the current hapless state of the team. ‘Wish you were here’, or perhaps ‘Wish we still had some of these players’.

It’s unlikely anyone will want to actually post these, however. The cards are prime collectible material, all contained in a handsome box.

Artist Stephen Gulbis has put together a half century of fine colour illustrations that capture the spirit of the club. Publishers VSP, (who this writer has worked with on a number of Tottenham-related titles) certainly know their way round the White Hart Lane story, and the pack comes with the club’s official seal of approval

Some of the likenesses are more impressionistic in style. Others are evoked with uncanny truthfulness. Emmanuel Adebayor is captured for artistic posterity, not lashing home a wonder goal but in sadly more familiar guise standing motionless with his hands on his hips.

Gallows humour aside there’s more than enough here for even the bitterest cynic to gaze on lovingly at more heart-warming figures and features from the Spurs story. Say what you like about Tottenham: there’s never a dull moment and this collection is a colourful tribute to the club’s ever-eventful story.

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Hands off Hove Park School – an open letter

The board of governors at Hove Park School are meeting tonight (Monday 22nd) to decide its fate. They will be voting on whether to convert the school to an academy, or keep it under local-authority control. It is a question that should have been resolved months ago, and there should have been a clear and definitive answer: the school is doing just fine, and will continue to do so. It simply doesn’t need to become an academy.

That the issue has been allowed to drag on for so long, with all the disruption and uncertainty it has brought, is bad enough. That some of the governors and the school leadership team are still so hell-bent on conversion, beggars belief. The message from all quarters has been unequivocal against conversion.

Teachers at the school are overwhelmingly opposed, even to the extent of taking strike action. Pupils have expressed their concerns with admirable enthusiasm. Parents have issued an unmistakeable rejection – not just in a series of campaigns and meetings that have drawn committed and widespread support, but in a council-run vote that resulted in 71% of parents voting against academisation.

Its supporters argue a 40% turnout in the vote shows parents are either apathetic or happy to accept the change in status. That is a foolish assumption to make – and sits uneasily beside an earlier opportunity the school gave for parents to vote on a uniform change that produced just 80 votes. Yet this still led the school to treat the result as a ringing endorsement for change.

That’s an odd take on democracy. And the school never offered a vote on the issue that really mattered. Instead, the head of governors and the leadership team have persisted with a weak, misleading and illogical counter campaign. Proper consultation, that fairly lays out the pros and cons of all the options, has been non-existent.

The arguments made in favour of academisation are dubious and do not stand up to scrutiny. The evidence in favour of retaining local authority control is compelling and convincing.

Academy schools do not transform academic achievement. They can set schools against each other, threaten teacher pay and standards, and undermine the whole principle of a good education open to all. They lack accountability and are prone to highly controversial takeovers from individuals and organisations pursuing narrow interests. Witness the disturbing problems at academy schools in Birmingham in recent months.

The success of Hove Park offers an acute contrast. The huge strides it has made in recent years are down to many things. The outstanding work of teachers – and the leadership team – is self evident. So too is the enthusiasm of a wonderful group of children, actively supported by their parents. The council-wide admissions policy has also played a major part.

I have seen this first hand. When my eldest daughter was first awarded a place at Hove Park, it was at a very low ebb. Teachers and pupils were trying hard, but exam results had big room for improvement. Many outsiders looked down on the school, belittling it and its pupils. ‘Why do you want to send your kids there?’ was an oft-heard comment.

Six years on, the answer is clear. Hove Park is one of the most improved schools in the country, and has achieved this at a time of hostile government policy and enormous funding challenges. The school is a runaway success. And all this has been achieved while under LEA control. The conclusion is blindingly obvious: if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

The original justification for considering academy status was presented in a confusing brochure that was high on gloss and low on coherent argument. It even threatened emotional blackmail, talking of a ‘moral imperative’ to consider academy status.

This was an insult to everyone opposed to the idea. They have all since spoken, and will do so again at a rally outside the upper school gates tonight, but it seems some on the board and the leadership team are still refusing to listen.

It is high time they did the right thing and rejected these unnecessary, irresponsible plans, so that Hove Park School can concentrate on what it does best: offering an excellent education for and within a community that values it so highly.

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BUENA SUERTE (or ‘ISN’T GOOGLE TRANSLATE WONDERFUL’

SO hello, Mauricio, welcome to White Hart Lane, the world famous home of the Spurs.

Or is it infamous? The old place has been something of a temple of managerial doom in the last decade or so. It’s like that climactic scene in Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, when a succession of whimpering candidates tread gingerly on their quest to find the holy grail, only to have their heads sliced off as they get their answers to various riddles hopelessly wrong. Make one false step at Tottenham and you’ve had it.

Spurs fans will be hoping the new man is clever enough to read the runes and negotiate his way round such treacherous ground. At the time of writing Pochettino is the 10th Spurs manager in 13 years – a truly eye-watering figure.

It’s pointless raking over the bones of all who came before him – who should have got the job, who shouldn’t, who succeeded, who didn’t. We all have our favourites and dislikes but in the final analysis it’s been much of a muchness. Some brief, brave new dawns, a rise of about five league places, one League Cup, and one season in the Champions League. Not a lot for all that money spent, all that hope, all that perpetual material and emotional investment from the fans.

Not excluding the bewildering array of managers and DoFs. Enic have tried just about every permutation going. Experienced British old lags, bright young continental things, man-managers, tactics wonks, bluffers, enigmas, motivators, returning heroes and prodigal sons. Suffice to say the rapid hire-and-fire approach from the owners looks less like a strategy than a case of trading lots of players, and throwing cards up in the air in the hope that one day, some might fall in the right way to knock up a half-decent hand.

It surely can’t go on like that. Some of us have banged on many times before about why Spurs need managerial stability rather than constant churn, but one can only hope rather than expect that this time the incumbent lasts the course. He’s been given a 5-year-deal, which sounds good but as we all know, when it comes to football, contracts means diddly.

So he’s doomed before he’s already started? According to some traditionalists and permanently angry people on social media that’s the case. He’s not wanted, not experienced enough, too much of a yes man, not enough of a big personality, and, that old chestnut, not English. He was beaten twice by Spurs last season, and by his widely-maligned immediate predecessor, so ergo, what exactly is he bringing?

Alternatively there are other views that he’s just what the club doctor ordered: young, ambitious, cerebral and tactically-minded. He apparently likes structured pressing, offers up plenty of supportive stats for those who like that sort of thing, and his Southampton players stacked up well in a ‘comparison matrix’ (I’m not making this stuff up).

For my part, and for what it’s worth isn’t much, he wasn’t my first choice. I was erring towards someone like Rafa Benitez, a combination of many of the aforementioned characteristics and a manager who definitely does have the experience, coaching nous and the trophies to match. And, arguably, the personality, reputation and clout to best manage Enic and their rather particular way of running the club under a defined economic model.

instead, Spurs have got a bit of a younger, apprentice version. A man with a fair but modest track record. He has experience in the PL but sparingly so; by all accounts he’s an effective man-manager yet one with a promising tactical awareness. It’s a punt – all appointments are – but one invested with faith more than concrete evidence.

I wish him the very best. If you’re a Spurs supporter and you don’t then you perhaps need to reconsider what this football fan lark is about. But I have no idea if he’ll succeed or not – and that’s the way it should be. Here comes another record I keep on scratching, but it doesn’t matter what I, any other fan, twitterer, blogger, pundit, expert, ex-player, manager or DoF thinks. What matters is what the people who make the actual decisions think – and more importantly if they are going to stick by their choice.

In their welcome to Pochettino, the board have made all the right noises about winning mentality, a talented squad and a commitment to attacking football with an emphasis on youth. Fine, that’s good. But we’ve heard very similar all too many times – usually about 18 months before the latest project leader gets the boot. And let’s be clear about this: Pochettino was clearly not the owners’ first choice.

That’s understandable. A big beast like Louis Van Gaal was an admirable target, but out of reach. It’s hard for Spurs to take on Manchester City, Chelsea, and the other established Champions League sides with wage bills to match. Liverpool are now spectacularly back in the hunt, making that ambition to get in the CL, and make the more important challenge for trophies, much tougher propositions.

In truth, I don’t expect Spurs to actually achieve them. Brutal economics, regrettably, dictate that. But I do expect Spurs to have a better go at it. Wanting to play good, entertaining football that gets results is music to my ears. Bringing through youth gets a firm thumbs up. I’ll even support the club’s persistence with a DoF.

But please, Mr Levy, Mr Lewis: no more of this perennial, debilitating change. Give Pochettino a chance. Give him some proper and less equivocal say over recruitment. Let him have a decent stab at it. Two years at the very least, preferably more. Don’t panic and pull the plug at the first sign of a wobble. If noisy fans like me start moaning, ignore us. Stick with your own programme. You made the decision, after all. Now, back it up.

Spurs fans can help by, as ever, supporting the new man. I’ve never bought this idea the supporters are fickle and responsible for all the turmoil. Sure, the atmosphere’s been poisonous at times, with bizarre armed camps forming online over this manager or that and needlessly fracturing the support. But I haven’t heard too many calls for sackings and wanton disruption where it matters, at the ground. Maybe I’m turning a deaf ear on the few occasions I go it but it’s noticeable that through all those nine previous managerial dismissals, the fans haven’t really turned on the bloke in the dugout. It’s the owners that have done that.

