It was January 2017 when I last reported on this side of the Pennines, which is not surprising, given the season(s) – and close seasons – we’ve had recently. it’s a bit quieter now, so I thought it a good time to revisit before things get lively again. Some of the clubs I visited have improved their circumstances, others have seen their situations worsen and quite a few of them are now sharing a division with us, not all in the best of circumstances.
Indeed, some will make you wonder why all the fuss about us finishing fifth and missing out on promotion against Charlton, who themselves are not in the best of circumstances, given the owner is looking to sell and appears to have already given up on promotion, although he hadn’t ruled it out completely yesterday.
Charlton fans are welcome to post their thoughts but Charlton are not the issue today, the focus is firmly on the historic County of Lancashire…
…and we start with Morecambe who on my last visit were still dealing with Diego Lemos, a Brazilian who bought the club and installed a wealthy friend, Abdulrahman Al Hashemi, as co-chairman. Towards the end of October 2016, when the club were struggling on the pitch and wages were owing (they were paid a week late), Mr Lemos stopped coming to games. Shortly after this Mr. Al Hashemi resigned, claiming he had been misled. From there things seemed to go downhill, with all sorts of financial issues, a transfer embargo and Mr Lemos nowhere to be seen.
All that’s in the past, as some of you might know, with us having been there last season. Bond Group Investments Ltd took over the club some 13 months ago. Initial thoughts on the forum of the Shrimps trust weren’t particularly positive as little information was forthcoming but Morecambe secured their future in League two shortly afterwards and managed to stay up after some end of season wobbles last season. Since then it has emerged that the owners are willing to sell, so it’s a case of watch this space, and will those early misgiving prove to be well-founded?
When I left Morecambe last time it was with the question Will it get as bad as affairs at Blackpool?
Well, maybe, maybe not…
…After protracted legal processes Blackpool were placed into administration so that the club could be sold and money repaid by Karl Oyston to Valerie Belokon in February and the supporters trust ended their boycott of the club in March. Since then there has been at least one expression of interest, as outlined by the supporters trust, <ahref=”https://www.blackpoolsupporterstrust.com/Site/LatestNews.aspx” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>with the administrators remaining tight lipped. I don’t know where this is going but I think it’s in the right direction.
On 7 May 2017, five years to the day after dropping out of the Premier League, the club saw their second relegation since being taken over by their current owners as they descended into League One–the first Premier League champions to sink into the third tier.
Never mind. They managed what we couldn’t and stayed there only one year. In fact, promotion was guaranteed in April 2018, thanks in part to Danny bloody Graham (I saw him score for us) who scored 17 times over the season and continued a run of form which helped Blackburn stay up last season. Did Jack Rodwell also help? I know he did turn out for Blackburn and my season ticket holding son-in-law said he did alright but as yet his contract hasn’t been renewed.
Given that Tony Mowbray remains in charge I’d not expect the club to struggle on the field next season. However, that’s beside the point as the Venkeys still own the club (although there are takeover rumours in the wind) and supporters remain unhappy. Attendances rarely top 15,000 and that’s not going to generate enough funding to allow the club a serious promotion challenge. There’s a post on the fans’ forum that summarises how people feel and has echoes of events at Sunderland. You might ask who of Blackburn or Sunderland is in the best position. They are, being a championship club and likely to remain one, and yet I feel Blackburn fans aren’t too comfortable.
From Blackburn I moved to Wigan, who managed to get themselves relegated then promoted, thanks in no small part to goal machine Will Grigg, who also scored the only goal in a cup match against Man City. Last season they did flirt with relegation but stayed up and I wouldn’t be surprised to see something similar next season.
Even so they are a lot more stable than Bolton, who in January 2017 had just staved off a winding up petition, which they followed with promotion. However, they couldn’t resolve their off-field issues and went back down with a points deduction following administration. Players went unpaid and staged a strike, which may yet cost them more points. Could it get any worse – well, how about feeding your staff via a food bank.
Yet there might be a rescue in the offing. Apparently buyers are queuing up, as befits a founder member of the Footbsall League. This one could run.
Bolton aren’t the only Greater Manchester club we will visit next season. Bury came up from League Two despite some ridiculous off-field issues. Players and coaching staff are leaving- there isn’t a full complement of first team players – and current owner Steve Dale is trying to sell the club before a High Court hearing could leave them facing administration. As if that wasn’t enough Matt McCarthy, who joined the Board in December, and who seemed to have the fans’ confidence, has left after just six months. I wish Bury well, but I fear the worst.
Being Liverpool based I usually finish my ramble with a mention of Everton and their search for a new stadium. First, though, I think it appropriate to congratulate their neighbours Liverpool for another European Championship, ably lifted by Jordan Henderson, and to ask if you knew photos of their welcome home parade were used by a Donald Trump fan to demonstrate how popular POTUS was over here?
Anyway, back to Everton. Plans to move to Bramley Moore Dock appear to be moving ahead and perhaps we’ll see something rising on the banks of the Mersey by the time we’re back in the Premiership. The architects involved have just won an award for something else and we are promised a fine stadium. Don’t hold your breath, though, consultations in the summer will be followed by submission of plans so there’s some way to go and for next season we’ll have to make do with a trip to Prenton Park.
Purists will say that takes me into Cheshire. True now, but I last visited in 1995, when The Wirrall had L postcodes, from Liverpool, which was historically in Lancashire. It was not until 1999 that the posh burghers of Prenton achieved a CH (Chester and therefore Cheshire) postcode. When I went it was the last game of the season and we were already Champions. Luton were being relegated and, like Tranmere Rovers, destined to leave the Football League. 3 year old Max Power could probably have breezed past us as a full house – mainly red and white – saw Tranmere amble to a 2-0 win. Max went on to play over 100 games for Tranmere and will no doubt be looking forward to returning, although it won’t be for the first time.
I had no sympathy when Tranmere went down because they had refused to sell me a ticket for that game but they have since paid fully for their transgression and I’m pleased to see they are proving to be a proper, well-run, community-focused club, the only one in the League to be owned and managed by former players. I’m so impressed I’ve joined the supporters trust as a gesture of solidarity despite the posh postmark being off putting. Welcome back, Tranmere Rovers.
I could go on but I’ve already gone past 1000 words and I think I’ve done enough to demonstrate that we really could have been a lot worse off had things gone differently last summer, although that wasn’t my intention. I’ll leave it at that for now, although it would be good to hear from supporters of the clubs I’ve visited today. There must be some interesting views out there……
and keep the faith, all of you.