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Nationwide Division One, 03/11/01
It's the preview-ah
By Matt Rowson

There are these monkeys, right ? And they live in a cage. Not a small cage, but a massive great big thing, filled with ropes and trees and tyres and all sorts.

There is one route up to the top of the cage where, hanging on a rope, is a bunch of bananas. When the monkeys first move into the cage, one of their number heads straight for the bananas. As you do. Just as he reaches them, however, the keepers outside the cage turn a power hose on him, and on all the monkeys in the cage.

When they have dried off and regained their composure, another monkey has a go, with the same rather distressing result. Eventually, after several goes at this, the monkeys get the message and go about their business without daring to make another break for the bananas.

A new monkey is introduced to the cage. He doesn't know what happens when you make a move for the bananas. (One assumes that the bunch of bananas is switched if it gets rotten - but the bananas aren't really the point, okay? Stick with it).

So this new monkey heads up towards the top of the cage. Before he gets close though his new roommates, fearful of another drenching, attack him ferociously. Battered and beaten, he doesn't make the same mistake again.

Gradually, all the original monkeys in the cage are replaced by new monkeys. On each monkey's introduction the same charade results... monkey makes a move on the bananas, fellow monkeys bundle him before he gets there. Finally, even though none of the original monkeys who experienced the drenching remain, none of the monkeys make a move on the bananas. They're not really sure why. It's just the way things are done.

Consider, now, the process of a manager losing his job. The way it generally works is, results and performances don't go as well as required, either over the short or medium term. Unrest grows amongst the supporters, maybe attendances start to drop. Defeats are met increasingly with boos and derision, maybe even chants for a manager's head. And the club, almost invariably, is on an impossible spiral. Very few managers have recovered from this sort of position... Alex Ferguson, arguably, and John Gregory are the only two present incumbents that spring to mind.

But the booing and catterwauling has to be counterproductive. It can never, by any stretch of the imagination, act as an instant catalyst to improved performance. At best, it can hasten the departure of an unwanted coach, but what has a merry-go-round of managerial arrivals and departures done for the likes of Southampton? Wolves? Man City? Sheffield Wednesday?

There's no logic in this booing and chastising. It's partially an arrogant statement of dissatisfaction with what is perceived to be performances below a club's station (although one harks back to Bradford again for a club with ideas well above its station). Mostly, however, it's conditioning. It's the automatic, unthinking response to bad performances. It's inane.

(On the subject of conditioning, my brother has recently discussed a freakish social experiment in which a newborn child is kept in isolation for the first sixteen years of his or her life in a darkened room with songs by The Fall constantly pumped in through speakers. Horrific. I kinda hope no child has the misfortune to have my brother as a father...).

Barnsley may be a poor case in point here. Nigel Spackman had, by all accounts, lost the plot; with the club second from bottom in the table and the manager having reputedly fallen out with a large proportion of the first team squad something had to give. But still...ten months? And this after eighty percent of Barnsley respondents in our pre-season survey predicted the play-offs at worst? If Tricky Trev merited such a long stay at St.Andrews, surely Spackman deserved a little more time at Oakwell?

The new incumbent - albeit temporarily - is Glyn Hodges, no stranger to Vicarage Road. His first match in charge was a stout win over West Brom which temporarily hoisted his new charges out of the relegation zone. If his management career mimics his playing career, the Tykes will beat Manchester City in swaggering style this evening and then disappear on Saturday. Here's hoping.

It would appear that Kevin Miller, another Vicarage Road favourite, has regained the keeper's jersey as a result of Spackman's departure. Andy Marriott took over in goal when Miller served a suspension earlier in the season, and continued in place until the West Brom game at the weekend. Miller, who stayed with the Hornets for a year longer than he maybe ought have when we dropped into the Second Division, will get a warm reception.

Regular right-back Carl Regan was demoted to the bench on Saturday following a red card for an horrific challenge against Sheffield Wednesday in Spackman's last game; former Manchester City man Lee Crooks looks likely to retain his place. On the left is Barnsley product Chris Barker; his chief rival, Uruguayan Mateo Corbo, is more comfortable as a wing-back.

In the centre, aggressive captain Chris Morgan is partnered by veteran Steve Chettle; Chettle was recalled by Hodges from a loan at Walsall, and appears to have stabilised a nervous defence. The Finn Janne Salli is still a few weeks away from returning having been injured shortly after our icy encounter at Oakwell last December, leaving the Tykes short of cover here.

The midfield features South African Eric Tinkler, one of the survivors from the Premiership season who missed the whole of last term through injury. Welsh international Darren Barnard should play on the left with Scot Alex Neil, signed as a striker, also featuring. Chris Lumsden, one of two loan signings from Sunderland, appears to be impressing, unlike John Oster who appears to have been the first to fall out with his new boss.

Another to drop out of favour seems to be Kevin Donovan, whose poor performances since his summer arrival have finally resulted in him being removed by Hodges. Grimsby commentators offering opinions do not seem surprised. Further cover is provided in midfield by recent Danish signing Peter Sand and promising winger Carl Barrowclough, whose father Stewart also played for Barnsley. It's a bit late in the year for Dutchman Dean Gorré, however, and Mitch Ward (ankle), Steve Hayward (knee) and Kevin Dixon (shin) are all injured.

Up front, yet another ex-Hornet Bruce Dyer has blundered back into favour under Hodges, now partnered by Kevin Gallen, another summer recruit from Huddersfield and still, inexplicably, only twenty-six. Isaiah Rankin and Mike Sheron both have knocks, so former Liverpol wannabe Lee Jones and New Zealand born youngster Rory Fallon are the chief deputies.

In the course of the construction of this preview, Andy Ritchie has become the twenty-first manager to leave his position this season. If there are twenty-one teams performing below their station this season then the league is a little lop-sided; it also seems unlikely that all of the clubs concerned will improve their fortunes as a result of the changeover. Bananas, if you ask me, which is as close as a link back to those monkeys as you're going to get. They were only in there to introduce the Fall gag anyway...

Balti and Vimto and Spangles were always crap, regardless of the look back bores... then they have Carl Lewis on, he's got a pony tail and he's a vegan and he talks a lot of wind... this is a spring without end, this is the summer of malcontent, this is the winter of your mind... Fall ! Advance...!