Saturday, 22 December 2007

Going for a song

First published in Sons View, 22 December 2007, Dumbarton -v- Montrose. Scottish Football League Division Three.

We only sing when we’re winning? Chance would be a fine thing at the Rock this season, given our results so far. But the Season of Goodwill is always ripe for a bit of timely fitba optimism. Here goes, then.

The league table might not look quite so pretty as that tree in your living room right now, but the New Year often marks a turn in fortunes for struggling clubs. And while no-one in their right mind would be especially cheery about Gretna’s chances of survival in the SPL come April, the Third Division remains a different proposition.

There’s a reason some teams fly and others flounder, of course. But there isn’t that unbridgeable gulf that makes hope and despair a matter of course rather than a seasonable variable.

Many of the pundits were predicting a difficult time for the Sons this term, and they haven’t been proved wrong. But I’m still going to stick my neck out and say that we’ll find ourselves on the up come March and April 2008.

One of the reasons is the great spirit in the Club. Dumbarton fans can moan with the best of them, naturally. How could we look in the mirror and call ourselves true supporters if we didn’t? But you also don’t get to wear a Sons scarf without being willing to grit your teeth and keep on singing, either.

Not that actual singing is my strong suit, I have to admit. When it comes to spectating, I’m more the strong, silent type. I can be seen clenching my seat, emitting a sigh here and there, switching rapidly from momentary elation to, er, friendly advice, and then from time-to-time burying my head in my hands just to make sure it’s still there and I didn’t simply imagine that blatantly ridiculous offside decision.

The efforts of the choir don’t go unappreciated, either. Far from it. DFC’s barmy army do the business, for sure. Indeed, football chants remain an undervalued art form. Not just the predictable ones, but those you weren’t expecting, and the finely-honed bits of wit that tell you more about the resilience of a local culture than a gaggle of sociologists ever could.

In the surprise category, for me at least, was a lusty rendition of ‘Keep Right On’ greeting Alex McLeish for his recent first home game in charge at Birmingham. Losing Eck for the national team may be a sore point, but the choice of a Scottish song (long Brum’s unofficial anthem) was an acknowledgment that the game down south still owes one hell of a lot to a much smaller nation with, proportionately, a surfeit of footballing passion and wisdom.

I haven’t done a scientific survey of this, but outside Glasgow, my guess would be that Merseyside is the place in Britain that’s produced the most glittering examples of terrace tonsil-wagging over the past fifty years – as well as some of the depressing sectarian stuff that still occasionally blights the game, too, it must be admitted.

A great example of the dry humour that provides moments of added buoyancy came four or five seasons back when West Ham visited Liverpool. Lionising their hero at the time, and comparing him favourably with the Reds’ assistant manager, the legendarily long-nosed Phil Thompson, the Hammers fans chanted cheekily: “You’ve got Pinocchio, we’ve got Di Canio!” To which the Kop, rarely slow off the mark and remembering a lifetime’s worth of taunts about alleged Scouse light-fingeredness, responded: “You’ve got Di Canio… But we’ve got yer stereo!”

The game that afternoon finished in a resounding Liverpool win, and not just on the pitch. Anfield, as ever, was a cauldron. Until you’ve been on the pitch somewhere like that, players say, it’s easy to dismiss the claim that “the crowd can be a twelfth man” as yet another hoary old football cliché. But sometimes it has been, no doubt.

No-one’s likely to turn Strathclyde Homes Stadium into a sporting extension of the Red Army Choir in a hurry, of course. Just as a really large crowd can create its own surging volume pedal, so a much smaller crew can be a bit of a dampener. But getting our vocal chords loudly behind the Sons is still part of what can create a winning atmosphere, as well as keeping spirits up when the going’s tough - Midge Ure, or not, they are the ones.

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