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Archive for the ‘Scunthorpe United’ Category

Byrne Baby Byrne

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Apologies for the pun in the title, but it really holds water.  Even if fire doesn’t! And you’ll soon realise why…

I thought I’d pen a few thoughts on a season preview for Scunthorpe United, as we attempt, (the prerogative word!), to build on last season’s rather disappointing 18th place finish post-relegation back to League One from the Championship. And having gone to every single away cup and league match last season, (thanks to a mix of my bank overdraft & student loan!), I’d like to think I’m better placed than most to pontificate on where it went right, wrong and everywhere else in the middle for Scunthorpe United in 2011/2012.

But more importantly than all the above, as to what the occasionally mighty Iron can do to put it all right in 2012/2013 – and the developments / progress (if only!) thus far to achieve that aim. Don’t even mention the word promotion: it’s not even in our wildest fantasies at the minute!

Ask any Scunthorpe United supporter as to what moment of our summer thus far sticks out most of all, and absolutely all of them will say it was the heartbreaking release of club captain, and bona-fide legend, Cliff Byrne – after 9 years of absolutely wonderful service for Scunthorpe United. He was certainly the biggest surprise of the release of 10 players, and it prompted an unprecedented outpouring of emotion: both immediate and long-term from very grateful fans of Scunthorpe United.

Having originally signed for us on loan from Sunderland back in 2002, before going to star for 9 years, 9 crucial goals, and 266 league games – he came to symbolise the dying idealism of a club, especially its players, being in touch with its fans and loyal to the last. A blood and thunder defender, comfortable at both Centre-Half and Right-Back, he was well known for giving supporters lifts back into town from the ground after games – and was an absolute born leader both on and off the pitch for us. A truly dying breed.

Indeed, he is due to complete his UEFA ‘A Licence’ coaching qualification over the summer, and it was expected that Cliffy would be with Scunny till the cows came home, rather like Ian Baraclough made the ultimate transition from player to captain to coach to manager. If only eh? Despite his release, I wouldn’t bet on him not returning at some point. Sadly, I haven’t won the EuroMillions yet – so I can’t do it myself!

Seriously though, upon announcing his signing for the Latics – Oldham manager Paul Dickov was waxing lyrical about all that Byrne will bring to the Lancashire club. The angry Scottish midget doesn’t know the half of it! And no doubt the Oldham fans don’t know just how lucky they are!

Forgive the sentiment – but this is the power of football, and it is a dying experience for football fans. Even down at the lower league level. Just look at Fleetwood Town, and so many others – if you want to see the way that our once sacred national sport is going: at all levels. They say loyalty is non-existent from some of the players: and that’s probably right in fairness. But Scunthorpe United’s experiences of the summer of 2012 seem to show that it’s a 2-way street after all!

Alan Knill, much to my dismay – seems to have been ridiculously non-apologetic about it. Byrne Baby Byrne as you chuck them on the fire you might say…

Alongside the 9 other players that Scunthorpe United have released: ranging from Championship stalwarts Eddie Nolan, Garry Thompson, Michael O’Connor and Sam Togwell, to the USA soccer student done good Andy Wright, to our very own ‘Steve Harper’ Josh Lillis, to the simply disappointing Jordan Robertson and to the tragic youngsters of Aron Wint and Ashley Palmer.

There’s no doubt that the squad is going to be significantly trimmed down: although managing to create a tighter, more efficient, cheaper and successful unit is extraordinarily difficult at the best of times! Released by Swindon; Callum Kennedy comes in the building at left-back, and ought to be the type of young, hungry cliché that Alan Knill is desperately hunting for. Whether or not he can be a successful defender in League One is where the acid test lies.

The likes of Mike Grella and Christian Ribeiro though, fresh off the back from successful loan spells with Bury and ourselves respectably – provide decent potential for a competitive side in this league, but there needs to be more of them: and they needed to be provided with decent service. Released by Derby: the young James Severn comes in as understudy to our very own local lad done good Sam Slocombe. The former has zero competitive league experience, and the latter was signed from a local Saturday club for £3k. Significant question marks hover over them both – but that is symptomatic of the entire time really.

The fact that we’ve currently only got 2 full-backs on our books at all, 1 fit centre-half and can’t score more than a single goal in a game to save our lives, (having lost out on signing last year’s loanee cult hero Jon Parkin to Fleetwood), is trying to be swept under the carpet in what has been the singularly most un-ambitious pre-season transfer wise I’ve ever known. The hatful of undistinguished trialists hasn’t helped either. For Christ’s sake – Eugen Bopp has just been released by York!

Even on the pre-season tour of the Republic of Ireland that I attended, the number of trialists was perplexing – especially as none of them were any better than the likes of Byrne, Togwell et al. There’s nothing wrong with trying to rebuild, but a bit of continuity never goes amiss. I’ve long since given up on quality!

But so many questions reign supreme, on the basis we’re certainly shorter on numbers, and (for me) thinner on quality than we were last season – it certainly can’t bode well for 2012/2013. Not being a betting man, I don’t keep up to date with these things – but if you can get a decent price, Scunthorpe United being relegated is definitely well worth a cheeky punt.

