It's often assumed that just because
the British and Americans both speak the same language
that they should be able to understand each other.
But “It ain’t necessarily so” as they say.
To be fair to Terry – he has been
subjected to some unfair ridicule in the media mainly
because of their belief that, as he is American, he
cannot understand the subtleties of the English game.
One national paper tried to trap him by asking how
many caps Bobby Charlton had won for Scotland. A question
of the “When did you stop beating your wife?” variety.
Consequently any ideas he has had which don’t seem
to fit in with the footballing culture are seized on
as evidence of his lack of understanding viz. his idea
of three captains – one for defence; midfield and attack.
So the press – particularly those doing a feature for
a national magazine or newspaper – have been quick
to emphasise the alien aspect of Terry’s ownership
of what they have been through, Chester fans have been
psychologically battered. We have suffered over ten
years of people coming into the club with big ideas
but no substance. Terry needed to tread carefully,
therefore, and he hasn’t always endeared himself by
some of his statements or actions. To begin with it
appeared that the ISA directors were working hard behind
the scenes to make sure that Terry understood a bit
of the background to the club and in turn they would
communicate Terry’s plans in ways which made sense
to us. But this did not last for long. Whereas the
previous chairman, Mark Guterman, had, by the last
two years of his regime become so laid back he was
almost invisible, Terry Smith was almost diametrically
opposite – he wanted to do everything. The signs were
there, early on, that Terry wanted a strong say in
running the playing side of affairs. He couldn’t resist
signing Paul Berry, for example, from Warrington Town
and then checking with Kevin Ratcliffe afterwards.
When Kevin walked out, Terry obviously
wanted to try his hand at being manager. At first he
threw up a smokescreen, saying that there would be
a team of coaches of which he would be one – but then,
in the Aston Villa programme, it was there for all
to read “Manager: Terry Smith”. His plan was to bring
in overseas players as a cost cutting exercise. A reasonable
course of action – given Chester’s recent history of
expenditure far outstripping income. But either the
players weren’t up to it, or they needed work permits
which took a long time to come, some like Craig Donaldson
came and went again and no one was given an explanation
why. And all of the time City, through lack of experienced
players, plummeted towards the bottom of the League.
Even Gianluca Vialli (The first manager in the Premier
League to field a side composed completely of foreign
nationals) has admitted recently that for success in
the English League you need players who are used to
the tempo of the game here and its conditions.
When results go badly in English
football the first person to feel the pressure is the
manager. Terry reacted with rage when the fans began
to have a go at him for not appointing a manager but
if he had known something of the football culture he
would have known that the best reaction would be a
shrug of the shoulders. Terry did not seem to understand
this and blamed the media for hounding him and – even
more unfortunately – fell out with the ISA when they,
through sheer frustration, passed a vote of no confidence
in him as manager. The ISA were at pains to say they
were happy with him as Chairman – but Terry accused
them of going back on their agreement.
He was in danger of being completely
isolated. It was possible to imagine the players having
little respect for someone who had never played the
game, had no coaching qualifications in football and
seemed to place all his faith in hard work. Terry himself
appears to be a workaholic, spending hour after hour
at the Deva as a sign of his commitment to the cause.
This in itself may appear commendable but there is
a great premium to be set on the art of good management
and calm objective judgement. A chairman should have
a bit of distance.
After the debacle of losing at home
1-5 to the only team below them in the League, even
Terry had to contemplate change. When he announced
that he was looking for a manager, however, he said
that it was all part of the plan anyway. He spoke of
realising that the club needed someone “Within the
circle” of the English game – a clear indication that
he felt left out in some way. This was partly the fault
of the English football culture which is extremely
hostile to outsiders but also partly Terry’s own doing.
After matches when he was in charge, for example, he
would often go down the tunnel without shaking hands
with his opposite number. This was an unforgivable
breach of etiquette as far as the unofficial union
of managers was concerned and another example of cultural
Terry’s appointment of Ian Atkins
was an absolute masterstroke for which just about every
Chester fan applauds him. Atkins is just the type of
manager you would hand pick to get you out of dire
straits. Even as he was appointed, however, there were
dark threats from the new Director of Football about
packing his bags at the first sign of interference
from the chairman. Mercifully Terry seems to have taken
the hint – though he still takes his place in the dugout,
he still calls himself the manager and even more bizarrely
appointed himself goalkeeping coach on the basis of
actually having played in goal on a couple of occasions.
The only surprise has been that he hasn’t – as far
as I’m aware – registered himself as a player.
Terry still writes manager’s notes
in the programme and these have not really helped to
bridge the communications gulf between him and the
fans. It’s clear that he is as excited as anyone by
the recent campaign to avoid relegation. But he only
seems to be able to relate it to his previous experience
in American football which is inappropriate. He praises
the players some of them individually – but talking
of Neil Fisher’s “hustle play” and his running from “endline
to endline” show that he is still not au fait with
the lingo of the English game.
Almost all will be forgiven if we
manage to avoid relegation to the Conference. It should
prove easier to learn from the painful experiences
of the past year if we have another season at least
ahead of us as a League club. The falling out if we
are relegated just does not bear thinking about.
Football has changed a lot since
the 1960’s when chairman such as Stafford Heginbotham
of Bradford City used to control every aspect of the
club’s affairs. Yet even he conceded a division of
labour, “Each year at the Annual meeting”, he said, “I
like to say the same thing – directors direct, managers
manage and players bloody well play”. Now I would like
to think there is room for supporters to have a say
and help in the running of clubs like Chester too.
I had hoped that 1999/2000 was going to be the beginning
of a fruitful partnership between the supporters of
Chester and Terry Smith. Let’s hope that we can make
a new start in forging that partnership - starting
in the summer. Bridges need to be built and a lot of
listening needs to be done for it to happen.
One of my favourite Americans, the
fictional Dr Frasier Crane (played by Kelsey Grammer),
starts his radio programme with the catchphrase, “I’m
Listening.” I suspect that City fans would love to
hear Terry Smith say the same thing.