So, its likely Pochettino will get plenty of support from the crowd. He inherits a curate’s egg of a squad. Good in places, not so good in others, and too much of an unknown quantity. Hopefully he can mould the clunky parts into a cohesive, functioning whole. Maybe he’ll even rescue the seemingly lost cause of Lamela.

The pair’s shared nationality can certainly help. In fact, it’s kind of comforting to see Spurs with an Argentinean streak again. It’s regreattable that Tottenham have never exploited that connection as well as they could have done. We should have made more of being the first club to successfully bring Argentineans to these shores in the wake of Ossie and Ricky’s dazzling success. Think of all that talent that headed to Spain and Italy that perhaps should have ended up in North London.

But that’s all in the past. What matters now is how the new ones fare, and already the new coach is making quite an impression. There’s a picture doing the rounds of what seems to be Pochettino looking very pleased with himself in the company of two ladies garbed in Stars and Stripes spandex, with Mauricio himself dressed in a nurse’s uniform and looking like Benicio del Toro. Maybe it is Benicio del Toro. I have no idea what’s going on. I’m not sure I want to.

You can’t quite imagine that first Enic manager, George Graham, being pictured in such a way, so there is some significant difference between the two at least. And there does seem to be a bit of hope engendered in the new guy, which was almost completely absent regarding his predecessor back in 2001. Hopefully, Pochettino fares well. I can’t admit to being that excited about this next instalment in the grand Enic plan. That’s not Pochettino’s fault, just that there have been far too many days like it to really believe otherwise this time. But good luck, Mauricio. You’re going to need it.

Now, how about a ticker tape reception at WHL?

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Let them eat birthday cake

THE football silly season has started early this year. Usually in a World Cup summer, the period of slow-news days has a relatively shorter lifespan. So perhaps the gods of stuff and nonsense are getting their work done now, before they are sidelined by the beano in Brazil.

That at least appears to be one explanation as to why the story of Yaya Toure wailing over a lack of birthday greetings is gaining so much traction. Alongside this heartrending tale of modern-day super-rich woe, there’s another goodie in the shape of West Ham putting Sam Allardyce on the naughty step. The owners are warning him that unless he bucks his ideas up and starts playing ‘entertaining’ football, there’ll be hell to pay. Or at least a nice big compensation cheque for when they sack him.

Yet while both yarns have the whiff of entries in some future, faintly amusing compendium of Football Babylon, they illustrate something else. It’s hard to recall such an overwhelmingly negative reaction from fans and other football lovers to such farces.

Let’s call it exasperation. Exasperation at the sport’s unerring ability to careen with great force up its own fundament. Exasperation at its bloated self-regard and self-serving codswallop. A sport so full of itself, it’s a wonder it can’t stare from the inside out at its own puckering arsehole. Sometimes football does its level best to make its fans think ‘you know what? I think I’ll leave you to it.’ And this felt like one of those days.

The grimy details of Toure’s hissy flounce revolved around the apparent absence of sincere greetings for the 31-year-old’s birthday. Note that age: 31. At a time when grown men should be worrying more about important things like their family, their place in the cosmos, and receding hairlines, Toure has been whining over whether he got a cake or not from his bosses.

If ever there was a perfect storm of misplaced arrogance and ego, this was surely it. Toure is an outstanding footballer and a phenomenally well-rewarded one. He does wonderful things on the pitch, but is behaving like a prize tool off it. There may be underlying reasons why he and his agent have chosen to act up – we can all guess as to the unsubtle opening move in an impending parting of the ways from City – but frankly it’s not worth caring about. The cake story on its own is enough to make you heave.

Down at the soon-to-be-vacated Upton Park, meanwhile, a group of owners who are traducing their club’s distinguished heritage by upping sticks for an Olympodome very few of the club’s fans want to move to, are banging on about traditions and the West Ham way. This is PR designed to impress the terminally thick. It just doesn’t wash. Aside from the contractual details of defining ‘entertaining’ football (is Kevin Nolan getting sent off entertaining? It sure is) it smacks of playing to some ill-defined gallery. Showing that owners really ‘care’ and understand what makes their club tick.

What Sullivan and Gold, and Toure, and all the rest of them do understand is what really makes the modern game tick – money, and loads of it. At their heart, that is what both these tales are about. Great big bulging stashes of the stuff.

Both of these silly-season stories are right to be reported. Each meets the requirements of a back page lead – exceptional footballer in dispute with his employers, the current league champions and FFP transgressors; East London PL franchise could dispense with its public face because the product needs to fulfil the needs of an entertainment business, and not just a results one.

Both stories are ostensibly about respect – for the individual and, (excuse the language) the brand. Ultimately, however, they revolve around money. The headlines about cakes and jolly cockney knees ups are simply the dressing.

It’s cash that lies at the heart of these and most other football narratives. The important topical ones – Richard Scudamore’s performance as Premier League chief exec, ongoing ownership controversies, the FA Commission, and the appalling neglect of grassroots football – are rightly covered on their own individual merits, but all roads inevitably lead back to money.

Even the forthcoming Champions League Final can’t resist. It is a great story to see Atletico Madrid reach the final, with a chance of achieving a famous double, but much of the build up has been about the vast disparity in wealth between Atletico and their regally appointed neighbours.

The same goes for the World Cup. What used to be a tantalisingly brief extravaganza, starring global talent and played by and large for the sake of the sport itself, increasingly resembles a bloodstock sale where gilded clubs and agents bid for emerging or biddable players. Less about national pride than shop-window promotion. Listen out for how many times a particularly fine piece of skill is greeted with variations on ‘that’s added a million to his transfer fee’.

I should at this point declare a sort-of conflict of interest. My living depends to a large extent on writing about football, so it’s rich to bemoan its riches. But there has to be a balance somewhere, and it seems like the scales have tipped way too far in the direction of avarice.

So much is so obvious. We all repeat the mantras about being against modern football, but modern football carries on seemingly regardless. It is largely immune to righteous anger. Yet exasperation gets us nowhere. It’s communication and organisation that has the best chance of delivering tangible gains.

The excellent DFAFS blog has outlined a plan of action that should whet some whistles.

And, as Martin Cloake often reports in his must-read New Statesman column,  supporters groups across the country are making genuine, positive strides. Modest steps for the most part, but important nonetheless.

Collectively they might not bring the profound earth-shattering changes many would like to see, but it’s got to be better than just worrying about football’s inevitable eternal damnation. Yaya can wallow in his birthday sulk and Sullivan and Gold can blow bubbles all they want. Football fans have got more important things to be getting on with.

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Oh Ledley, Ledley

FOOTBALL in May shouldn’t be like this. Drenching rain, a cold wind, and hundreds waiting on a platform for a train that never seems to arrive. A departing crowd making their way home after a fixture with nothing at stake. Getting pissed on in all kinds of senses, following another fruitless, financially extortionate season of disappointment, resentments and rancour.

It all seems wrong. This is the time of the year when the trophies should be won, on balmy nights when the floodlights aren’t required from the off, and the crowd are in a deafening frenzy. When you dare to hope the campaign will end with some glittery shiny thing, but won’t be too distraught if it doesn’t. It shouldn’t be a long trudge home in the aftermath of damp-squib end of a season – a campaign of drift and wasted opportunity when nothing much happened apart from the usual off-pitch turmoil, chaos and money-obsessed bollocks.

Yet looking around, all you can see are smiling faces, laughter and animated talk. A Spurs win being pored over with glee. Slightly over-awed kids clutching programmes, with mums and dads reminding them of the stellar talents they’ve just seen.

It speaks volumes about the Tottenham Hotspur of 2014 that the most enjoyable bit of the season came only after it ended. Ledley King’s testimonial was a cockle-warming pleasure from start to finish. A full house of 36,500 – many had apparently been turned away – saw Spurs stars current and past laying on the entertainment.

It was all fancy flicks and shimmies that often came to nothing but got the oohs and aahs they deserved. A midfield of Anderton, Davids and Ginola with Sheringham and Berbatov up front. Sign ‘em up, please, Mr Levy. There were loads of goals (forget the score), some re-assuringly inept Spurs defending, and a good old sing song, mercifully free of the bitterness and spite that has characterised far too much of recent times.

Even referee Howard Webb was revealed to be a member of the human race, joining in the spirit of the occasion. At one stage he took matters into his own feet and dribbled with the ball, before being kicked in the air by Lewis Holtby and then laughing it off as the crowd roared approval and applauded. Hell had frozen over.

It was only the friendliest of friendlies of course, with absolutely nothing at stake. A Ledley King Spurs XI played a Spurs XI, with the latter decked out in all-Lilywhite but on the receiving end of good natured boos. Every King touch was cheered. When the opposition went through the pantomime of conceding a first-half penalty, King was inevitably invited to step up and score in front of the Park Lane end and receive the acclaim

He did so with that customary element of shyness. To be truthful, he looked ever-so-slightly uncomfortable throughout. It was a reminder that while this was a charity-funding celebration, it was also a something of a memorial service for the passing of A great footballer’s brilliant, but in part unfulfilled career. “That’s life,” said King when Paul Coyte asked him after the final whistle about the cruel injuries that had robbed this magnificent defender of the hundreds more games he should have played. This was a bittersweet night at the Lane, all about memories, all-too fading glories, and what might have been.

