I worked for my previous employer for 10 years. I’d been through an apprenticeship there, learnt my trade there and was comfortable there. I knew my role inside out, knew everybody and had a lot of friends.
Then the company hired a new manager who tried to shake things up and work “his way” and I didn’t like it. The reason for this wasn’t because I didn’t agree with the new man’s methods; I knew he was right, but it was different. It just wasn’t how I was used to working and the feeling of comfort that I’d had for so long had disappeared.
I knew I could earn more money elsewhere and so decided to leave. My thought process being that, if I was going to be made to change, I might as well be made to change for more money and nearer to home.
And so… we come to Gary Smith and Stevenage.
Smith’s arrival has heralded a period of uncertainty and fan division not seen at Stevenage for many a year. Speaking to outsiders, they find it hard to believe that there’s a Boro’ fan who would have the temerity to feel dejected. Yet one glance over the forum and you’d be forgiven for thinking we’d forgone a potential play-off place and were fighting relegation.
Periods of uncertainty and change often lead to worry, but Smith’s arrival has spawned a vociferous element in our ranks that like to make their ill-thought-out opinions known and the growing ‘Smith Out’ brigade has led to a divide in opinion that makes reading Borochat almost unbearable.
Only a few months ago our stadium was alive with optimism, but it seems recently to have been replaced by misplaced moans and muted boos at final whistles. I even heard one bloke before the Preston match ludicrously suggest that this summer would be the first in years that we as fans would be “at a low”.
Ridiculous? I think so.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blindly backing Smith yet – his two forays into the loan market have been not far short of woeful, with Patrick Agyemang seemingly unable to do anything you’d expect from a footballer (albeit much improved on Monday) and Jordan Slew more bothered about trying to get sent off.
But the positive of those two arriving is that at least Smith has recognised quickly what we recognised a long time ago; that our strikers don’t find the net often enough.
Smith has also committed the cardinal sin of not applauding the fans after every match – something which I’ve never really understood. If I was getting whinged at and booed after two months in my new job I can’t imagine I’d be queuing up to ‘go for drinks’ on a Friday. All this said though, his “load of old toffee” comment post-Preston seems to have earned him a few more fans, even if Westley’s father won’t like it.
The main problem Smith has though, in my opinion, is that he’s had to take on Graham Westley’s Stevenage squad and he’s not winning games that the overly romantic among us think we would have won under Graham Westley.
It would appear to be Gary Smith’s fault that Graham Westley decided to up sticks with his whole management team in the middle of the season, leaving captain, hero and living-legend Mark Roberts at the helm while Wallace scoured the globe for a replacement.
It would appear that it’s Gary Smith’s fault that we’ve had injuries to key players and that we sold others before he arrived, which has meant that he’s had to shuffle players about into unfamiliar positions.
It would appear that it’s Gary Smith’s fault that he has inherited a collection of players whose achievements have exalted them to the status of gods. A collection of players who have taken Stevenage from non-league obscurity to League One security. A collection of players who have reduced grown men to tears. A collection of players who simply cannot be bettered and must never be disbanded…
… but the truth is, this team needs to be disbanded now. There was always going to come a day when somebody moved on. Truth be told, even if Westley hadn’t left, this team was never going to stay together beyond this year because we’ve achieved too much for them not to be snapped up. You also have to remember, the change in management will have unsettled the squad as much as it has the fans.
There’ll be players in the squad that dislike Smith, players that Smith dislikes, players who want to move closer to home and players that have simply had their heads turned by the opportunity of Championship football and associated wages. There will also be those who have no intention of leaving but face uncertainty knowing that the hugely successful team they’ve been a part of will be no more.
I fully expect four or five players to leave us in the close season; if rumours are to be believed then one or two have already tied up moves, and good luck to them. They’ve more than earned their stab at a higher level or more money and every single one of them will move with my blessing and my thanks.
However, as sad as I’ll be to no longer see these players in a Stevenage shirt, I do find the thought of a summer revamp quite exciting. We’ve coped perfectly well losing star players in the past and we’ll cope perfectly well again. I genuinely believe that, given a transfer window and some funds, Gary Smith has the right contacts to bring in some very good players. If he can keep enough of the current spine of this team and build around them, there’s no reason why we can’t press on again next year.
We’ve got a lot to be proud of and a lot of happy memories that should never be forgotten; but I truly believe we have a bright future under Gary Smith.