By Steve Hill
An instinctive response normally reserved for England taking a wicket as opposed to a man losing his job, this was nevertheless how Chester manager Jon McCarthy’s sacking was greeted in our house.
Still festering in bed following a tumultuous trip to Solihull Moors the previous evening, the official Chester FC Twitter account delivered the news to my phone, ironically while I was reading a Jon McCarthy parody account, a telling sign of how amiss things had gone for the rookie manager.
Mildly disrespectful stuff, but let’s keep things in perspective. Nobody has died. A man has simply been given a large sum of money and told to go home as a result of losing an inordinate number of football matches, each attended by long-suffering fans at considerable expense.
Football managers are sacked on a daily basis, often for far lesser crimes. Nobody could claim that McCarthy wasn’t given a fair crack, having not won a home game since last year, a spell that would have arguably seen off multiple Premier League managers.
So where did it all go wrong? Stepping into Steve Burr’s designer shoes at the end of the 2015-16 season, McCarthy made the ascent from assistant to caretaker manager look easy, winning three of his first four games in charge to salvage the season. Effectively submitting his own audition, he was given the job full-time and began the next season in sporadic fashion.
However, as summer faded into autumn, The Blues embarked on an exceptional run, at one point racking up seven consecutive clean sheets. Going into Christmas in a heady seventh place, there was even tentative talk of play-offs around the Deva Stadium.
However, back-to-back festive defeats by the dreaded Solihull Moors proved a blow from which they never fully recovered.
The New Year’s Day drubbing was the first of a staggering ten home defeats, the only glimmer of light being a fortuitous draw against local rivals Wrexham. The dismal run was somewhat assuaged by monthly away victories, all of which ultimately proved crucial in avoiding relegation, something that seemed unthinkable at the turn of the year.
Some fans cite the departure of defensive-minded assistant Ian Sharps as a key factor. Others point the finger at his replacement, the lesser-spotted Chris Iwelumo, who frequently spent match day discussing tactics on Channel 5 while Chester were in disarray.
Further eyebrows were raised when McCarthy was awarded a two-and-half year contract in January, unquestionably a huge reason for him not only being allowed to finish last season, but begin this one.
Despite a major squad overhaul in the summer, there was little improvement in either results or style of play, as McCarthy proved unable to turn around the Titanic. He cut a forlorn figure on that final night in Solihull, standing alone on the touchline during the half-time break. Following a desultory 2-0 defeat, the writing was on the wall.
Astonishingly, as ever, he claimed that we played well. And as usual he praised the fans, even while they were stood behind him calling for his head. It proved the last in a series of increasingly Trumpian interviews in which, to my knowledge, he never once admitted any culpability. Offering a myriad of excuses and frequently railing against the media, towards the end they resorted to simply transcribing his bewildering rants word-for-word, giving him the rope with which to hang himself.
Yet despite this breakdown in relations, a picture emerges of a decent man, committed to the club and the community. Indeed, when I completed ‘The Card’ last season – every match, home and away – McCarthy was kind enough to say few words at my celebratory lunch. With a greater vested interest than most, the book that I have written on that tumultuous season takes a swerve from joyous travelogue to misery memoir. Meet me at the book burning…
So who next? Having taken the peculiar decision to forgo precious pitch time in order to play Waylon Smithers to McCarthy’s Mister Burns, 30-year-old midfielder turned assistant manager Tom Shaw steadied the ship with mixed results before Marcus Bignot was appointed on Wednesday.
The former Solihull Moors and Grimsby boss looks to be a great man for the job, but please please please, win a home game…
The Card by Steve Hill will be published by Ockley Books in 2017.
*This article was originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper, which is available every Sunday!