I found a memory stick with some stuff I wrote back in the early days of the National League season. After some editing (quite a bit actually), I’ve decided to put some of it out so newer fans can get a feel for how bad things really did get. I titled this article ‘Rent-a-Team’.
I’m aware that back in the day there used to be a programme on TV called Rentaghost. I don’t know what it was about, but I assume that someone used to rent out a ghost. It seemed apt to use the title, but adding a little context meant this rather odd opening.
You see, I’ve been trying to work out why it is that I feel detached from my club, and I pondered if perhaps it was a lack of affinity to the players on the pitch, in that we seem to have been renting a team on a game by game basis.
When I look back over the Imps teams I’ve loved of old, there has almost always been a player I have thought was ace. The very first was Paul Smith (the ginger lad from Port Vale not the clueless oaf from Forest), followed by (in no particular order) Gordon Hobson, David Puttnam, Tony Lormor, ‘Magic’ Johnson, Gareth Ainsworth, Kevin Austin, Peter Gain, Richard Butcher, etc etc. I’ve always had a player that I admired and cherished as if they were a member of my own family. I can’t even start on Keith Alexander, but I would say that if he had ever needed a bed in Newtoft I’d gladly have top and tailed.
However nowadays what do we have? The last two Imps players I really rated were Davide Somma and Ashley Grimes. I’ve got close to (admiring) Gavin McCallum and Muzzy Carayol, but have been left broken hearted both times. I’m telling you if Alan Power is gone by next season then I truly give up.
Remember Curtis Thompson? No. What about Luke Medley? Jason Beardsley? Jean Arnaud? Tom Richardson? These are players that the Imps have had on their books this season. I can barely remember the name of the longest-serving player. In reality we have nobody with whom we can identify. I feel like a step child being passed from family to family, with all these different faces making different promises and yet constantly being disappointed.
I am beginning to have a real affinity for Alan Power, a player who reminds me a little of Dean Keates when he gets on the ball. There is no doubt had Keates stayed at Lincoln we would have been in contention for automatic promotion, and players like him and Power have the ability to drive a team. The thing is they need a team to drive forward.
David Holdsworth has begun to put a team together, but it only ever seems to last for a few weeks before the new guard comes in. In truth I don’t think Holdsworth can solve this problem in a week or even a month: we need some stability over a season or two. Just like the product of a broken family, we will begin to resent the very thing that we should cherish. Our team begins to become a source of much disappointment rather than of hope and optimism.
So, how do we move forward here? Well, Mr Dorrian really has to make a crucial choice this summer: does he give Holdsworth the chance to build a club, or does he turn elsewhere once again to start from scratch? I personally believe it is time to give a manager the benefit of the doubt and trust in him. When I hear Holdsworth speak I can’t decide whether I’m listening to move Sutton / Tilson style propaganda or whether his impressive rhetoric and forthright views are for real. If they are for real then I think he could be worth another season.
After all, it’s not like we can get much worse, is it? We’re currently locked in a battle with Alfreton Town, Bath City and Hayes and Yeading to avoid an away trip to Solihull Moors (I wrote ‘Motors’ here originally, I thought that was their name until they got promoted) next season: that’s as bad as it’s been in over 125 years of proud history.
Perhaps if Holdsworth does stay and starts to build a side then there are signs we could have a new set of favourites. After all, Paul Robson has had a steady start to his Imps career, but he looks to have a lot of energy and a great long throw. In midfield, I’ve already touched on Power, but Thompson and Christophe have both put in some decent performances. Up top, we’ve got some experience in veteran strikers Louis, Pacquette and McCammon…. It appears that slowly but surely we are beginning to get the nucleus of a side that might be able to strike a chord of appreciation down in my success starved soul. Add into that little mix the quality of the seldom-seen kid Francis Laurent and you begin to wonder exactly how we have failed to pull away from the basement with ease.
Signs are further evident in some of the performances of late. Southport were easily put to the sword and they’re chasing promotion and we matched high flying Kidderminster as well. Telford should have been dead and buried by half time. However, that lack of cohesion is costing us constantly, whether it’s the defence and midfield that are detached or the fans and the club.
With Hindsight (written May 6th, 2020)
What do I know, right? Okay, Alan Power went on to do well, but the nucleus of the side I spoke about disappeared by the time the following season kicked off. The Holdsworth rhetoric turned out to be a mixture of both; strong words but never having a settled side to back them up. We did sink lower, needing a late surge to avoid relegation a second time.
Francis Laurent never surfaced as talent, McCammon, Pacquette and Louis were all gone quickly and it was, in fact, Jamie Taylor who emerged as a decent striker, along with Vadaine Oliver. Paul Robson’s promising start turned into nothing too; some have him as our worst right back of modern times.
The sentiment was right though; we did need to get back to that settled side and that is what gave us grounding over the coming years.
Using loan players as the nucleus of your squad is a route to disaster. I still believe that, we saw in 2011 when things go bad, loan players are not the way forward. Peppering your squad with borrowed quality, young and experienced, is not a bad thing, but you must own the spine yourself, with them playing for their futures, not simply to impress when they go back somewhere else.
Or, in the case of some of the lads mentioned in the article, barely playing at all, for anything.