Category Archives: *Kris Mariner
By Kris Mariner
With the announcement last week that Martin Allen was to become Notts County’s new manager, this article looks at the impact he had when he joined Brentford as manager and raises the question whether or not it was a wise decision by him to leave Barnet, a team he had only been in charge of for three matches, in order to take on the responsibility of preserving Notts County’s League One status.
Martin Allen may not be a house-hold name for a large number of football fans, but a distinguished career as a player at QPR, West Ham and Portsmouth saw him become a fans’ favourite among many, and his determination for success and his larger than life personality earned him the dubious nickname of Mad Dog.
Personally, being of an age where Martin Allen’s performances as a player can’t be fully remembered, his name first became familiar when he was appointed as Brentford manager in March 2004, a role he was offered whilst in his first stint managing at the Underhill Stadium. It should be pointed out here, at the time, Barnet were sitting in the play-off positions in the Conference League, whist Brentford were cruising aimlessly through the valley of certain relegation.
With a large number of the West London Bees supporters having ‘accepted’ relegation was more than likely a few weeks previous to Martin Allen being appointed, the ‘Mad Dog’s’ arrival saw a wave of fresh air and renewed hope sweep through the club. Adrift from safety in the second half of March with only a handful of games left, the first game of his tenure saw Brentford pick up three points and start the steady climb towards safety.
Brentford fans soon realised the club they supported had recruited a manager brimming with personality, optimism, hunger, ambition, drive and determination. What’s more, this manager wanted to communicate with the fans and keep them in the loop. He posted updates of the players’ activities in training and answered questions the fans posted in their internet chat rooms. All of a sudden it was fun to be a Brentford fan again. Crowds picked up. Seats and stands started filling up early on Saturdays to see the players laughing and joking, and perhaps more crucially, enjoying the warm-up routines Martin Allen had introduced before matches. Heads were no longer hung low. Players, subs, back-room staff all wanted a part of the action. Breaks in play would see the whole team coming together, with subs on-hand to throw water bottles out to any player struggling in the afternoon heat of early summer. Players could suddenly rely and lean on each other. Their gritty and determined performances were starting to reflect their manager’s personality and they began to win points.
Needless to say, the Great Escape became a reality that season for Brentford Football Club. League One status was secured, and even more remarkably, it had been achieved before that last day of the season. The turn-around saw Brentford finish in seventeenth place.
Martin Allen had made the Brentford revival and survival look easy. A new optimism filled Brentford again during the close season. ‘Mad Dog’ announced he hadn’t come to Brentford to fight relegation every season, he wanted success and that meant pushing for promotion!
The following two seasons saw Brentford become a force to be reckoned with in League One with play-off positions being achieved both times. The second time came somewhat as a disappointment for all at the club as the season had seen Brentford lose a lead at the top which many would say resulted from the sale of their striker, DJ Campbell, to Birmingham City on the last day of the January transfer window.
Without knowing the full reasons behind it, it’s hard to say why Martin Allen chose to leave Brentford FC and take the reigns at MK Dons, then in League Two, but many fans believed it was down to the board at Brentford showing a lack of ambition to match Martin Allen’s which was illustrated trough the sale of DJ Campbell whilst at the summit of League One.
Who could blame Martin Allen for leaving? As already stated, he is undoubtedly an ambitious person and thirsty for success.
Since leaving Brentford FC, Martin Allen has been in charge at MK Dons, Leicester City and Cheltenham Town respectively. His time at Cheltenham saw the club relegated and slip into League Two and ended with his departure partway through the season.
From that point forward, Martin Allen continued to seek another management opportunity. Recently posting on Twitter that he had been “ignored, not had calls returned and outcast by many in the game.” Whilst on football’s manager scrapheap Martin Allen teamed up with DJ Campbell to create Pro FC, a brainchild which gives young footballers an opportunity to try out and win trials at professional football clubs. The X Factor of football if you like as Martin Allen states himself.
