I'm sure if Family Fortunes asked 100 football fans to name a club that's currently a total mess, Aston Villa would be the team picked by the vast majority. The plight of the Villa is of course all over the media currently, and the club being relegated and rock bottom of the premier league is just the tip of the iceberg given the behaviour of their players (Agbonlahor and Okore just in the last week) and the mess in their board (David Bernstein and Lord King resigned in the last week). But, when you look at their situation in terms of the stats of past seasons, it is ultimately only one relegation. This is a team that were playing in the FA Cup final just last year.
Looking beyond the league, if you look at the non-league tables you will find examples of teams who've had a much worse season than Hyde. You only need to look at the Evo Stik Division One North (the division Hyde are dropping down to next season) to see New Mills finishing their season on just 3 points. 3 draws, 39 defeats. Needless to say it's been a total disaster for New Mills, who only stayed up because of a reprieve last season, but in previous years they'd been consistently in that division since being promoted up to it in 2011. We'll see what happens in future seasons, but as with Villa, at present it's only one relegation ultimately.
There are teams that have slumped to back to back relegations, for example Colwyn Bay, who finished second to bottom in the Evo Stik Premier League. But look one place above them in the final league table and you will find Hyde United, who have now hit the unfortunate milestone of being relegated for 3 consecutive seasons.
This isn't a first in England - I'm sure this will have happened several times in the various non league divisions throughout its pyramid system. And even in the football league Wolves were relegated 3 seasons in a row back in 1984-6.
But the decision making from Hyde's owners / board during this descent has been pretty bizarre.
In the first season of relegation in 2013-14, when Hyde were in the Conference (or the National League as it's now known), they in fairness were mainly punching above their weight, competing with former league teams such as Grimsby, Luton, Wrexham etc. But it was the manner of their relegation that season that was significant. They drew a lot of attention to themselves (Jeff Stelling for example, the presenter of Sky Sports Soccer Saturday wore their scarf many times as that season went on), but the publicity was for all the wrong reasons. Hyde achieved an astonishing 29 consecutive winless games.
The win to end that run, a 2-0 win at Welling in mid January, proved to be their only win that season, as they achieved the Conference division's record low of just 10 points. As a season ticket holder that year, it had been blatently obvious by early October even to the most optimistic fan that the club would go down under the manager Scott McNiven.
Unfortunately, McNiven had been given a 2 year contract before the start of that season. When the question was being asked about why he wasn't being sacked, the situation seemed to be that Hyde's owner John Manship wasn't prepared or able to stump up the money to end his contract.
In what seemed effectively a suicide mission for the club from the owner, he persisted with McNiven the following season, and sure enough in the Conference North Hyde's season took a similar structure in terms of points, performance and hope. Hyde achieved the occasional win this time round but were still rock bottom of the league.
Supporters had long since lost any faith in McNiven, but the situation still seemed to be that his contract couldn't / wouldn't be ended early. Then, on New Years Day 2015 Hyde lost 7-1 away at their biggest rivals Stalybridge. I was there and it was every bit as bad as the scoreline suggested. A day later McNiven was sacked, and replaced by former manager Gary Lowe.
Whilst it was a relief to see McNiven finally removed, that turn of events was more frustrating than anything else. After all the talk that the owner didn't have the money to remove McNiven, the fans had resigned themselves to having to see out the season with him in charge. But this showed the owner was able to sack him after all, but by this point Hyde were so far adrift of the relegation line it was far too late to make a difference.
Performances did improve a little following the change, and despite Hyde once again finishing bottom of the league by a distance there was a general belief that Hyde might finally achieve mid table stability if not better the following season. The new manager Gary Lowe was the man who had originally got Hyde promoted to the Conference, before he walked away due to a disagreement with the owner along the lines of money.
Meanwhile behind the scenes the fans bad feeling towards the owner continued to build. The owner had previously shown interest in selling the club if an offer was made. So a small group of the fans made the decision to offer to take over the club as a supporter owned venture. The owner agreed he would write off the club's debts, reported to be around £500,000, as long as an initial £50,000 could be raised.
Fundraising seemed to begin quite slowly and pretty much tail off according to the running total on the website which was miles off the required amount, before next thing it was announced that the takeover had been completed. A month before the takeover had actually taken place, Hyde announced that Gary Lowe would continue as manager.
