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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Know Your Place

Following under-pressure Chris Turner's resignation from Hartlepool United, Nobes rails at delusions of grandeur in the game.

Chris Turner has ended his second spell in charge of Hartlepool

A question to begin with: Where is a respectable finish for a club who attract the smallest attendances in their division?

If you answered somewhere in the top half, a place on the board at League One Hartlepool awaits. If you answered somewhere in mid table, get yourself onto the terraces at Victoria Park.

If you answered avoiding relegation, then welcome to the real world.

Chris Turner's decision to resign as Pools boss last week was the classic example of a manager under intense, and wholly unwarranted, pressure who decided to jump before he could be pushed.

The North East side avoided relegation on the final day of last season by virtue of a superior goal difference to Gillingham.

It sounds like a close shave, but the fact is no club in League One attracted fewer fans through the gates than Hartlepool in 2009/10.

It's not like fans to let cold, hard realism get in the way though. Not with football, the game of dreams and ambition.

The modern day opiate of the masses - an opiate which seems to affect some people's reason.

This is a club, after all, who sacked previous boss Danny Wilson when they "slipped into the bottom half" of the League One table. A laughable move which has worked out far better for the current Swindon boss than his former employers.

Pools, and their fans, are a club suffering from delusions of grandeur usually associated with another stripe-donning United hailing from that part of the country.

Consecutive play off finishes - largely orchestrated by then boss Neale Cooper - in 2004 and 2005 was a huge overachievement for a club more accustomed to life in the basement division.

Along with Rochdale, United hold the record for spending the most number of seasons in the Football League without ever reaching the second tier.

Although getting there is not impossible, it remains highly unlikely. Their defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in the 2005 Play Off final may well turn out to be the closest they will ever come.

Disappointing, but not the end of the world. Indeed, relegation back to League Two would not be the end of the world to Hartlepool. That is the reality they, and other such clubs, must wake up to.

It may go against the very heart of any sporting competition - striving to be the best you can be and improve constantly. However, there must be a place for simply being content with where you are.

Don't rest on your laurels, don't get complacent, but also don't get carried away.

Overachievement should be celebrated - but not become expected. Fans must recognise when their team has punched above their weight and not lose perspective.

Take Preston supporters - spoiled by constant fights to finish in the Championship play offs under a succession of managers.

Competing to finish in the top six became taken as the norm for North End fans still living off the glory of the 19th century.

Did they not stop to realise that, actually, just staying in that division was more than acceptable for a club of their resources? Sometimes you don't realise - or refuse to admit - your club is overachieving.

Instead, success goes to the head. Fans come to expect more and more, and expect their club to continue to chase the success they crave.

Scunthorpe's success must be recognised as a short-lived exception

It puts clubs in a difficult position. They must always strive to find the right combination of showing enough ambition without being reckless.

If fans think relegation to a lower division is a disaster, they are wrong. Having no club to support is. Running a stable club and business must always supersede any dreams of competing at a higher level.

It's just the way things are in the lower divisions. You will always have teams, such as Scunthorpe currently, who punch well above their weight. They should be cherished and recognised - and serve as an inspiration.

However, Scunny fans, deep down, know their club is mixing with a crowd that, given their resources, they don't belong in.

It shouldn't stop them from trying to do so but, equally, not doing so should also not be seen as failure.

Across the board, at all clubs, there is a need for greater patience, understanding, and realism among football supporters.

Accept the size of your club, accept their limitations, and recognise how high they can realistically go. Enjoy any success, but know that failure is only ever just around the corner.

It may completely go against the grain of sport - the unpredictable stage where anything can happen. However, if fans did act in such a manner, just imagine how different things could be.

Managers may not come under so much pressure and resign or be fired by chairmen sensing unrest amongst supporters.

That in turn can lead to them trying to play more attractive and open football - rather than adopting a 'win at all costs' policy that threatens to stifle and spoil the game.

They would know going a certain number of games without winning would not lead to the sack but, instead, they would have time to turn things around and develop a team and pattern of play.

Matches would be more enjoyable, young players would be encouraged to express themselves and show more skill, and the entertainment the fans get for their money would also increase.

Clubs, too, would not feel under as much pressure to spend money they don't have to try and appease supporters who, wrongly, believe their club should be doing better than it is.

When you consider so much of the financial mess clubs find themselves in these days is as a result of over-stretching, and it could only be beneficial for their future financial health.

Of course, you'll always have loony chairmen or rich benefactors who believe differently and use a club as their play thing. Taking it to places they'd never have got to without significant investment.

Peterborough will never be a Premier League club, even if they reach the top flight with Darragh MacAnthony's money.

The moment when Wigan fall back into the Championship, too, they should be recognised as nothing more than a lower league club who bought a temporary place among the big boys.

Why? Because there are only a certain number of big boys in every division. The sooner fans of smaller teams begin to accept that fact, the better.

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