Changing Seasons: Our League One preview 2015/16
Adam Tanner gives his thoughts ahead of Saturday’s opener and Swindon Town’s season to come
Cast your mind back to May. No, not to the relentless Nathan Byrne breaking away to relieve a spell of intense stoppage-time pressure at Bramall Lane, tearing down the right flank towards the Swindon fans, and slotting a shot into the far corner to create one of those incredible football moments that make it all worthwhile. Not to the final whistle at the County Ground, to bring a merciful end to the only 5-5 draw you’re ever likely to see. Not even to those awful Sepp Blatter jokes. You know what I mean. I mean watching the colour drain away from such an excellent season with all the pace of a Ben Gladwin shot. And waiting for the fourth to go in, so that you could stop hoping and start recovering.
This was all just over 10 weeks ago. I know time flies and all that, but don’t you think it feels like longer? Doesn’t the disappointment feel more deeply ingrained? Perhaps it’s because this isn’t the first, or even the second, time that we have been horribly let down at Wembley in relatively recent times.
This might not seem like the way in which to open a pre-season preview but an acknowledgement of what happened, where we fell short and where we must improve is essential. Last time we lost a play-off final, the hangover lasted about 15 months. A squad full of apparent winners was allowed to rapidly deteriorate into a feeble mess, bickering with the crowd, with the manager wittering on about fictitious play-off pushes while any rational follower could see us heading far closer to the bottom-placed finish. Some reflection is necessary, to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, and that last season is able to represent the springboard that it should do, rather than a counterproductive bugbear.
And now, as another season dawns, I think we are well placed to approach it with enthusiasm. Pre-season has gathered pace at a good time, and there are plenty of grounds for optimism. The return last week of Jordan Turnbull has done so much for me. He was voted, quite correctly, last season’s ‘Player of the Year ‘ in a team which, naturally, contained a fair few candidates. He has proved himself in this league once already, he doesn’t have to be here, and it’s hard to imagine any reason for his presence other than the purest one of all; he wants to play for Swindon every week. Wonderful.
Of course, we can’t be sure as to what enticed Turnbull back but, especially on the basis of a reasonably high turnover of players, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to assume that our manager might be a pretty big factor. The summer contained a period of weeks during which it seemed very feasible that Mark Cooper would be leaving for Sheffield Wednesday. His departure would certainly have disappointed and worried me. Throughout his two seasons, he has invariably taken whatever he has been given and formed a consistently competitive side.
Broadly speaking, there has always been a sense of indifference towards Cooper from the majority of the fanbase, and this puzzles me. There sometimes seems to be an impression, based on nothing in particular as far as I can tell, that the likes of Luke Williams are far more responsible for our relative success, and that Cooper is a peripheral figure, who we could comfortably manage without. Ok, perhaps he doesn’t do all of the coaching, scouting and negotiation required by the club. But name me a modern manager who does.
A manager’s impact can never really be assessed until he has gone, and I’m in no rush to find out how we would have coped without Cooper. Like many of his Swindon predecessors during my time, he can come across as a bit snappy and impatient when interviewed, and could make life easier for himself with some more streetwise PR. But, equally, a little more support and TLC from the fans might encourage him to relax at times.
Regardless of exactly who is responsible for what, our transfer policy over the last couple of years has clearly been a relative success, and my limited pre-season viewing has shown enough to suggest that this trend should continue. I was personally very keen for us to recruit a new first choice ‘keeper, and the early signs are that Lawrence Vigouroux will be up to the task. He seems to be athletic and positionally aware; the type capable of really commanding his box and making the job look easy. He’s even heavily left-footed, which is convenient, as all those (incredibly privileged) years of watching our Wes every week have caused me to instinctively draw breath whenever the ball goes within six inches of a Swindon keeper’s right foot. Perhaps the fact that he was given a full 90 minutes on Sunday – a day on which every other starter was substituted – should tell us that for the foreseeable future, he’ll be there to stay.
Of course, we have now reached a stage at which a quality batch of loan signings is all but inevitable; the three incoming permanent signings that we have made are more worthy of review. Each of Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, Drissa Traore and Fabien Robert have been free transfers who are relatively unproven, especially in England. This is interesting. Much of our success has been founded upon reasonably small, prudent purchases. The likes of Wes Foderingham, Massimo Luongo, Nathan Byrne and Ben Gladwin all clearly fit this category, while other investments, such as Michael Smith, Jon Obika and Jermaine Hylton, are doing fine, and will be important players this season. How often can it be said that we’ve wasted money under the current management? Probably once; we didn’t get much return out of George Barker. Furthermore, player sales, play-off windfalls and the departure of high earners means that we have inevitably done well financially over recent months.
However, again, the early signs of the incoming players are good, and our inexpensive summer could well set another healthy precedent. If we can continue to succeed while generating a clear and regular profit, the club will reach sustainability, and will genuinely become something to which any equivalent club should aspire. And that isn’t a title we have often held.
As ever, there are a few niggling issues. I won’t look to echo an excellent recent piece by Alex Cooke on this subject, with which I totally agree. Lee Power’s stance on the media seems pointless and trivial; it generates suspicion and mistrust, and makes life less straightforward than it should be for a chairman who seems to know exactly what he’s doing.
Anyway, enough of all this; we are ready to go. Saturday starts the process of making sure next May’s enduring memory is very different. But, either way, we wouldn’t do without it.