Sorry Alan, sorry lads – I hope I’m wrong, I really hope I am… I just can’t see it.

Not that that’ll stop me being at Crawley away as the League One season kicks off mind though!

Without Cliff, and an extra sprinkling of quality for the Iron – I really do fear we’re about to Byrne Baby Byrne.

Written by Max Bell, We Are Going Up’s Scunthorpe United blogger

Max tweets at @UseTheLeftWing

What’s a better word than disappointment?

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Well, success would be nice!

But honestly– with Scunthorpe United finishing 18th post-relegation, labelling our season a “success” would be violating the Trades Descriptions Act. To be avoided if possible!

It’s been a long, painful season of upheaval –where for a considerable few months, we flirted dangerously with relegation and a return to League Two for the first time since 2005. Thankfully, following an active January and a brief scoring flurry, Scunthorpe United live to fight another day, and shall be battling in League One in 2012/2013.

If you searched the Scunthorpe category on WAGU, you’ll notice it’s been a quiet 2012 for myself. With ourselves having been consistently underwhelming but avoiding Armageddon – nothing of real note has punctured the latter half of our season. We were saved by there being enough sides slightly worse than ourselves, 18th was about fair.

Indeed, where we would have finished without re-signing David Mirfin, alongside our new cult hero  Jon “Beast” Parkin is anybody’s guess. Successive relegations without Plymouth-esque financial Armageddon is perversely impressive achievement for any side really. There was a revolving door of loanees, ranging from Sam Johnstone to Jamie Reckord and Connor MacAleny, but all never stretched to being emphatic or enigmatic sadly.

But it’s no surprise to see that fellow defender Paul Reid has been publically pleading for Mirfs to stay! Nobody has even tried to get Parkin to do the same – he’s miles out of our league financially for permanent residing. I’ll bare my backside in Scunthorpe Primark if he signs up full time!

A run of 1 defeat in 9 games through late February and March slowly guided us away from the bottom and into the relative happy bliss of mid-table mediocrity, virtual respectability and hopes for a summer season of rebuilding and pushing for brighter things next season. A particular highlight of this run was a wonderful cliché of Yeovil away.

With the first game having been postponed due to frost, (Scunthorpe fans had got as far as Cheltenham!), we desperate wanted the re-arranged fixture to be on hassle-free. So when the supporters coaches reached Bristol and were engulfed in fog – worries were rampant! Thankfully, the game managed to go on regardless, (even if the views were terrible).

And to cap being 300 miles away from home, (we weren’t back till well gone 3AM!), a Jon Parkin 94th minute equaliser sent the 100-strong Iron contingent delirious. Whilst not the most important, it was certainly my favourite personal moment, having travelled to every single Scunthorpe United away game this season… Apologies – none of us are perfect!

If nothing else, we did have a unique record. Having drawn more games than anyone else in the entire football league – an unwanted mass of 22 draws from just 46 games. The all-time record in English professional history is 23. Bloody typical, only 1 away from matching the record!

In all seriousness though: this has long typified our woes. With manager Alan Knill having been fortunate not to have been sacked at the turn of the year with us 2nd bottom – the fans deserve huge credit with having stuck by the manager and players though the very tumultuous year. We’re a patient bunch!

Ranging from exciting draws away to Charlton, to dull and shocking affairs against Chesterfield & Wycombe, they have marred our season: for whilst we have been defensively sound for huge parts, the goals have for far too often: sorely lacking. Chris Dagnall sold, Bobby Grant blunt. Not a good partnership or combination at all.

And the final twist in the tail is one that had been expected per se, but not quite in this manner. With the budget confirmed as being decreased for next season – it is as yet unknown as to whether we can yet build a successful team in Knill’s mould: or find ourselves creeping ever further backwards for a wee bit longer.

10 players have been released – including the likes of decent and honest club servants such as Garry Thompson, Sam Togwell, Eddie Nolan, Michael O’Connor & Josh Lillis. All have been regulars throughout the season – and despite having option of automatic renewal over some, the gaffer has instead opted for a clear-out. That by nature requires putting by-products out to pasture. Hard to take – but not shocking:  Especially when considering our financial motivations and league position.

That said – what truly was a shock was the release of adored club captain Cliff Byrne after 9 years of wonderful service that kids of dream of giving to clubs. Popular with supporters, and completing his UEFA A Licence coaching qualification in the summer – it was hoped that the blood & thunder Right-Back would be with Scunthorpe United till the cows came home.

He and the fans have been placated with the promise of a benefit match, (with him one year short of a testimonial), but it’s just not the same…

After all, he’s guided us through 3 promotions, and arguably our most successful historical purple patch. So for him to be callously let float in the wind of uncertainty post-release is heart-breaking. With Cliffy known to not be on a fortune – it was particularly perplexing.

But what can we say? This is the nature of modern football, although it’s rare you hear interviews with local radio stations where the footballer is clearly genuinely heartbroken post-release. The same is true of the fans, and the outreach of support on Twitter has been wonderful.

