We’ve probably all had better weeks supporting this club. Regardless of how long it had been coming, how many times Incey told us it was “imminent” or the amount of journos who felt they were giving us breaking news when it was “nearly there”, it still sucked the life out of me when the points deduction was announced. I don’t know about you, but if the club had been an old t-shirt I didn’t want anymore, I’d have driven it straight to the nearest charity shop or poured petrol all over it and set fire to it. Either or.
Of course, there needed to be some sort of comms from the club. Just over a year on from the last open letter we received (side note: what the actual F is an open letter? How is it different from a statement? It’s like when people go “I’d like to place on record…” - what record? Just a nonsense phrase IMO), we ended up with another one - this time from Mark Bowen.
Admittedly, the circumstances are similar. The club is still a mess, the people responsible are, well, still responsible, we’re still having to endure a season when we are deducted points. It’s embarrassing, frustrating and tiring. And I’m sick of these “open letters”.
You could argue (and you’d probably be right) that there are no positives from this letter effort from Bowen. Ultimately, it’s addressing that fact we’ve just had two hard wins chalked off our tally to plunge us into the shark-infested waters of relegation. So, given the choice, I’d rather not be reading this - the letter, not the article.
But... if we are just looking at this collection of words from Bowen, what can we make of it? Is it actually any good at communicating to us as fans? Spoiler alert: it’s not for me to say. I have my opinions on it, of course I do, as I’m sure you do. But does it give us anything?
Well, first off, it’s incomparable to Dayong Pang’s ‘effort’ last year. The nature of the beast is the same - ie the club is a dumpster fire again - but the tone, content and general usefulness are all there in Bowen’s piece.
The first bit is about him and his desire for transparency. This would be, from a personal perspective, true. He’s always been very open to talking about things, whether in the public domain or privately, and having met him a few times to be able to assess his character, he doesn’t switch personas. There isn’t a “camera Bowen” and an “off-screen Bowen”.
The first meaty part of the letter is about player recruitment and if you haven’t read it yet or didn’t fully absorb what was being said on first reading, there is nothing in there that is a major surprise. I guess the only bit that might come out of the blue or is little known is the point about paying a maximum of 3% in agents fees, which is very, very low and incredibly debilitating when trying to restructure the playing side of things.
The overriding feeling I got from reading this part was how annoyed I’d be if I were a youth player at the club. Surely, if you aren’t getting a regular spot this season, with the limited number of players we’ve been able to utilise, it’s not happening here for you? But that’s a different issue and I digress.
Bowen goes on to talk about the arrival of new staff members which, again, is nothing new - but it is promising in that there is a semblance of a plan moving forward. What that looks like in League One if we were to be relegated is clearly open to interpretation, but the clarity of that extended mission statement is at least encouraging and an affirmation of the intentions of Bowen and his new team.
After the photo that makes the quad at Bearwood look like a Victorian school, things get interesting. I learned some stuff in this next bit. I guess I failed to realise that we agreed to not have 12 points taken off us in one go and, because I’m naive and was distracted, I completely ignored the bit last season about another points deduction being possible for this season.
And what Bowen says here is basic maths: 12 points off last season would have seen us gone from the Championship. The fact that the suspension was largely forgotten about (and I can only talk about my own thoughts here) led to that feel-good factor at the start of the season, coupled with some decent results. The key line for me is where he says:
“…but now we are very confident that this six-point penalty is the last of our medicine…”
Based on the previous parts of the letter and his desire to speak, not necessarily as regularly as maybe he should have this season, I don’t doubt he’s telling the truth. What would be the point in lying? He’s been around football in this country long enough to know the consequences of lying to fans.
It’s also tricky to be annoyed at the EFL at this point. The club and the league bodies agreed a number and a plan, they weren’t stuck to, therefore a points deduction was given. I don’t like it, but it makes sense to me.
We then move onto his personal reactions, which are telling. From the letters I’ve seen of this type (not necessarily on points deductions, but general club comms), they tend to be written by “the club” with individuals not lending their names or personal responses to the incidents in question. The fact he’s talking about how it made him feel is the kind of stuff we used to get from SJM in the programme notes before large games and I liked that. This bit is probably the most authentic of the whole piece, as he’s sharing his experience, his thought process and what exactly needs to happen, however obvious that may be.
It does however make the ‘long term’ section of the letter a tad redundant in that, if we don’t stay up, I’d imagine the overall player recruitment, style of play and ambitions will change. For example, if we stay up this season, it’s unlikely the club would come out and say that promotion was a target. However, drop down a league and you’d like to think the public aim would be the top spots in the third tier, albeit a target that would be difficult to achieve.
The final parts are filled with chat about the academy and the owner. The academy has been a very sore point this season, alongside the fact that our current manager doesn’t seem interested in giving the young players a shot (my opinion, that). It looks promising moving forward but doesn’t really explain fully why we lost the status in the first place; there are points about the pandemic etc, but we can’t have been the only club in that position, so it must have been something else that tipped the scales.
To close out, he discusses Mr Dai and this is the bit that I found very frustrating. Yeah, we can talk about his money and how generous he’s been, but the point about him being private is becoming very tedious now. I don’t like doing the school run, but I have to do it. It’s a necessity - and call me old-fashioned, but if you have the ambition to buy a football club, you need to be able to speak to the bloody fans of that club, otherwise the desire to own a team is at odds with a failure to speak to the main stakeholders.
With the last sentence, he seems to get the overall mood of the fanbase. He talks about “driving the club forward”, the opportunities at play but also how our patience is wearing thin. All of these things can be true at the same time and he rounds off the letter well.
He doesn’t once mention Incey. That could be a secret bombshell or just a complete oversight, but not mentioning the manager I guess aligns with the recent poor form. Ultimately, whether you are Ince in or Ince out, he hasn’t actually done anything yet, so there’d be no reason to talk about him or his coaching staff on this.
We all know the fragility that comes with the position of being the manager of a football team and Ince is no different. What Bowen talks about here is moving forward with people who are in it (apparently) for the long haul. I guess if he were writing another letter in early May with the club still in the Championship, he’d talk about the players and coaches, but that’s not for this piece.
All in all, there are some good bits in this letter. It’s clear, precise and the most communication we’ve had from anyone in this form for a long while. We’ll find out pretty quickly if any or all of what is outlined in the letter comes to pass, but I do know I’m hopeful the next letter I read from Bowen is about how we’ll attack the Championship next season. While this is the best communication we’ve had in years, responding to a points deduction has sadly become an annual tradition.
I’ve got everything crossed that this “frustrating football club” can get back on track.