But back to what had been. Coyte’s excellent master of ceremonies shift came into its own during a recreation of the 1984 UEFA Cup penalty shoot out. A team of MPs took on the role of Anderlecht (no, I don’t know why either) and were obligingly useless. Local MP David Lammy got a few jeers but mostly respectful applause for one of the worst pens ever. A video message from Boris Johnson was roundly booed.

For Spurs 1984, Graham Roberts did a Klinsmann dive in celebration, Micky Hazard came through the cramp barrier to score, Martin Chivers shot home while holding an umbrella, and Tony Parks set off in a recreation of his famous victory run but wisely thought better of it and pulled up after a few yards.

Such laughs. It was a telling illustration of how this club can get it right when it puts it’s mind to it. This was very well done by all concerned. Good organisation, and excellent value, with notably lots of kids and, at a guess, plenty of locals able to bypass the usual ticket logjam and come to the Lane.

The crowd did their bit too, save for the abominable Mexican wave. But that attendance and the reports that others couldn’t get in is worth noting again: on a dreadful Monday night of lashing wind and rain, following a season of expense, rows, and miserable thrashings, tens of thousands had shown up to pay tribute to the captain they loved and stayed to the very late end. An East London reared, home-grown defender who will forever be dear to fans’ hearts got the send off he deserved. A proper legend. Something for Sol Campbell to ponder, perhaps.

Yet for all the unashamed Spurs love-in, this was a night tinged with poignancy as well. During the half time penalty sketch, Ledley’s son Coby got to take part and he finished with accomplished ease. He’ll probably end up playing for Chelsea as they purchase their 7th European Super League Title in the future, but for that brief moment last night it was very touching to see the son of a Spur knock one in and take the acclaim of the White Hart Lane crowd.

I should be too old and too cynical for this sort of sentimentality. At the back of my mind was the thought that if Coby’s dad had stayed fit he might not have done the 10 years at Tottenham. But the sight of the two together struck a chord. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, players and supporters. The extended Tottenham family.

If only football could always be like this.

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Darren Alexander

A brief word on Darren Alexander, joint-chair of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporter’s Trust, whose funeral is today.

Darren was one of those larger-than-life types who didn’t just know so many people, but made such an impression on them all. Reaction across the supporter community to his untimely passing has transcended club tribalism and is an illustration of how much he was liked and by so many.

I was not a close friend of Darren. Those who were have expressed and written moving testimonies to his character, and anyone who did have the privilege of meeting him will recognise in the tributes Darren’s unfailingly generous nature.

Darren had time for everyone, and in his dealings with the wider Tottenham family, strove tirelessly to stick up for his fellow supporters regardless of who they were. You could argue the toss about Spurs, football in general and the way it is run endlessly with him, but always without rancour. There were no grudges, no agendas, just a love for the game and its supporters, warts and all.

My fondest memory of him is in the aftermath of Tottenham’s win at The Emirates in 2010. It was the first victory for Spurs at their place for 17 years – some kind of reward for all those who had so many trips to their place in vain. Darren was one of those who had more than done their time – this win was for them.

I spied him the midst of the joyous throng with a beaming smile on his face, but before I could say hello he gave me a rib-crushing hug. It was like a cross between getting a grapple from Giant Haystacks and a cuddle from a teddy bear.

 Darren’s joy was evident. He loved Spurs, loved football. He was a terrible name dropper and responsible for some appalling puns, but always delivered with tongue firmly in cheek.

That approach to life was needed in his role with the trust and other supporter organisations before it. It’s a thankless task getting involved with these things; every fan has got their view and too many are intolerant of others. Balancing those conflicting viewpoints, dealing with club owners, officials and politicians, all the while striving to achieve gains for supporters is difficult and often unrewarding work. The hard graft rarely gets appreciated. You need a thick skin, determination and a positive outlook to keep on doing it, and Darren had all of that in spades.

Arguably Darren’s finest hour was in his actions to help ensure Spurs did not leave Tottenham for the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. This didn’t make him popular with certain people, but the We Are N17 campaign was an example of fans’ passionate commitment to their club and the community that gave birth to it.

Darren recognised that, in the final analysis, football isn’t about £300k a week and pass completion ratios, nor agents, hangers-on and third-quarter revenue forecasts. It’s about place and people. And Darren Alexander was definably a people person. That’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.

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Enic out!? No – just do their job. The state of Spurs we’re in

ANOTHER weekend, another Spurs-in-crisis post-mortem on the following Monday. Look at the papers this morning and you’d be forgiven for thinking this is some member of the serially successful European elite that’s being probed and dissected, instead of a well-supported but perennially under-achieving also-ran. Such is the extent of the focus. For all Tottenham’s travails and persistent mediocrity, the club still has a gift for giving great copy.