Nothing in football ought to surprise me anymore. For Christ’s sake, Steve Kean has still got the Blackburn job.

So with Scunny now having one goalkeeper, no full-backs: and a shockingly blunt forward line – who knows what could happen next? Indeed, I might win the lottery and invest to see the return of Cliff…

It might be the only chance we’ve got of promotion any time soon! See you all next year.

The top of League One, and the Championship were good whilst they lasted… But who really wants to go back there eh?

Written by Max Bell, We Are Going Up’s Scunthorpe United blogger

Max tweets at @UseTheLeftWing

 

To Sack or Not to Sack

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

‘To Sack or Not to Sack, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end!’

Sorry to butcher the once proud words of Hamlet, but it really is rather apt for the situation Scunthorpe United find themselves in.

And I thought it was time for a blog from the club in League One who are arguably under-achieving to a greater extent than all others, (no offence to Preston North End fans!)

And let me get this absolutely spot on – I absolutely hate clubs sacking managers, especially my own!

I didn’t agree when Scunthorpe harshly dispensed with the extremely popular Ian Baraclough last season: and I wouldn’t have agreed with sacking Alan Knill throughout this season, but enough is enough and it may be time to go.

Don’t get me wrong – as an individual, I’m arguably more supportive than your average home fan: haven’t booed once this season and won’t be starting just yet! Indeed, this very author has sang in favour of Alan Knill at every single away game this season: bar none. So when I turn round, and with a very heavy heart – and admit that it’s maybe the time for a parting of the ways: it clearly shows it all. What a Christmas present for us all eh!?

We’ve all seen the League One table. We know that lack of investment post the departures of Gary Hooper, Paul Hayes, Grant McCann, Matt Sparrow, Nigel Adkins and Martyn Woolford has a big part to play – but the fans still deserve better than this. And more importantly, we all know that Scunthorpe United: post-relegation, sitting thirdrd bottom post Christmas, is simply unacceptable.

The players themselves must take a huge share of the responsibility and blame for this. When they compare their bank balances to the league table, they ought to hang their heads in shame. For it is their performances, and their shocking mental fragility and at times – spinelessness that will cost Knill, and very possibly – his coaching staff, their jobs. Not the other way around.

The first half performance at home to Bury on Boxing Day, was absolutely excellent – but this only serves to highlight the side’s desperate problems. For if every time the Iron concede, there is going to be a mental and physical collapse of epic proportions – then nothing awaits but League Two. This is simply unacceptable.

A chunk of the players will no doubt be rightly moved on in January and had the team been just a bit higher up the table than where they currently are, this blog – and no doubt the lion’s share of the supporters – would have wholeheartedly supported Alan & co. whilst restructuring accordingly.

But sadly, we may be in too much of a hole, and in far too deep – that Alan may not make it that far. Whether either Assistant Manager Chris Brass or Goalkeeping Coach Neil Cutler, (whom Knill both brought to the club alongside him when he walked out of Bury to join Scunthorpe in March this year), also remains to be seen. It appears to hang in the balance.

So we also thus fear that it may be time for a change of manager, as much as we absolutely loathe the possibility and detest the action. But frankly – we may have no choice. No other club would have possibly been as patient as Scunthorpe United under the circumstances. Christ, Hartlepool dispensed with the very respected Mick Wadsworth whilst sat in mid-table: and Preston did exactly the same to Phil Brown. The club have given Alan time, and rightly so – for it is only with time that anything resembling positive achievements can be grasped by any football club. You cannot purely sack your way out of trouble.

But we cannot give Knilly infinite time, and with us one game from being halfway through the season – Scunthorpe can’t seem to buy defensive strength or even a win for love, money or murder – these are worrying times indeed for the Iron.

Sat with a worse record than previous manager Ian Baraclough’s, (now First Team Coach to Sam Allardyce at West Ham United,) and with arguably a better squad given the League they’re playing in – Knill can consider himself fortunate to an extent – to have got this far.

Indeed, it appears that – much to the Shakers’ fans’ disappointment: that he has just about survived the severe blow recieved when his former club Bury rocked up on Boxing Day and beat Scunthorpe 3-1 to send them crashing into the relegation zone. I have a lot of sympathy with the Bury fans, whom – distraught that their manager left them with only eight games left and on the verge of promotion from League Two – they’re now more than welcome to enjoy their time above he and his club in the table.

But frankly – and regardless of how loud she was in bed, (that’s how the song went!), rather risque chants about Alan Knill’s daughter went far too far over the line. For the otherwise excellent 1,000 strong contingent from East Lancashire – really did embarass themselves. I’ve not been so dismayed about away fans’ behaviour since Grimsby Town rejoiced at the suicide of Brian Laws’ first wife.

But if against all odds, Knill & co. can make it to the game against bottom of the table Chesterfield on New Year’s Eve: then it is a must-win game if ever there was one. Indeed, if the North Derbyshire side were to avoid such a fate at Glanford Park, the board would surely have no choice whatsoever as to sack him sadly. It breaks my heart to type it, but it’s true.

