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SAM MORSHEAD: After a season of neglect, what is there to look forward to?

SAM MORSHEAD: After a season of neglect, what is there to look forward to?

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Where to start, where to start, where to start?

I was particularly struck by a tweet from a former club secretary in the aftermath of today’s defeat. Marie Saunders echoed the feelings of all of us. ‘Genuinely feel the hard work we put in as a club, community, supporters and staff over the years has gone to waste,’ she wrote. ‘Gutted.’

Succinct and searing, it cut straight to the point. The current ownership of Swindon Town has let down everyone it is meant to protect, support and entertain. Its blatant disregard for the community and nonchalant neglect for its football has resulted in deep rot setting in from the top down.

And now what is there to look forward to? Self-sustainability that comes with the caveat of millions upon millions of pounds being owed to an owner who has shown no heart for the fight?

Teenagers and twenty-somethings fresh out of academies expected to do a man’s job in the professional game and fewer and fewer old heads that can teach them?

A style of play that used to enthral and now lies weathered and predictable? Like a video game three years out of date. Disregarded on the shelf. No… worse. Now we’re lost behind the sofa.

This is a club with no assets to speak of, bar perhaps Lawrence Vigouroux. No ground, no value in the squad, no training facility – there are blueprints, of course, and plans and empty words. But nothing tangible.

Lee Power has seen Swindon Town slide into League Two

There hasn’t been anything tangible for the best part of two years.

Swindon Town has been sleepwalking towards nothingness and those who had a duty of care just sat back and watched it wander on, lonely, strolling into the dark.

We could all see what was happening within two months of the season starting. Frankly, it was perfectly visible last year as well.

But nothing changed.

The ownership systematically pulled to pieces a fabulous, well-balanced, promotion-chasing squad and replaced it with a clunky, flaky, here’s-one-I-made-earlier mish-mash of loanees, kids and Rafael Branco.

‘Thanks for trading in your BMW 5 Series. Here’s a 17-year-old Robin Reliant with one wing-mirror and a faint whiff of dog crap emanating from the back seat.’

I don’t blame the players particularly. I’ve not met many footballers who don’t care for their club’s fate, even if they are only passing through. And there’s been fight in them occasionally, even if the relegation run-in – backed wholeheartedly by the estranged Swindon Advertiser and beleaguered fans – died like an extra in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. Quickly. Quietly. And on the periphery.

In reality, though, this squad was never good enough. Not from day one. And nothing changed. Who’s to say that anything ever will?

It has been a desperate season on the pitch

The public voice of Swindon Town for more than 18 months has been a combination of bluster and bullshit.

Say the first thing that pops into your head and that’ll probably do. Make up a number and roll with it. That’ll probably do. Employ your best mate and tell everyone he’s the signing of the century. They’ll believe us.

Inqualifiable statement after unquantifiable remark.

The amount of money sunk into the club changed dramatically in a few short weeks. The management structure quickly morphed from one extreme to the other. Tim Sherwood went from playing the role of Darth Vader to that of George Lucas’s fluffer in the time it takes to say ‘two-game stadium ban’.

And who needs an owner, director of football, head coach, general manager and sporting director when all you do is drag in a few late loans on deadline day and make promises about the development of a golf course that rely solely on the generosity of one of the fans you have so desperately failed?

There has rarely been such a catalogue of inconsistencies at this football club and, as you all well know, that is some statement to make.

Midway through today’s match, I got a text from another former employee.

‘When they went down under Hart I was angry. Today my apathy is summed up by a shrug of the shoulders and a deeper-than-usual swig of my pint,’ it read.

Apathy.

You did that, Mr Power.

You brought apathy to the County Ground. You made people who care greatly about this football club react to relegation by raising their lip and getting on with their day.

There are so many more just like this former employee. So many who have lost the itch. Some stayed at home this weekend. Some went to the game like they always do, watched it like they always do and wandered off into the April evening. Football zombies of your creation.

There are others, of course, who have managed to retain their passion. Among these men and women you have sowed division. There was fighting in the stands today, by all accounts – frustration boiling over and supporters not knowing what to do next. What’s the point in shouting when you’re never heard? What’s the point in screaming if your voice has already been put in storage?

Lee Power unveils Tim Sherwood as director of football

How can you not be moved, Mr Power?

