Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Raising the roof (and the Rock)

First published in Sons View, 06 Octber 2007, Dumbarton -v- Forfar Athletic

A combination of distance, modest income, and work and family commitments means that I’m a fairly rare visitor to the Strathclyde Homes Stadium at the moment. But last month I travelled the 364 miles separating Exeter and Dumbarton to support Raise the Rock… and, of course, to raise the roof for the Sons, who (conveniently for my September schedule) had two back-to-back games over seven days.

In spite of the deflating result against Stenhousemuir, which highlighted the rocky footballing territory we are having to negotiate this season, everyone I spoke to thought it had been a great day. And 900+ through the turnstiles was a pretty creditable achievement, given the other events competing for local media attention that weekend.

For me it was especially cheering to get together with Sonstrust members before and after the match – and to meet two other unexpected guests from England. Adam Anjoyeb and Ned West are students from Birmingham University who normally follow QPR, Aston Villa (and Manchester United – no one’s perfect!). But they’re also all round football fans who want to understand and experience the game at all levels. So they chose SHS for their first taste of fitba in Scotland, cannily figuring that Dumbarton’s hospitality package is exceptionally good value!

That kind of interest and commitment is a sign of real hope. These days so many of the biggest football headlines are made by multi-millionaire owners, astronomic transfer fees and eye-watering wages for celebrity players. So it’s easy to forget where the game really belongs – in places like the Rock and with teams like Dumbarton. This is where football lives and breathes at its rawest, with all the joys and woes that brings.

For the reality is that the vast majority of clubs sustaining the game week-in and week-out across Europe will never be in the super-rich bracket. And though the gulf in income and expectations can be frustrating for those of us who back the wee teams, I for one wouldn’t want to swap places with the big boys (though going up a division or two wouldn’t do us any harm, of course!)

Remember how Hearts fans got carried away when what looked like the tooth fairy arrived at Tynecastle? Some of them didn’t endear themselves to other clubs with a rapidly acquired ‘high and mighty’ attitude, either. How fickle fortune turns out to be. That’s a saga with many twists and turns left in it, for sure. And many of them won’t have a lot to do with what happens on the park.

As a fan of one of the logo-pushing giants you often feel sidelined by the powers shaping your dreams – little more than a statistic in an economic machine. In real terms, merchandising, sponsorship, advertising and TV deals dwarf the contribution of people going through the turnstiles. At a club like Dumbarton, however, you’re always a vital cog in the wheel.

In an age of top-drawer sashaying at the really big fixtures, the embarrassing sight of empty seats gifted to people who’d rather be eating canap├ęs than watching a goalmouth incident is also getting more and more common. The new Wembley comes to mind.

I hardly need to point out that things are a little different here. The Strathclyde Homes Stadium has some fine facilities and offers some great value opportunities for corporate dos, business meetings, private gatherings, outdoor events, exhibitions and personal functions. The pre-match welcome from Sons fans is also fabulous.

But these facilities aren’t just about the pounds (vital though those are to keeping the team on the road), they’re also about making everyone who comes into contact with SHS feel part of the long tradition and, we all hope, the long future of Dumbarton Football Club.

So although I live many miles away and miss the regular match day contact, occasions like Raise the Rock are special for me, too. And just to remind myself of what it’s all about I also made a half-day pilgrimage to the Scottish Football History Museum at Hampden Park between Sons fixtures.

There you’ll see, among other attractions, a Dumbarton players medal for the first ever outright Scottish League winners, donated by our own Jim McAllister and Graeme Robertson. It made me proud to be a Sons fan these past 38 years, and thankful for all those who make this fine club what it is. See you again soon, I hope.

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