Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Strangle that parrot, someone

First published in Sons View, 25 April 2008, Dumbarton -v- Forfar

Successful football teams don’t have half-hearted fans. By that measure alone, Dumbarton FC certainly deserves the prize we all covet: an unassailable place at the top of the table come the end of this season. Will we do it? Jim and the lads are taking it one step at a time, and rightly so.

Meanwhile, you can say many things about Sons fans: we cheer, we moan, we celebrate, we complain, we drown our joys and sorrows. But a casual shrug and a nonchalant “whatever” doesn’t really come into it. Especially if the Apache Army have their way!

The players and manager are going to need all the verbal encouragement and positive lungpower you can muster this afternoon. Understandably, there will be a mixture of excitement and nervousness as we face Forfar, who have their own significant agenda. The Loons are pressing hard for a play-off place, while we would like to do everything we can to avoid one – by going up as champions.

There, I’ve said it. The dreaded ‘C’ word. Well, the main one that Chappie has probably banned from the dressing room and training pitch, anyway. For Dumbarton’s task is clear. Dreams alone won’t suffice, we need maximum points from the next three games, and then we have to hope that others fail to hold their nerve in the same resolute way. That’s why sticking together is so vital.

Naturally there was some disappointment at yet another shutout (the fifth in a row) against Cowdenbeath at Central Park last weekend. A win would have put us securely in the driving seat for top spot. But looked at another way, it makes no difference to the challenge we face right now, at home against Elgin next week, and for the visit to Annan on 9 May. We have to go on winning. Full stop.

The good news is that the Sons emerge on the pitch this afternoon undefeated in their last five games. The lads haven’t conceded in that time and have claimed four 2-0 victories in a row since 31 March. That’s quite a tiger in the tank for this encounter.

Remember that old expression? It’s almost as ancient as the ubiquitous “sick as a parrot”, which you used to hear from managers and players after some cruel twist of football fortune. Or did you? The parrot was actually invented by Private Eye magazine in the 1960s, and like a lot of football clichés went unchallenged until somebody noticed that it had fallen virtually into disuse.

The past few seasons have been tough for Sons, but as the climax to this season nears we finally have a chance to strangle that bloody parrot! Metaphorically, of course. Meanwhile, a different kind of football phrase has made its way into the sporting lexicon: “Squeaky bum time.” This is something all teams, managers and fans on the threshold of success or failure are said to be experiencing right now, while we perch anxiously on the edge of our seats.

Poor Rafa Benitez got a complicated psychological explanation when he expressed puzzlement at the term in a Liverpool press conference on 2 April. But according to linguist Gary Martin (who contributes regularly to the online Phrase Thesaurus), the saying first made it into print on 18 March 2003, courtesy of Sir Alex Ferguson and The Daily Express.

Of course, “squeaky bum time” could only find its way into our language in an era when a majority of fans actually are seated. Whatever you think of the continual demise of terraces, in the lower reaches of Scottish football too, you’ve got to admit that it’s a bit less of an uncomfortable experience than “wet step time.” Enough said.

It so happens that the estimable Dr Martin, who is tracking football lingo and much else beside, hails from Sheffield. And that is where I shall be this afternoon, while you hopefully watch the Sons steaming to victory. I’d wanted to make it up from Exeter for both the game and the noble ‘Walk to the Rock’, but work has intervened.

Wild horses won’t keep me away from SHS next weekend, however, and I’ll probably end up forking out a small fortune on the train to Annan via Birmingham and Carlisle, too. A day trip, theoretically, and worth every penny. Because whatever choice words you use to express what you’re feeling right now, the Sons are in with a shout – and they need you.

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