It’s been a quiet few weeks, hasn’t it?
Normally, it’s the last one out who turns out the lights, but a bewildering sequence of events which started with a floodlight failure brings us into this afternoon’s game against Colne having parted ways with the First Team Manager, plus the Club Captain and his deputy.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, of course. James McCulloch wasn’t supposed to slip down the M57 on a Friday afternoon, his final game in black and amber starting on the bench and ending with a caution and a defeat. But sometimes life doesn’t go how it’s supposed to and Kirk decided to seek greener pastures at Widnes, his 429 appearances the second highest total for Cables in this century.
The reaction on social media was particularly splenetic and while that’s understandable – the former skipper was the most totemic player among several fan favourites to move on – it’s ultimately not helpful. That goes for both sides of the ‘argument’ – I think the idea that James McCulloch is “finished at this level” is as risible as the suggestion that the entire Board should step down.
It’s entirely possible (and almost certainly true) that Kirk’s performances this season were not as imperious as in previous years. It’s also entirely possible that decisions have been made within the club hierarchy which have exacerbated feelings he already had. I don’t know, I’m just a supporter, but I have been involved in similar situations at other clubs when I lived down South. I know that when you’re on the Board of a club like this you lie awake at night thinking about the bills that need to be paid, then spend your working day desperately trying to keep both your boss happy and your football ‘to-do’ list down.
Having a pop at the club’s Directors on social media does nothing constructive, especially telling them to “put their hands in their pockets”. They’re working people, just like you or I.
“No, not their money, the club’s!”, I hear you cry.
Guess what? There ain’t much of that knocking about either. It took me all of about two minutes to download the club’s most recent accounts from the Companies House website. It’s true that the club declared a small profit for the last financial year, but it wouldn’t have done without pandemic-related small business grants.
That’s not to say I’m giving the Board a free pass. To lose players who, between them had made more than 900 appearances for the club, with all of them joining local rivals is a terrible look, especially when also parting ways with a manager who only took charge of 21 meaningful games over two seasons. But I know that there will be plenty of soul-searching being done by everyone involved. What’s needed now is to draw a line under the past few weeks, pull together and move forward.
Only Kirk truly knows what made him decide that he was no longer enjoying his football at Prescot and seek new opportunities. At this level, to be as good as these players are for as long as James McCulloch has been (and will almost certainly be again), you must treat football like a job, whilst also holding down an actual job. The sacrifices players make to compete in the Northern Premier League are significant and let’s not forget, James McCulloch had been at the heart of the club through a tumultuous decade.
Maybe, after ten years at the club, he simply felt a little ‘stale’? I know that happened to me once; I stayed too long in a job I loved for most of the time I was in it and cried when I left, because I knew I’d miss my colleagues immensely. But in my heart, I knew it was time to go; I wasn’t performing at the same level I had been because the management’s priorities had changed, which caused the atmosphere in the office to shift. I was simultaneously burning myself out trying to hit “my” levels, while mentally no longer enjoying the work.
Ten years ago this month, a local derby between Cables and Warrington Town was watched by 101 people; there were nearly five times that number in the ground for the Ramsbottom game. As the fanbase has grown, so improvements have been made to the ground and, with James McCulloch at the heart of the team, trophies have been won. With a little more luck along the way, there might have been a promotion and a third Senior Cup. The contribution James McCulloch made to all that progress is immense and should be recognised. But he’s moved on and, however painful it is for us as supporters, we have to as well.