Thursday, 21 February 2013

Dire and shameful days at Dens Park : my personal apology to Barry Smith

Barry Smith is a good football manager. Without complaining he took on the impossible task of keeping Dundee Football Club in the Scottish Premier League this season. From the start anyone connected to the club  knew  he would struggle against the odds because he was given no time and insufficient resources to prepare a team that would be ready for the task ahead, but then Barry was the man who led our team to a record unbeaten run which (while the club was in administration and with 25 league points deducted) not only kept Dundee FC in the First Division, but also, arguably, kept it in existence. He didn't shrink from what for others would have seemed impossible. He deserved the backing of us all for his courage and at that time he got it. So why not now ?

Not everyone agrees with me and a number of fans on the club's fans' forum regretfully acquiesce with the board's decision, commenting in a tone of,  "You are a legend Barry, but it is time for you to go,"  while an official eulogy Barry - his time in charge  (sanctioned I imagine by the  board) has appeared on the the club website also damning Barry Smith with faint praise. These double-edged remarks and the club's 'obituary' like statement  may act in some superficial way to salve the consciences of those who have made this decision, and those who agree with it,  but in my view it does nothing to put right a wrong action. There was no watertight footballing or moral reason for Barry Smith not to remain as the manager of Dundee Football Club. The decision was precipitate and reeks of panic button pressing when there was nothing to panic about. After all it would be a miracle (a wonderful one)  if the club were to be in the SPL next season. So, now was surely a time to take stock and plan carefully for the future - a future I believe in which Barry Smith should have had a substantive role.

The board of directors of Dundee Football Club have sacked a man of integrity who got performances out of players which often seemed beyond their capabilities. Barry never publicly complained about his lot and he always spoke out in support of his players not as individuals but as a team. In return I believe each member of the team played his heart out for him. I think all the players in his charge have always played for the club in a hard working professional manner.

The current Dundee FC regime was to show a new way of running a football club. A club owned by its fans. A community in which everyone was in it together. Integrity and sincerity would be the order of the day  and all would take responsibility for success and failure.  Now that wonderful ideal is shattered. In the long run the club will suffer for this decision. The spell is broken. It is after all just the same as all the other clubs. We begin to wonder if power is widely shared at this football club or whether it remains in the hands of a few people who whisper together in darkened corners. It appears to have become again an institution which is  happy to defecate on the people who give all of themselves to the cause.  Now we know that  the innocence has been lost, scapegoating and cynicism is back, and the door is left slightly ajar so that one day, at some time, when a seemingly saviour-like person comes along with an amount of money offering to buy us off saying she or he will bring success, we'll go along with it, and so the broken circle continues. If none of these thoughts have any basis then we can begin to imagine that the board of the club would have the courage to rescind its decision about dismissing its manager.

I have been impressed by the CEO Scot Gardiner, (even if he has been a little anal in the way he seems to need to control all the information coming out of the club), almost as much as I have been impressed with Barry Smith. It appeared that he, Gardiner, wanted to run a tidy ship and he gave the impression of being a fan. Just the other week I saw him having a half pint in the Artisan Bar in Abbeyhill in Edinburgh  talking happily with fans after our impressive performance in a 0-0 draw against Hibs. I felt, "Wow, Dundee Football Club really is going to show the football world something different. It has become an open community." That notion is now in tatters.

Barry, I've never met you and I think you are the kind of man who would be embarrassed to be praised,  but, as a Dundee fan for over 60 years please accept my apology that I could do nothing to prevent your dismissal. If you had to go, then in all honour so should every member of the board including the CEO.

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