You Can't Take Carlisle from the Boy - January 2002


Neil Nixon and friend
Has Roddy gone rasta? Neil gets to meet his hero at last
So, we've made it into 2002 as a professional team. Given the years that status has been under threat maybe we should be celebrating. I know I speak for loads of us here when I say, 'sod that, we'll celebrate when we've got a board and a manager we feel we can trust.'

Thanks for the e:mails, especially those that did nothing more than wish me a happy Christmas. And, yes, that was my radio play about John Lennon a few of you heard. But, other than the fleeting reference to Workington it has nothing to do with Cumbria or Carlisle United so we'll leave it.

I said I'd give Collins until Rushden on December 22nd and I have. So, having sat back and watched as others opened up with their opinions, it's my turn now. I know Al Woodcock reckons I sit on the fence. Well, hell, can I help it if I'm a reasonable, decent, caring person? So, to be fair to Collins we'll consider both sides. But, not before this calm, reasonable person writing the column has said....THE MAN IS A DISGRACE AND A LUXURY WE CAN'T BLOODY AFFORD IN OUR POSITION. JUMP OR PUSH I DON'T CARE. I'VE PAID MY MONEY AND PUT IN MY TIME. SO NOW I'LL PUT IN MY OPINION.....GET RID OF HIM!!!

The case for the defence says Collins clearly wants to be a winner. He talks success and opened his account with talk of a top six finish this season! He also took Bohemians from the pits to silverware. Finally, he brought in Foran and made a guy with the worst disciplinary record on the continent into a semi-reliable goal machine.

The only problem here is wanting something doesn't mean you'll always get it. FGB clearly wants to be a winner and get respect as well. That doesn't mean he will deliver. The only place FGB and reality seem to collide is his accurate observation that he probably is the most hated man in Cumbria. Maybe if that Bin Laden git decided to hide out in a cave down Borrowdale way until the heat lessened a little, Knighton might find briefly become the second most hated man in Cumbria. Maybe.

So, Collins wish for success is in the very worst Brunton Park traditions. And it gets worse. Collins turn around at Bohemians was achieved in a league where part-time players are the norm, pressure for management jobs isn't always on a par with the Nationwide Leage and clubs and communities are more closely linked than is normal in the England. In this respect, he came to an English club that bears some resemblance to the bulk of the Irish teams in terms of local links. But that is about it. Even in our lowest division there are teams with more financial power and better players than the majority of the Irish league. Luton Town, even Oxford with their gates, would be a mighty force on the Emerald Isle.

The point is that Collins isn't in the same situation he was back in Ireland, and every time he suggests he understands what he is looking at he makes it bloody obvious that he isn't up to speed with the whole mess. The one and only decent thing he's done since he took over is bringing in Foran. A find, however much we paid, and one that we'd probably have missed without Collins. But, hell, even Aiden McCaffery could spot a decent player. He brought in one or two that stuck around and still got the job done in the promotion team.

Which brings us neatly to the case for the prosecution. Collins wants to be judged on the players he has brought in. Well, that makes the weighing up easier. For starters we'll allow him no credit for the revived and athletic crowd pleaser that is Peter Keen. I'd personally like to give Keen credit for the best moments at Barnet. All told, Keen has been good enough to be worth a few points this season and he's a big part of the reason we're, just, off the bottom as I write this.

Elsewhere Collins' 16 signings and massive squad just scream confusion and mis-management. Look, if the guy really thinks we should only judge him on the players he's brought in he is missing a few massive facts. For starters, landing yourself with 34 players at this level is mismanagement in itself. Half the experienced and talented players aren't getting a game and that is bound to poison the atmosphere. I'm not exactly close pals with Ian Stevens or Lee Maddison but I know how I'd feel if someone said to me, "Here's the new guy, he's less experienced than you so teach him everything you know during the week cos he'll be doing your job at the weekend." Transfer deadline day is fast approaching, our squad is too big and some of the more experienced players are bound to be looking for another professional club. This is a recipe for disorganisation and disaster when we know that survival over the last few years has depended partly on team spirit. Last year in particular we had a limited team who worked to their few strengths and, in turn, got some strength and support from a manager who could lead them and a crowd who appreciated what he was doing. This year we need all the luck we can get and we've got a situation, largely of Collins' making, in which non of those positives are there.