So it appears that the once-styled Ginger Mourinho hangs by a thread to his job in North Lincolnshire. If that thread is sliced, or if: against all logic, hope and evidence – the mouse can churn the milk into butter and float to avoid death – remains to be seen. But the judgement is likely to be extremely close to hand.

And nobody should be arrogant enough to think that successive relegations are out of the question. Plymouth appear to be on for a three-fold achievement, and Grimsby – who weren’t even in Plymouth-style financial armageddon territory – did it as well.

So the previously incomprehensible must now not be so. Indeed, it is staring Scunthorpe in the face.

We as fans would love nothing more than for Alan to be here for the next decade and for the club to be wonderfully successful in the process, but if they can’t pull the rabbit out the hat and find a run of wins from somewhere: he’ll be heading back west across the M62 with his P45 in his jacket pocket.

But who could replace him you’re no doubt screaming? Frankly, I think it inappropriate to speculate on successors whilst Alan is still in a job.

And whilst certain tiny minorities may think it wise to protest – arguing, not even at Christmas, has never solved any problems. Ever. It only ever serves to inflate certain morons’ already unduly giant egos: and must be avoided at all costs. The support for all was there to see during an excellent first half – but the players have got to learn to produce it for two, and to take three points in the process. Easier said than done judging by the evidence so far mind you!

But if the worst comes to the worst – I do believe that there are qualified, and interested alternative successors available out there. Be they managing in League Two, the Conference – or just plain out of work.

But let’s pray it doesn’t come to this. And the clash against bottom of the table Chesterfield is the type of game, above all else: which calls for unity and support. If Knilly makes it to Saturday still an employee of Scunthorpe United FC, then we must get behind him and the players, and just pray for a win.

Because by jove – we f**king need one…

Written by Max Bell, We Are Going Up’s Scunthorpe United blogger

Max tweets at @UseTheLeftWing

 

The Draw Magnets

Friday, October 28th, 2011

A bit like a fridge magnet, only less exciting – and incredibly more frustrating!

15 games into the season and Scunthorpe United have only won twice: an appalling record by anybody’s standards, (let alone post-relegation) and one that you would fully expect to find a side heavily ensconced in the relegation zone right? Wrong.

Only bottom of the table Yeovil Town having failed to win more games than us so far, (indeed, they’re the subject of our only home win so far. See this blog for more details!) but a gob-smacking 9 draws have already come our way with less than a third of the season gone so far, therefore we find ourselves comfortably in mid-table. 16th is not brilliant by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not suicidal. And this is only thanks to our draws. Quite poetically stretching our overall record to exactly a point a game.

Not only have we drawn more games thus far than anyone else in League One, but of the entire Football League and beyond. Some bloody record!

But still – post relegation, sitting in 16th after a third of the season, (it will be post-Saturday), is a record that would have many fans screaming for the manager’s neck, but not us.

Knilly retains the support, respect and admiration of 99% of all fans of Scunny – especially those of us who go away from home when we can. What I said in the Allan Johnstone Paint Trophy Quiz here very much still applies.

This is despite the record showing very little sign of improving and collapsing either way. Indeed, rather like Huddersfield’s unbeaten run – you can only imagine it stretching on for a good while longer yet!

A fantastically gritty win over Stevenage and coming back from 2 goals down in the last 7 minutes against Charlton have been our benchmarks this season – and it’s what we’ve needed to follow thus far. But an extraordinarily lack of a clinical nature, or a desire to press the self-destruct button at times does make you wonder.

And stealing a point in the 94th minute against Walsall would normally send fans home delirious. But without some woeful defending and gob-smacking greed and wastefulness, we’d have won the game comfortably.

This is our ultimate crux – how do you solve a problem like drawing, Maria? And believe me, if she’s a bit dapper at the football, no doubt we’d draw with her as well!

Our draw against the extremely impressive Huddersfield is another case in point. A 2-2 draw is not to be sniffed at, especially with our 88th minute equaliser – but shocking defending for their 2nd, and two appalling penalty misses took us away still shaking our heads.

Ought we be greedy and demand more – or just be pleased for consolidation? As any honest football fan will tell you; the clash between heart and head is always tough, but the heart invariably wins the battle!

And all right, we might have been robbed against Wycombe, had 10 men against Sheffield United and so on, but I just can’t take 9 draws already. For Christ’s sake – we only drew one game away from home all last season!

But what do Wycombe, Preston, Charlton, Colchester, Sheffield United, Walsall, Brentford, MK Dons and Huddersfield have in common? Yep, you guessed it; attracted to the irremovable force of the Scunthorpe United draw magnet.

And even when we managed to keep a first clean sheet in 25 league games away to Brentford, a rare blank was managed to be found. Just a week later the same affliction occurred at MK Dons. Combining defensive steel and the ability to find even a single goal has as yet been impossible for us sadly. That simply has to change if we’re to shed our magnetic nature.

And on Saturday we’ll take on Les Parry’s Tranmere Rovers at home. They’ll be understandably desperate to seek revenge on us; for the last time we met them was back in May 2009. A last-minute Cliff Byrne equaliser at Glanford Park threw us into the play-offs instead of them and we spent two glorious seasons in the Championship thanks to it.

