Welcome to a new beginning, although oddly enough it’s strangely reminiscent of 1992!
The parallels between that campaign and the current one are both interesting and encouraging. That year was the launch pad for Brian Flynn’s long spell of success in the Racecourse hot seat, so going back to that future is something to embrace.
The 1992-3 season saw us emerge from the grim darkness of the 1980s and end one of the more depressing decades in our history. There were high points: beating Porto is perhaps the pinnacle of our history. However, the week-in, week-out grind of the 80s was a different story.
Remarkably, the ten lowest average seasonal attendances in our history are those between 1982 and 1991, as we played miserable football in front of dwindling crowds, sliding down from the Second Division to the Fourth. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
1992 saw things turn around. The win over Arsenal kick-started things, but beyond any boost in confidence, that cup run gave Flynn some financial leeway. He spent wisely as intelligent signings boosted the squad: Tony Humes, Mel Pejic and Mark Taylor were recruited in the second half of that season, injecting experience and quality into the side.
More smart signings followed: Barry Jones, Mike Lake and of course Gary Bennett would form the basis of a side which was promoted in fine style the following seaon.
I’m sure you’re well ahead of me. Earlier this season board had to ride out some frankly bizarre calls for an overhaul of the fan-ownership model, driven by a knee-jerk reaction to results rather than an overview of our situation. They were rewarded by Dean Keates: they set him up to reshuffle his pack in January, and he did it with aplomb.
Good financial management might not be as sexy as beating the champions, but it’s a more likely road to success than hoping for a miraculous windfall.
With revenue from Build The Budget and the Summer concerts to add to the pot in the Summer. Keates has scope to follow in Flynn’s footsteps and spend wisely as he shapes a promotion-chasing squad.
The similarity doesn’t end there though. Throughout the 1990-1 season Flynn took advantage of the fact that there was no relegation to the Conference to give a number of youngsters experience. We finished bottom of the Football League, but the consequence wasn’t catastrophe: it was the development of a core of young talent who were rapidly approaching fruition.
They matured further the following season, and when we went up the side was underpinned by talent we developed ourselves. Karl Connolly, Gareth Owen, Phil Hardy, Jon Cross, Steve Watkin, Waynne Phillips and Mark Morris all played a part that season, and future key men Kieran Durkan and Dave Brammer made their debuts as we won promotion.
Keates is not scared of giving youth its head, and we’ll surely see a similar process in the remainder of this season as he looks to give home grown talent a chance. Last Saturday was a tantalising taste of what they might achieve, as both Leo Smith and George Harry made an impact off the bench.
Smith has already shown great promise, finally given his chance having been on the fringe of the side when Gary Mills was in charge. His brief cameo against Gateshead was a treat, as his familiar confidence on the ball and upright running style, reminiscent of a young Gareth Owen, threatened to split the visiting defence open.
He carved out two good chances: a driving run and judicious pass teed up Izale McLeod on the edge of the box, and his wicked injury time cross was flicked onto the bar by Harry.
It wasn’t just that chance, or an earlier effort heroically blocked by Manny Smith, which drew attention to Harry. This was his breakthrough moment: his previous appearances had amounted to just eleven minutes and this eight minute intervention was his longest in the first team. I left wanting to see more.
Harry showed pace with a great surge down the left and exhibited no fear in front of an experienced back three. He earned a chance to express himself further, as well as Smith, Olly Marx and any others Keates feels is ready for the fray. It’s guaranteed we will see more of them, as the gaffer builds his 1992 tribute act. Perhaps appointing diminutive midfield generals as manager should be club policy!
This is my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.