Face it, we were outclassed at Rushden and that was Collins' last chance in my book. I marked that defeat by logging on the Internet poll on the new site and voting for a ticket back to Ireland as the ideal Christmas present for the boss. The sending off was avoidable and the kind of bad luck we seem to get whenever our disciplinary record leaves others in the division standing. But the rot started on the training ground and in the confusion that passes for organisation these days. Collins thinks the 'dirty' tag is unfair. He probably isn't telling them to go out there and kick lumps out of the opposition. A lot of the niggling fouls and cardings have been down to last ditch tackles and tempers boiling over. The kind of stuff that happens in teams that don't work on a strong understanding and find themselves feeling frustrated for long periods as games slip away from them.

Collins could argue boardroom confusion. But it hasn't finished off some of his predecessors. Those that were any good got recognition and better jobs, currently in Oldham and Charlton. Even Atkins with his speciality in hot seats from hell has found the phone ringing twice since May when he needed work. Nobody in living memory at Carlisle has had the support to bring in the number of bodies Collins now manages. Our other managers from hell were working with limited availability of everything. Wilkinson for one wasn't spending money or afforded the luxury of bringing in young players who could only have been long term bets from non-league teams. McCaffery and Middlemas were stuck with small squads, some of whom were clearly past their sell-by dates, and forced to blend them as best they could. Frankly, I think McCaffery and Middlemas would have done a better job in the dug out this season than Roddy Collins. If we're gonna rate him, he's down there with Bryan 'Pop' Robson and the inspirationally challenged Bobby Moncur who inherited a decent squad and turned them into an anonymous apology for a footballing team only to leave and see the same squad playing with a smile on their collective faces under the vastly under-valued Martin Harvey.

Collins is, quite simply, a luxury we can't afford. Like Wilkinson he might escape the ultimate humiliation of managing a team out of the league because someone else might conspire to be worse. But that is a grim and uncertain thought in January. Of the potential life lines open at the moment Swansea's impending financial collapse seems unlikely. The present chairman doesn't seem able to get away fast enough and the new board is waiting. York are in financial trouble, so no change there then, and lowly teams like us have been close to the wire before. Halifax are leaking something chronic at the back. But, it's likely to be close and we are, undoubtedly, bad enough to be serious contenders for the drop. For my money Collins inspires about as much confidence as Wilkinson and that bloke took us to the very end with Chester breathing down our necks the whole way.

Collins should go because the mismanagement he has brought to the job has resulted in an oversized squad, confusion on the pitch and the kind of atmosphere that doesn't inspire confidence in the support. Think, if we'd organised a mass turnout for Atkins would we have mustered a mere 2800? I don't think so. He should go because he managed us straight into these problems. Most important of all he should go because we can't afford to be a training ground for his managerial career when our very existence is at stake.

Collins took his time to learn in Ireland. Once out of Carlisle he might be able to look back on what he did at Brunton Park and learn from it. The best managers have made mistakes early on and Alex Ferguson himself was, allegedly, one game away from a sacking when Manchester United beat West Ham in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final. He turned that mediocre performance around eh?

The problem is that Collins already has a history at Brunton Park and some of the players who have the worst history with Collins are the very people who could do the most to help us out of this mess. Ian Stevens for one. If the previous boss had reduced me to running through the city centre I think I'd be glad to see anyone else in the hot seat, and out to impress from the start.

The one bit of good news in this situation is that there are hard case managers, men who've seen it all and still seem to want more, out of work. Carlisle has already been a proving ground for some of them. However tough the job of managing a struggling team might appear there are always applicants for the jobs. And, right now, there are probably a few out there who could do a better job than the guy we have in the dug out.

Knightons Out, Collins Out, a few of us die-hards happy for a change!

Neil Nixon