Jos Luhukay: the thoughts of a ‘damaged’ football fan

James is a lifelong Sheffield Wednesday fan who also began following St Pauli a couple of years ago


 

AS I sit down to start writing this, it’s 20 minutes to kick off at the Millerntor; St Pauli v Bielefeld.

I’m not there, by the way. I’m watching in my kitchen in Sheffield. I’d had a last-ditch thought to go over to Hamburg for the game when the fixtures were confirmed – my native Wednesday were at Leeds yesterday, a game I never bother with due to it always being on Sky and Leeds fans being… well, that’s probably for a blog on a different site.

But flight prices were stupid, so dodgy German stream it is.

Just a note here to leave the politics of supporting two teams at the door. I know some people, particular in the UK, hate that whole concept. That’s not the point of this piece, and it’s irrelevant. I will refer to both Wednesday and St Pauli as ‘we’ and make no apologies for it.

Now that’s out of the way, let me say: It’s been a funny week to be a follower of Sheffield Wednesday and St Pauli. There aren’t many of us, but we’ve definitely had more reason than most to raise a concerned eyebrow at the appointment of Jos Luhukay as head coach this week.

As I’m sure you know, Luhukay’s most recent job was at Hillsborough. It didn’t end well and he’ll go down as one of our least popular and probably most failed managers. You would struggle to find anyone at S6 with nice things to say about him. In fact, it’s borderline impossible. He earned himself nicknames including Dross and JLoss during his tenure (I saw someone refer to him as No-Cluhukay once which you can’t fault for creativity).

He had lost the entire fanbase when owner Dejphon Chansiri finally pulled the plug in December, and there was a collective sigh of relief among Wednesdayites.

The football was pretty bad. He did nothing to endear himself to the fanbase. Indeed in one of his final press conferences, he went on a four-letter-word rant and stormed out. He never connected with the club. Unfairly, he will always be considered a disaster. I say unfairly, as he had been dealt a tough hand at Wednesday; the club under a transfer embargo, an injury crisis on the scale no fan had ever seen before (sound familiar?), and a defence so leaky even Ronseal couldn’t have patched it up. He did enough to keep us up last season, when the odds looked to be slipping the other way, and blooded in some younger players who’d not had a look in before his arrival.

In fact, there was a point earlier this season, where the Owls won at Bristol City to move into the top six, going into an international break. During that pause, there was modest praise of the job Jos had done, with the resources at his disposal. Little did we know what a turning point that game would be. Form dropped off a cliff, goals drying up at one end, while flowing at the other, and time ran out for the unpopular Luhukay.

He’d installed a back-three system quite soon after arriving. It was actually a back five. I remember one game where we had four centre halves on the pitch, with two full-backs. A back six. Other low points included the Millwall away game where he didn’t bother fielding a striker. We lost.

He made baffling team selections, constantly rotating the defence with little to no clear logic – including, on more than one occasion, dropping the player who’s been named man of the match in our last outing.

He shut out several of our best players this season, including goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, arguably the best in the league. He was recalled the game after Jos left. The difference was day and night. In the 22 games under Jos, we conceded 40 goals gaining 24 points and leaving us 18th in the league. In the 20 since, with Westwood in the net, we’ve conceded just 15, bagging 35 points. We’d be third in the table if the season started the day Jos was sacked.

A photo did the rounds on Twitter the day after that sacking of him sat at Sheffield train station with his luggage – a lone, uncomfortable figure, no hint of a smile, heading home after a torrid year. ‘Farewell Jos, let’s hope we never meet again’ was the general sentiment.

How little I knew.

Fast forward a couple of months, and I’m in Cologne for the weekend with some mates. One is an Effzeh fan, the others neutrals. We’re all Wednesdayites, but this is our German football weekend away. Koln v FCSP on Friday night, then off to Dortmund on Saturday.

Somewhere in among the many thimbles of Kolsch (and one evening of good beer in the single craft beer bar we track down), there’s a conversation about Jos. Steve Bruce has just taken the reins at Hillsborough, and a new era is beginning (and beginning very well). Jos isn’t being missed. This flows into talk of St Pauli and the impending end of season collapse, with inevitable change of manager. There’s a joke about Jos being prime for the Millerntor job. Hilarity ensues. ‘No chance,’ I explain. ‘St Pauli is about way more than just the football, it’s about doing things right, connecting with the fan base, the ethos of the club. Jos wouldn’t fit that one little bit’.

The joke is on me, come Wednesday 10 April. Jos is announced as the new St Pauli head coach. Of course he is. Why am I even surprised?

I’ve had a bit of a whinge on Twitter. Believe me, I was DELIGHTED to see this guy leave my football life in December, with no desire for our paths to ever have to cross again.

But in the days since, I’ve backed off. I decided to wait until seeing his first couple of games in charge before passing any further judgement. Which brings us to now. It’s nearly time for kick off.

The TV pictures are naturally focusing on Jos in the moments before kick off. As he strolls across the hallowed pitch, there’s a familiar grimace on his face. This is a guy who doesn’t smile a lot. He’s very much a ‘I’m here to do a job, not to have fun’ kind of guy. After a year of seeing it, I’m bored already. Other fans may welcome someone focused on the challenges in hand. Having a **bit** of personality alongside doesn’t go a-miss, though.

About an hour ago, I replied to a tweet from the main YSP account predicting a 0-0 draw. It was slightly tongue in cheek, although not entirely – Wednesday drew their first three games under Jos without a single goal being scored.

Three minutes into the game, my prediction falls apart. Spectacularly. Some dubious defending leads to a dubious penalty and Bielefeld are ahead. It’s the worst possible start. I want to go into Jos attack mode, although it’s entirely unfair to lay any blame at his door.

I’d not even had chance to see how the Boys in Brown were lining up. It looks to be a flat back four. Options are fairly limited, in truth.

My stream isn’t the best, and I’m struggling to take much from what I’m watching in the first half hour. Chances aren’t plentiful, with most coming for the visitors.

On 33 minutes, there’s a sniff of a good move from St Pauli. They spread the ball nicely and move quickly. The final product is missing and it comes to nothing. But it’s a sign of life.

Generally, this is a team playing with confidence at rock bottom. They look damaged. The similarities to when Jos took over at Wednesday are startling (we’d just lost 3-0 at home to Burton in the previous game – their biggest win of the season before going on to be relegated).

Everything is a bit sloppy. The match is a slightly uncomfortable one to watch. I find my attention drifting. In fact I’m spending more time typing this than watching (maybe I’m missing the interesting bits – hard to tell with the patchy German commentary in the background).

On 40 minutes, Bielefeld cut straight through the St Pauli midfield. It’s knife through butter stuff. There’s a real lack of spine to this team. The season can’t really end fast enough.

Half time comes and goes and the teams re-emerge as Jos retakes his place in the dugout. Still no smile, by the way, but maybe his half time team talk can turn things around.

A couple of minutes after the restart, and it seems that’s exactly what’s happened. A neat bit of build up play leads to a Marvin Knoll cross which looks to be overhit – but Ryo gets on the end of it and Pauli are level.

That gets the crowd going and there’s a bit of impetus from the home side.

The second half is better (from the bits I catch in between my stream dropping out). We look sharper – still lacking a bit of cutting edge and the final product is missing, but it’s better.

There’s a late flurry and a couple of half chances to grab a fairytale winner, but it fizzles out. There’s also the chance for the inevitable-feeling sucker punch from the visitors, but that comes to nothing too and it finishes all-square.

Still no hint of a smile from Jos at the final whistle as he shuffles off to review a solid point.

Is there much to be learned from this first game of the new gaffer’s era? Not really. There probably won’t be from the remaining games. It’s a matter of getting them out of the way without any more disasters, and maybe a few shoots of promise in there would go down nicely.

Of course, we know Jos’ record in 2.Bundesliga is largely positive. His reputation as a ‘promotion expert’ is what landed him the Wednesday job. Maybe it’s more down to a language barrier, or wider differences in the the styles of the leagues, which contributed to his British adventure turning so sour.

Jos deserves our support. I say ‘our’ knowing that I’m mainly talking to myself. I expect all St Pauli fans will already be giving him their unreserved backing. It’s me I’m trying to convince. Players are sometimes labelled ‘damaged goods’ after a bad experience playing somewhere. As a follower of football, I’m ‘damaged goods’ when it comes to Luhukay’s management. I know it’s my problem and I have to get over it. He’s likely here to stay, at very least leading the rebuilding in the summer after such a disappointing end to a generally promising season. We know there are players going out, and several new faces needed.

Expectations at St Pauli will always be high, but they’ll always be different. At Wednesday, the demand was purely for points – ultimately, for promotion. At St Pauli, we know it doesn’t quite work the same way. Promotion isn’t the be-all-and-end-all. Yes, I’m still a fairly new fan, but for one – and I think for many others – I didn’t start following St Pauli because of a desire to watch Bundesliga football. But as Scott points out in his blog post the other day, there is an increasing acceptance of the importance of on-the-field success.

Can he reunite the club after the last few weeks? Can he bring in players who can restore some pride in the heart and soul of St Pauli? Can he prove his doubters (me) wrong?

Here’s hoping – I’d never be so pleased to end up looking like I have No-Cluhukay.