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!


Have your say