Brando's Blog News The Blogs

Take a deep breath and count to ten

“May you live in interesting times” (Chinese proverb)

It’s been an interesting ride so far hasn’t it?  Life as a supporter of the Milton Keynes Dons very rarely offers much in the way of mid-table obscurity, or anything that could be described as being even remotely run of the mill.

This might go on a bit, so apologies and all that, but there’s nothing on the telly, so what else are you going to do?  I should also say that if you’re of a delicate nature and don’t like the idea of criticism, this might not be the best thread for you to read – what I should state for the record is that I’m clearly not talking about you.  I know you’re ok and able to take criticism appropriately.  It’s the others.  Ok? 😉

With the usual apologies to the fans who followed the club up from London, as a new club, there are some things that we’re not very good at.  That isn’t all that surprising I guess, but it does help to sometimes spell it out – there are situations that are either new to us or that we have only encountered once or twice before.  That’s true at pretty much every level of the club, from the chairman to the supporters and in those situations it can be difficult to know what to do or how to react.

One of the issues is that as supporters, we often have trouble accepting that there isn’t actually anything that we should do.  One of the symptoms of our relative newness is the lack of a steadying hand at the core of the support, who might share the frustrations of the more reactive members of the support, but who’ve been there and seen it many times before and know that firstly it’s just part of football, secondly, that it’s someone else’s job to sort it out and thirdly that we have a different role to play here.

There’s a fundamental difference between those who have a bit of a whinge and a moan and those who expect their whinging and moaning to have an outcome.  The big difference is that those who expect to have an influence can end up working against the best interests of the club, often without even realising it.  Now I know YOU  mean well – I really do (though I’m not sure about some of the people who sit near you – they worry me) but it’s worth stopping for a moment and clearing up what I see our respective jobs are in this:

Responsibility of the supporters

  • Putting their hard-earned cash into the club
  • Getting behind the team during matches when things are going well
  • Getting being the team during matches when things aren’t going well
  • Getting cross and uptight about stuff
  • Abusing the officials
  • Abusing Rob Hall (apparently)
  • Showing the next generation what to do

Not the responsibility of the supporters:

  • Team selection
  • Manager selection
  • Chairman selection

That it’s not their responsibility doesn’t mean that supporters shouldn’t sometimes express their opinions on the above, but the significant point is that they shouldn’t expect their opinions to be taken seriously in any way at all.  Like it or not, none of us know how to manage a football club.  I’ll repeat that slowly.  None – of – us – know – how – to – manage – a – football – club. Your opinion is just that – an opinion, and an uninformed one at that – you being taken seriously about stuff just because you’re angry doesn’t help anyone and in the long run it just makes everyone’s job harder.  There are extreme situations where the supporters could and possibly should have a part to play in the above, but we are not, and have never been in any of those situations.  The fans of Blackpool and Coventry to give just a couple of recent examples would give anything to just have to deal with the issues that some of our lot are so hot under the collar about.

One of the issues with expecting supporter opinions about the team or the manager or the chairman to be acted upon is that extreme reactions become just a normal occurrence and they lose the impact they should have, leaving just a general sense of unpleasantness around the place.  Take yesterday’s game against Charlton and the fact that the players were booed off at half time for example.  Now I recognise that it was a terrible half of football – truly awful – but the previous manager has already been sacked and the new guy is trying to find a way to get results from what he’s inherited.  What do you think that booing his team off is going to do, and how can that possibly have anything other than a detrimental effect on the manager and the players?  The gaffer makes some changes, we had a better second half, but still lost and at the end of the game there’s booing and chants that the players aren’t fit to wear the shirt.  Where is that leading to, and in what way could it possibly help?

The calls for Neilson’s head have now changed in some quarters to calls for McCiccie’s head (after 5 games?  lol) or calls for Winkelman’s head (be very careful what you wish for) and it’s all getting a little ridiculous.  Other clubs have dealt with and continue to deal with far more than this – we should really count our blessings at times.  So take a deep breath, count to ten and get behind the team, the manager and the chairman.

I often hear that because they pay their money, people have the right to express their dissatisfaction in any way they choose.  I’d argue that it really isn’t much of a response, doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny and it’s time it was challenged.  We all have the theoretical right to do many things, but generally we don’t do them because it’s either unpleasant, unwise or just wrong.   What you don’t have the right to do is express your dissatisfaction in any way you choose without being criticised for it – that’s how freedom of speech and expression works, and just in case of doubt, I criticise you for it.  Yes you!

