Recently there has been a good deal of negativity surrounding the on pitch achievements, or rather lack of them, and I freely admit to contributing. I’m a glass half empty sort of chap but what really struck me was not how many people were telling me I was wrong but rather how many were going a lot further. Eleven league games without a win and a point off relegation after 15 league games isn’t a little blip; it’s where you deserve to be.
There will be no negativity this time because yesterday allowed me to fall back in love with football – or rather to fall back in love with going to football. There has been some debate recently around this article on Football 365 by John Nicholson that atmosphere at the football is permanently dead, with attendees (and that’s a deliberate choice of words) who would “rather eat pizza and look at their phones”. Nicholson has a point, a large one at that. Naturally the more expensive and corporate football becomes, the more it loses its edge. But it’s also true that there are more distractions and competition for attention than ever before, from playing at being Rooney et al on X-Box to watching the effing X-Factor at 3 in the afternoon in your pants, because Delay TV allows you to.
So the reason for my negativity is this: if we continue to fail to deliver on the pitch the effing XFactor will win and all that financial prudence and academy creating will be for nothing as we disappear up our own deficit. We needed to win last night, but not for the dedicated fans who go to every game, home and away. We needed to win it for the rugby club types who leave on 82 minutes kissing cheeks and blocking play. We needed to win it for the bloke who can’t quite decide between us in the flesh and Chelsea on the telly. We needed to win it for the City investor who bought his seat and seat licence as an asset, an investment, trusting that we really were Premier League Ready. We needed to win it for the dad taking his son even though he, himself, doesn’t like the game and is taking his issue out of duty. We needed to win it for the sponsors in the 1901. And we did.
For me though it was a night redolent of the old school days at The Goldstone. No, I’m not about to indulge in the ultimate old-timer pastime of donning the rose tinted specs and proselytising about how rocking the Goldstone always was, because it wasn’t. In fact some of my fondest memories of The Goldstone were when it wasn’t rocking at all. I would leave work (at the time in Brighton town centre luckily enough) and go straight for a pint with a mate or two. I would saunter up to the ground in my own time. I would take my regular place about ten minutes before kick off and notice that each stand was about half full. I would sing, but I would have enough room to move around, and no one complaining that I was making a noise. And that’s just how it was last night.
I met a mate who normally goes a couple of times a season with his company who are regular sponsors. We left work (at my own home luckily enough) and we had a couple of beers at Brighton station. We sauntered on to a train, no queue, and then we had a couple more at the ground, having been joined by another friend. We watched a fairly poor game, which I had no expectation of winning, against another side destined for the lower half of The Championship. We got to our seats just before kick off and noticed that the stands were about half full. We made noise and no one complained. It was just like being home again.
And this is the really shitty thing about modern corporate football. If someone had told me that we’d be kicking around mid-table in the Championship, that our crowds would vary as they always have, that I could get to and from the ground easily and drink by the station without being confronted by a line of police I would have said “great, where do I sign”. All of the above I recognise well. But of course, these days you can’t. You have to be “Premier League Ready” and have “one ambition”. There needs to be a mission statement and a strap line, not for the dedicated fans who go to every game, home and away, but for the Rugby Club bore and the plastic Chelsea fan and the dedicated dad and the sponsors, especially the sponsors. So expectations are raised. And when they are not met you are accused of being negative and ungrateful and having a pop when all you’re doing is writing what the sponsors and the rugby club bores are thinking, and voting with their feet.
I liked the Amex last night. The atmosphere was BETTER than normal, certainly for a game against a team who only brought 167 fans. That’s because everyone who was there wanted to be there because they cared about the club and the team and the players, not just whether we’d be playing Man Utd next season.
The game? Don’t expect a serious report. We scored a nice goal very early on. Elliot Bennett showed good touches. Walton was excellent. We were a lot more compact and Wigan, while having a lot of the ball, had far less cutting edge than us. And that’s it. I was paying just as much attention to my friends as the game you see. And I’d had a few. Just like the old days.