Featured image courtesy of Luke Broughton by PRIME Media Images
Watching the scenes unfold in Scunthorpe's recent 4-0 defeat to Mansfield, the atmosphere at Glanford Park couldn't be more toxic. Rooted to the bottom of League Two, the lowest ranked club in the EFL, fans of the Iron simply took to the pitch to show their outrage with 15 minutes left to play - protesting their impending relegation, an embarrassing state of affairs.
Four wins all season, a -50 goal difference and a lack of any real fight makes for grim reading when you realise non-league football can swallow clubs in disarray whole. Clubs such as Chesterfield, Notts County and Stockport County all really struggled when they exited the EFL, and although they're now clubs on the up again, crashing down into non-league could kill Scunthorpe United.
It's a far-cry away from the Iron's hay-day, two promotions to the Championship under Nigel Adkins in the 06-07 season and the 08-09 season putting the Iron on the map with Billy Sharp the main man up top before Gary Hooper came along and scored goals galore for Scunthorpe himself.
An exciting side to watch, the underdog spirit was electric. Now, Keith Hill's dejected men are staring relegation in the face as Scunny's celebrated 72 year stay in the Football League looks to be up.
It's not as if this is a gradual decline either, only a few seasons back Scunthorpe were routinely battling for promotion back up to the Championship. Two playoff finishes passed The Iron by however, before relegation from the third tier began this collapse. A club in free-fall, it's hard to see from the outside who is taking ownership over this complete mess.
Peter Swann, Scunthorpe's chairman until recently leaving his post, has to take a large portion of the blame - overspending at the height of their success when going for promotion to the second tier is a key factor, no longer able to loan a striker in of Ivan Toney's ilk as they did in the past when the transfer budgets have been slashed.
They gambled with the short-term, spending big in order to try and get back to the promised land of the Championship. Unfortunately for The Iron, that isn't sustainable and the National League beckons as a consequence of this rash approach.
As a result, the stars of recent seasons such as Josh Morris and Kevin Van Veen were inevitably sold and the pool of talent at Scunthorpe lessened. Whilst the likes of Harrogate and Forest Green have come up to the division with fresher squads ready for the challenge of League Two, the likes of Scunny have regressed and cannot compete now with sides languishing in non-league back when Gary Hooper was leading the line for The Iron in the Championship.
Football has progressed with new and exciting teams emerging, whilst Scunthorpe are left to rot at the bottom of the pile. This is seen in the various humiliating defeats Scunthorpe have suffered this season, Keith Hill's men simply rolling over for the opposition. A 4-1 defeat to League Two new boys Sutton exemplifies this, the hunger of the newly promoted side reigning supreme against a Scunthorpe side looking to be put out of its misery.
Even when you'd expect a little bit of fight when your pride is being battered relentlessly, the same style of defeat keeps popping up - losing 5-1 on the road to Salford City, losing at home 3-0 to Harrogate, all this doom and gloom coming to a head when Scunny lost 4-0 to Mansfield to ignite a protest on the pitch.
The reality of it all is, however, that Scunthorpe overachieved in the past. To make it to the promised land of the second tier under Nigel Adkins was unbelievable, especially when you consider Adkins was a rookie boss after transitioning from physio duties with the club. Glanford Park is also a relatively small ground, barely filling 9,000.
Scunthorpe is a small town in a county where the likes of Hull City dominate the football landscape, the Iron had no divine right to make it to the Championship when they did. That over achievement makes this all feel so much more sour, especially when The Iron dared to dream again under the managerial stint of Graham Alexander over two promising seasons in North Lincolnshire. Ever since his departure from the club, sacked after guiding The Iron to a second successive playoff spot, the wheels have come off.
Scunny are a sinking ship without any stability in place, scatter gun managerial appointments haven't worked with names such as Paul Hurst coming to the club and underwhelming as boss. The recent managerial appointment of Keith Hill showcases the wider issues at play here, a manager known for his past expertise in stabilising clubs failing spectacularly in the Glanford Park dug-out. The former Rochdale boss has managed a measly 7.14% win percentage in charge, two wins from 28 matches as Scunny boss laughably poor.
For all of Keith Hill's past managerial achievements, his stock hasn't been in for a number of years now - performing pitifully as Bolton boss before Ian Evatt's arrival, alienating an entire fan base at Tranmere in less than a year at Prenton Park. Whilst other clubs in the division keep up with the times, Scunthorpe fall further by the wayside by picking has-been's as coaches instead of giving younger and fresher managers a chance.
The main concern will be when this slide will stop, a club on a downward trajectory with no sign of remerging better off for it. Falling through the trapdoor to non-league football looks inevitable for Scunthorpe, a long and proud stay in the EFL over in a car-crash season. Picking up the pieces in the National League will be hard, the Iron players and fans scarred by the sad decline of their football club.
Hopefully, as we now see with Stockport top of the league in the National League, Scunthorpe can reemerge and fight their way back to League Two with passion and pride attached. Just don't expect instant success if you're an Iron fan, this will take a number of years to correct the damage that's been done.