The next season got going, and began with an inconsistent start with a scattered mix of results putting Hyde mid table. Compared to the previous two seasons mid table was a refreshing change, and there were positive signs that Hyde could build on that start and climb the table, including wins away at the promotion favourites Darlington and Salford City, and at home a 7-1 thrashing of Stamford. A 5 match winning streak in the league followed in October, and Hyde finished that month having climbed to 4th and into the play-off positions. By this stage Hyde had played 17 out of 46 games, so they were over a third of the way through the season, and any worries of relegation were becoming a distant memory.
And from then on, it all spectacularly changed. That 5 match winning run was incredibly followed by 14 straight matches without a win, a run stretching to mid February that included 11 defeats. Hyde gradually descended down the table to the point of finding themselves 4 points from relegation. They finally scraped a win, 2-1 at home to Whitby Town who were also in the relegation zone. Following another defeat Hyde finished February with another 2-1 home win against Buxton, opening up some much needed distance from the relegation zone with 12 games to play.
But March was to be another win-less month, with 2 draws and 4 defeats. The final one of these games was to prove a significant moment. Hyde faced nearby Ashton United at home. This was the manager's pre-match programme notes:
If Gary Lowe choosing to lay into the players was meant to provoke a reaction on the pitch it didn't work, as Ashton battered them 4-0. And it proved to be the final straw as he was then sacked, with some fans questioning why this was left so late in the season, with only 6 games now left to go.
It was certainly set up to be a tough situation for any manager to walk into, with the club now only 3 points above the relegation places having achieved just 2 wins, 5 draws and a colossal 16 defeats in the previous 5 months. But the manager chosen to achieve results in the final 6 games of the season seemed nothing short of laughable to me.
They went for Darren Kelly, a man who had already made a spectacular mess of both Oldham Athletic and Halifax Town earlier that season. He had been sacked by Oldham after just 1 win in 9 matches, and followed this with being sacked again by Halifax, this time after only 7 league games in charge, 6 of which were defeats. His time with Halifax was particularly spectacular, with his opening game in charge ending in a 7-1 home defeat against Cheltenham. They went on to again concede 7 away at Grimsby, and his final game in charge was a 6-3 defeat at home to Braintree Town.
Darren Kelly was to later blame Halifax Town's facilities for these results, claiming his‘hands were tied’ as the club lacked the facilities to allow him to do his job properly. If that was true then a change in manager would make no difference, but the club he left rock bottom of the division and 10 points below the relegation line are now a point above that relegation line with 1 game left to play, and in the FA Trophy final at Wembley next month. Yes they might still go down if results don't go their way on the final day but it's a huge difference to being so far adrift at the bottom when he was sacked in mid November.
It's also interesting to note that Halifax conceded 28 goals in the 7 games that Darren Kelly was in charge, that's an average of 4 per game, but in the 5 months since he left there has only been one league game in which they've conceded more than 2 goals. Recently when their defender Scott McManus was asked what was the main cause of their poor defensive record this season he replied “The appointment of Darren Kelly, if you want me to be brutally honest".
So given his track record, and the fact he claimed he couldn't do his job properly because of the lack of facilities at a club like Halifax, who compared to Hyde are in a far superior position in terms of their stadium, fan-base, finances etc, there was no chance of him changing the fortunes of Hyde. To put it bluntly it was a ridiculous appointment. Sure enough in the 6 games with him in charge Hyde lost all 6, scoring 2 and conceding 17. In the process of those final 6 games Hyde moved down a place into the relegation zone, then dropped a further place to finish 22nd, which is two below the relegation line.
That further drop in the relegation places from 21st to 22nd could end up having more significance than it first seems. At that level if a team goes bust the highest placed of the relegated teams would get a reprieve and stay up in the division to make up the numbers. This has actually become quite regular in previous seasons, with Marine receiving a reprieve from relegation following the demise of Salisbury City last season, and the same happened for Frickley Athletic the season before after the resignation of Vauxhall Motors. It is possible for more than one club in the same division to receive a reprieve if more than one goes bust, but unlikely.
Who knows what the future holds for Hyde United. The good news is that the club have chosen not to continue with Darren Kelly, who was in effect on trial for the 6 games he took charge. In terms of Hyde's results next season it's probably just as well they lost those last 6 games. The manager's position is currently being advertised, and it can only be hoped that whoever thought bringing Darren Kelly in would be a good idea has either come back to reality since or isn't involved in the final decision this time round.