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 – a 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.

Being economical with the truth

For the first time ever, I think, Grimsby Town’s transfer activity on deadline day stopped me from going to bed at a sensible hour. I actually went to sleep believing that Omar Bogle was still our player, but woke up this morning to find he is not.

No one knows how much Wigan paid for him, or what kind of deal we negotiated, or how well Solihull did out of the whole thing. I’m sure this will all become clear once the Fishy has speculated to such a degree that it either drives one of the shareholders to put the issue to bed with a badly written club statement, or Wigan relax and let us know from their end.

Anyway, good luck Omar – you did us proud. That winner you got at Braintree in the play-off semi final second leg was a moment I’ll never forget, and those two goals in the play-off final at Wembley still give me goosebumps, as well as a glimpse into what football heaven is really like.

I can live with his departure. We always knew he would go for a fee, and him going now means we probably got more money than we’d have got if we held onto him until the summer.

The cash will surely be used to cover the transfer fees and wages of our eight new additions – Adi Yussuf, Gavin Gunning, Jamey Osborne, Chris Clements, Akwasi Asante, Luke Maxwell, Sam Jones and Calum Dyson.

So, eight in, one out – although I expect more than just Bogle will be heading out of ‘the BP’ in the next week or two as the shunned squad players contemplate the prospect of not even warming the bench but sitting on a standard plastic seat in the stands like the rest of us. Or staying at home.

I fully supported the appointment of Marcus Bignot and I still believe things will come good. He hasn’t made that bad a start as Mariners boss, on a points-per-game basis, although it is worrying to see the standard of our performances dropping when really they should’ve started badly and gradually improved as the players got to grips with his new style and system.

He’s made radical changes after initially saying everyone at the club would get a chance to prove themselves with a run in the team. I don’t think he’s delivered on that promise.

He also said Bogle wasn’t for sale, and sold him, and said he wants to keep Disley when he clearly doesn’t intend on using him. Bignot says Disley can leave on his terms, like he’s doing him a favour, and being respectful. Maybe Disley just doesn’t want to go?

And then there’s been that disagreement between him and our loyal first choice keeper. McKeown said the boss made it very clear he wouldn’t play again this season, and Bignot says otherwise. I don’t know who to believe – the person who has been at the club for six years and been as honest as the day is long, or someone who’s been at the club two minutes and already lied about a number of things.

I say ‘lied’. I’m not sure it’s quite that bad. Let’s just say Bignot is economical with the truth, and knows what the fans want to hear. It’s strange, because our last manager had no idea what the fans wanted to hear, and he was often hammered for it.

The manager claims we don’t have any width in midfield. He didn’t include the only two players capable of offering width, Bolarinwa or Chambers, in his latest squad of 18, then tells Chambers he’s free to leave.

Then he signs four central midfielders when we already have six on our books, three strikers and a centre back – and no wingers.

It’s just odd. I don’t know what to make of it all.

This was meant to be a season of celebration and stability. We’d have all been happy to see the team that got us promoted stay together and continue battling for each other to finish 12th in League 2. I know I would’ve.

But Hurst broke it up more severely than I could’ve expected, and the team he left us with has been broken up severely again just a couple of months on. Those few players who survived the Hurst cull, and the ones we connected with the most – McKeown, Disley, Gowling – are no longer in the side. It seems a shame.

In fact, I just looked at the XI who beat Forest Green on that marvellous day in May and not one of them will start our next match at home to Luton:

McKeown – out of the side and looking to leave
Tait – left for Motherwell
Robertson – released and retired
Gowling – out of the side and told he can leave
Nsiala – left for Hartlepool
Arnold – released and joined Lincoln
Nolan – left for Chesterfield
Clay – released and joined Motherwell
Disley – out of the side and told he can leave
Bogle – sold to Wigan
Amond – left for Hartlepool

Today’s sole survivor is Shaun Pearson, who was only on the bench for the play-off final and came on as an injury time sub:

Pearson – in the side
East – released and joined Guiseley
Marshall – released and joined Boston United
Pittman – released and joined Harrogate Town
Hoban – released and joined Mansfield

I’m not one for living in the past, as the last 15 years haven’t been particularly kind to us. Football moves on, and so should we, but the success of last season was the result of a manager who was given time to build a squad and create a style of play that gave us the best chance possible of winning promotion.

The same has to apply here. Things are messy now, but I’m sure that once everything settles down – and that still might not happen just yet, what with about eight players looking for new clubs – we’ll perhaps begin to see what Bignot is trying to build.

I’m sure he’s a good manager, but it’s difficult to believe anything we’re told right now. If he builds an exciting and attacking squad that gets us scoring plenty of goals and pushing for the play-offs, then there won’t be many complaints.