Saturday, 8 December 2007

Keeping our spirits up

First published in Sons View, 08 December 2007, Dumbarton -v- Stranraer. Scottish Football League Division Three.

The other day I got back from a local football match cold, wet and slightly grumpy. Nothing that a cuppa and/or a wee dram wouldn’t sort, of course. You’ve been there yourself many times, for sure. My wife, who is a wonderful woman but no fitba believer, dutifully enquired how it had gone. “Terrible,” I replied. “Our dog could have done a better job in midfield – and we don’t even have a dog.”

Oblivious to the restorative power of my cutting wit, Carla looked at me with a pity that can only really be saying “and how much did it cost us for you to go to this terrible game, dear?”

“Oh well, you’ll know not to bother next time”, she opined, sweeping triumphantly past me towards an unfinished bowl of washing up that I had been on a pledge to tackle as soon as I got back from the travails down the park.

What people who don’t ‘get’ football fail to understand, of course, is that being a fan isn’t about enjoyment alone, it’s about the deeply strange rewards of misery. I mean let’s face it, Dumbarton are without doubt an enhancement to any sane person’s life (cough), but that doesn’t mean we always win or, um, play well, does it?

So what would life really be like without its ups and downs, I ask? To which Carla would no doubt reply: “a lot better”. She has a point, frankly, and I’m all for coasting to a 5-0 win as frequently as we can, but there’s something about the struggle with difficult (if not insurmountable) odds that makes the victory even sweeter.

That’s probably why I’m just not cut out to be a ‘big team’ supporter. I know more than a few Sons fans also follow an Old Firm team or another comparative giant. It evens up the score in more ways than one, no doubt.

But it’s not for me. Well, I’m interested in all aspects of the game, for sure. I also have a passionate desire to see more Scottish teams challenging the Glasgow duopoly. The resurgence of Aberdeen and Dundee United in the 1980s was a great period, and there are some hopes of significant improvement from several SPL teams right now.

Hibs have done well, the Dons are giving a good showing in Europe, Killie are up and down, and the Hearts merry-go-round continues. It’s all grist to the game’s emotional appeal. But struggle is still etched into the grain of all those Club stories.

Down here in England, the teams I take a passing interest in tend to be lower leaguers too, and mostly relate to great memories or friends’ affections. Chelsea, Man U? They leave me cold.

Liverpool have a real, gutsy footballing tradition, of course. The passion of Shanks and his Scottish successors still courses through their supporters’ veins, even as the paella is passed around the dressing room.

Then there’s Arsenal. You just have to admire the way they’ve been playing this season (unless there’s been a sudden disastrous dip between me writing this and you reading it, of course!). If I had to pick one of the ‘big four’ to wish luck upon this term, the Gunners would be it. Arsene Wenger is a true ambassador for the game.

All that said, it’s the grassroots for me, though. Moments of surprising and sublime skill followed by first-touch gaffes and tactical confusions that have you cheering and despairing in one breath. Plus there’s always the illusion that you really could do a bit better with that corner. It’s not just fan bravado speaking. Well, OK, maybe it is.

The point about even a “terrible game” is that it still holds out the hope that next time everything is going to be different. Football is about the lure of another week and another shot on goal, as well as the one that flies in like a dream.

As you get older, the memories meld with the weekly fare, too. The Famous DFC have had their moments of glory, and tough they may have been few and far between and we may have missed a number of them personally, they’re all part of what it means to be a Sons fan.

That and the fact that we will be back in the SPL competing for a place in Europe within the next four seasons. For sure. You read it first here and I wouldn’t lie to you. Would I?

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