Friday, 28 September 2012

Comment: Hawks board Havant given Ritchie a fair chance

SACKED: Stuart Ritchie
STUART Ritchie has been sacked ten games into his eventful and ill fated spell as Havant and Waterlooville boss.

A mere 20 weeks after taking over, the man who led AFC Totton to a pair of promotions, a Wembley final and the FA Cup 2nd Round was dismissed by Hawks' vice-chair Jim Fallon, who kicked up the mother of all stinks to take him to Westleigh Park in the first place.

While the ambitious Hampshire outfit didn't set the world alight, they only lost half of their opening fixtures, a series of draws stalling early progress.

But this snap decision looks all the more incredible following a tumultuous six months where more than one club has been unsettled, along with the people within them – all the more galling now it was for nothing.

This sorry story begins back in March when Fallon, who helped to finance Totton's promotion push from the Southern Premier Division, went public in his criticism of the Stags' board before withdrawing his contribution.

He quickly turned up at Havant with Totton accusing their former benefactor of 'tapping up' players and representatives – Ritchie and assistant Shaun New were believed to be among them.

A month later, Ritchie and New had made the switch, leaving their old club managerless going into the Hampshire Senior Cup final against Eastleigh.

A raft of players were expected to follow suit, but the exodus never materialised as Ritchie kept faith with many of the personnel that had struggled in the previous campaign, escaping relegation to the Southern League with the last kick of the ball in 2011-12.

After adding Fallon's investment expectancy was high, within the Hawks' boardroom at least.

But the club suffered a double blow as early as June – Ritchie's right hand man New was suspended and subsequently sacked when he was convicted of theft and fraud from a previous employer.

Meanwhile, the Hawks moved to sign experienced midfielder Tom Davis who went on to accuse Fallon of offering 'under the table cash' in a bitter row that spilled over on Twitter and made headlines in the Non-League Paper, claims the club continue to deny. Davis subsequently signed for league rivals Tonbridge Angels.

After a promising pre-season, the Hawks were solid rather than impressive, drawing more than half of their league fixtures.

The turning point came in the last week when an FA Cup defeat at North Leigh (highlights below from hawksfconline), two divisions below Havant, was followed up with a 3-0 reverse at home to fellow Conference South strugglers Weston-Super-Mare on Tuesday. 

The Seagulls jumped out of the relegation places with a victory that dragged Ritchie's charges into the bottom three as fans chanted 'What a load of rubbish'.

In Ritchie's defence, it wasn't a 0-3 performance against Weston. Martin Slocombe's audacious 30-yard chip from the right wing put Havant on the back foot. Try as they might, the hosts were devoid of confidence and couldn't turn their pressure into an equaliser.

They succumbed to two late goals from substitutes Dean Grubb and Nat Pepperell who added gloss to the scoreline. Weston deserved their points, but Havant were not as far away as the result may have you believe.

After so much success at Testwood Park and Havant's drawn out protracted pursuit of Ritchie, it is shocking they only gave their new man ten matches.

Hawks fans have mixed feelings, some believing that Ritchie just wasn't the same boss without New.

But how many successful teams have been built after ten games? With so many players remaining from a previous regime, could this even be described as Ritchie's side? Not really. 

Enough has happened to drag the name of Havant and Waterlooville FC through the mud over these testing months and this decision only heaps on more dirt.

Whoever they appoint and however successful they may turn out to be, Havant cannot say Stuart Ritchie was given a fair chance. Coupled with the circus that preceded this panic measure how easy will it be to recruit a manager worth his salt?

The only certainty is uncertainty for Hawks fans, a feeling that must be quite familiar by now. As always, it is the fans who suffer. 

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