Aldershot 0 Us 1

Being a professional marketer, I was tempted by the recent advert for a new marketing and sales manager at the club. What put me off was that the advert said ‘Must have marketing AND sales experience’.

The capitalisation of ‘AND’ really said; ‘sod marketing and all that spending rubbish, we want cash in the tills’. It’s not unreasonable, the average football club has the turnover of your local supermarket, the need for cash is a constant concern.

But it’s misguided to think that sustainable growth, or even short-term sales will result from simply selling.

Football, we’re constantly reminded, is a results business; but results are the concern of the football side of the business. Good results will equal good sales, bad results bad sales. But what marketing will do is determine the scale of that success of failure.

Wimbledon, when they were in the Premiership could barely register more than 10,000 fans a game. Leeds United, dwelling in the 1st division are averaging 27,500. Naturally, good results help crowds increase, but they are less relevant than the size of the fan base. Therefore, marketing; creating, identifying and responding to a receptive market is the real key to commercial success.

The club will do well to focus on its marketing, because the results are not exactly holding up. I went up to Old Trafford for the Champions League game against Sporting Lisbon. It struck me how hard the sell their heroes and their heritage. So, when I walk into the club shop, where are the vintage shirts, the t-shirts of Aldridge and Houghton et al? Where is the homage to the London Road and The Manor? A friend of mine is a Manchester United fan and always buys a replica shirt with a number 7 and no name on the back – it’s out of respect of all the great number seven’s United have. There’s the same reverence for the Newcastle number 9. Why is Eddie Hutchinson wearing John Aldridge’s number 8? The one thing we have control over is how our history is portrayed; and we have The Glory in our vaults ready to be flogged.

In short, understanding your market and responding to it will build and maintain the fanbase on which success-based sales will be generated. People just aren’t fooled by the car salesman bullshit that’s trying to convince us that every game is going to be like the World Cup Final.

Oh, and we lost to Aldershot in the Setanta Shield.

Us 2 Aldershot 3

Blimey, where to start? It was a great game; the difference between the sides was not as great as the booing from the crowd would have you believe. Our shape and quality of possession was fine, we just looked so lumpy in the first half. In the round, it was Arthur Gnohere’s aberration that did it for us.

The central issue is pace; we just didn’t have any. If we’re to play with ‘enforcers’ in the middle then our attacking impetus has to come down the flanks. Matt Day; as good a defender as he can be, is not going to fly down the wing. If you’re going to play him at right back, then it’s got to be in a four with Anaclet (or maybe Ledgister when he’s fit) in midfield.

And there’s the rub; I do understand the point of Gnohere. He’s been brought in as the bedrock defender; a Willmott, Gilchrist or even a George Santos. Sadly, he’s none of these, but without him we’re too lightweight at the back; certainly too lightweight to play with two centre backs. If you have Willmott in the back four with Quinn, Day can play at rightback and Anaclet on the right wing.

Up front; I completely agree with Jim Smith; I thought Marvin Robinson did well. He worked like a dog and helped bring others into the game. He just doesn’t have the composure in front of goal. Duffy, on the other hand, has the composure, but contributes little elsewhere. So what do you do? Do you channel everything through Duffy in the hope he’ll get the goals? Or try to play as a unit and spread the goals around?. With Yemi offering pace and Shaw in ‘the hole’ I would go with Robinson.

We were set up as though we were playing away; we were so worried about what they were planning to do, we forgot to put in place a plan that would win the game.

Good work by the Ultimate Yellows on the Kassam curva, it’s a movement I’m in total support for. It was possibly a tactical error to role out the concept against the team who invented the idea in the Conference. I can hold an excessively long grudge, and took a long time to get over the Shots astronomical prices in the cup defeat in 1987. But their fans are deserving of a league team. Nothing about yesterday suggested that this was the muck and bullets of non-league football.

Good luck to Aldershot, I don’t know for sure they’ll be the team to beat this season, but they’ll be one of them. Whether we’ll be another, fundamentally depends on filling that Willlmott/Gilchrist sized hole at the back.

Back to the drawing board

This run defies logic. Typically, you would expect to win games against teams way below you, lose against teams way above you, and draw against teams around you. On this principle we should still be winning games; yet we seem able to contrive draws regardless of the opposition – at home to lowly Cambridge, or away to the markedly stronger Aldershot. When you’re down the bottom, you lose, when you’re at the top you win, it is not logical that when you’re at the top you draw all the time.

Deviation from a predictable sequence of results takes you into an undefinable grey area; a combination of team spirit, ability, luck, weather, fitness, crowd, fans and a million other undefinable factors.

Grey areas can be reduced but not eradicated, as even Chelsea have learnt in recent months. It takes years and millions of pounds to reduce the grey area, you can argue that perhaps only Manchester United have cracked it – developed a consistently winning formula – although even they have seen variants in form and results over the years.

Oxford have rightly started to invest in the infrastructure that will ultimately help them reduce the grey area – enough, at least, to pop them back into the football league eventually. Say it quietly, but this was started by Firoz Kassam when the new ground was opened, offering a sound financial footing. The other, more subtle infrastructure elements, such as investment in coaching and scouting, were missed, but are being addressed now.

In the meantime, however, the grey areas remain and we’re playing right in the middle of it. We’re scratching around to find the illusive formula, form and fitness that wins games. We don’t have the strength in depth, the scouting network to unearth or buy a reliable goal poacher, playmaker or titanic defender, we don’t have the medical expertise to bring players back in half the time, or even a crowd with a positive mindset. Interesting to note Gary Neville’s comments after the England game this week talking about being lucky enough to play for a team with accommodating fans, I know what he means.

Frequently, a manager’s head will roll when a club is stuck in the grey area. Some managers do lose their way never to return – stand up David Kemp, many are victims of their circumstance; of being in the grey area – Ian Atkins, perhaps. In the latter, replacing the manager is not the solution. There have been question marks over Jim Smith‘s position; but this run is not logical – 11 games without a win, but only four defeats. This is not the form of a team that has completely lost its way, it’s the team that is playing the equivalent of Killer Sudoku – the solution is in there somewhere, finding it is another thing altogether. Could another manager, faced with exactly the same factors that Smith is facing do any better? I doubt it.

Our stay in the Conference is not likely to be a long one, although it may be longer than the single season that most hoped or believed it would be. Look at the likes of Weymouth and even Dagenham losing their best players in the transfer window, and you see just how big the grey area can be. It’s not likely that we’ll be thrown into the darker recesses of our grey area like they have been; it will come good, it’s all a question of when we leave the grey and back into the light – will it be quick enough to achieve the ultimate objective this season?

In the short term, a win is step 1. Things may well be falling into place; fans’ expectations have been lowered, therefore the pressure is reducing, the win is undoubtedly getting closer and we’ve got six games coming up; four at home, two away against the two bottom teams. The win is in there somewhere, it’s got to be.