What’s going on at Greenock Morton?

They are at it again. They had taken a wee sabbatical and handed the reigns over to Celtic for a few months, but Scotland’s premier car crash football club are back in business. There’s a lot of questions still hanging over David Hopkin’s Morton departure and the overall state of affairs at Cappielow, but here’s what we know so far and how it all came to be.

Let’s start at the beginning. On Thursday afternoon rumours began swirling about Hopkin’s future after a post on Morton’s forum from someone ‘ITK’. Those kind of posts are usually nonsense, but this one arrived from the same person that leaked details of the Jonatan Johansson/Charlie Telfer contract fiasco in 2019, so it was treated slightly more seriously than the average forum rumour. Still though, many supporters struggled to see there being much weight behind it. It just didn’t really make any sense.

There had been some questions over Hopkin’s future, but only because of the vacancy at Livingston and how highly regarded he still is there. However, with David Martindale performing well in his caretaker spell and Hopkin pushed out as far as 50/1 by some bookies, it looked very unlikely. Nothing else could really be offered up by Ton fans to explain their gaffer’s departure though. There were no rumblings of any unrest, he was believed to have a good relationship with the board and whilst Cappielow punters had been growing increasingly frustrated with the product on the park, the club were not in any immediate danger of relegation. It seemed a very safe position.

About an hour later though, outlets started confirming the story. The Sun, Greenock Telegraph and Daily Record confirmed he had indeed walked but were unable to provide any depth beyond that. Supporters were certainly confused, but not overly bothered. Which may seem surprising with (another) manager walking out on the club two day before a game, but you’d struggle to find many tears being shed anywhere in Greenock.

Fans had become so unenthused and just downright bored with Hopkin and the teams he was putting out on the park. A philosophy of sit deep, frustrate and just hope for the best against every single opponent had quickly worn thin, on top of bizarre tactical decisions and quite frankly abhorrent recruitment. It wasn’t a recent thing either. There had been very few signs in the last 18 months that Morton were heading in the right direction under Hopkin, with his position becoming almost untenable after a seemingly endless string of hammerings and a draw with a Highland League side last year. He managed to pull things out of the fire, just.

For a club that’s always had its fair share of happy-clapping supporters, you’d have struggled to find many actually fighting Hopkin’s corner.

All that being said though, there weren’t actually many calls for him to go. Firstly, you can’t really sack a manager at a club like Morton because you disagree with them stylistically – it has to be coupled with very poor results, and it hadn’t quite reached that point yet. Secondly, Morton fans were pretty much resigned to the fact that the job was Hopkin’s as long as he wanted it. He was on a long contract, on good money, at the club he loves and supports. We were never going to sack him with the financial pressures we’re under at the minute, and it was very difficult to see him just walking away.

The hours ticked by on Thursday and it was still radio silence from Cappielow. Given Morton’s track record, it wouldn’t have actually surprised if informing punters they no longer had a club manager was something they didn’t feel they needed to communicate. Supporters speculated that perhaps they were waiting for Livingston to make the first move, agree compensation etc. That was the only scenario that made a lick of sense.

But no, then THAT statement arrived, and any preconceived notions Morton fans might’ve had about what on earth was going on vanished almost immediately.

Morton have put out some truly astonishing comunicado oficials over the years. We’ve had our own chairman using the local paper to call out fans, managers and players and even tried to justify blocking our own supporters on social media as recently as this year. This is perhaps the most exasperated I have ever felt reading one of our statements though, my jaw getting closer and closer to the floor with every paragraph. It’s an all-timer, and I’m sure will make a cameo in the big Morton Liquidation Twitter thread I put together in a few months.

This would end up as a dissertation if I attempted to pick the full thing apart, so I will just address some of the key issues.

“I discussed budgets with Hoppy this morning and we looked at possible ways to improve our financial position.  In a selfless act he said he would resign if that would help the Club financially.  We talked about this at some length and I eventually, and reluctantly, accepted his resignation.”

