Broken bonds

The only two players whose names I’d have considered getting printed on the back of my replica shirt have now left the club.

Thanks Diz. Thanks Shaun. Thanks for the memories.

They each gave six years to the Mariners. In that time, they came to understand what it was like to be part of the town. They both lived locally, and did work in the community. They were both honest and committed players, with the skill and graft to get us back in the Football League.

They were (and possibly still are) fans of the club.

I just watched the play-off final video again, with JT’s commentary, and while I still get incredibly emotional when Arnold rolls the ball home, the end scene – when the team lifts the trophy – now feels tainted.

There were so many happy faces on the Wembley balcony that day.

And now, a little over one year later, the only person who remains at the club is James McKeown Рa player who nearly left us in January.

We won at Wembley to finally achieve what we’d come close to achieving on three previous occasions. What got us over the line that day wasn’t just¬†skill, but also a special bond and team spirit that had grown in the squad¬†over a number of years.

The likes of Disley and Pearson were at the heart of that bond.

Had we been able to keep that squad together, I’m certain we’d have achieved at least a 14th place finish in League 2 this season.

To be honest, I’d have accepted¬†finishing 15th or 16th this season, if it was that promotion squad, because I’d fallen in love with it. They were playing for us.

There’s a lot to be said for continuity in football. Winning is a habit, as they say. Leicester and Chelsea have won the last two Premier League titles having made the fewest changes to their starting XIs.

As Bristol Rovers proved, from the season before, it was possible to go up again with virtually the same squad. I was desperate for us to keep the majority of our squad together, and it’s a crying shame that it wasn’t.

Fair enough, you’re not going to keep Tait from playing in the Scottish Premier League, or Nolan from plying his trade in League 1, if that’s what they wanted.

But letting Amond go to Hartlepool after scoring 37 goals for us in one season?

Personally speaking, I thought Robertson and Clay were worth another season after they’d worked so hard to get us over the line.

What happened – or what didn’t happen – with Arnold is possibly the most upsetting, yet typifying, moment of last summer. No player is bigger than the club but, come on, the guy was good enough for League 2.

Did we dick around with contracts? Whatever the real story is, from the outside it looked like we weren’t prepared to reward those promotion winners with the contracts they were looking for.

Although it’s only recent history, I feel like it’s history that has already¬†written itself. Of this era, our future Wikipedia page will read:

“After spending years building¬†a team the fans could be¬†proud of, the club then ripped it apart the very summer they returned to the Football League.¬†Further instability followed when new manager Marcus Bignot made a host of unnecessary signings.”

On the pitch, we’ve had an acceptable first season back in the Football League. Off it, we’ve been awful.

Three managers, poor recruitment and lop-sided formations¬†were just a few of the main issues. We’ve slipped back into our old ways. Bridges built through campaigns like Operation Promotion feel like they’ve burnt away because we have a non-chairman who doesn’t know how to communicate in the 21st century.

And now two of our most loyal and esteemed players have been released. With them goes any remaining bond between the players and fans.

Slade built a competitive squad for 2005/6, but while they came close to delivering success I don’t think I felt as close to those players as I did with the class of 2015/16.

By releasing Disley and Pearson, I hope we’re not swapping loyal grafters for disinterested journeymen who won’t be with us in six, five or even two years’ time.