Having been without a manager’s job for more than a season, Mad Dog was recently given the opportunity to return to the Underhill on a short-term contract. For anyone unaware of how the North London Bees have done this season, if asked I’m sure most of their fans would utter phrases along the lines of “not well” or “it’s been a season to forget”.
Five points from safety with only seven games left, Martin Allen started posting and communicating with the fans once again. This time via Twitter. With posts like “Water n hi carbs pasta after game for Pro players. Ain’t done Barnet any good. Today its fish n chips and a crate at the back. ENJOY” and “Oh my god. Fire Brigade now on way to training ground at Barnet. The players are on FIRE !” it’s not difficult to imagine that Barnet’s players started to once again, look forward to and enjoy their task of picking up points for ‘their’ club. In Martin Allen’s first game back against Chesterfield, who were and still are runaway leaders in pole position, Barnet picked up a point after clawing back a two goal deficit late in the game to draw 2-2. A task which surely not many teams have managed against Chesterfield this season.
The next fixture saw Barnet travel to Burton, the team Barnet need to bridge the relegation gap with in order to avoid relegation. A nervy game for all concerned saw Martin Allen post the relaxed and calculated messages on Twitter “Fridays D Day. Name team for the game at Burton. Just another game of football. Not cup final. Not must win. Got a good group of men.“ and “Bus full up. All squad travelling. 24 men. Loads of staff too. Going shopping at Burtons”. The outcome? A 1-4 victory. Tell me the fans weren’t excited again and loving being a Barnet fan.
With Barnet having gained a few points, Martin Allen’s managerial skills were starting to be noticed once again. Another victory in his third game in charge was enough to convince the board at Notts County he was their man and capable of the fight to preserve League One football for their own club. Having parted company with Paul Ince in early April, Notts County were ready to make their fifth managerial appointment in just two and a half seasons. They went calling for Martin Allen and offered a one year rolling contract.
Martin’s appointment came out of the blue for football fans. His decision to move Notts County is one which has left many Barnet fans with a bad taste in their mouths and surprised many other football fans in general. Why? Is it because football fans expect a bit of loyalty from players and managers alike? Maybe so. But would many people turn down the opportunity to work in a larger company, with a longer contract (the phrase ‘more stable contract’ has deliberately been avoided here). Not so likely for many people, barring perhaps Dario Gradi.
The more surprising part of Martin Allen’s decision to leave however, is that Barnet looked to have turned the corner and were picking up points. Avoiding relegation was made even more likely after bridging the gap with Burton to just goal difference, already a major success when Burton had games in hand, more points and a better goal difference when Allen took charge.
Having started the survival process, would it not have been wise to stick it out and see what offers came along in the close season following what would predictably have been another Great Escape and fantastic achievement? Instead the ever ambitious and hungry Mad Dog decided he wanted a permanent contract now, not later, even if it meant starting another revival at a new club. One which may result in survival and a push for promotion next season or see the club relegated. What then for Martin Allen?
How have Martin Allen’s Notts County performed in his two games in charge? Two defeats, making it a dubious club record of nine on the bounce. The players will have undoubtedly put in battling performances, but how patient will a restless board like Notts County’s be with him if the club suffers relegation? It’s certainly a precarious position. Surely one not many people would want to find themselves in.
Barnet, following Allen’s departure, lost their first game without him and Burton, possibly buoyed by Allen’s departure picked up only their second win in nine games. A points gap has once again been formed.
Whether it was a good decision for Martin Allen to go to Notts County or not, only he will be able to answer that in time, just like only he knows the reasons he decided to go in the first place. However, it’s decisions like these and characters like Martin Allen that make football a beautiful game not only on the field, but off it too.
Many will be watching the progress of Notts County and Barnet very closely in the final few weeks of the season and many will have different opinions on the success they want Martin Allen to have at his new club. One thing is certain though, Brentford fans will always be grateful for ‘Mad Dog’s’ impact at their club and most will hope he continues to resurrect his managerial career by keeping Notts County in the division which would see him return to the dugout at Griffin Park once again next season – even if it is as manager of the opposition