ALMOST a year has passed since the gravy train left Swindon station and still many of us have not got our heads around austerity.
The signing of George Barker from Brighton on Tuesday was a prime example of the type of player Swindon Town are now in the market for - young, enthusiastic and relatively cheap.
It’s a far cry from the riches thrown around with calculated abandon by Paolo Di Canio’s regime - annual salaries reaching into the low six figures, signing on bonuses equivalent to many fans’ yearly wage and relocation allowances large enough to make the eye water.
With that success, bought with the hard-earned cash of Andrew Black, came expectation. That expectation remains while the money has dribbled away.
For a year reality has crept up on Town slowly but surely, nagging at supporters until they accept that it’s no longer possible to offer a £156,000-a-year pay packet to players who in terms of resale value are about as worthy an investment as shares in Blockbuster.
Now it’s all about buying at the bottom, developing the player and selling for top dollar. Wheeling and dealing. Football club management Del Boy and Rodney-style, except for perhaps with a little extra guile and expertise.
Still, however, some of us refuse to accept the reality of the present day and I’ve had a genuine barrage of emails and Twitter messages this week asking why the club were unable to compete with Scunthorpe to sign Paddy Madden or challenge Bristol City for Tyrone Barnett.
Let’s say it as it is, shall we?
Scunthorpe chairman Peter Swann’s wife Karin, the granddaughter of the founder of Wilkinson Hardware Stores, is part of a family whose estimated wealth is £340million.
On Friday, it was announced that Bristol City owner Stephen Lansdown wiped out £35million of debt from the club in a single stroke by issuing himself new shares to allow the Ashton Gate side to continue operating an eight-figure annual wage bill despite running up £12.9million of losses in 2012/13.
These are huge sums of money, Times Rich List sums of money, not the sums of money available at Town.
The Robins’ playing budget has been halved to roughly £2.2million and over the summer the intention is to cut it further - to around £1.5million.
For a squad of circa 20 players that equates to an average weekly wage, inclusive of bonuses, relocation allowances, NI contributions, sign-on fees, their agents’ share and transfer costs, of £1,442.
That’s still substantial and still grossly disproportionate to reality when it comes to a footballer’s net worth in society, but it’s a lot less than it used to be.
And comparatively, with a group of kids, this year Town have shown that the difference between £4.5million a year and £2.2million a year is pretty darn minimal.
After 23 games of last season Swindon lay fifth in League One with 39 points. Twelve months later, and remember most of the division have played an extra fixture than Town, the Robins are ninth with 34.
So when players like Barker, Yaser Kasim, Ben Gladwin, Raphael Rossi Branco and others are brought to the County Ground maybe they need to be given at least a run of games to prove that sometimes cheap really can be cheerful.
TIME TO DECIDE RANGER'S FATE
FOR the good of Swindon Town the Nile Ranger saga needs to be come to an end.
Regardless of what the club decide to do with the striker, and there were rumours floating around yesterday that he may be offered one final chance, it can do fans, players and coaching staff no good to hear the same old story regurgitated by those of us in the local media day after day, tweaking minor details to cater for a thirst for information when simply there is none.
Ranger’s actions over recent weeks have baffled and bemused but ultimately they’ve betrayed the trust placed in him by the powers that be at the club.
Of course in his position, with a trial and the prospect of prison looming, it’s hard to imagine how you’d react but there’s still a general etiquette required of an employee, and in just about any other industry the striker would have been reprimanded, formally warned and subsequently sacked two or three times for such a weight of indiscretions.
However, that’s not the issue. What matters is bigger than Ranger or you or I or any one individual for that matter.
It’s about closure, peace and quiet - strange commodities with which the Swindon fanbase is unfamiliar. It’s about taking three points off Peterborough, it’s about shutting the local press up.
Let’s hope it’s all sorted soon.
ANOTHER FIFA MISTAKE
ALL those in football calling for a domestic winter break will finally get their wish in eight years’ time after FIFA indirectly admitted their total ineptitude by announcing Qater’s World Cup will be switching seasons.
Only football’s governing body could make a correct decision and in doing so prove that they are not fit to make any kind of decision.
Jerome Valcke’s comments may have been “personal opinion” and not an official FIFA directive but they give a terrific indication of how the sport’s governing body has limbs that operate independently of one another with all the coordination of salmon on a riverbank.
This column has previously covered the nonsense of a Qatari World Cup, where fans can’t be themselves and players will have to be camels to withstand searing heat on the Arabian peninsula, so perhaps we’re going back over old, well-trodden sand. But it simply can’t be ignored.
Of course it makes sense to move the event to November, December and January - frankly if it wasn’t the organisers would be committing some sort of human rights violation - but this was a World Cup bid for by countries ready to host the tournament in its traditional summer slot.
Australia, who missed out to Qatar, ought to be chasing Valcke, Sepp Blatter and their cronies all the way to court.
The impact a winter competition will have on European domestic football cannot be understated and while for France, Italy and Spain the blow will be lessened by their traditional period of rest around Christmas, in England the effect could be devastating.
Fans may have to choose between lower-league football and watching their national side, attendances will likely droop and the Premier League and Championship will end up having to play a season that starts in early August and finish in late June.
All thanks to a group of out-of-touch egomaniacs. Madness.