But quite frankly – we’re desperate to play down the magnitude of the game, and just take 3 points by hook, crook or just kidnapping Les Parry’s grandma. Let’s make sure that we leave that poxy draw magnet well away from the pitch as well.

Who knows, it might even be a cue for the one game thumping, or the little run of victories that all Iron fans have been praying for, and waiting for – for the last 3 months. Or is that too much to ask?

Never!

Written by Max Bell, We Are Going Up’s Scunthorpe United blogger

Max tweets at @ironsocialist

Throw that monkey off our back!

Monday, September 26th, 2011

No, not literally – that would be a little bit strange. But you know what I mean!

We might be ten games into the season, but Scunthorpe United – at home to Yeovil on Saturday – have finally secured their first league win of the season. At long last, the team have thrown the proverbial ape off their backs!

You try and use a bit of kidology now and then, but the setting of reasonable targets – like getting a first league win of the season, or the first league clean sheet since March – aren’t really our yearnings. But to be honest, in North Lincolnshire the claret & blue skies have been begging for a few points to rain down.

Appointed back on the final day of March 2011 – current Iron boss Alan Knill gave the Iron brief hope of Championship survival with stunning wins against QPR and Crystal Palace but it was too little too late. In the end, the club were relegated by more points than they were adrift when Knill’s predecessor Ian Baraclough was shown the door.

Then 9 league games into the season Scunthorpe were yet to chalk up a single win. Some post-relegation hangover.

But we Scunthorpe types are a fountain of optimism, and some can point to just moments where the side have lacked ruthlessness – or top quality performances against the likes of Sheffield United and Charlton, good comebacks against Walsall and the Addicks, and just being plain robbed against Wycombe. Oh, what might have been.

But playing well, or just a few shortcomings to finesse back to perfection, is no consolation when the team are sat 4th bottom, when tipped for better things post-relegation. An awful lot of clubs, and their fans, wouldn’t have had a huge deal of patience after such a run.

But this isn’t the case with Scunthorpe United. The sacking of the popular Ian Baraclough was a rare blip in a distinguished history of being the ultimate antidote to the hiring and firing policy of so many clubs. Even Doncaster Rovers sacked O’Driscoll this week for example.

Rather than resort to any knee-jerk reactions, the fans were superb and at Walsall, despite trailing for much of the game, the undying support for the manager and team was there for all to see. The away army were absolutely fantastic.

That support has taken a while to be rewarded, but the home win against Yeovil was more than enough for Iron fans to head home happy.

Two goals either side of half-time from Damien Mozika – who at previous club Bury was forbidden to cross the halfway line under current Scunny gaffer Alan Knill no less – secured that much needed win, despite a thunderous penalty from Yeovil’s Paul Wotton in the third minute of first half stoppage time.

But the truth is, Scunthorpe played poorly. Yeovil had a hatful of chances and nine times out of ten won the game. 18-year-old Manchester United loanee keeper Sam Johnstone kept United in the match and the visitors still managed to miss an open goal from five yards out through Kieran Agard. Fernando Torres eat your heart out.

In so many of the games Scunthorpe have not won this season they played much, much better. Oh the conundrum! Our prayers were answered with a win, but is it too much to combine the two? Probably.

Knill’s side travel to Stevenage next Saturday, hoping they can fire themselves further into the comfort of mid-table mediocrity, but it’ll be no easy task. Many of Stevenage’s tactics are arguably “anti-football.” I hate that phrase anyway but I’ve always had a soft spot for any underdog and in this league, they’re certainly that.

But they are direct and physical so hopefully Scunthorpe are ready to win ugly. It’s what they need. Frankly, after so many of the mental and physical rollercoasters home and away this season, plenty of the Iron fans deserve just a few weeks of quietly successful rest!

Baby steps, baby steps I hear you cry, and rightly so. Scunthorpe got the monkey off their back with that first win, now they’re staring it in the eye.

I know Caesar from ‘Planet of the Apes’ was an amazing creature – but get the ape and put it where we want it. Thrown in next door’s bloody greenhouse and as far away from the team’s backs as possible!

But that might take a few decent performances, victories and clean sheets first.

Careful, you’ll get me excited!

Written by Max Bell, We Are Going Up’s Scunthorpe United blogger

Max tweets at @92dreamsofiron

Time for a Refereeing Revolution

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Yep, you read that title right. Indeed, it is absolutely time for a refereeing revolution.

Not quite like the recent urban riots or the English Civil War mind, for as funny as seeing Mark Clattenburg dancing round Trafalgar Square with a stolen TV to N’Dubz, or Howard Webb making Mince Pies illegal would be – it might distract us from the blessed football!

But there can be absolutely no doubt that we need a radical, irrevocable, and all encompassing re-shape, and frankly – revolution – of how the refereeing of English football is conducted, regulated and performed.

