Issue A Question of Belief

As told by Ron Beaumont

In many primitive cultures any type of bad fortune, from earthquake to stomach ache, was explained by saying that “the gods are angry”. This was due to a lack of knowledge and understanding that, in many cases, science and reason now fills.

But the past doesn’t quite go away. The language of primitive belief is still with us in many aspects of popular culture and none more so than football.

The news that Stuart McCall is staying at Bradford City will be welcomed by many (not all) as a victory for reasoned thought over primitive belief.

When Stuart arrived in the manager’s office he brought with him the level of adoration often afforded to a deity based on his reputation as a player and his well-known love for the club. Such was the level of expectation from so many that the status of “messiah” was, unfairly, thrust upon him and we all know the pressures that kind of responsibility can bring.

Hopes started off high and remained so for most of the two seasons he has been in the job. Support both, vocal and financial, was there so all he had to do was “achieve”.

The signs and omens were so good for so long but then came the crisis of confidence that saw the dreams of so many destroyed. Some turned against him as the team and therefore, by association, the manager “failed.” The automatic promotion dream was replaced by the self-imposed target of the play-offs .But that too faded quickly as the promise of the Aldershot victory was followed by a series of results that was devastatingly unpredictable and, more worrying to the City faithful, unexplainable.

The adoration that Stuart carried with him seemed all but lost only to be rekindled in the final home game when the realism of “nothing to play for” became a show of belief in the manager that looked set to leave us.

Whatever the reasons, Stuart changed his mind and remains with us. Science and logic may provide some explanation but, for many fans, Saturday’s show on and off the field appeased their deity. With this came celebration and joy but there was a much greater realisation – the gods were not angry, they were human!

Whatever his status among fans now, Stuart the manager (and by the way how many clubs sing their manager’s praises using his first name?) is now with us in the real world, a world that deals with the contracts and budgets of a 4th. Division football club. Reality has definitely bitten and the expectations for the future should now also be real. Yes we will still be among the favourites for promotion next season but whatever is achieved it will be in a climate of constraint that exists in so many clubs.

Many fans will still choose to live in the world of unconditional belief but reality is no bad thing. I for one still have “idols” but I prefer my idols to be on the pitch.
The Gemini-like twin partnership of Lee Mills and Robbie Blake is gone and the like of it not seen since at V.P.. The former faded fast from view, the latter forced to spend time in the “Underworld” – Ellandworld? – before re-emergence in claret if not amber. Add to these the legendary Bobby Campbell, the iconic Dean Windass, even the totemic Barry Conlon, they are the ones that have been out there on the pitch expected to perform the miracles we have all craved.

Stuart as a player will always be revered. But Stuart the manager has chosen to stay and live among us in the world of men (and women).For that I am thankful. He may have arrived in a blaze of glory but I feared that his loss and the inevitable period of chaos that would follow would have been epitomised in his departure in a big yellow taxi. (Forgive the mixed metaphor.)

The legend on the pitch remains but surely we all now see the man in the manager – not a superior being. I am glad we still have Stuart McCall as manager, even if he has now lost his divinity!