There may be no scientific way to prove this but it often seems British football fans are the most gullible and myopic people in all of world sport. In the past week alone, we have had Rangers’ supporters trotting out conspiracy theories to explain that club’s self-inflicted financial disaster. Then, there are followers of England believing Harry Redknapp is the answer to all their problems, conveniently ignoring the rather salient fact he has precious little experience of the game beyond his native land.
However, those two demographics pale in stupidity next to the men who were at Moulineux the other weekend baying for the blood of Mick McCarthy. It can be legitimately argued that Wolves needed to change their manager at this point. After five and a half years, the same voice starts to sound a little stale to players and a fresh approach can work wonders. The owner Steve Morgan is well within his rights to think McCarthy has done everything he possibly can and a new arrival might spark enough of a revival to help them stave off relegation.
All of that is fair and all of that is part of the game. What is inexcusable is the bile and bitterness showered upon McCarthy by the Wolves’ faithful so often this season. During several different games, the television cameras have repeatedly cut away from the bench to show us supporters (many of them are not worthy of that description) howling abuse at the manager. Even though we see this all the time at English clubs when things go badly on the field, the looks of pure hatred on some of the faces were truly shocking.
And here’s why. McCarthy is the most successful Wolves’ manager of the modern era. Indeed, we would be willing to bet very good money that 20 years from now, the same clowns who are gesticulating so manically in his direction this past few weeks will look back and realize he presided over something of a golden era at Molineux. They will remember the guy they ran out of town as the fella who kept them in the Premier League longer than anybody else in their history. No mean feat.
Before McCarthy, they’d never spent more than one campaign up there, a small detail many of them seem to have forgotten. He has the best winning percentage of any Wolves’ manager since Graham Turner in the mid-eighties. And, this kind of sums up everything, Turner was in charge when Wolves were knocking around the old Third and Fourth Divisions. Too many of the hordes calling for McCarthy’s head seem to forget that it’s more than half a century (long before the Premiership was founded) since Wolves could call themselves an elite club.
Maybe the kind of Pavlovian dogs who believe buying a ticket to a game entitles them to bark at the boss don’t know their history? They certainly don’t read the newspapers because if they did they’d learn some facts. McCarthy’s most expensive purchase for Wolves was the defender Roger Johnson. Having looked like a decent player at Birmingham City, Johnson has under-performed and been pilloried by the fans. But he cost £7 million. You know how much that is in real terms? That’s the Value Added Tax Liverpool paid on the signing of Andy Carroll. That’s a number that puts Wolves in their true perspective.
This club does not have the financial wherewithal to compete in the Premier League. Indeed, it may not have deep enough pockets to even aspire to staying in the top flight. To manage that since 2009, as McCarthy did, and to give them a fighting chance of doing so again this season, is remarkable. They are buying at Penney’s while so many around them are shopping at Prada yet the angry mob somehow expect them to not be fighting an annual relegation battle. Of course, some will point to Johnson as a bad bit of business, except nobody thought he was anything less than a Premier League player last summer. Players lose form. It happens.
It’s not that long ago since Kevin Doyle, McCarthy’s second-biggest buy at just over £6 million, was being linked with a move to Arsenal. These days, some are maliciously wondering whether Doyle may be more suited to the Championship than the Premier League. That’s how bad a year he’s had and the team has suffered accordingly. The thing is a mediocre run doesn’t make him a bad buy or a bad player overnight and even if Wolves go down, they are likely to recoup most of that money by selling him on.
When Deloitte and Touche issued its 2010 report into money and English football, they discovered Wolves had an annual wage bill of just over £29 million. The only club in the top flight who had paid players less was Burnley. West Ham United, then also a Premier League team, had a salary spend twice that of McCarthy’s squad. Against that background, it’s fair to assume the history books will show the former Irish manager was actually working a minor miracle, especially when it’s remembered he managed to get them promoted in the first place.
He brought them out of the Championship with a team that cost a few million pounds, full of cast-offs, re-threads, loan players and a couple of lower league boys made good. Indeed, he managed to secure promotion for a fraction of what Roy Keane spent getting Sunderland up, an achievement that underlines the growing belief McCarthy is a smart manager who may perhaps just have stayed too long in the one place.
Casual Irish fans routinely end up rooting for English clubs speckled with Irishness. Wolves were easy to cheer for this past few years. McCarthy’s presence was augmented by a contingent of Ireland internationals like Doyle, Stephen Hunt, Stephen Ward and Kevin Foley. Unfortunately, the behavior of so many of their fans in recent weeks means the next time we turn on a game involving the familiar old gold shirts we won’t be quite as upset when they lose.