This is not a TalkSport drunken rant post-defeat, but something that’s been stewing in me for a long time, and has finally come bubbling out. And time for full disclosure: I am a fully qualified referee, and up until recently – did so regularly. This was before being threatened with a knife at half-time by a player I’d just sent off.

So this is a view from the inside and out, the changing rooms, the whistle and the terraces: of what badly, badly needs to be done.  And why.

Of course it still has my famous Scunthorpe tinge though.

Indeed, when you’ve been disallowed a 97th minute winner: to cap an absolutely negligent and frankly disgusting collective performance by the officials – you become slightly more militant, but it’s okay: the water bottle and advertisement hoarding bore the brunt of my frustration!

But it adds up. Let’s not forget James Linnington – who famously reduced the Iron’s once opponents Swansea City to 6 men, reversing a penalty decision he’d given emphatically before the ball went out of play away to Sheffield Wednesday. Nothing like a referee bottling it in front of angry players and supporters. Just because there’s a lot of them.

Then there was the ridiculous sending off against the other side of the Steel City. And despite footage showing no contact – the FA’s notoriously cowardly Disciplinary Committee treated it in the way in which we must respond to them. With contempt.

It’s no coincidence that Old Trafford of all places has had the lowest amount of penalties conceded by the hosts – including an amazing decade plus entire break.

No doubt you’ll be seething with anger, at all the injustices occurring throughout our beautiful game. This is before I even touch on video technology, and the appalling lack of it.

Amazingly, football is still behind every single major sport in all of Europe, and unforgivably so. This represents the multi-track approach that must be adopted for the rehabilitation of all that we hold dear in the beautiful game.

The lack of video technology sells officials down the river, purely and simply – and without question. How can we equip these brave men, (and WOMEN!), with so much less than those noted connoisseurs Andy Gray and Richard Keys? But hey, we’ve managed it. This is not just UEFA & FIFA’s appalling intransigence – but the FA’s unwillingness to find a backbone. Surely they could buy Nick Clegg’s?

Let’s take an example. Remember the Thierry Henry handball penalty incident? Of course you do! Everyone in the ground knew it had hit the swine’s arm. Except of course those gentlemen who mattered.

Now, preventing a nation a crack at the World Cup is bad enough – but in fairness, with the officials blind-sighted, what were they to do? Nothing, they were up a creek without a paddle. The poor Swedish referee – who’d had an excellent game up to this point; was then decried as Satan across Europe, and Stockholm’s biggest selling newspaper demanding that he never refs again.

And all because he’s not allowed to have a man upstairs watching Sky tell him what happened? Even to those city banking scoundrels, this is penny wise pound foolish. Or ‘oop North – bloody bonkers! Football simply means too much to too many people, with too much riding on it – for this scandalous laissez-fair love in to be allowed to continue.

For if those organisations which truly claim to value our input – so not just the FA, but the Premier League and the FA, let’s see if you’re responsible enough to put your money, and characters, where your mouth is. I highly doubt it.

If they don’t offer to back up referees, and weed out the unforgivable hum-dinging errors, then it’s time to offer them an ultimatum. And in the process claim the hearts of a nation. The FA got dangerously close when telling Blatter where to go. Can they really go the whole 9 yards?

Threaten the cashcow’s departure. Would the world’s chief football bigwigs really want billions of pounds to disappear from their cash flow charts? Not even Apple would put up with that! And frankly, if they are – we don’t want them. Now wouldn’t it be really gutting to see all their sticky fingers taken out of our home wonderful home-cooked apple pies!

No doubt I’ve got you on tenterhooks! So then, what about the system you cry!

Now that is a toughie. Personally, the good shouldn’t become the enemy of the great. And whatever pitfalls there are, are tiny compared to the ones now. Are you reading this Mr Blatter?! (Of course he is, why wouldn’t he be?)

Something like a 5th official challenge system, similar to cricket – with a margin of error in the ref’s favour, would be perfect. But if the Satan, or worse – Rupert Murdoch, offered me say – just goal-line technology, for the soul of a loved one??? No contest!

Now for the juicy bits. It’s time to expect far more of our officials, albeit in return for a few more pieces of silver.

England’s referees are the lowest paid in Europe, which given that it’s the most difficult league on the continent to do so, (bar the El Classico & Auld Firm circular firing squad gang-fucks), is maddening. And many say – it’s like teaching. The cane has gone out of fashion, we don’t like them and we don’t respect them – but by bloody Christ we need them.

With this greater power and reward comes greater risk and responsibility of course. The FA’s ridiculously spineless Disciplinary Committee needs beefing up, and bloody properly. If refs are on three grand a game – let’s not worry about raising their hackles. We must be protective of them, but not whatever the cost.

The rating of referees must also be revolutionised as well. Not only must clubs’ appraisals have greater weight: it’s time to involve supporters in the occasion. Let’s not make this free for all, like Trip Advisor on crack – but why not! Do you not trust the masses?

Of course, take it proportionately. Promote the top 10% of referees and relegate the bottom 10% with the averaged ratings each year. Have strict divisions. Let’s stop pretending that The Crown Ground is identical to Elland Road or Hillsborough.

And finally, let’s protect referees from some of the disgusting on field antics, for society cannot have it both ways. We, like a Daily Mail incarnate, shake our heads if officials respond: but when subjected to abuse, what do we expect? This goes beyond Glasgow-style threats. Crikey – if that were to happen at the next Shrewsbury or Reading game, even I might give up!

Players’ antics are utterly impossible to condone or tolerate, especially when challenging officials’ integrity. Back in my Scunthorpe Sunday League heyday, the only profanity I wouldn’t tolerate was accusing me of cheating. I didn’t care, as long as I could say the same in return!

But with TV we demand better. And it simply has to change. We can’t expect referees to have to fight their way out of a corner. Even if they do give the odd dodgy decision every now and then!

So then, a bit of video technology and respect for referees. Either that or get used to Howard Webb dancing in Colonel Gaddafi’s hat whilst screaming “Scunthorpe!” on Match of the Day.

Viva la revolution!

Written by Max Bell – We Are Going Up’s Scunthorpe United blogger

Max tweets at @mpbell92

The Yo-yo Diaries: Scunthorpe United style

Monday, July 18th, 2011

The Yo-yo. One of the defining toys of the 20th century – we all know how it goes.  And I’m sure we can all see how the metaphor works in football too. Up and down, up and down, up and down – never ending. You can try to alter the fact, but the string always wins – it’s just science. Bloody Newton and the laws of physics.

So what does the string represent in football? Erm…  players and finances I suppose! Any West Brom fans reading this will no doubt empathise. For since 2006/7 – only one of my beloved Scunthorpe United’s seasons haven’t involved either promotion or relegation between the Championship and League One. And even that single season was a heroically successful last-ditch survival bid in the former!

Historically, Scunthorpe United are a mid-table bottom tier side. No better, no worse. So to have spent 5 out of the last 6 seasons two tiers above, or being promoted to, that – has simply been fantastic beyond measure. But Lord, does it spoil you – oh spoil it sure does.

For even in relegation seasons, you get easily used to thrashing the ultimate champions QPR, and sending the excellent and ultimately promoted Swansea – and former European Cup winners Notts Forest, packing. Don’t even get me started on last season’s win at home to Newcastle. If sex is better, I’ve yet to meet the right woman…

Given our A18 South Humber rivals have long been the bigger club – it has long been a time for Iron fans to draw more than a wry smile at the contrasting fates, and enjoy our status as the sole Football League club in all of Lincolnshire, (and thus sole WAGU representative!), as best we can!

That said, not long ago – I was chatting to a Grimsby fan acquaintance, (football takes priority over friendship, we all know that!), about the Iron’s worries of pulling off the promotion coup once more. I’d never seen him snap like that. Having only recently had their proud 100 year Football League history ripped away from them, he didn’t really class ours as legitimate ‘concerns’. He was more bothered about losing the Cods losing their skipper to those noted Conference powerhouses Fleetwood of all places!

This is the crux of the issue. For what are legitimate expectations for a club who even in their best season since before Harvey Oswald’s shotgun met JFK, England won the World Cup or man reached the moon – and in the Championship no less, couldn’t even convince or coerce 5,000 home fans to come through the gates week in, week out?

That said – we’re a town of just 60,000 – one that has slowly been dying since Margaret Thatcher and her dirty minions gutted the heart and soul manufacturing base in 1980. And whilst the Football League’s high attendances thrive on working-class punters, (just ask Burnley, or conversely – York), if there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around at the best of times – the punters can’t come through the door. And it’s only going to get worse.

Indeed, we were the only side whose attendances were eclipsed by another club, a whole three divisions below ourselves – that famous Berkshire footballing alumni, Luton Town. In the Conference… Ouch.

Rather than the clichéd devil and angel perched on Iron fans’ shoulders – it’s more heart and head. The former longs for promotion once more. It demands another fine striker, just to keep up with Billy Sharp, Andy Keogh, Jermaine Beckford, Martin Paterson and Gary Hooper over the last 5 years alone. But as the head knows only too well – given that 100 goals from the latter and former cost us only £275,000 combined – it’s an impossible task.

This m’learned friends – is the blasted yo-yo sensation, typified by Scunthorpe United. But at least West Brom can justifiably claim that they’re a Premier League club on history, potential, support, infrastructure etc.

Any Scunthorpe United fan who claims that we’ve got any of those at Championship standards is either the world’s best liar or is awaiting imminent sectioning. Not even Andy Coulson could look you in the eye and wholeheartedly tell you that fib.

And frankly, even if we were to be promoted from League One next season – our average attendances are all but guaranteed to be in the bottom third of the division’s  – so whether we’ve even got any of the above to League One standard is extremely debatable.

But such is life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. That great joy when as David, you’re not only slaying Goliath – but you’ve got him on the floor slapping him in the face with his own testicles, is simply matched by no other. When Manchester United season-ticket holders, (I’ll use the word “fans” to describe when there is no longer breath in my body), have seen their side beat clubs whose attendances are 10x their own, then they can bloody crow…

And the comradeship is simply impeccable at that. I’m sure this is not unique to the Iron amongst the football league, but talk about Portsmouth, Millwall or Ipswich away from home to an Iron fan last season – and fond memories are found with many. We might have lost all 3 – but that magic as you’re there, often singing – if not dancing, with 150 brethren is something not even JK Rowling could ever dream of getting close to matching.

This is all made all the more remarkable, for when you’re stripped of your best players on a seemingly constant basis, for fair reasons or foul – the road in the wonderful, if bonkers – football circus becomes immeasurably steeper. And losing 5 key players in the summer alone, followed by our manager – without question, sealed relegation long before Millwall, in a moment of perfect revenge – got their grubby mitts on us – to officially, and gleefully, embalm us.

Even this summer, we’ve lost modern Iron legends Joe Murphy and David Mirfin to Championship clubs (Watford and Coventry) – with the departure of the pivotal Michael O’Connor also expected to be imminent. Frustrating doesn’t do it justice. Indeed, if this is our fate post-relegation, what possible chance have we got on the other end of the yo-yo?!

So yes, we went long ball, the pitch was shockingly appalling, the football ugly – and yes, we went without winning at home for 5 and a half months. But bloody hell, we still won more league games away from home than Manchester United did. Not bad eh?

Even when Ian Baraclough, popular former coach, player and Adkins’ successor – was forced to walk the plank – we knew the job was done long ago. Indeed, on Tuesday March 1st: despite comfortably trailing away to Portsmouth – the travelling Scunthorpe faithful were chanting the gaffer’s name for more than 30 minutes solid. Precisely 14 days later, he was sacked.

His departure was followed by the arrival of new man, yet ex-skipper, Alan Knill. But we all knew, even him, that it was simply too little too late. Stunning wins against QPR & Crystal Palace lingered that yet faint hope. But our death warrant had been signed and sealed in July. It was merely formally delivered on Easter Monday.

Last summer alone we lost Paul Hayes to Preston, Grant McCann to Peterborough, Marcus Williams to Reading, Nigel Adkins to Southampton, Gary Hooper to Celtic and Matthew Sparrow to Brighton. Reads like a hack journalist’s phone record.

But it is this re-building task that Alan Knill is faced with. Because not only will we fickle Iron fans demand promotion no doubt – we’ll demand it in style. If we can’t win the title again, it’ll have to be another amazing, borderline hallucinatory play-off fairytale again then.  Scunthorpe United’s month of May in 2008/9. Look it up…

Then there’s the small matter of safety. For it was a bloody good Iron side that kept us up that year. Okay, the 19 Championship sides who finished above us that year might beg to differ, but who cares?

Ultimately, this is the story of the over-achieving, claret and blue tinted yo-yo. The signings of Jimmy Ryan and Andy Barcham from Accrington and Gillingham should help – even if Jordan Robertson makes most Scunny fans want to squirm. Alright, we’ve all fiddled with our iPods whilst driving, but not at 140mph in a £90,000 Mercedes we bloody haven’t! Equally worrying is that he can’t score more than 6 a season, and that he’s had more clubs than a Blackjack dealer.

Yet, the shocking matter of it is – no matter how unbalanced and crafted on a shoestring the squad is – (and believe me, if you’re trialling Havant & Waterlooville rejects and your 2nd choice goalkeeper played for a local Saturday club, it certainly is!) – if we’re not in the top eight come Christmas, fickle fans will be baying for Knill’s head to be wrapped in pastry and served in one of the three town centre Greggs.

For succeeding the simply saintly Adkins was an utterly impossible task for Baraclough, even with him unanimously being the fans’, the chairman’s, and the board’s choice to replace his former boss and physio. You do wonder whether Knill’s task is any less impossible. I have my doubts.

And whilst those of us with reasonably long memories would have sold our grandmother down the town market to Al-Qaeda or News International for guaranteed third tier football – blessed fate has exposed us to a much more powerful elixir. Not only would we dance with the devil in the pale moonlight – but we’d thank Al Pacino, and then shake his hand upon the completion of the transaction.

We feel almost rather like JFK. Jacqueline Bouvier might have been stunning in her own right – but she was no Marilyn Monroe. So who do you think he kept longing for, and ultimately crawling back to? You know the answer…

And it’s our ever unquenchable thirst for more by which the class of 2011/12 will, (fairly or otherwise), be judged by. We, the few Iron faithful, will venture to Bournemouth, Carlisle, Exeter, Hartlepool and every which way in between, just for the chance of one more precious sip.

Don’t get me wrong – I think we’ve got a good side, an excellent management team, and a decent chance of positive consolidation and effective short and medium term re-building. Of course you always have those positions you’d just like to be a tad stronger in, but even the wicked witches of the North West suffer from that so-called frailty.

All that said: just like the blessed yo-yo, and even more the thoroughly overachieving one – we will turn viciously if disappointed.  Expect no mercy if we are not fed that blessed elixir once more, for it is indeed devilishly sweet, and fatally addictive. Just like Marilyn Monroe…

Written by Max Bell – We Are Going Up’s Scunthorpe United blogger

Max tweets at @mpbell92