If you think there are players out there who aren’t trying their best for the club, and that somehow your football experience allows you to see this, but that the manager and coaching staff somehow aren’t as clever as you and have therefore missed it, do you have any idea what that makes you?  To avoid any confusion, let me make it really clear – it makes you part of the problem, not part of the solution.  If you think you’re helping, then you’re wrong.  If you think you’re somehow acting in the best interests of the club or the supporters, then you’re wrong.  Just an opinion of course, but I’m entitled to that aren’t I? 😉  Take a deep breath and count to ten, then get behind the team, the manager and the chairman.

The need to ‘do something’ throws up some odd suggestions – I saw one yesterday that we should all now apparently support the team but not support anything that would go to any of Winkie’s other businesses.  It’s the sort of presumably well-meaning but poorly-thought out suggestion that comes up at every club in difficult times.  (The other businesses keep the club going by underwriting its losses, so you can’t harm that without harming the club if you’re a detail sort of person.) Take a deep breath and count to ten, then get behind the team, the manager and the chairman.

If you’re the sort to be doing the ‘I’m going and I’m not coming back’ sort of pouting, then (prepare yourself for this) please just do it quietly and let the rest of us get on with supporting the club.  Fans come and go at every club, and if coming to support this club isn’t for you anymore, then it’s a shame and all that, but we’ll cope without you.  If my experience is anything to go by, once you’ve had a break you’ll get a different perspective on it and you’ll be back and enjoying it again, but the more you build it up now the harder that will be.  Either way, either go quietly or take a deep breath and count to ten, then get behind the team, the manager and the chairman.

Responsibility of the Manager

  • Bringing the right players into the club
  • Coaching and training them to be better players
  • Bringing youth players through into the first team appropriately
  • Selecting the right team to perform on the pitch

Not the responsibility of the Manager

  • Pandering to the whims of the supporters, however angry and well-meaning they may be

It’s a difficult situation for any manager, particularly one staring relegation in the face, but I’d really like to see him show a bit of honesty right now.  Personally, I’d give anything to hear him say “the fans who get behind us, they’ve been fantastic, but those who boo and those who only seem to get on the players backs, I’d really appreciate it if they didn’t come back, at least for a while – we’re in a difficult enough situation without the players feeling pressure from their own supporters”.

Shankly said it best “If you can’t support us when we’re drawing or losing, then don’t bother supporting us when we’re winning”.

Responsibility of the Chairman

  • Bringing the right management team into the club
  • Providing the manager with appropriate funds to perform on the pitch
  • Misleading supporters about how good it might be this season to maximise season ticket sales 😉
  • Getting out of the manager’s way
  • Safeguarding the financial security of the club

Not the responsibility of the Chairman

  • Pandering to the whims of the supporters, no matter how angry they might be

Winkie has created something of a rod for his own back in recent years.  His openness, his optimism, his connection to the supporters and his willingness to accept he’s made mistakes are all things that we’ve rightly hailed as being real positives.  Right now those things are coming back to haunt him, and he’s going to have to accept that he can’t please all the people all of the time

His sacking of Robinson and Neilson following fan pressure has created an environment where there is an expectation that fan pressure will lead to him acting, and he needs to make it clear that isn’t going to always be the case.  His defence of fans rights to behave in whatever way they choose towards players, manager and himself has made it difficult for him to exercise control if that gets out of hand.  When Ince said that we didn’t need the sort of fans who booed him off against Oldham in our club, Winkie should have agreed with him, not sacked him.  He should still have sacked him of course, but not for that.

His suggestion that we should be vying for promotion this season has been called ‘lies’ by some elements of the fanbase.  It’s ok to upset some people Pete – it really is.  The majority would understand.

There ought to be a point in all of this, so let me see if I can make one.  I urge every one of you to get behind the team, get behind the manager and get behind the chairman.  If those around you aren’t of a mind to join in, then so be it, but don’t get caught up in all the negativity, however tempting it is to do so.  You can’t control anyone else (although it’s fun to try sometimes – people really hate it) but you can control you.

