Choosing Your Scapegoat

BILL THE BIRO gives you the rules

After following Pools for half a century, I've seen a lot of Pools managers and players, and heard a lot of opinions of them.

In my early years at the Vic I'd be constantly amazed at how different fans would see players differently and would shout abuse at them accordingly. So one would constantly shout abuse at Cliff Wright or with another it might be Amby Fogarty, and according to each abuser that player would be the sole cause of Pools' dire position at the time.

To a young lad it was quite educational that two people could see the same evidence as I could (in this case, two of the better players in a poor team) and manage to focus on one person as the cause, even if other fans had chosen a different victim.

Of course, standing in the same spot every week, and hearing the same abuse from the same people became a bit tedious, but not to the abusers, obviously. Every miss-hit cross was further proof that they were right and their victim was the cause of all of Pools' problems. So for them Hughie Hamilton or Willie Bradley could have a nightmare match but that made no difference. Their man was the real culprit.

So now we move on 50 years to the internet age, and in some ways things have hardly changed. Pools are still annually dicing with death at the foot of the fourth division and fans are still picking their victims. But whereas the Cliff Wright haters didn't tend to congregate together at the Vic, and so their campaigns were likely to be lone ones, often attracting comments like "Change the record", the internet tends to reinforce random views among groups, and so a collective view emerges which from afar often seems to be less about the facts and more about finding someone to agree with.

Take the recent ownership issues at Pools. Despite IOR's infamous lack of openness, it was no secret that they had been been trying to offload Pools for a few years. Add to that the downturn in the oil industry and it was natural that they would be cutting back their funding of Pools. So a struggle to stay in the league was the inevitable outcome.

IOR had Russ Green as chief executive. He is the current League Two Chief Executive of the Year. He was taken on by short-lived owners TMH, and subsequently by the current owners, so presumably three lots of owners and also his peers have had confidence in his abilities. Yet among Poolies, many are surprised that Russ wasn't shown the door. Why on earth would he be?
"football has always been a game that generates strong opinions, but some of them were, are, and probably always will be laughable"

Was it Russ's fault that Ken Hodcroft tightened the purse strings and wanted out? Russ's job was, and is, solely to run the club according to the policies of the owners, and to my mind his effectiveness or otherwise is very difficult to assess, other than the fact that Pools still survive. We can have views on individual footballers and the team manager, but I can't see what grounds people have for
abusing Russ.

To be honest I'm not even sure the critics of Ken Hodcroft are being fair. Should Ken have been blamed for simply, like anyone else, getting bored with, or being no longer able to fund one of his hobbies? Sure, his regular rants on a small number of topics got increasingly odd, bizarre even, and better communication could have done wonders, but his funding of the team and of the club in the latter half of last season showed some concern for the club, even if it may have also served to protect his investment.

Then just this week I read a few comments online from people who didn't go to the Chesterfield friendly simply because Ritchie Humphreys, a previous scapegoat, would be there. So scapegoaters have long memories.

No doubt there will be times this season when things go wrong, and someone will be made to take the blame, as ever, so I've devised a set of rules for scapegoating:

1 Scapegoat search begins whenever the team is doing badly
2 Fans' favourites, be they players, coaches or whatever cannot be scapegoats
2 The scapegoat must be in some way senior (e.g. chairman, manager, coach, senior player, has-been striker)
3 If the real culprit is a crowd favourite, someone junior to him must become the scapegoat
4 In extreme situations, double-scapegoating may be necessary
5 If a crowd favourite is sacked for lack of success, a scapegoat will be chosen who will be blamed for actively undermining the said crowd favourite.

So my prediction is that the scapegoat candidates for this season will be Billy Paynter and Sam Collins