How can you not find it in yourself to explain?

Why have you been absent for games? What does your mate Tim actually do? How can Luke Williams have had ‘all the tools he needs’ in February and still be gasping for air gone Easter? Why hasn’t Lloyd Jones played since February 25? How much does the club owe you? What is the interest rate on those loans? How much would your return be should the Eady Trust buy the Twelve Oaks land off you? What is happening with Nathan Thompson’s contract? Will there be any investment in the squad this summer? Will we ever see an AGM at the County Ground again?

When Paul Hart dragged Swindon into League Two, I was there. I was there at Hillsborough on the day relegation was confirmed. I was there to witness the crass approach Hart took to an interview with Vic Morgan – taut, sharp and bitter, demeaning and degrading. Totally lacking in class.

Yet, that relegation – and the one that preceded it in 2006 – did not seem to have the same effect as this odious cesspit of a season.

There are people comparing Swindon Town with Leyton Orient, Mr Power. Whether or not you feel this is a ludicrous comparison doesn’t matter. The image is there. It’s a problem. Sort it. Please, for the love of Glenn, Ossie and Don. Sort it.

There was action and promise and hope in the following months – a very real prospect of change and the pledge to rise back into the third tier at the first time of asking.

That is not the case today.

There are people comparing Swindon Town with Leyton Orient, Mr Power. Whether or not you feel this is a ludicrous comparison doesn’t matter. The image is there. It’s a problem. Sort it. Please, for the love of Glenn, Ossie and Don. Sort it.

When Power finalised his takeover of the club in December 2013 he published a mission statement. Some of it was always fanciful – the Premier League notion, particularly – but in outlining his objectives he made a promise to the fans. He entered into a sort of contract with them. With us.

‘I do understand that a football club is at the heart of a community,’ he said. Fourteen words which belong under fiction. Banning the local newspaper twice might have been seen as a show of strength by some but the empty pledge to do monthly fan phone-ins has shown how flimsy football’s promises can be.

Of course there is good work being done – the Football in the Community team, a separate entity in all but name, operate par excellence and the academy keeps on chugging out a production line – but the general connection between football club and community has reached its final, flailing thread.

‘We wanted to implement a new philosophy and blueprint on the pitch,’ Power continued. ‘This gives young, technical players (who might struggle in other sides at our level) a chance to shine at our football club and hopefully a style of play that the fans enjoy coming to watch.’

That philosophy is long gone. Those players struggle at this level. Nothing has shined at the County Ground since the last harvest and as for fan enjoyment? Well, scenes at full-time today say it all.

There was more…

‘I realise I need to be more engaging with the fans about what’s going on and I will be in the future but through more traditional outlets ie the club’s website, the club’s programme or the local paper’.

FYI, within two months of this statement, I received one of the most abusive phone calls I have ever had the distinct displeasure of receiving, banning me from the club for reporting fact.

Since then, the paper has been alienated and ostracised – for reasons that still mystify me but I believe relate to an existing commercial arrangement which the owner found unacceptable.

Only when Sherwood arrived did things change – the one, tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss it hidden benefit of a nationally-embarrassing chapter in the club’s history.

The wait for an AGM still goes on and those months which do feature a phone-in inevitably retreat to the same, tired questions which now have ready-scripted answers.

Swindon Town fans deserve some real answers

Transfer money, transfer money, ‘get it forward’, Miles Storey, transfer money.

Power ended his 2013 statement with the following paragraph: ‘I realise you don’t earn trust overnight but please judge me after five years and not five minutes. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how we move this club forward over the coming years.’

It might only have been three-and-a-half years but it is time to judge.

Swindon Town has gone backwards. Its fanbase has been shredded by disappointment, apathy, boredom or mis-management. Its playing staff has been downgraded. Its aspirations crushed.

I couldn’t possibly advocate for Power being compelled to leave without a second’s notice because that could trigger a disastrous financial game of dominos that, potentially, could end with administration, points deductions, demotion or worse.

But I would urge and implore the owner to reflect on how his decisions have affected Swindon and what can be done to rectify the ghastly mess that has appeared beneath his feet.

Mr Power, you must make a change. You must. Or you must find someone else who can make that change.

Please don’t destroy your football club.

My football club.

Our football club.

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