The coverage has helped fuel a flurry of debate and navel gazing from fans and journalists. Depending on the take of individuals and some hard-to-ignore agendas, responsibility for the current chaos is distributed across the cast of managers, players, and directors of football (all past and present), and to varying degrees of culpability. But there isn’t enough focus on the ones really in charge – the owners.

Enic have controlled Spurs for 13 years. Critics of the Conservative governments of the mid-20th century described their reign as ’13 wasted years’ and there’s a forlorn sense that is what we are seeing with the regime of chairman Daniel Levy and his patron, Joe Lewis.

 In that time Enic have signed and sold a cast of thousands, appointed or sacked nine managers (or ‘head coaches’), and brought in four Directors of Football. The owners have enjoyed the benefit of capacity crowds paying top dollar, and drawn on unprecedented TV revenues. In those 13 years Spurs have won precisely one devalued trophy and qualified for the Champions League once. Average league position has improved by roughly five places. By their own measure of not tolerating failure in their managers, Enic would have sacked themselves long ago.

They won’t of course. They run the show and, having taken the club off the stock market and gained full control thanks to an ingenious share scheme, are accountable to no-one but themselves. Levy long ago made it clear what the English National Investment Company is about, and aside from directors’ fees, the proper return on that investment will come with a sale. But with no buyer on the horizon, it appears Enic are here to stay. An immovable object.

 The same cannot be said for their managers, who are moved on with unerring haste. Actually, ‘manager’ is a misnomer. Enic managers do not manage in the accepted sense. They pick the team (we can assume) and have a say in who is bought and sold (we assume) but do not have the kind of freedom to operate that Arsene Wenger, as an example, enjoys.

They are however the fall guy if things go wrong. Tim Sherwood, like all his predecessors, is now acting as a lightning rod for the growing disaffection. There are calls for his sacking, outrage at his press conferences, and mockery for his tactics, character, and in keeping with modern superficial ways, his dress sense.

Many fans have little time for him, and with good reason. He was an average player for Tottenham, labouring in the middle of the park and busy pointing fingers while the modern breed of mobile midfielders exemplified by Patrick Vieira showed him how it was really done. Since becoming a backroom operator at White Hart Lane and the training ground, he has been viewed with interest but also suspicion. Many Spurs fans haven’t forgotten his spiteful and damaging undermining of then boss Glenn Hoddle when Sherwood was ousted from the playing staff. Rumours of childhood loyalty to Arsenal might be superfluous in modern football’s disloyal world, but hardly endear him to Tottenham supporters.

 Yet without anyone knowing quite how, Sherwood has since established himself as a major figure at the club, under the mentoring of Harry Redknapp and with the apparent blessing of Levy. It is said Sherwood has long had his chairman’s ear, whispering advice and guidance on football matters and more besides. His work with the academy and coaches is, by common consent, something to be applauded, but seemingly there is an unmistakeable whiff around Sherwood that he’s a sharp and manipulative operator looking for the main chance.

It’s said ‘seemingly’ because few really know. That’s the point about Spurs. The club has always been political and opaque in the way it functions but those characteristics have been magnified in the 21st century. Who signs the players? The manager or head coach? The Dof? Or the Chairman? Are managers instructed to pick certain players? Who dictates strategy, tactics, and implements long term planning?

 Which begs the question: what is the long-term plan? It would be a nice idea. Whatever it is, it appears Sherwood won’t be around to work on it, at least as manager. He is already eyeing up a future role as Technical Director, publically voicing his ambition for another man’s job. It doesn’t make for petty viewing.

But if it’s hard to defend Sherwood it’s pointless to get too animated about him, either. He is a symptom, not a cause – a consequence of a culture created by others. No one at Spurs takes real responsibility. It’s the ‘not me guv’ school of business, whereby everyone from chairman to players deflect and shift blame for any failures. And it comes from the top. Whatever happens at Spurs, Enic always have a ready excuse to be absolved from wrong doing.

It is no surprise that their latest coach, with next-to-no management experience, and saddled with an ill-fitting squad not of his choosing, should be struggling. Andre Villas Boas, like so many before him, was not given nearly enough time over 18 months, so it is harsh to now condemn a rookie barely a third of a season into his shaky tenure. Sherwood’s 18-month deal that so enraged many was more a reflection of his canny grasp of how things work at Tottenham: see out the rest of the season as expected and the move on with compo in hand, or work out its full term. Either way, it was 18 months money, guaranteed.

Can anyone blame him? He has seen what has happened to his predecessors and reacted accordingly. When it comes to Spurs bosses it’s an interesting but minor diversion to argue about transfers, tactics, team selection, man-management, PR and all the other components a modern manager/head coach has to get to grips with, because Enic’s managers fare roughly the same. They enjoy an initial upturn in form and last on average about 18 months before, at the first sign of a wobble, being shown the door, departing with a generous payoff. Great work if you can get it, but no way to foster stability and build for the future.

Enic’s defence is that it is the DoF system that provides real continuity. In theory and in practice at other clubs, that has been the case. At Spurs, it’s just another example of the churn. There have been four DoFs since 2001. In fairness to Enic the most promising one, Frank Arnesen, left of his own accord, but none have been firmly established, nor had the scope to do fully execute their role. To compound the upheaval, in between these appointments it’s rumoured the board have held sway over player recruitment.

The response to all this turmoil is to suggest that the managers and DoFs simply weren’t good enough at their job. To which the counter is simple and valid enough: who appointed them? If the people being hired keep on getting it wrong, then maybe questions need to be more appropriately asked of who is doing the hiring. The two most successful managers of the Enic years have been ones the owners didn’t really want (Martin Jol and Redknapp). What does that say about Enic’s judgement?

This environment of instability and short-termism is pre-destined to create uncertainty and the risk of chaos. Chelsea have bought their way out it; Spurs can’t or won’t. So now the club is going through another dose of feverish uncertainty. The result is another unseemly mess of various factions jostling for position, influence, or compensation.

Where do Sherwood and Baldini, stand? Either way they’ll be quids in. The scout Ian Bloomfield is now back in the frame providing another potential challenge to Baldini’s position. Various Dutch candidates are letting it be known they are ‘interested’ in the job – and who wouldn’t be? Managing Spurs is a sure-fire way to be handsomely paid, succeed or fail.

While in the job, much of what these here-today, gone tomorrow managers have to say is irrelevant. But in Sherwood’s latest quote-friendly performance, there was one line that hit home, and hard. Asked if a new manager would be arriving in the summer, the stand-in said “The silence is deafening, isn’t it? It’s up to Daniel.”

It really is up to Daniel. And not forgetting Joe Lewis. When it is said that Spurs need a billionaire in order to compete, it’s easy to forget that they already have one. But one who hasn’t – and probably never will – put his hand in his own pocket to bankroll the club’s fortunes.

That is to be admired in many respects. The advent of the oligarchs and petro-billionaires who now own a number of clubs have made the task of self-sustaining clubs that much harder. It’s been a tough ask for Spurs to compete. Teams invariably finish where their wage bill dictates and Tottenham, operating around sixth in that domestic ranking, are doing well to hover around fourth or fifth place in the actual league.

Indeed fans of other clubs might be wondering quite what it is that’s exactly wrong here. Spurs are in good financial health, lie fifth in the table with an outside chance of securing a qualifying position for the Champions League, and are still in contention in this season’s Europa League.  

There have been a series of humiliating domestic thrashings, chiefly against the wealthier sides Spurs have been trying to compete with in recent campaigns, but it could be worse. ‘Just look at Leeds’, runs the narrative of the fearful and timid, holding up the bogeyman of Peter Ridsdale while thanking Enic for their prudent management of Tottenham’s comparatively weak resources.

There is something to be said for that. Enic have performed well in some respects. In the era of FFP, being solvent is no bad thing. The sumptuous new training ground has been built without a penny required from some generous benefactor. But progress where it matters – on the pitch – remains elusive.

So much for recent history. The question now is about what to do now. The call from many is to sack the latest manager. That will probably happen, but in all likelihood only temporarily staunch the blood letting and rancour.  Others want to press the nuclear button and get rid of Enic altogether, albeit without a realistic suggestion for replacements.

There is another way, however, and that’s for a quite revolutionary plan that will shake not just Spurs but football as a whole to its foundations. It’s for people who are very well rewarded to do a job to do it better.

One criticism of Enic is that they have been too risk averse, too unwilling to speculate to accumulate. They could show a bit more financial ambition without straying from the strictly assessed balance sheet. Tottenham’s transfer dealings over the last five windows show net transfer outlay that is small to the point of being negligible in the context of PL finances.

With the new TV deal in place, Spurs could spend that little bit bigger and not have to sell the star assets first. It might even enable them to hang on to the likes of Gareth Bale without the apparent fait accompli that they have to be sold. The mistakes of 2010, when the hesitancy to fully exploit the fleeting opportunity provided by Champions League qualification meant a frustrating season that ran out of steam, is looking more and more like a wonderful chance lamentably spurned. The owners apparently did not have faith in their own manager (Redknapp) to sanction substantial investment and it has come back to bite them.

