A blog on how UEFA EURO 2016 has raised the expectations of Welsh football fans everywhere.
It was the decision that rounded-off an unprecedented couple of weeks in Welsh club football as Gary Mills vacated his position as the manager of Wrexham on Thursday. It meant that Swansea City, Cardiff City, Newport County and Wrexham had all sacked their respective managers after disappointing starts to their domestic campaigns in what represented a domino effect of decisions spaced out over little more than a fortnight. All four clubs play in different levels of the English pyramid system, all have different budgets and ambitions, and all have had varying degrees of disappointment over the opening couple of months of the season. However, the stakes are high in the professional game, and the rewards demand decisive action when things do not go to plan. Of course, other clubs have also parted company with their managers this season, but for the four Welsh clubs to take such drastic action before the clocks go back suggests something a little bit more.
Obviously, all four clubs have their reasons, and all four have presented justifiable facts and figures in what has become a business of instant results. But, is it just a coincidence? The summer proved to be one of unparalleled success for Welsh football as the national team reached the semi-final of UEFA EURO 2016. It was an incredible achievement by Chris Coleman and his side that received incredible support from across the country. Throughout France, Welsh football fans represented one badge, one colour, one flag. There was no club rivalry, just Wales. There was Bordeaux, there was Russia, there was Belgium, there were so many memories. However, success has raised expectations, and the collective despondency that followed the 1-1 draw with Georgia on Sunday showed just how far Wales had come. Of course, there is a new breed of Wales fan who knows nothing but success, and Georgia offered a little glimpse into the disappointment that so many before them have experienced for so very long.
And these are the fans that spend their time between the international breaks supporting their clubs, and these are the fans that have developed a whole new taste for expectancy when following the fortunes of their teams. It is difficult to put into a collective context what the summer meant to the nation as a whole. So unprecedented was the success that there is no comparison. So how did it change us? It showed us what can be achieved with limited personnel, how collective belief and togetherness can produce incredible results against the odds, how the right work ethic and values can defy what many would consider to be impossible. Wales were the perfect story of EURO 2016, and while it ended in the inevitable disappointment, there was even success in failure as thousands of Welsh fans showed their support and gratitude to Coleman and his exhausted squad at the final whistle in Lyon when their tournament eventually came to a close.
But this wasn’t a film, it was football. And like Leicester City proved in the build-up to the finals, anything is possible. As a result, excuses become difficult to find, as there is always a way. Welsh football embraced and bought into high levels of expectation over the summer months because it was being played out successfully for everyone to see. With every round that Wales progressed, more and more became possible, and these are the overriding emotions that those who witnessed the tournament first hand will remember. The issue is that these are the same emotions that the fans took into the new domestic season supporting their respective club sides, and as a result, the pressure was on from the start. Welsh football fans had suddenly became engorged in success, they had seen the passion, desire, unshakeable belief and drive required to achieve it. The pressure was now on their club sides to produce.
Of course, this is all a bit extreme, and the fans are not the ones making the boardroom decisions. However, they are the ones on social media, the phone-ins, the newspapers, the noise. They set the tone with every sign of frustration, and it spreads. So far this season, Swansea City, Cardiff City, Newport County and Wrexham all failed to consistently match the levels of passion, commitment, togetherness and belief shown by Wales in France, and that is what they have been subliminally compared against by the fans who have been a part of both over the course of the last couple of months. Wales set a standard during the summer that Welsh clubs have failed to match during the season, and the four respective managers have all paid the price.
Obviously, there are plenty of detailed reasons why each manager has been sacked, but the aftermath of the summer must surely have played some part in the instant levels of expectancy that were apparent from the opening game of the season. Were all four managers really that bad? The majority of fans for each club concerned would say yes. However, the expectations for Wales in FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifying are already significantly raised as a result of the summer, and the same principles apply. We have become a nation of expectant fans based on one summer of success, and it has spread to every level of our football interest. The four newcomers in the respective hot-seats will have it all to do to appease us in this new era of Welsh football expectancy. Good luck.