“It’s not the despair that kills you, it’s the hope…”
John Cleese; 1986
73 – Number of clichés there are to describe the mixed emotions us mere mortal lower league football fans suffer. Experience.
Arsenal fans can probably switch off now and continue with their normal days proceedings. They hold the record for the team who have spent the longest time in the top flight – the last time they experienced anything other than the sheer pinnacle of the profession was 1919. And while you’re at it, all Everton fans can switch off too, having spent the highest cumulative total of seasons in the top flight at a mere 108 seasons. The nearest you guys will have come to experiencing this blog will be when Spurs or Liverpool beat you on home turf.
Alas poor Yorick, you know that league too well.
Instead, this is for the population out there who got lost on the A664 to Oldham last weekend. The troopers who missed the turning on the A419 for Swindon. The supporters from Gillingham who go to Hereford away…on a Tuesday night. When glamour speaks it’s name in the semi-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. When big names arrive in the form of a pre-season friendly against a Man United XI featuring no one you’ve ever heard of, apart from the goalkeeper who had a spell on loan at Rotherham last season, possibly.
And yet we all do it. Those who have moved towns from the one they support go to the games they can make. Those who have moved countries from the one their team call home follow proceedings through the magic of the internet. Even those who have passed on to the afterlife can, at some grounds, have their ashes scattered on the hallowed turf. Yes, this too strikes me as unbelievably weird… but when you see the website scattering-ashes.co.uk, apparently there’s a business in this macabre profession…
Maybe I speak from too much experience, for I support Swindon Town. A team who never proclaimed to be a big name, but a team who do have genuine silverware in the trophy cabinet – ironically having beaten Arsenal of all teams in the 1969 League Cup Final. And a team who have boing-boinged through the leagues since I’ve supported them just as much as any West Bromich Albion fan could care to justify.
And yet my first acknowledgement of the Robins came from their arrival into the Premier League during the 1993-94 season. A team featuring the likes of Kevin Horlock, Nicky Summerbee, John Moncur, Jan-Aage Fjortoft and Paul Bodin – names which may have crossed your teams path in future years or seasons prior to our inaugural top-flight campaign. Not a bunch of nobodies. Our keeper, Fraser Digby, came fresh from Man United. An early 1990s Ben Foster many would argue. The previous season we were promoted via the play-offs thanks to an inspired Glenn Hoddle who was on our books…and then he left and we promptly conceded 100 goals in a season. What?! Granted, there were 42 games back then when men were men, but 100 goals?!? Evidently, things were never going to be easy. The tone was set…
In the years that followed we were relegated and promoted time and time again. Players and managers came and went along with countless transfer embargoes due to financial problems. If the points deductions which rue the game nowadays were in place in the late 1990s, Swindon would quite probably have gone the way of Chester City. RIP.
And yet through it all, you stick by them. You ironically cheer when you score a consolation goal in response to Nottingham Forest’s seven (yes, SEVEN) like I witnessed in 2006…scored by none other than Trevor Benjamin. Man United & Liverpool will never get to experience journeymen strikers at your club such as Big Trev. Your filthy players come in the form of £8 million signings from Portugal or some dodgy Senegalese striker who put in a decent 90 minutes during a World Cup game once. If only teams like you existed, Steve Claridge would be working in Morrisons now, and Richard Pacquette could have only dreamed of representing the Dominica National Football Team…shame on you.
And why do I write this blog you ask? 12 months ago, Swindon stood on the verge of automatic promotion from League One. We had beaten Leeds United 3-0 at Elland Road. We were awash with giddy expectation. And then we had to make do with the play-offs. Rather than watch David Cameron become the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, First Lord of the Treasury, and Minister for the Civil Service, instead that night in May I watched the second leg of Charlton Athletic v Swindon which we promptly won on penalties. We were going to Wembley…que sera, sera.
No prizes for guessing we didn’t win the final. We never arrived at Wembley, and because of that today we sit in the relegation zone without a hope in hell. Our only decent striker fled to Burnley, and in his place stands Vincent Pericard. All of a sudden, Trevor Benjamin doesn’t seem that bad. I’m braced for life in League Two. I’m expectant of having to face the likes of Accrington, Aldershot and dare I even suggest, Oxford next season. A rivalry will be rekindled, but I was much happier when they sat in the Conference.
Why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves through it? Why don’t we all just support Man United or Chelsea and be done with it? Because without your local side, the world would seem a hollow place. There’s only so much racing from Chepstow you can watch on a Saturday afternoon in place of football. There would be no dreams of glory, no rollercoaster of emotion, no cheering for the underdog. Instead it would be a world that, from an outsiders view, looks just like Scottish football. (I jest of course, but I’m sure you can work out what I mean) A world where we would not have discussions in the pub about playing 4-4-2 on a bobbly surface at Barnet. A world where award-winning pies in Morecambe would be consigned to Greggs. A world where there would be no unbelievable, Jeff. Do you want that world? I don’t.
But I write this with not only a sense of impending fate, but a hope that, by writing this, we’ll avoid the drop. I don’t wish it upon your team but for God’s sake Yeovil, please start losing more games!