Saturday, 4 October 2008

The agony and ecstasy

First published in Sons View, 4 October 2008, Dumbarton -v- Annan Athletic

After hard fought back-to-back wins against Albion Rovers and Cowdenbeath, plus the capture of third place in the table, last Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Forfar and fall into fourth – when we could have been second – was undoubtedly a disappointment for Sons fans. The old “two points dropped rather than one gained” scenario bit hard.

Hang on a minute, though. There’s another way of looking at this. Jim and the boys need no reminding that there are weaknesses to be addressed and improvements to be made at the training ground and on the pitch, I’m sure. But compare the early achievements of this squad with what we saw last season, and you sense that even though it’s proving tougher than pre-season hype (those pundits putting you among the favourites to win the league are a curse!), Sons are still on the march forward.

We may not be unstoppable yet, as the Loons painfully reminded us. However, seven points from nine in three matches – including two away – is something we would have crossed our fingers or prayed for in 2007-8. Now we expect rather more. Even the frustration at what we missed at Station Park is therefore a positive indication of distance travelled.

So, if you’ll forgive the terrible pun, this is no time to ‘look back in Angus’. Today, Dumbarton have the opportunity to return to winning ways against new boys Annan Athletic, who themselves want to avoid a dip turning into a slide.

After their great start, the Galabankies are now fully aware that Division Three is no pushover. I’m sure they never thought it would be, but when the shine of the grass is running for you, confidence is understandably high. Now the armchair cynics are out in force, suggesting that Annan, though a determined and skilful outfit, will struggle to make the course.

I’m sure no-one in the Dumbarton camp will be, in President George W. Bush’s immortal phrase, “misunderestimating” our the Dumfries and Galloway opponents this afternoon. We know full well that Annan will be looking for revenge for their CIS Cup exit, and a share of today’s spoils. Sons will have to be Rock-like in denying them and pushing forward to victory.

Good grief, I’m sounding perilously like one of those over-enthusiastic motivational coaches! It must be the ‘bounce’ from Raise the Rock Day last fortnight. Once again, those who put all the hard work in for that grand occasion deserve our plaudits, while Sons played their part with a famous, hair-raising win.

When we lost that fragile 1-0 lead against Cowdenbeath on the precipice of full time, you could read the “same old story” reaction on the home support’s faces. Equally, when Ben Gordon snatched Dumbarton’s winner with the last kick of the game (other than the one the referee allowed from the centre spot before blowing his final whistle), the surge of joy really did Raise the Rock. Well, I’m sure my seat was shaking – though like everybody else I was leaping in the air and screaming like a mad thing at the time. It was a great moment… followed by some good, extended celebrations.

Now when you’ve travelled several hundred miles to be at a game, as I had on 20 September, victory tastes extra sweet, especially when grabbed from the jaws of a draw that would have been like defeat in the circumstances – and when you haven’t physically seen your team win since 2003-4.

For SHS regulars, however, the picture is obviously different, and being an ‘exile’ I fully respect that. Naturally, as a long-term fan, I feel low when Sons lose or don’t play to their potential. But I don’t kid myself that following what’s going on by text is anything like being there, biting your nails with every lost chance.

The ‘far post’ fan experience brings a different perspective, however. It reminds you that precious football moments are there to be cherished, and that we shouldn’t let the harsher realities take them away from us. Much though I too feel like swearing at the first person who tells me “there’s always next Saturday” after some grim failure, they are, of course, right. It’s a game. But it’s still one we’re utterly determined to win!


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