The day that football gave up

Was the 5th May the day football gave up?

The FA Cup Final has, for 140 years, been the finale to the football season; a gathering of the football clans in a final sun-blissed celebration of the season’s end. This year it was driven into the margins of an early-evening kick off for no obvious reason while the Premier League largely carried on regardless. Even the Football League couldn’t be bothered to maintain the facade of solidarity with the Championship finishing a week earlier than Leagues 1 and 2.

For the second time in three years the final was punctuated by faux controversy, which lead the resurrection of the tiresome push for goal line technology. Andy Townsend lead the charge exasperatedly calling for the football suits to get with the programme after Petr Chech clawed Andy Carrol’s header from his goal with minutes to go. This ignored the fact a) the ref had made an entirely correct decision and b) the apparently full-proof technology was largely inconclusive. At least Clive Tyldesley tried to gently move the argument on by reminding everyone (for that, read: Townsend) that the whole of the ball had to cross the whole of the line. Which, it clearly hadn’t.

Earlier at Vale Park, despite briefly having the play-offs back in our hands, we followed the apathetic trend. Chris Wilder’s team selection smacked of defeatism with the likes of Capaldi and Craddock appearing to start for no other reason than giving them game time before the season’s end.

The whole season has been like falling down a steep hill. At first we were in control, then we lost our footing; just as we felt we might be able to stand up we’d be out of control again. In the end we just had to hope that when we did eventually come to a halt that all our limbs would be in tact.

By every objective measure this season has seen progress on last year. More goals, less conceded, more points, smaller gap to the play-off spot, more advanced season tickets. More qualitative assessment suggests Chris Wilder’s approval rating is falling, although I’d question anyone judging him on the last 8 games rather than the last 46.

The speed of progress is the main debating point. Should we have been promoted this season? If the club’s stated ambition is to be in the Championship in five years, then we’ve certainly put pressure on that ambition by not nailing at least one promotion in the last couple of years. But it is hardly a lost cause, two promotions in three seasons is possible, just. The question is; will Kelvin Thomas get spooked by the current bluster? No chairman is going to be brought down by his manager, and Ian Lenagan isn’t going to risk his investment or his ambition waiting for success.

I wouldn’t blame Wilder for walking, but I doubt he will. I’d be equally surprised to see a knee-jerk from Kelvin Thomas; the debate on Wilder’s future amongst fans is far from conclusive, so while there’s support there’s a mandate. A more reasoned argument suggests that Wilder has another year to get us up. I’m not really one for setting concrete targets; but with League 2 set to be a more level playing field next season and three years of development in the squad; it’s probably not unreasonable to conclude that without at least the play-offs this time next year, it would make Wilder’s position a very difficult one.

So, we lie collapsed at the bottom of our hill. We’re battered and bruised and feel a little defeated. Football seems a bit of a waste of time, but it won’t be long before we’re back on our feet, climbing that hill ready for another tumble.

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