Monday 8 June ~
Clubs will release a record number of players this summer. Some will find themselves in the same position as Jon Worthington, the former Huddersfield Town skipper who recently joined my team, Oldham Athletic – a club where he is strongly disliked by the home fans. Worthington is a midfield player who oozes competitiveness. In the past two seasons he was booked in each of his matches against Latics. Last season, after Oldham’s dramatic third round FA Cup victory at Everton, it was Worthington, in typically aggressive style, who led Town to a fourth round victory at Boundary Park, further endearing himself to the home fans.
As a captain, his leadership style on the pitch is to set a competitive example and to demand that everybody matches his energy. The paradox is that it is exactly those characteristics, which have led to him being so disliked in the past, that will be required if he is to win over his new support.
Over the years there have been plenty of examples of players making difficult moves and achieving acceptance in a variety of ways. What stands out from those stories is that it is often easier to win over new fans than it is to appease the fans of the club that has been left behind, a point demonstrated to an extreme in Sol Campbell’s move to Arsenal from Spurs. A good demonstration is the career of David Eyres – a serial maker of difficult moves. Eyres joined Blackpool as a 25-year-old from non-League football and enjoyed four good years at Bloomfield Road, including two play-off finals (one victory). He was top-scorer in his final season. He then followed manager Jimmy Mullen to Burnley, ranked only behind Preston North End in Blackpool fan demonology.
Eyres played for seven years at Burnley and established himself as a firm crowd favourite, before compounding his felony, in the eyes of Blackpool fans, by joining PNE. He became such a favourite in his two years at Preston that he was voted into their all-time top team – quite an achievement given the club’s history. But he has never been forgiven by Blackpool fans, a point Eyres noted in a press interview given eight years after leaving the Seasiders and a reflection of the raucous reception he received at each reunion with Blackpool fans.
Perhaps the best illustration is the unavoidable Robbie Savage – almost any of his moves could illustrate the point, but his transfer to Derby County in 2008 stands out. Ten years earlier Savage had been chased from the pitch by Derby players after a blatant dive had won a penalty for his team at the time, Leicester City, resulting in a 3-2 victory for the Foxes. That history, and indifferent form, meant that he never won over his new fans, but manager Paul Jewell summed up the paradox at the heart of the “difficult move”: “I hated Robbie Savage when he played against me. He is one of those characters you despise when he is playing for the opposition, but love when he is playing for you.” With Robbie Savage as a role model, how can Worthington fail? Either way, he plays for us now. Brian Simpson