Death and a nurse they used to say. Life may be about weighing risk and opportunity, but I have to say I crave a little certainty right now. The last time we had any was when Oxford went a couple ahead on the final Sunday, we knew for sure we were not going up. Since then everything has been up in the air (and not just on the football front, moving to France involves dealing with a lot of variables – but that is a very long story for another day). Will England get past Germany on penalties? Will we have a trip to Derby next season or Wycombe? And just who might be wearing the shirt when we step out at The Valley on 7 August (against a team that should have been relegated instead of us)?
Clearly signing Stockley was a shot in the arm, especially as he managed to hack off so many other clubs in our division by choosing us over them. But we can only start thinking about our attacking options when we know whether or not Aneke is staying (and today’s rumour mill is not encouraging), whether or not Schwartz is staying – and if he is whether or not he might be of rather more use to us than last season. Equally it seems we are open to Millar coming back but with it unclear whether he is, as suggested, off to a Championship side (personally I suspect the area of his game that needs working on is mental, achieving the confidence and calm to be able to pick out the right option to take when in a good position – as there is no doubting his ability to create those good positions).
As for the rest of the team, all is ... well, uncertain. We wait to hear whether Amos is going to stay (big boost if he does as irrespective of Maynard-Brewer’s potential he is among the best keepers in our division), whether Famewo might return to be the first-choice partner for Inniss, and if not who might be brought in (Pearce adding another year to his contract is welcome but hardly sufficient). And perhaps the biggest imponderable just how we build a midfield effectively from scratch. There’s no doubt that Forster-Caskey would have been the lynchpin but losing him for some months means we have to start from scratch, even with Watson also adding a year to his contract. Morgan and Gilbey will presumably be options, plus Jaiyesimi out wide. But just the list of the midfielders we got through last season is enough to drive home the point that we are not going to be challenging at the top without some new faces and greater stability in the first choices.
As for old faces, of course we all wish the best for Pratley, Shinnie and Oshilaja. Pratley’s departure was understandable, given Adkins’ desire to lower the age of the squad, and a move to Leyton Orient looks good for both. No Addick will forget his play-off goal on a glorious night, his disciplinary failings last season will however fade. Oshilija still has a fair bit to offer, especially if he could adjust the nature of some of his challenges in dangerous areas as too often they leave the ref with a decision to make. The decision not to retain Shinnie was the surprising one, especially given Forster-Caskey’s unavailability. At times last season he was our best midfield option and I think there was a case for him being given the main role for the coming campaign. But it’s not to be, no doubt he will find another club soon.
As for finding another club soon, my best news of late is that it seems I have a French team to support again. I took great pleasure in supporting Lyon Duchere, sometimes one of a few hundred souls on a freezing night at the Stade de Balmont, as the team secured two promotions to find themselves punching well above their weight in the nationwide third division (those below being regional). Things turned sour as the president of the club seemed to have ideas to create something different.
The one stand began to have the only padded seats roped off into a ‘VIP area’ and before long plans were announced to change the name of the club, part of a scheme to move across to the other side of Lyon, to take the old ground of the city’s rugby team (which had moved into Olympique Lyonnais’ old ground). There was a spurious claim on Wikipedia that a new name had been chosen by the fans; the truth was different versions of the same theme were offered as ‘choices’, none of which contained ‘Duchere’. Renamed Sporting Club de Lyon, under a new manager and with an influx of new players, the stated goal of the president was to make Sporting the ‘second club’ of all Lyon and to take it into the French first division within a few years.
You might guess the rest. ‘Sporting’ made a dreadful start to the season and never really recovered, despite changing manager in mid-season. A 5-1 thrashing from Villefranche (btw, if you ever get the chance visit that town, it has a wonderful medieval main street) on the final day of the season confirmed their bottom place finish. No doubt the pandemic had an impact, but some might say that a club stripped of its identity, marking time before a move to a new ground and district, and with a freshly assembled squad and new manager got its just desserts.
The good news is that this has been followed by a new president, Jean-Christophe Vincent, taking over the club and immediately switching the name back, to Lyon La Duchere, with a new club crest. He is said to be looking to “turn the page on a sporting failure” and “return to the original identity of the club”. There is even talk that former OL star Brazilian international Sonny Anderson might be brought to the club in some capacity.
The news might get even better. Derby and Wycombe eat your heart out as although as Sporting La Duchere finished bottom of the league, it is at least not yet decided that they will be relegated (back to one of the regional fourth divisions). It seems that the lower leagues were some way short of completing their seasons, due to the pandemic (games were suspended in October and never resumed), and it is not clear which team(s) – if any – should be promoted. A decision is expected soon.
I’d love it if La Duchere can keep their third division status, but quite frankly am more pleased by the prospect of being able to end another boycott (is it me?) and enjoy some football if I ever make it back to France. It’s a strange time for all and others have it much worse, but it might also be nice to see my French partner, in over 20 years I don’t think we’ve previously had four months apart. So roll on the new season – and a little more certainty please.