A large proportion of Widnes fans had their prayers answered on Thursday when Denis Betts left the club.
The calls for Betts’ head have been increasing for the last 18 months. Last year’s desperate battle to avoid relegation resulted in discontent among the fanbase, and things have only heightened this year. Widnes are rock bottom of Super League with the same shortcomings being pointed out by a dwindling fanbase becoming more apathetic by the week.
There’s no doubting it, the last year and a half has been a rough ride, with depressing lows and sparse highs. More often than not, a long period of that results in the head coach receiving his P45.
In black and white terms, the decision to remove Betts from his post makes sense. Since the end of March 2016, Widnes have lost 51 of their last 73 games and hold a win record of just 28%. There are few coaches who would keep hold of their job under those circumstances.
Their results have had an inevitable impact on attendances – less than 2,000 turned up for their Challenge Cup game with Leeds earlier this month, and with that have come further repercussions.
But before Widnes fans start celebrating Betts’ demise, they should consider a few things.
While to some, Betts might well have been the big problem, few will argue that there are other fundamental issues the club still has to battle against.
Most evidently, they are injuries and a lack of financial clout. The Vikings are one of the lowest spenders in Super League and have endured horrific luck on the injury front since the beginning of last season. A change of coach won’t stop players being injured, nor will a change of coach suddenly result in the club’s hierarchy landing on a pot of gold to invest in the team.
Betts was up against it at Widnes. He was constantly trying to compete against clubs with bigger budgets and more quality. Despite that, they did at times punch above their weight. In a weird way, you could argue Widnes’ stunning start to the 2016 season, which saw them top at Easter, was the catalyst to his downfall. It saw the line between expectation and reality blurred among a section of Widnes’ support base, and since then, that gulf between what is realistic and what is not has contributed to so many fans becoming disillusioned. But they have to step back and look at the bigger picture. Fans want to dream, Widnes fans have every right to do the same. But there needs to be some realism within that too.
Widnes have never been one of the top dogs in the league, but perversely, that short spell they had at the top has actually worked against them in more ways than one.
The club’s reluctance to remove Betts from his post has caused further frustration for some time now. Well, now the fans have got what they wished for. Any decision like this is a risk, and for Widnes it is no different. Their poor form over several years lowers the risk of the decision backfiring against them, but there remains that possibility that they will only realise what they had now it has gone.
Whatever happens from here on out, supporters simply must recognise the impact they can have moving forward. Making their stance felt through their absence is counterproductive. Some believe their protests will force Widnes into spending. But they can’t spend money they don’t have. Now that they have got what they wanted, they need to back the club to the hilt.
Regardless of what the future holds, Widnes fans would be wise to acknowledge the way Betts has steered a low-budget ship over several years, even if there were several storms along the way.