Holloway's Rocky Road
IT WAS painful to see Ian Holloway looking so weary and drawn facing the press, admitting defeat, as he signed off as Crystal Palace manager. Ultimately sport, football, may be magnificent trivia but it is also big business, notably in the Premier League these days, and its stresses and strains are unforgiving.
They are especially harsh on managers and doubly harsh on those newly promoted, and via the play-offs. Knowing only in late May that you are up may be a joyous feeling, that play-off final one of the great occasions of the modern English game, but it brings enormous problems.
Off the field, a club has myriad tasks to perform to get a ground ready. Just one example: the Crystal Palace press box was so inadequate that they virtually had to rebuilt it. Other areas of the ground needed restructuring and refurbishing. All sorts of new deals have to be done, in catering for instance, and commercial matters. New rules have to be adhered to. New staff are needed. It is a rush and a huge pressure.
On the field, there can be a mad dash to get players in, to sign contracts hastily leaving a club open to repent at leisure when they go down.
I recall going to Blackpool the summer they had just been promoted, also via the play-offs for an article for the Mail on Sunday's Live magazine. The Premier League rang the club to say they wanted to meet their eight heads of department. The chairman Karl Oyston told them that the club didn't have eight departments, let alone eight heads.
The manager at the time was, of course, Ian Holloway. I met him in his office, a portakabin, at the club's then spartan training ground next to Blackpool airport. Had he had any hair, he would have been tearing it out at all the work he had to do to get together a squad of players who might have any chance of staying up.
'What we are finding is parasite upon parasite out there in the world after the money we've just been given,' Holloway told me. 'If you're not careful, all you do is make massive mistakes by bringing in someone who isn't motivated by the right thing and kills your football club stone dead.'
I suspect he had found the same thing at Selhurst Park over the last five months and this time the task beyond him. His energy and enthusiasm, the brightness and breeziness at Blackpool, has deserted him. He could no longer stomach the demands that new managers and clubs thrown late to the Premier League are subjected to. He has been rushed into signing players and the balance of the squad, the dymanic of the club, has been adversely affected.
In the wake of Holloway's departure, much attention will naturally focus on the fate of managers who bring clubs up only to get the sack - a regular occurence now, as Nigel Adkins found out at Southampton as one of the victims of his own success. There should also, though, be discussion of what happens to the newly promoted via the play-offs.
They start naturally at a disadvantage as the weakest of the promoted clubs. They also have less time to prepare for a new season. Decisions, after all, cannot be made until they know if they are getting Premier League riches or not.
What to do for them? Maybe an extra fortnight in the transfer window, though only if it can be sanctioned internationally. It certainly shouldn't be beyond the wit of the Premier League to help their new brethren more.
As for the genial, honest Holloway, there will probably be plenty of Championship clubs wanting his services and, at only 50, he will surely take another job once he feels recharged.
Perhaps he should have taken the Weymouth job I offered him in my second spell as chairman there a few years ago rather than politely thinking it over but declining after a night's sleep. Come to think of it, though, knowing my home-town club, though, I'm not sure he would have felt many fewer stresses and strains.
Full piece in Mail on Sunday magazine on Blackpool and Ian Holloway: