I worked for my previous employer for the best part of 10 years. I’d been through an apprenticeship there, learnt my trade there and was comfortable there. I knew my role inside out, knew everybody and had a lot of friends.
Then the company hired a new manager who tried to shake things up and work “his way” and I didn’t like it. The reason for this wasn’t because I didn’t agree with the new man’s methods; I knew he was right, but it was different. It just wasn’t how I was used to working and the feeling of comfort I’d had for so long had gone.
I knew I could earn more money elsewhere and so decided to leave. My thought process being that if I was going to be made to change, I might as well be made to change for more money in an office nearer to my house.
And so… Gary Smith and Stevenage.
Smith’s arrival at Stevenage has heralded a period of uncertainty and fan division not seen at the club for many a year. It’s difficult to imagine from the outside a Stevenage fan who would have the temerity to feel dejected, but trust me, there are plenty. As with all periods of uncertainty and change, Stevenage has spawned a vociferous element that likes to make their ill-thought-out opinions known, and there is already a growing ‘Smith Out’ brigade among the fanbase.
The recently buoyant terraces are full of misplaced moans and muted boos at final whistles. I even heard one bloke ludicrously suggesting that this summer – the eve of another assault on a league we’re too small for – would be the first in years that Stevenage fans would be “at a low.” Ridiculous, I know.
Don’t get me wrong, Smith hasn’t done much to endear himself to the fans. His two forays into the loan market have been not far short of woeful with Patrick Agyemang seemingly unable to do anything you’d expect from a footballer and Jordan Slew seemingly more bothered about trying to get sent off than actually score goals. But the positive of those two arriving is that at least Smith has recognised quickly what we recognised a long time ago; that the club’s strikers don’t find the net often enough.
He’s also committed the cardinal sin of not applauding the fans after every match – something which I’ve never really understood. If I was getting whinged at and booed after two months in my new job I can’t imagine I’d be queuing up to ‘go for drinks’ on a Friday.
The main problem is that Gary Smith has inherited Graham Westley’s Stevenage squad and is not winning games that people think would have been won under Westley. It would appear that it’s Smith’s fault that his predecessor decided to up sticks with his whole management team in the middle of the season. It left captain, hero and living-legend Mark Roberts at the helm for three matches while chairman Phil Wallace frantically scoured the globe – and I do mean the globe – to find a replacement.
It would appear that it’s Gary Smith’s fault that Stevenage have had injuries to key players and that others were sold before he arrived, which has meant that he’s had to shuffle personnel about into unfamiliar positions.
It would appear that it’s Gary Smith’s fault that he has inherited a collection of players whose achievements have exalted them to the status of Gods. A collection of players who have taken Stevenage from non-league obscurity to League One security. A collection of players who have reduced grown men to tears. A collection of players who simply cannot be bettered and must never be disbanded… Ah.
The truth is, this team needs to be disbanded now. There was always going to come a day when somebody moved on. Truth be told, even if Westley hadn’t moved on, the team was never going to stay together beyond this year and the change in management will have unsettled the entire squad as much as it has the fans.
There’ll be players in the squad that dislike Smith, players that Smith dislikes, players who want to move closer to home and players that have simply had their heads turned by the opportunity of Championship football and associated wages. There will also be players who have no intention of leaving but face a period of uncertainty, knowing that the hugely successful team they’ve been a part of will be no more.
I fully expect four or five players to leave the club in the close season. If rumours are to be believed then one or two have already tied up moves, and good luck to them. They’ve more than earned their stab at a higher level or more money and every single one of them will move with my blessing and my thanks.
However, as sad as I’ll be to no longer see these players in a Stevenage shirt, I do find the thought of a summer revamp quite exciting. The club have coped perfectly well when losing star players in the past and hopefully will do so again. I genuinely believe that, given a transfer window and some funds, Gary Smith has the right contacts to bring in some very good players to this club. If he can keep enough players in the spine of this team and build around them, there’s no reason why we can’t press on again next year.
And let’s not forget, there’s still a chance that pressing on might even be done in the Championship.
Written by Mark Hollis, We Are Going Up’s Stevenage blogger
Mark tweets at @HollisMark