One Year On
One Year On
It's just over a year since John Boyle swept into Fir Park on a media frenzy promising to revolutionize not just our club, but the Scottish game. This seems as good a time as any to take stock and review the changes that have taken place in a far from typical season. Boyle promised to improve the club at every level from the catering and facilities to the playing squad so what has he achieved so far and what is there for him to work on in the forthcoming months?
John Boyle's first act as chairman was to slash admission prices for the next two home games. This was part of his recruitment drive to increase attendances at Fir Park. The target was an extra 1,000 on the gate for the next three years - if this goes to plan, by the start of the 01/02 season we should have average crowds of just over 10,000. This is very ambitious when you consider that our successful years of '93-'95 attracted about 8,000. As the saying goes however, nothing ventured nothing gained and crowds do seem to be up for the first part of this season. The average of 6,500 in our first two games is more than we would have got last year. With cheap(ish) season tickets and affordable match day prices of £2 - £15, Boyle seems to be laying the foundations for the next few years.
The next act saw us purchase a chief executive for £80,000. Pat Nevin arrived from Kilmarnock to fill a unique 'player/vice chairman' role which saw the tabloids falling over themselves to criticise us. They were sure he would axe the then manager, Harri Kampman, and appoint another Boyle chum, Brian McClair in his place. When Harri eventually resigned, the media wasted no time in naming Nevin as the man responsible. Chiefie sensibly kept his head below cover for a while and has since proved to be very useful in his senior role. He successfully negotiated the transfer of John Spencer from Everton and since then the fans have appreciated that he is not the shady character the Sunday Mail would have us believe. John Boyle seems to have got this right too.
Towards the end of last season our home form went right off the boil. We had a very good home record in the first half of the year but we only managed to beat a poor Dundee Utd in the second half. The popular excuse for this was the state of the pitch, although to be fair it did resemble a poorly dug potato field. The thinking was that we couldn't play our passing game on such a bad surface - hence we played better away from home. John Boyle either decided the pitch needed improving or gave in to the wishes of Pat Nevin, one of the park's more vocal critics. Over the summer, £500,000 was invested in relaying the pitch and some nifty equipment that should ensure very few games are postponed. The pitch certainly looks very impressive from the stands but we have failed to win a home game this season and have only played good football in very brief spells. Improvements to the pitch were probably necessary - whether we have the players to justify the expense remains to be seen.
As promised, Boyle has tried to change the catering available at Fir Park. The punter who cares about his food can now have vegetable or chicken pies at half time - although a Fir Park insider reports the normal pies are as disgusting as ever. The creation of two new 'clubs' is also an innovative idea. The executive types can enjoy a five star five course meal in the Centenary Club which is also open for lunches on Sunday - rumours that there may be more people in Fir Park when the team aren't playing are unfounded. Those who sit in the Cooper stand can also enjoy a nibble before the game. The new Cooper Club is designed to be more informal, with people turning up on spec for a pint and a sandwich. This seems like a very good idea - until you find that "it would be appreciated if adults did not wear jeans or trainers". The traditional footy fare of bacon and egg sandwiches are also left out in preference to the Chef's "selection of fresh vegetables and potatoes". Now, forgive me for being a philistine but I don't see the average 'Well fan changing from his denims and gutties, to go for a vegetable club sandwich. Surely this idea would be more popular (and profitable) if everyone in the stand was allowed in and - let's be wild here - could wear the clothes they normally wear to the football! I would also think that if some real food was served, more people would fancy going for a bite. I don't think many will go out of their way to replace their bacon butty with an egg harlequin. While not wanting to criticise Boyle for what seems like a good idea, I think he's got this wrong. I think it's great that we have a high class restaurant at Fir Park - but let's not forget the normal people that make up the core of our support.
Harri Kampman's departure left the role of first team manager open. When it was announced that Billy Davies would take over, to say we were surprised is an understatement. A five nil reversal in his first game did nothing to build confidence but the signings of Ged Brannan and John Spencer on loan inspired the side to a win against Rangers. The next few months were wonderful - the team was not only showing a great deal of commitment, but also a great deal of skill. We were in the top half of the league and had destroyed Hearts in the third round of the cup. Since then, we have not been impressive. The occasional good performance has been overshadowed by several poor games where there has been no commitment at all. For the first time in a few years, we have several high quality players but we lack organisation and determination. We are losing points to poorer teams than ourselves simply because they want to win more than we do. The defence look like a bunch of amateurs and frequently we have to rely on a 36 year old chief executive for any creativity.
This is one appointment John Boyle cannot be judged on immediately but regardless of all the other things he has achieved for us, the league table will be where he is made or broken. It's all very well talking a good game and improving the club's facilities and fan base but that will mean nothing if we're in the first division. After his first year Boyle has delivered nearly everything he has promised off the pitch, albeit with some glitches over the sale of season tickets. He cannot be held responsible for the events on the pitch and he has every reason to be very unhappy at what he is seeing. I think Boyle is beginning to have doubts about the wisdom of appointing a rookie coach. If Billy can't turn things around soon, Boyle is ruthless enough to cut his loses. It's been a promising first year but the fans are hungry for more. Will we have a team worthy of the work that has gone on when the season is over? I honestly don't know.
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