If we get relegated, as looks likely, then so be it.  It’s part of football, we’ve been there before and we’ll go there again.  It’s not pleasant, but in the wider scheme of things, it’s just a bend in the road.  Take a deep breath and count to ten, then get behind the team, the manager and the chairman.

Come on you Dons!


Brando's Blog News The Blogs

Brando’s Blog – End of Season Review – 2015/16

Well that wraps it up for 2015/16 then.  Quite a season really.

It was a season that started with a degree of hope, a sense of belief, built on last season’s general wonderfulness, and a feeling that, unless something truly awful happened, we would probably be alright.  It all started so well too – that beautiful sunny day in Rotherham where we got our first taste of Championship football, and it tasted good.  I can remember chatting to people on that day and saying “this league isn’t so tough then is it?”.

The MooCamp Radio Show 3.07 - Listen Now!
It’s All Gone A Little Wrong This Season

We were top of the league too!  I think the stats for the season show that we were top of the league for longer than everyone else in the Championship except some of the others.  Can you tell that I can’t remember where I saw the stat?

Anyway, a good start swiftly gave way to a pretty poor season.  We tried to play our passing game, building from the back, and keeping possession, and we kept on getting caught out.  Some teams were pressing us hard and we were making mistakes, while others just sat back, let us have the possession and waited for us to balls it up.  We rarely disappointed.  The swagger of last season had gone, and much as we persisted, it just seemed to be a little out of reach.

There were many reasons for our struggles, and they’ll be argued over for many seasons to come, but there are a few areas where I think we got it wrong.

First of all, Robbo said at the start of the season that he would be putting his faith in the team that got us promoted.  That sounded like a brave move at the time, but it also felt like the right one – we had a team of players who knew how to play with an for each other, and that should be a real head start for us.  Clearly, it was the wrong decision, but just how wrong it was wasn’t really clear at the start.  First of all, we didn’t have the entire team that got us promoted, and any suggestion that we would be able to compete at a higher level without adequate replacements for Dele, Benik and Will was probably naive to say the least.  We did bring in replacements in those areas, but it would be an understatement to say that they didn’t fill the shoes of any of the players that we’d lost.  We also discovered as the season went on, that a significant number of the players that we did have from last season just weren’t good enough for the Championship.  That’s the overriding reason for me that we’ve been relegated, and it’s the most obvious I guess – our players weren’t good enough for this league.

The MooCamp Radio Show 3.03 - The MK Dons Finest Hour
The MooCamp Earlier Today

Secondly, we tried to play the same game that had been so successful for us in League 1, and kept trying long after it was clear that it wasn’t working in the Championship.  Pretty much every team seemed to know how to play us, and were able to stop us playing our game, at least in any areas of the pitch where it mattered.  Our possession statistics were the best in the league for considerable periods of the season, yet our league position, our shots and our goals scored were the exact opposite.  I felt until way past christmas that it would still come right for us, and that we were right to keep playing that way.  I also felt, probably rightly, that we weren’t set up to play any other way.  I was wrong, as we eventually proved, much too late, that we could dig in and grind out points away at places like Hull.  An earlier change to our style of play, and I think that we’d still be playing Championship football come August.

Thirdly, we weren’t strong enough, both physically and mentally, either as individuals or as a team.  We didn’t have the stamina to hold on to games we were winning or drawing in, and gave away large numbers of points in the dying stages of games.  Our confidence went early on, and it hasn’t returned.  We didn’t fight hard enough to keep possession when challenged, and we didn’t fight hard enough to get it back when we lost it – there was a noticeable difference between the ruthless efficiency that we saw from the majority of our opponents and our own ‘nice’ approach.  Just the games that we threw away in the last few minutes would have been enough to keep us up.

Armitage Shanks - The MooCamp Radio Show
That’s Our Season Down The Pan

Fourthly, we seem to have completely underestimated pretty much every element of what was required to compete in the Championship.  At a fans forum towards the end of last season, Robbo claimed that he “didn’t need a top half championship budget to compete in the top half of the championship”.  According to a table that was published fairly early on in the season, we had the lowest budget in the championship, and Rotherham just one place above us had a budget that was double ours.  At the same event, Robbo also said that if we went up, we “would have the pick of the loan players from top premiership sides”.  That clearly failed to materialise, perhaps due to the higher financial expectations for loans at this level meaning that we couldn’t actually afford them, and also perhaps due to clubs not wanting to send their players out to a side that was losing all the time.  It’s possible to argue that this means that we were doomed from the very beginning, but it’s not easy to understand how Winkie got this one so wrong.

