The Damned Vale?

The great Brian Clough famously had a spell in charge of Leeds United that only lasted 44 tumultuous days, where he managed to alienate and upset most of the squad and undo the work of his predecessor Don Revie.
A fictionalised version of Clough’s time in charge of Leeds, The Damned United was a bestselling book and was adapted into a film.

This week a similarly tumultuous managerial reign was brought to an end when Port Vale and manager Jim Gannon parted ways. Gannon had been in charge for only 74 days but his tenure included a fight with his assistant on the team bus, a player revolt, one of his best players banished to the youth team and him having to be protected from angry Vale fans at his last game in charge as well as getting on the wrong side of fans, players and his own staff.

If you haven’t heard of Port Vale, they are a League Two club based in Burslem, Stoke-On-Trent. Port Vale’s big rivals are Stoke City and it wasn’t too long ago that Vale were in a higher division than Stoke. However, as Stoke’s star has risen with them now having cemented their place in the Premier League, Vale’s has fallen, and they are now in the bottom tier of the league.

This season Vale had high hopes of promotion. They had one of the best managers in the football league in Micky Adams and started the season well. However, Adams was recruited by Sheffield United leaving Vale in search of a new manager.

Jim Gannon is a highly regarded young manager, who has been tipped for big things by many in the game. He holds the full UEFA Pro Licence, the highest coaching qualification in Europe, which is very rare for managers outside the top divisions. He had a very successful spell in charge of Stockport County, where he worked wonders with little to no resources. Gannon’s time in charge of County was only ended after the club went into administration and the administrator decided to save money by taking Gannon’s salary off the books. He had a spell in charge of Motherwell but was let go after refusing to sign a permanent contract and had a short spell in charge of Peterborough, again leaving after being unable to agree a permanent deal.

Gannon arrival was seen as strange for a number of reasons by the fans. Firstly, he was the appointment of a deeply unpopular board; secondly, Gannon likes his teams to play a totally different style of football to Adams, as Gannon likes his teams to play an expansive passing game and utilises formations that are rarely seen in the lower leagues, where many teams stick to a rigid 4-4-2 formation. So it was unusual that the board would appoint someone who would want to completely change every aspect of the team’s play.

Gannon wasted no time in changing the way Vale played. He dropped players that were integral to Adams’ team and was facing fans criticism after just two games (which seems unfair considering one of those games was an away game in the FA Cup to Burnley). Gannon criticised the talent levels of the squad and said that his coaching staff were ‘underqualified’ and seemed disinterested in building up a rapport with anyone. His players revolted against his methods less than a month into his reign by calling a meeting with the Chairman to complain about Gannon and express their concern about the form of the team.

Another unpopular move was the dropping of key player Gary Roberts for not adapting to his new formation. Roberts complained publicly about Gannon, saying “I don’t like the manager and the manager doesn’t like me”. Roberts was forced to train with the youth team.

The most bizarre incident happened as the team were travelling to an away game at Aldershot. Gannon and his assistant Geoff Horsefield got into a huge argument on the team bus, which culminated in Gannon leaving the bus at a service station and seeking legal representation before speaking to the Chairmen. The argument allegedly stemmed from Horsefield being granted a day off to deal with a personal matter and Gannon wrote to the board complaining about Horsefield’s conduct. Horsefield was shown the letter and wasn’t happy.

Horsefield was told to get off the team bus by the Chairman, and Gannon returned to take charge of the team. Horsefield was later suspended for two weeks then resumed his role at the club, Gannon was found to have no case to answer and no action was taken against him.

Last weekend, Port Vale lost away at Accrington Stanley, a result which saw them fall out of the playoff places for the first time this season. After the game there was a confrontation between the travelling fans and unpopular midfielder Exodus Geohaghon (a Gannon loan signing), where Geohaghon allegedly spat at and mooned the fans. Geohaghon has since claimed that his actions were in response to some fans racially abusing him. Gannon had to be protected for his own safety and ushers out of a side exit.

Gannon was fired this week, and there won’t be many Vale fans, players or coaches sad to see him go. This is similar to Brian Clough at Leeds. Like Clough, I doubt Gannon will be out of work for long as he is a highly regarded manager and there will be a number of clubs this summer changing their manager and Gannon’s name will be high on the list of many clubs.