But perhaps more important than the spending is a plan. Spurs can improve without the need for Lewis to dip into some of his billions. Bridging the gap to the elite is far from easy, but with the right people in place and given time, it can be done.  Appoint a Director of Football if that’s the way they really want to go. Let him pick a manager. And leave them to get on with their jobs over an adequate period. When things aren’t going quite so well, don’t panic, or pay heed to the calls for another cull. Have the courage of your convictions, stick by your decisions and make sure everyone knows you’re in it for the long haul.

Are Enic in it for the long haul? It’s a debatable point, as is what they really want for the club beyond an eventual return on their own investment. But this haphazard, short-term approach Spurs have now appears to be not just hindering progress of the team but constraining that potential profit.

 ‘To dare is to do’ runs the English translation of the club motto Audere est Facere, plastered around White Hart Lane and the spanking new training ground in Enfield. ‘To dare is too dear’, might be the more accurate modern definition, but that’s no excuse for Enic letting things slide the way they have. It really doesn’t have to be like this.

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SPURS FANS! Why waste time reading different sacked manager stories? Simply cut out and keep this handy recyclable guide!

IT’S that time of the year again, when people gather excitedly to celebrate the arrival of the messiah. It all harks back to an ancient faith that a star will appear somewhere in the East, and a saviour will lead followers out of the wilderness and on to the promised land.  Or at least Champions League qualification. Ba-dum-tish.

Now AVB, the latest great hope, has gone, it’s back to square one and looking for a new miracle for Spurs, along with the increasingly forlorn hope the new chap will really be “The One”. The unerring ability of the club to consistently mess things up is admirable in some ways. It takes a special kind of genius to get a club with such a rich heritage, based in London, playing in the world’s most lucrative league, with loyal-to-a-fault fans charged eye-wateringly high ticket prices – and yet still keep cocking it up.

Perhaps I’m missing the point. Maybe it’s not about sticking by a manager, trying to win things or at least having a good old go. Maybe it’s just about staying in the Premier League VIP Club. Progress on the pitch would be a nice bonus but the real model is to keep the engine ticking over without ever really hitting the accelerator. Within that model, managers and head coaches are inherently expendable (and handsomely rewarded for any failure, perceived or otherwise). This week’s bus driver for that particular route. And so Spurs are about to appoint their ninth ding-ding man in 12 years (excluding caretakers).

It is customary at this point to do a post mortem on the latest farce, attribute blame, and offer remedies. For what it’s worth I have my view and apportion fault and even some sympathy across a number of places. No one comes out of this well. But one cynic’s analysis is a pointless exercise with no effect on events.

Instead, given the rapidity with which Spurs managers/head coaches get the heave-ho, it might be more productive to do a piece that can be recycled for imminent future use. So, here’s a cut-out-and-keep template for the next Spurs Manager Crisis Shocka. Just delete/insert where applicable according to your view/events as they predictably, boringly pan out:

So, farewell _____________. It’s a crying shame     things didn’t work out/he was undermined/tactically clueless/a dead man walking.         A     win percentage/PPG ratio/dull, monotone voice              meant the sacking of __________   was      inevitable/very harsh/boring        and Daniel Levy/Joe Lewis/Lord Sir Alan His Lordship Sugar, Sire             should be      applauded/slaughtered/cuddled       for making the    brave/stupid/indifferent       decision to let him go.

Ultimately, what did for ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­__________ was that he lost         the dressing room/board room/his marbles/return tube ticket to Victoria.       A lack of Plan     A/B/C/D/E/F/G/H      was also a factor. It is believed that widespread criticism of         tactics/summer transfer targets/performances in the Xmas karaoke party        plus a bitter dispute over        job responsibilities/youth policy/Tudor Monastery Farm            led           Daniel Levy/Joe Lewis/ Lord Sir Alan His Lordship Sugar, Sire             to call it a day.

Media coverage has been predictably         informed/biased/superficial,      with      Neil Huskyvoice/Sam Wotshisface/Barney Heyhoe-Hipster in particular               fine/bitter/Satre-quoting     form.

_______________ is rumoured to be the replacement, though the compensation fee to         Swansea/England/Kuala Lumpur Meteors       will cost upwards of          £6m/£3.2m/bugger all.           Our sources                      understand/spin/lie               that                  Director of Football/Tim Sherwood/That burger van bloke on Paxton Rd             will remain in his role.

There are a number of big unknowns now. Can ______________ turn it around? Will ______________ revert to a               traditional attacking 442/a false nine sexy 433/an inverted nipples version of WM?

But maybe the issue people really need to consider is one that seems to have escaped many for  _______ years. When will proper questions be asked not of successive          managers/head coaches/Directors of Football  – but the people who appoint them?

 

 

 

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