As well as the challenges for the players and the management, it’s also been a season-long learning experience for the fans.   We’ve had to get used to losing more than we’re winning, which has been a rather useful reminder of just how successful the club has been in recent years.  Since the relegation under Danny Wilson back in 2006, we’ve not had a season where losing was the norm, and a lot of our fanbase weren’t around back then.  We’ve also had more ‘issues’ amongst the fans at away matches than in previous seasons, combined with stricter stewarding and policing, which is something that we need to get better at controlling ourselves.

Season Highs

  • Rotherham away on the opening day
  • Being top of the Championship for a week back in August
  • Frustrating the hell out of Hull
  • Filling the stadium against Chelsea
  • Wednesday away – my favourite away of the season
  • The walkers and kayakers to Fulham
  • Daniel’s equaliser at Bristol City
  • Dele becoming the darling of English football
  • Players, manager and fans applauding each other after relegation was actually confirmed against Brentford
  • The lap of appreciation after the Forest game
  • Robbo confirming that he’s staying

Season Lows

  • Relegation being all but confirmed against Rotherham
  • Robbo getting booed at the end of the Rotherham game
  • Antony Kay’s goal at Leeds
  • Making Bolton look like Barcelona at their place
  • No Tony Stratford at the end of season awards
  • Gifting Huddersfield three points at their place
  • The MooCamp Radio Show misplacing it’s radio station
  • Getting hammered at home by the Saints
  • Burnley showing the real gulf between us and them
  • Hearing Chelsea Dagger on the radio at some point in April and thinking ‘I haven’t heard this for ages’ then realising what that meant
  • Lack of progress on the training ground.
Florian Sturm
The Annual Out of Context Sturminator Pic

There’s a nervousness as we start to look forward to life back in League 1.  We ought to be able to compete in the top-half, but we’ve not won a game in two months, and it will take something quite significant to turn that losing mentality around.  The last time we got relegated, we reached the playoffs in the next season, but that took Martin Allen to shake the club up and turn things around.  It remains to be seen whether Robbo has what it takes to turn us around, and whether Winkie is able to provide the support that he needs.  Expectations will be high – I’d be happy with a side that’s pushing for the playoffs next season, but I have a feeling that won’t be enough for many.  If we did manage to find our way back into the championship, then whether we’d be able to find a way to compete I really have no idea.  That will be a nice problem to have I guess.

Bring on the Euros, bring on the pre-season friendlies, and bring on the 2016/17 season I guess.



Match Day Match Reports of Sorts News

Match Report – Dons 1:4 Brentford – 23/04/2016

On St. George’s day, nobody wants to be the dragon.  Everyone wants to be the one left standing, sword in hand, prodding the bloody corpse to make sure all life has gone.  Sadly this year we celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday as the dragon, and we were coughing out smoke instead of  breathing fire.  Though we’d hoped for a different ending, we were finally put to the sword.

We’re relegated.

cropped-MooCamp-plastic-fan.pngWe can all point to games where we could have salvaged points – there have been many – but as Robbo succinctly said in his post-match interview, the table does not lie at the end of the season.  We’re going down because we’re one of the worst teams in this division, and that’s been proved beyond any doubt.

This match was a pretty good analogy for our season.  We started well, took an early lead, but very quickly found ourselves pegged back to level terms.  Then our confidence went, the opposition were playing with a swagger that we couldn’t match, and we resorted to a hoofing the ball forward, vainly hoping for something to happen.  Then we started making mistakes, and we fell further and further behind.  Injuries led to unplanned substitutions, planned substitutions had a lot of people raising their eyebrows and an air of resignation fell across the stadium.

Bootsie, Radar and friend.
Bootsie, Radar and friend.

We huffed and puffed but as a team, we really didn’t look like we had any ideas how to get ourselves out of it.  There were some poor performances individually, but some very strong ones too.  On the poor side, Cody Cropper had a nightmare of a first half (though it was oddly entertaining to watch at times) and was substituted at half time, though it was reported that was due to an injury.  Charlie Burns struggled as Cody’s replacement, and any lingering optimistic hopes we had were damned as the goals went in.

