Match number 31 was the end of the Simon Rusk era at Stockport County. Do you remember those graphics that people would post on Facebook in the early 2010s? They would say something like ‘girlfriEND, boyfriEND, best friEND, everything has an end apart from famILY, which has I Love You’. They’d be posted in full sincerity; sometimes as a pointed jab towards someone you’d deem to have wronged you, or sometimes just in an attempt to prove yourself as one of life’s great intellectuals.
There are hundreds of potential reactions to last night’s defeat against Barnet and the subsequent dismissal of Simon Rusk, yet when I sat down to my laptop a few moments ago it was those clumsy teenage images that burned most brightly in my mind. Perhaps this was just a hangover from my meeting with a few County fans last night outside The Prince Albert, and their words were still pinging around somewhere in the background of my subconscious. One of them had told me that “the thing about County is, it’s a family. You only need to meet someone twice and you’ve known them all your life” before pointing at some I’d previously assumed to be his Godfather-come-blood-brother and telling me that they’d only met earlier that night.
Was my reaction a philosophical ponderment on the presence of supporters at Edgeley Park not only pre-dating that of any manager, player, head coach or chairman, but also remaining there for lifetimes beyond the departures of those mere individuals, long after they’ve disappeared into the thick clouds of memory and times gone by? Did I reside in the great scholarly dome of Manchester Central Library and allegorise the departure of Senor Rusk, lyrically hypothesising how we’re unable to choose our families, and you may well be stuck with the blue and white eyes that have run thick in your blood for generations, but as Mark Stott and Stockport County proved at 11:54 this morning, we are still, blessedly permitted to choose our friends?
Perhaps not. Perhaps this isn’t the case at all and those silly Facebook posts only popped into my head because I was so titanically unsurprised by the announcement that I was able to process it without needing to shift up beyond the 1st gear of sincerity. Anyone who’s been following County this year will know in their heart of hearts that this was always the most likely outcome. The season got off to a terrible start against Dagenham and Redbridge, before 90-going-on-900 minutes against Grimsby finished in a draw so painfully lacking in goals that it made your younger stoner brother seem focussed in comparison; with the benefit of hindsight even the spirited comeback against Wrexham was only papering over the cracks. County have, for the most part, been rubbish.
Despite this, however, I do feel a great deal of sympathy for Rusk. Granted, I’m an outsider and I’d likely feel different if it was my club that he’d left languishing in mid-table, but I’ve been heartened to see plenty of the County family wishing him well following his departure today. Inept? Maybe. Out of his depth? Definitely. But he’s also unquestionably a good man, who in my opinion did genuinely care about the football club and was also big enough to own up to his own mistakes on a number of occasions, not least in the post-match interview last night when a lesser person could easily have shirked away from the responsibility and pointed towards his players conceding two set-piece goals sloppier than your Grandma’s dentures.
Replacing Jim Gannon at Stockport County was never going to be an easy job. He’s one of football’s great marmite characters; some view him as stubborn and difficult, others worship the very ground that he walks on, but you’d do well to find anyone around these parts that doesn’t regard him as a club legend. A man with 4 promotions, hundreds of victories and mountains of goodwill was replaced by a coach who’d never taken charge of a first team game of football.
It seems unfair to judge Rusk for taking the job; after all, it wasn’t him that sacked Gannon, but that didn’t stop his predecessor’s spirit haunting his every move through sections of the County faithful both in the stands and on internet forums. He was offered a 3 and a half year deal and he took it. Just like the rest of us would have done.
As if the whole Gannon saga wasn’t difficult enough, Rusk also had a dreaded ‘Director of Football’ to contend with. And not just any old DoF either, this is Simon Wilson we’re talking about: a man who seems to be being held just as responsible as the manager himself for the failures of this season. Indeed, it was Wilson himself who offered a multiple year contract to an U23’s manager, yet he seems to have escaped dismissal whilst Rusk and his backroom staff are sent on their merry way.
I’m not saying that Rusk was wrong to be dismissed - I’ve watched more than enough of County this year to know his tenure was a slowly and somehow tediously sinking ship - but I personally agree with the sentiments of those supporters who believe that Wilson should be in the firing line alongside him. His squad-building technique seems to be inspired by the methods of a greedy pre-teen at an all-you-can-eat buffet in Marbella: He scours the National League and League 2’s past few ‘Team Of The Season’ selections, chooses French onion soup for a starter, with a Chicken Tikka main and Eton Mess dessert, then swirls it all into one slimy mess with his bogey-painted finger and gets surprised when the end result leads to vomit.
You could make a comfortably mid-table team out of County’s second XI on paper, but the whole squad just reeks of individualism and money being spaffed up the wall. That’s not Rusk’s fault, it’s not the players’ fault and it’s certainly not the fans fault. In the end I believe that all 3 parties deserve better. Rusk deserves to find his level because I’m sure there’s a decent manager in there somewhere. The players deserve a clearer game-plan and an assertive brand of football to match their considerable talents. The fans… no fanbase ‘deserves’ success simply for showing up and supporting their club, but they at the very least they deserve cohesion, application and a team they can really get behind. Nobody can seem to agree on who the next manager should be, and I certainly don’t have a clue either, but it’s fair to say they’re going to have a job on their hands.
Stockport County 1 - 2 Barnet
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