So it’s not been the greatest start to the season for Argyle, who now prop up the table with just three points from seven games. That’s worse even than at this stage last season. While talk of a crisis is premature, any team still winless by mid September clearly has issues.
At times like this, communication with the fans by the manager and the club is a delicate business. Nobody expects club websites and social media accounts to be full of doom and gloom, but equally it’s no use breezily saying everything is fine, nothing to see here, move on please.
Unfortunately the manager in particular has not acquitted himself well on the communication front in the last couple of weeks. To be fair, life as a football manager must be pretty miserable sometimes. You push the players hard in training, draw up a strategy and then on Saturday afternoon watch horrified from the touchline as your carefully laid plans go up in flames minutes after kick-off. Then, to add insult to injury, the media’s all over you and the Monday morning quarterbacks are having a field day on Twitter.
Managers are only human (even Steve Evans, apparently) and the often uninformed criticism of armchair experts must be deeply irritating. Social media can be a toxic swamp and it’s understandable that many managers choose to avoid it. So maybe it was no surprise that when asked by the Plymouth Herald for his opinion on social media the day before the Bristol Rovers game Adams’ said,
“I don’t read it. I don’t take part in it. I don’t know why I should.”
The ‘I don’t know why I should’ part of that quote is a bit worrying though. The club ‘should’ be aware of what’s happening on social media because it’s about the only way to get a sense of what the paying supporters are thinking and, more to the point, what will keep them coming to games. Refusing to engage with those views suggests a disregard for the fans’ opinions, which is unfortunate as I don’t think for a minute that Argyle are really indifferent to supporters.
Adams went on to say that; “Some people will be on it (social media) that don’t understand the running of a football club and they don’t know what is happening behind the scenes.” Of course people don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes at the club if you don’t tell them! That’s especially worrying when the start to the season has been so poor and supporters are desperate to know what is being done to deal with the problems they see on the pitch.
To be fair, Adams has talked about some of the obvious issues, especially in the defensive area. And of course, it’s a fine line. Humiliating underperforming players in public is counterproductive and we expect a club’s website and social media accounts to have an optimistic bias. But there’s a narrow margin between positivity and delusion.
The constant references to perceived shortcomings on the part of the officials (especially un-awarded ‘stonewall’ penalties that would have turned Argyle’s fortunes round) and insistence that despite losing by a three or four goal margin the performance overall was good, are wearing thin. And again after the Bristol Rover’s stalemate, “We should have won by a couple of goals.” Then, on Sarcevic’s miss in the same match, “We deserved to score that goal at that time.” A glance at social media will show what fans think of ‘should have’ and ‘deserved’.
And the less said about last week’s post-match interview, in which the manager reminded the press pack that we had finished above Portsmouth last season, the better. When even the most partisan Pilgrims fan could see that we’d just been comprehensively played off the park, Mourinho-style petulance towards the media did not go down well on the supporters’ buses heading back to Devon.
As for the bigger issues behind recent disastrous performances, the manager’s view that; “We just need the tide to turn a wee bit in our favour” also stretches credibility. Everyone can see the defence is short on pace and that the new centre backs lack the cohesion of last season’s Bradley/Vyner partnership. Everyone can see that the Carey / Lameiras / Taylor show is misfiring this year. Everyone can see that too many passes are going astray, too many hopeful balls are being lumped forward in the general direction of the lone striker and too many chances on goal are being squandered.
It’s also obvious that we’re missing the players who left in the summer and that the jury is still out on the new signings / loanees (with the possible exception of Macey and Ladapo). That’s clearly reflected in the fact that only two players – Macey and Connor Grant – have started all nine of the season’s league and cup matches so far. When a team hits mid September without a core starting eleven, that’s a cause for concern. These are all problems that go way beyond a few harsh refereeing decisions.
Is it too early to panic? Yes, of course. With 85% of this season’s League games still ahead, there are 117 points left to play for. But the thing about stats is that you can make them tell any story you want. So a pessimist might point out that if Argyle’s current form (3 points from 7 games) continued, the Pilgrims would finish the season with 20 points, 12 fewer than Bury amassed last season on the way to a rock-bottom finish and relegation.
I don’t have a crystal ball but I do have a season ticket, so I fervently hope it doesn’t come to that. But the manager and the club can’t stick their heads in the sand and refuse to talk about issues that are evident to everyone else. Do that and the fans will start to become disillusioned and drift away. Because let’s face it, following a football club is an expensive and time-consuming exercise and fans don’t want to feel ignored or taken for granted. A club can bang on all day about supporters being the 12th man, but that talk has to be backed with action.
Unfortunately, last week saw another communications car-crash, this time directly involving Argyle’s supporters. Here’s the Herald quote in full.
‘The Scotsman has noticed one trait among some people in the south west of England that he does not like. Adams said: “What I do see sometimes in the area is that it might be sunny and beautiful today, but somebody will tell you it’s going to rain tomorrow. That’s something in the personality here which does concern me. We will never change it. If there is a positive, somebody always wants to get a negative in, which is not a good thing.”’
Leaving aside the question of whether football fans in the south west are really any more gloomy than their counterparts in London, Manchester and Newcastle (or Scotland for that matter) when a team is losing, having a dig at the supporters whose money pays the wages rarely ends well. You’d have expected a collective face-palm moment among the backroom staff at Home Park when that particular quote hit the Internet and a scramble to bury the story pronto. But, bafflingly, it then appeared verbatim in a post on the Argyle website. What sort of message is the club trying to send out to supporters? Beats me.
Now Adams is a passionate man. The best managers often are and for that reason we indulge them when they occasionally go too far. But fans are always more forgiving when a team is winning and right now Argyle isn’t.
Does all this matter? Isn’t this ‘communications’ thing just meaningless fluff? Well no – fans aren’t stupid. They can see what is going on in front of them on the pitch and no amount of PR spin is going to persuade them that it’s all ok. Mindlessly repeating the ‘we pulled it round last season, we’ll do it again’ mantra won’t work without any discussion of what’s happening behind the scenes to make it a reality. Unwillingness to share with fans what is being done to address the calamitous opening to the season will lead them to conclude – rightly or wrongly – that there is no plan. The inevitable result will be disillusionment and a slide in home and away attendances just at the time the men on the pitch need the Green Army the most.