Haughton Holocaust at Fleetwood Fans’ Forum

This is where it happens. Where chairman Pilley switches from orange to beer. Where talk of individual brilliance is strictly forbidden. Where the team mantra is constantly ploughed.

This is where faces and lips give away more than they ever envisaged. Where the subtle demands and immediacy of those present get something of value. Between the lines. In the unspoken pauses and hesitations of the Fleetwood Town masters sat shirted and scrubbed.

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Steve Curwood. Andy Pilley. Uwe Rösler. Grétar Steinsson. And the fleeting appearance of players Cian Bolger and Bobby Grant. One reserved, Irish and quiet before an audience, the other relaxed and affable – a Scouse comedian.

Forum. noun. 1. a meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged. 2. [NORTH AMERICAN] a court or tribunal.

Which is this? Probably the former given Fleetwood’s fine start. No grilling for Rösler. No sharp damnation for Pilley. Just merriment and the intermittent chorus of communal applause.

An easy night. A jokey night. In the wanton racket of FTFC’s plot to reach the Championship though something almost dark and poignant (the chairman’s head bowed as Rösler powwowed):

I spoke to Nick [Haughton] at the end of last season. I think every manager or every head coach has a certain way to play…and errm…err…we set out, since I came here, we set out a clear profile on our players we want to bring to the football club, in which age group we wanted to bring to the club and I think that was in line with Grétar [Steinsson] and with the chairman and…and Nick is not really in that profile…

You talk about high pressing, you talk about quick transition, you talk about athleticism and Nick is a very, very big talent, technically very good….but Nick needs players around him to let him shine and I personally have a different philosophy…errmm…and this is why Nick found it hard to get regular playing time.

End of last season I spoke to Nick…and said Nick is 23-years-old, I think it’s very important now that you play regular football and unfortunately I can’t guarantee you regular playing time here…and this is, since then he is looking to find a club…he is contracted with us and I’m sure the type of player he is, the quality he has, I think he has his admirers and…ermm, I’m sure…ermmm…in the near future we will tell you where Nick will play football…either on loan or on permanent…”

That is the problem. When you sit before the hordes. When you get them giddy on discounted £2 beer. Some among them will press. For simple answers that you’d rather lock away. Or code in Anglo-German ambiguity. Press. Better than the press itself. Better than the watered-down fluffballs that emit Value-brand sentences from the offices of Johnston Press.

But I admire you. For doing it. For sitting it out. For confronting the often grunting public. For allowing us to see the human in you. Your folds and breaks and startlingly even-handed exposé.

We sometimes swim through murky rivers. But then they clear. Then the real sounds and sights hit our ears and eyes. The real, in this case, that macabre word ‘profile’ – the straight-backed cousin of spew and silt and all those soulless words that cavort before us.

So what of Nicholas George Haughton, born 20 September 1994? Soon to be 23 years of age, Uwe, but not there yet. What of his skills and panache? Could his assets not be harnessed, his weaknesses tapered down? His profile enhanced?

I agree – he is the kind that occasionally gets busted up, but wasn’t he the perfect missile at times, wasn’t he the DARPA .50 calibre EXACTO bullet able to turn corners and ridicule dumbfounded defenders when in full flow? Wasn’t his balance like that of the Romanian beam great, Nadia Comăneci?

You must know that he will come back to haunt us. That when you were speaking Pilley’s desperately downbeat mien almost whispered, nay, cried “Mon amour!!!

You have keyed the chairman’s finest vehicle. You have ruined and trashed people’s desire to sit on the edge of their seats. In anticipation. In excitement. Elation. Delirium. Zeal. Zest. For we had – still have – another Josh Morris, another flair maestro capable of buffeting the ordinary, capable of oscillation and turbulence and fire.

And what have you done? You have thrown him down. Left him on the pavement. Offered him the meagre succour of “important now that you play regular football”.

People have been jailed for lesser felonies.

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In the conflagration of Nick Haughton, you have wandered over to the dark side and gobbed a fat pool of spittle upon the shoes of every romantic Fleetwood Town fan. You have given brazen recourse to those that would push a world of clones, a profiled army, the computerised and sickening sangfroid of the unsentimental.

These are dangerous times, Mr Rösler. More dangerous than your “Two-nil” assertion concerning a team’s peak vulnerability. And sometimes the whole of the Fleetwood Town top brass let us down with their Puma/Carling political correctness, their miserly and parsimonious interviews.

But not tonight. Tonight you gave us mounds of information. Tonight you were perhaps flummoxed by your own generosity. Away from the tailgating norms of corporate culture. Away from the jejune junk of dutiful jamborees.

Tonight you talked about us having the youngest squad in the league, you talked about long-term contracts, not needing “ten, nine, eight new players each season”. You revelled in your worship of Godswill Ekpolo’s tenaciousness – our defender’s very honest bruising of others (even his own team mates!).

It was wonderful to hear. Your respect for the departed David Ball. Your precise understanding that we must “control games” in order to reach “the next level”.

I see that. I see it with my own eyes. Billy Crellin, our number three goalkeeper, for England (Under-18s) as well. A significant call-up. A prestigious landmark.

The whisper in Conor McAleny’s ear. The future of Amari’i Bell (“We don’t get bullied by bigger clubs,” Herr Steinsson insisted…for a moment surrendering his Icelandic roots). Scouts. The ground’s footprint. The music we come out to – Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams, a special song to Pilley and no loud, undemocratic voice will change that!

It’s good. I hear it. And ten years from now – where will we be? Step forward chairman Pilley with a reluctant but coherent answer:

Awfully long time. My dream scenario would be…I would love to be comfortable in the Championship, with an increased fan base, with local players coming through to the first team.

I’d like to be a club that can…err…sustain its own…can stand on its own two feet and is not reliant on one man, me, me, writing a big cheque every day because again I just think it’s in the best interest of the club that it can stand on its own two feet…and again the model that we have now is we sign players who are on the that upward curve.

And what will happen naturally if we continue to do as well as we are. We’ll have admirers and it becomes very difficult…errmm…to stand in a player’s way. And we had this a few years ago with a certain one in the Premier League…when a club comes along and offers him ten times his current wage and offers him the chance to move up three or four divisions…then I feel obliged as custodian of the club.

One of the reasons why we sign these players is…we want to be that football club, that stepping stone that can help them to the Premier League or to the very top of the Championship. We want to see them on Match of the Day, we want to see them in an England strip, performing at a top level.

And that would be my target – to be comfortable in the Championship, to have bigger crowds, to be trading well, and having a sustainable football club.

The mortar in that talk. The mortar between those bricks that you provided us. It had sufficient hydrated cement. But still, the Haughton holocaust concerns me.

Keep him for the damn bench. Put him through his paces. Make him an army conscript. But show the lad something. A bean. A conditional contract. A pen with its top off and Pilley’s hand wavering at the end of the desk.

You know when he enters the field of play that the uppity defence of the opposition flags and wonders whether it can last those final twenty minutes.

Strengthen him. Throw him in a boxing ring. Hit him with a garden gate. But don’t let him go.

The news! The news! Always interrupting long reads! Make sure he returns from Chorley!

Because players with sparkle don’t often come along. Those who you love that send shocks through your system, who charm you and fascinate you and engage you – who have you feeling weak and defenceless in the presence of their impalpable magic – are a once-in-a-decade deal.

Don’t forget that, Mr Rösler. Don’t forget.

The Author

Jeff Weston

Author of Wagenknecht (ALL MEN crack up at 40) and Pitchside, Ringside and Down in the Table Tennis Dens.

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