The increasingly fleeting nature of professional football is often in contrast to the longer term loyalty of fans. That was underlined last weekend when an admirer of ex-England defender-turned-coach Gary Stevens flew 9500 kilometres to see his hero on the touchlines for Thai Premier League club Army United FC.
Little did the traveller know that former Tottenham Hotspur star Stevens had been "rested" by the club just 24 hours before Army's Saturday trip to BEC Tero Sasana.
"Rested" is the new buzzword in Southeast Asian football where a head coach is removed and someone else is brought in. Already this season George Boateng, Bojan Hodak and B. Sathianathan have all been officially rested from their respective positions in the Malaysia Super League with no prospect of returning.
Although Stevens is 53 years old with almost four decades in professional football under his belt, the last thing he wanted was to be given a rest in his bustling base of Bangkok and for his Thai assistant to take over.
"Not in charge any more (sic) and been told to 'take a holiday'," Stevens wrote on Twitter. "Football is crazy the world over."
What to do in Bangkok when on gardening leave ? Sight seeing, leg & foot massage, relax at pool, be patient 😃😎 pic.twitter.com/cS8FTx1UfB
- garystevens (@GaryStevensUK) May 5, 2015
What makes Stevens' ousting even more puzzling is that Army United had made a flying start to the season, winning four of their first five games before a three match TPL losing streak.
After Stevens prepared the side for Saturday's game, they won 2-0 at BEC with Singapore international goalkeeper Hassan Sunny saving a penalty. The result means that manager-less Army United are fifth in the 18-team TPL, just five points behind leaders, Buriram United.
Stevens had only taken over at Army United -- nicknamed the Gentlemen -- last August from former Leicester and Scotland defender Matt Elliott, guiding a struggling team to a respectable ninth place finish in the 2014 TPL. Last November, he wrote in an ESPN FC blog about wanting to make a big impact in Thailand and the thrill of going out of his comfort zone in Southeast Asia.
As recently as a month ago, it was all going so well, with top of the table Army United playing at a high tempo and moving the ball forward quickly. Popular with the players as well as the fans whom he'd encourage to express their views on Twitter, Stevens seemed the perfect fit as head coach.
But the club's dip in form after the Thai New Year -- with two defeats in four days, including an unfortunate 1-0 loss to second placed Bangkok Glass where they were reduced to 10 men and missed two penalties -- saw Army United's owners act in merciless style.
Stevens hadn't had a significant coaching career since retiring in the early 1990s, carving out a more noticeable professional path in media with TalkSport and Sky Sports in the UK. But in recent years he did work as an assistant to another former England international Tony Adams in Azerbaijan and also in the League of Ireland with Sligo Rovers.
As a player, Stevens spent seven years at Tottenham Hotspur where he won the 1984 UEFA Cup -- converting a pressure spot kick in the penalty shoot-out against Anderlecht in the final -- and played on a losing Spurs' side 1987 FA Cup final at Wembley. A serious knee injury that came after a Vinnie Jones' tackle in November 1988 would conspire to cut short his White Hart Lane tenure, but he did make 52 more appearances with Portsmouth between 1990 and 1992.
Having been part of the winning side at the 1984 European U21 Championship (defeating Spain in the final), he earned seven senior international caps, including two appearances at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. The England squad contained another Gary Stevens -- Everton's Gary M. Stevens. They joked that manager Bobby Robson didn't know which Stevens was which so he picked both.
It is hoped that the far-travelling fan whose presence at the BEC game was noted on the Army United English Facebook page didn't get his Stevens' mixed up like Sir Bobby may have. Even after his unceremonious departure from Thai football, Stevens has reached out to the supporter and told him that he'd be happy to meet up for a chat.
Likely to feature in the conversation is Stevens' rapid transition from Army United hero to zero. If you blinked, you might just have missed the slump that saw an English gentleman out of a job -- at the Gentleman of Thailand. But it all seems to be part of the unpredictable nature of Southeast Asian football.