Issue Silence can be golden

As told by Paul Firth

I couldn’t help noticing that the last couple of match day programmes, produced for the games against Aldershot and Notts County, have each had a new development. The regular feature ‘From the Boardroom’, for so long written alternately by the joint chairmen, has in those two programmes been written by Alan Biggin and Steve Longbottom. While each is a director of the club and can therefore quite properly speak from the boardroom, I just found it interesting that the fans have not heard from Julian Rhodes since the Grimsby game back on 13th February.

Mark Lawn’s last contribution was for the Darlington game and included the news that, as a result of abuse at Accrington, he ‘explained (to Julian Rhodes) that I felt like taking my money – including my loan – out of the football club.’ That comment attracted a certain level of response from some fans, most of whom, thankfully, voiced their abhorrence of the abuse, while some wondered about the wisdom of Mr Lawn’s reaction or at least his revelation of that reaction.

Of course, earlier in the season Roger Owen wrote a piece in the programme, which was said to have caused something of an upset for Stuart McCall, since it may have contained implied criticism of the team or individual players or tactics. Mr Owen is still on the board. Stuart McCall is no longer manager. Any number of conclusions could be drawn from those two facts.

But then today I read the comments of another chairman and joint owner. No, not a new investor at Bradford City, but a recent investor at West Ham United, David Sullivan. Let me quote a few phrases from a letter to the West Ham fans that Mr Sullivan has posted on the club website. I hope I do not quote him out of context. The italics are mine.

‘I had no sleep last night, having watched the shambolic performance by the team against Wolves.’

‘I was as angry and upset as every supporter in the stadium at the disorganised way we played.’

‘This was the culmination of five defeats in a row, including an appalling performance against Bolton.’

‘Individually we have some very good players, but this is not being converted into a good team performance. Nobody at the club should delude themselves that we are a good team.’

‘It’s hard being an owner. I’m finding it’s harder being an owner who is a supporter.’

And then, after going through an enviable list of West Ham stars from 1966 onwards, Mr Sullivan looks forward to the next home game and says ‘Now we need new heroes.’ He’s going the right way about finding them.

BfB has spoken many times about the implausibility of encouraging players to perform better by booing them, especially when the booing started as soon as one player stepped on to the pitch as a substitute, the manager having presumably decided that such a move would improve the chances of winning the game. If such criticism from fans has its effect on players – and Mr Lawn seems to believe it does, if his previous references to message board comments are accurately reported – how much greater must be the effect on players and coaches alike of the chairman’s public criticism, no matter how justified or accurate those comments may be?

Julian Rhodes is well known for keeping out of the limelight. Mark Lawn would never properly be described as a shrinking violet. Steve Longbottom chose to use his notes to praise the award won by Zesh Rehman, to emphasise the hard work put in by fellow directors and to remind us all that Stuart McCall leaves as he came – a legend.

It is a great privilege being given the opportunity every other game to have your words read by the club’s fans, whether it be in the printed programme or on the website. But, like all other privileges, it is accompanied by a responsibility. It is not enough to say that the privilege was earned or even paid for. It remains a privilege and it remains a responsibility.

As in many businesses, there are things that need to be said privately. Not all of them need repeating in public. Sometimes the public pronouncements may have to be more upbeat than the private statements. A moment’s reflection can be worth a lifetime’s regret.

I thought all Yorkshiremen knew that the best policy, as far as can be allowed, is to see all, hear all and say nowt. Or, if you prefer Mark Twain – for he is the favourite source of this quotation – ‘It is better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.’

Time to close my mouth.