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Don’t cry for me Margentina

Submitted by on November 21, 2017 – 8:15 amNo Comment
Margentiferous

Margentiferous

So the end of an era at FC United as our first and, up until now, only manager Karl Marginson has departed, by mutual agreement, after twelve years at the helm.

A board statement thanked Karl for his loyal service and referred to a difficult decision that was “tinged with sadness”. And whilst it might not have grabbed the headlines like the recent high profile sackings of Koeman and Bilic it was nevertheless big enough news to attract a smattering of national media interest as the likes of the Guardian’s Danny Taylor kept a close eye on events. After all, in the upper reaches of the football pyramid only Arsene Wenger has been in charge of a club for longer.

I’ve only really had one proper conversation with Karl down the years and rather than banging on about football we ended up talking mushrooms. The non-hallucinogenic variety that is. Along with then head honcho Andy Walsh, Margy was attending one of our supporters’ branch meetings and, this being giddy London, the pub grub included a stuffed portobello mushroom as a starter. Margy wasn’t having it though and revealed that whilst he was a fan of the more common button mushroom the fancier portobello with its big flat cap didn’t really float his culinary boat. I’ve often wondered since if this was emblematic of some of the odd team selections later in his career? <>

Anyway you might want to look elsewhere if informed footballing comment or juicy quotes on Karl’s departure is what you’re after. Especially when you consider that historically I’ve tended to be something of an ill-judged conservative when it comes to football managers – preferring not to reach for the P45 even when the football’s been turgid. When United were pants in the autumn of 1986 there was me scribbling a letter, on our finest Basildon Bond, to Shoot (or it might have been Match I always get them mixed up) appealing for United not to sack Ron Atkinson. Fat use that was mind as the following week United were dumped out of the League Cup and Big Ron was shown the door.

And my irrational loyalty to football managers was much in evidence until very recently when it came to Karl Marginson. There I was at the end of each match, win, lose or draw, screaming Margentina (an FC version of the Argentina chant with which United supporters regularly goad little Ingerlunders) often for no other reason than that I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the four syllable simplicity of that particular chant, especially the penultimate syllable which drags out the “ti” like a rubber band before the release of the final “na”. But perhaps it had simply become a habit and one that brought back fond memories of trips to Lancashire mill towns when we sang it with gusto.

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Back in the summer of 2005 Margy, having quit playing football, was a fruit and veg delivery man when he was appointed FC’s first manager taking on the role with no previous managerial experience at a supporter owned and run football club that was only a matter of days old. Quite a challenge. And he proved more than up to the job in those terrific first few seasons with three consecutive promotions (two as champions) seeing us arrive in the Northern Premier League in 2008. We fell in love with football again and with our new manager too. After years of Fergie seemingly being at war with everyone and everything it made a pleasant change to have a sound, easy going and humble bloke in charge of our football team.

But it was seven years and four painful play-off defeats before we were finally able to move up to the next level. As early as the second season in the Northern Premier League as the season petered out into an underwhelming bottom half finish there were the first 606-style murmurings of discontent with Margy’s management; “he’s taken us as far as he can, it’s time to look elsewhere…..”. Some supporters were of the opinion that with our higher crowds we really ought to be able to assemble a team good enough to trouble the Conference North at least. Others were happy simply to enjoy the ride and take pride in other aspects of the club. And what a ride it was, at times, with the raucous Bonfire Night victory at Rochdale in 2010, the club’s first ever appearance in the FA Cup first round proper, and the trip to Brighton in the next round being the highlights.

The moans and groans went on for several seasons, following a cyclical pattern as the team always seemed to begin the season slowly before embarking on a decent run of form in the new year which was usually enough to see us in contention for a play-off spot or better. Each time Andy Walsh attended our branch meetings, usually around Christmas time, concerns were expressed about current form and were mostly shrugged off with a simple “we’ll be fine”.

We always seemed to be fine muddling through in those days but evidence of any coherent strategy or planning of the football side of things, like much of the rest of the club, was scant. As borne out by then centre forward Mike Norton’s revelation at one branch meeting that the players never practiced set pieces which certainly raised a few eyebrows. And later when Walsh was quizzed as to the circumstances under which he’d sack the manager he simply said that he wouldn’t. It appeared that Karl was unsackable.

What was never in question though was that Margy embraced the club and everything it stands for in a way that is all too rare in modern football. Donating the fee he received for his television punditry during last season’s FA Cup second round match between Curzon Ashton and Wimbledon to the club was his typically generous response to a board statement a week earlier that had highlighted the club’s precarious finances. And a few weeks later he was at Broadhurst Park on Christmas Day as the club opened the ground and its facilities to help the homeless.

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His by now full-time Head of Football role encompassed involvement in the club’s extensive community work but he always appeared willing to go the extra mile actively supporting regular club initiatives like Big Coat Day and one-off collections to support refugees. And it endeared him to the fans no end. As did his appearances back in the day at the pre-match Course You Can Malcolm at Gigg Lane where he would dazzle us with one of his repertoire of magic tricks or tell one of his bad jokes and get booed off stage.

But FC’s start to this season, our third campaign in National League North, certainly hasn’t dazzled us as we languish in the relegation zone a third of the way through the season and were denied a potentially lucrative place in the FA Cup first round proper by injury time goals at Telford a few weeks ago. After weeks of unadventurous football, which followed a shambolic pre-season, and a lack of any sense of responsibility or ability to explain the poor start to the season even I ended up ditching my traditional loyalty to the manager. On balance this feels like the right decision for the club and for Karl whose body language increasingly conveyed a lack of enjoyment in what he was doing.

Off the pitch Margy appeared unwilling to embrace a more professional approach to the management of the club spearheaded by Chief Executive Damian Chadwick who was appointed last November. This meant that Karl’s role as Head of Football, along with all staff, was subject to an agreed set of targets (or key performance indicators as they are referred to) against which performance would be measured through the season. The sort of appraisal process familiar to modern workplaces and certainly one which a full-time employee pocketing more than thirty thousand pounds a year should expect. Yet when pressed, at a board meeting early in the season, for evidence of progress on targets around improving communications between playing staff and supporters and on furthering his own coaching qualifications in the year ahead he resembled more a monosyllabic teenager who’d been asked to do double homework than an experienced non-league football manager.

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Karl Marginson’s departure from FC has undoubtedly split the support with considerable scepticism amongst many about it being “by mutual agreement”. Many reckon that he was pushed. But it’s clear from those who know Karl that he was ready to go, it was simply a matter of time. Others however are pleased that a period of stagnation and uninspiring football may now be at an end and we can look forward hopefully to a brighter, more professional, more imaginative approach to our football. Popular centre forward Tom Greaves has taken over as caretaker player manager and the club have apparently been “inundated” with applications for the vacant role with a first set of interviews to be held shortly.

So thanks for the good times Karl and good luck with whatever you decide to do next. It’s been a heck of a twelve years filled with so many wonderful memories. I’ll miss singing Margentina at the end of each match. And the blue jeans and singing about the blue jeans and selling asparagus and “fruit, fruit and more fruit”. And the Margentiferous programme notes. But now a new, and hopefully fruitful, chapter is set to begin at FC. Onwards and upwards.

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