Dave Hadfield: Unforgiving supporters glad to see the back of Megson
Thursday 31 December 2009
They were dancing in the streets of Bolton yesterday. The icy pavments were suddenly covered with gold, bluebirds swooped over Doffcocker Lodge and lambs gambolled on the moors. Welcome to a town in mourning for its football manager.
Gary Megson might not be the least successful manager Bolton Wanderers have ever had. He did, after all, keep them in the Premier League two seasons ago and guide them to the last 16 in Europe.
But he must surely be the least popular one the club has ever employed. In his last press conference, after Tuesday night's 2-2 home draw with Hull, he admitted that he did not expect ever to get "a fair crack" from the supporters. It was tantamount to declaring himself doomed.
His problems go back to his appointment 26 months ago. Megson was not the manager any follower of the club seemed to want, registering only a couple of percentage points when fans were polled for their preferences. Indeed, one caller from Horwich on Radio Five Live yesterday captured the popular mood. He cancelled his season ticket the day Megson was appointed - something that simply bears out the sacked manager's growing conviction that he could not win with the fans.
The factors held against him are many and various, ranging from his Mancunian background to his red hair. The main charge, however, has always hinged on his perceived negativity and air of misery. Bolton fans do not mind utilitarian football, but they like it dressed up, as it was under Sam Allardyce, with a bit of gung-ho and us-against-the-world bravado. As Gudni Bergsson, one of Bolton's most popular players of the last couple of decades, told Sky: "They are down-to-earth people, who want to go to a game and enjoy the football they're watching."
An increasing proportion of Bolton fans have been making it clear that this is no longer the case. The "Megson Out" banners have started to appear; the barracking has become more vitriolic. Some of the most rock-solid Wanderers supporters have been reduced to actually hoping that they lose games - because that would hasten their bete noir's departure.
In the end, Megson did not even need to lose a game to get the sack. He might be the first manager, though, to lose his job for a wilfully depressing use of his substitutes' bench. Bolton were 2-0 up against their fellow strugglers from Humberside and would have gone up to a respectable 14th place if they had held that lead. But Megson's knee-jerk reaction to Hull's first goal was to replace his own first goal-scorer, the Croatian crowd favourite, Ivan Klasnic, with a defensive midfielder unbeloved by Bolton fans, Gavin McCann.
There was a storm of booing, but the dominant sound around the Reebok was a groan of despair, which merely rose to a crescendo when the inevitable equaliser went in.
To describe Megson afterwards as unrepentant fails to do full justice to his faith in his own rectitude. He claimed to have made a similar move successfully in the 1-1 draw at Burnley on Boxing Day, when in fact the withdrawal of Klasnic and another attacker, Lee Chung-Yong, were major factors in losing the initiative in that match.
It all added to the perception of Megson as a man who would always take the negative option. Even what should be his proudest achievements are sullied by that philosophical limitation. When Bolton reached the last 16 of the Uefa Cup for the first time in March 2008, for instance, he fielded a reserve side to effectively concede the match against Sporting Lisbon and then lost the Premier League game against Wigan for which he was saving his first-teamers. Supporters who had waited decades for that sort of adventure were outraged at the way it seemed to have been wantonly thrown away.
Wanderers fans would have been a lot more forgiving if Megson had seemed to have any attachment to the town. Unlike Allardyce, he never lived in Bolton and, apart from his presence at the Reebok on match-days, was virtually invisible in the local community. It all added to the public relations disaster that was his time with Bolton. Like a miserable marriage, one can only hope that he and the club's supporters both find someone they are happier to be with.
That would not, for Bolton followers, need to be Mark Hughes or Owen Coyle, to name two popular candidates. The unforgiving mood in the town is that anyone would be better than the unmourned Megson.
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