On the positive side, Josh Murphy had what I’d say was his best game in a Dons shirt, and will rightly be in demand come the end of the season.

The most positive thing about the day was the reception given to the players and manager at the final whistle.  We’d just been relegated, but the fans, players – both loanees and contracted – and manager stood and applauded each other.

This season has been a painful one.  We’ve worked so hard to reach the championship, and been found wanting at the first hurdle.  The post-mortem has been going on for months already, and will surely continue for a while longer, but for now, we need to lick our wounds, support each other for the final two matches, and finish with a smile on our faces.

I’m gutted, but still proud of what we’ve done this season.




Match Day Match Reports of Sorts

Match Report – Wednesday 0:0 Dons – 19/04/2016

One of those ‘not sure why that was so good, but it really, really was’ kind of evenings.  Still buzzing from it a couple of days later to be honest.  There were a number of ‘why on earth are you going?’ questions that were thrown my way beforehand, but it was a bit like Saturday, in that I felt I really should be there.

No opportunity for #Coachwars, as there was just the one coach, although I did my best, with #coachwarssoundtracks bringing the best of a series of Desert Island Disc podcasts.  Chris Hadfield, Kylie and an author, activist and feminist whose name escapes me all shared their life stories and their record collections, and the journey went quickly.

Hillsborough is a difficult place to watch football.  As soon as you see the away end from the outside, it still looks exactly the same as it did in all those news reports from 1989.  It’s eerie and I find it hard not to feel like some sort of tragedy voyeur if I spend too long outside there.  I took a walk round to the memorial, which I always find a moving experience – this year, with our match being so close to an anniversary, and particularly with the jury currently being out, it felt doubly so.  There were messages and flowers from some of the families, which I found difficult to read, so I made my way back to the ground.

We weren’t expecting many of our lot, and it felt a bit like an away match of old – I recognised pretty much every one of the 185 of us who made the trip, and there was just a good feeling about it.  We know we’re down (unless something ridiculous happens repeatedly over the next few weeks, but more of that later) and everyone just seemed happy to enjoy the ride while we’re still in the championship.

Leppings Lane
Leppings Lane

So we’re relying on a miracle if we’re going to stay up, we rarely score (to be honest at the moment, we rarely shoot), our main goalie is out for the rest of the season, our number two goalie is suspended and we’ve got our academy goalie Charlie Burns making his full debut.  Our most consistent defender is on 14 yellows so one more will see him out for the rest of the season.  We’re playing a team who have resources that simply are in a different league to us, and who are in the playoff spots.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well to be honest, it went rather well, all things considered.  Charlie did himself proud, making some good saves throughout the game.  Wednesday hit the woodwork about a hundred times, and didn’t seem to have their shooting boots with them when they managed to get into good positions.  Wednesday went down to ten men after one of their lot decided to literally kick Johnny Williams up in the air while the ref was busy booking one of their lot for diving (harshly I’ve heard since).  Johnny Williams got assaulted by one of their supporters when he got substituted, Robbo intervened to protect him, and all the while, the Wednesday players, bench and fans were getting more and more hot and bothered.

The crowd were getting on their backs, and were we even remotely threatening as a football team at the moment, we’d probably have gone on to win it.  Sadly that wasn’t to be, but we knew that a draw would be enough to keep us clinging on for four more days, and cling on we did.

Wednesday on a Tuesday
Wednesday on a Tuesday

What made the evening so special for me was that we felt united as a fanbase.  We were all in it together, we all sang together, we all laughed together and we generally all had a great time together – none of the frustrations and annoyances that have been part of other away trips this season were there, and it felt great to be there together.  Thanks everyone.

Come the final whistle, as the other scores came in, it became clear that everyone else had drawn too.  That meant that Charlton were relegated, we were still nine points behind the three teams above us, but interestingly, Bristol City had dropped back into fourth from bottom.

Odd as it may seem, there’s still a chance for us to stay up.  If we win our remaining three games, and Bristol City lose their remaining three games, we will stay up.  While I could easily see Bristol City losing their remaining three games, I really can’t see us winning ours, so it’s not going to happen, but it keeps it alive for one more game.  If we win on Saturday and any of the other four lose, then we’re still clinging on, but the Bristol City goal difference means that it really has to be them.