Look, I am no businessman, maths has never been my strong point and I certainly don’t envy anyone tasked with steering an already struggling business through the uncertainty of a pandemic. However, I do feel that budgeting for an actual football manager should be somewhat near the top of the priority list for A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL CLUB. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but it does feel to me that if you wish to ensure a club remains in a division, having an actual person responsible for that would probably make the most sense. Cuts should probably come in other areas.  

“The manager offered his resignation this morning, in a selfless act to help safeguard the playing squad and assist the Club as it deals with the serious financial issues resulting from the pandemic.”

Why wouldn’t he stay on until at least the game on Saturday then? Why would he leave 48 hours prior, before we’ve even contemplated looking for a successor? Almost like that’s not actually what happened.

Why was Hopkin allowed to assemble a 22 man squad (which includes 10 attackers and only 1 goalkeeper by the way) and sign up 10 youth players who are miles away from first team level, if it was going to leave us in this precarious a predicament? It feels like the club have budgeted for the return of supporters and hospitality income, without any actual indication of when it would come back. I cannot emphasize enough how stupid that is, but the next part of the statement only raises suspicions of it more.

“The simple fact is that Greenock Morton, like other football clubs, has generated little to no income as the pandemic has raged across the country and we have had to contend with empty terraces week after week.   The furlough scheme has partially helped and the Scottish Government announcement about funding is welcome, if very late, but like so many other businesses at the moment we need to generate considerably more revenue if we are to survive.”

Groan. No efforts beyond a few prize draws and auctions have actually been made to generate additional revenue for Morton. We were nowhere to be seen for much of the summer, and now approaching Christmas there’s zero commercial activity, whilst other clubs scrape for every single penny they can get. Supporters will happily put their money in and support the club’s commercial efforts, but they don’t exist.

This is all before you even touch on the fact that the playing budget is supplemented by monthly donations of £10,000 by Morton Club Together, the fans group taking over operations in the summer. Across the course of a season, that is an extra £100k being put into a pretty modest playing budget, and it still isn’t enough. Despite the fact nearly every other club in Scotland survives without fan handouts, we’ve had David Hopkin coming out in the media begging for more.

It’d perhaps be alright if the investment was reflected in the signings, but it isn’t. The money has been used to assemble a hilariously imbalanced, bloated, chronically average football squad, and now the money’s gone to the point we can’t even afford to pay for the guy that manages them.

The tools have quite obviously been downed by the current owners. There is no investment, and instead of supplementing the budget with the fans money as intended, they have used it as an excuse to stop putting in their own, and here we are, on the brink of oblivion.

It is just another wee window into the two decades of gross incompetence and financial insanity which saddled Morton with millions of pounds of debt, a rundown stadium and (by and large) a rich blend of mediocrity and failure on the pitch for 20 years. Were there good intentions there? Yes, but even when Crawofrd Rae was afforded the opportunity to ride off into the sunset in (somewhat) high regard with MCT’s takeover, he’s still here clinging on for every last penny he can keep – even if it plunges Morton towards relegation.

The difficulty that exists now is MCT encouraging supporters to continue putting their money towards the club. Given how badly it appears to have been pissed up the wall so far, you can’t blame anyone for being reluctant to hand more donations over. It’s a time when MCT should be increasing their membership on the lead-up to the takeover and instead events outside their control could end up significantly hurting them. They did appoint an extra man to the board this week though, which will hopefully be enough to reassure fans that they’ll have more of a say in what’s going on.

I’d expect the assistant manager along with the senior players to run the asylum until the end of the season. We obviously don’t even have the funds to bring in a John Hughes figure for a few months, and why would anyone in their right mind touch us? Our last three managers have resigned, and it looks like civil war at boardroom level could be on the horizon. Chris Millar and Jim McAlister now somehow find themselves responsible for dragging the severely wounded horse that is this football club over the finish line, when it really should just be taken round the back and turned into glue.

In the immortal words of Levein, Craig “It’s a good laugh, isn’t it?”

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