When the final whistle went at the Rock last Saturday, to rapturous scenes from Dumbarton fans, I was soberly answering questions from the platform of a conference in Sheffield. Then my mobile phone buzzed. Not too loudly, thankfully. I managed to sneak a glance at the all-important message from Denise Currie: “4-0 super Sons. Cowden lost 2-1. We’re top o’ the league and they’re no’!” it read.
I let out what I though was a quiet cheer, though according to the reaction of at least one startled punter in the front row it may have been nearer to the clearance signal on a jet airliner. Was I bovvered? Not remotely… Just momentarily distracted by dreams of glory, like every other Sons fan.
The cold sweat wasn’t long coming, mind. You don’t have to have been a Dumbarton supporter for many years – let alone to have witnessed the various ups and downs this season has offered during our gradual assault on the summit – to fear a latent capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Jim Chapman’s dressing room will also have included one or two pointed mentions of chickens and why they are not for counting, I’m sure.
But this is no time for negativity. Pack up your cynicism in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile as loudly as possible for the ensuing 90 minutes against Elgin. If you’re like me and always feel a smidgeon of sympathy for the team propping up the table (we’ve been there a few times and know what it’s like), suspend that goodwill until the points have been secured. Then be magnanimous in victory. Aw, go on, it won’t hurt…
The key thing is that Sons now have their destiny for season 2008-9 firmly in their own hands. I almost said ‘our hands’, because the fans are as much a part of the Club as anyone else. But only the select few will be required to demonstrate graft, guile and skill on the pitch. This is a good thing, overall. It leaves us shouting our advice from the sidelines, where it belongs. Because if anything depended on my footballing gifts, we’d be scuppered. So I’ll stick to terrace encouragement, having wheedled a long weekend north of the border so that I can grab a seat to perch upon … edgily.
Meanwhile, the Statistics of Destiny, which I’ve mentioned a few times this season, are not complex. Given goal differences, four points will almost certainly crown us Third Division champions, barring a goal spree by the competition that would defy most expectations. More baldly, two wins and six points guarantees it. So that’s what the aim must be. Relying on others to fail for you is the worst recipe for end-of-season hypochondria.
Right now, I’m sure we’ll make it. But whatever unfolds between now and the end of next week’s away game against Annan (which I also plan to attend in a ‘day trip’ from my intermediate Birmingham bolt-hole), this season has seen an extraordinary turn-around. What an achievement!
All football loyalists question the sanity of the manager and players at times, especially the four-pint pundits. But to be where we find ourselves at this stage could hardly be bettered. The great run all winning sides need has come at the right time, and we are all praying that recent form can continue to deliver what all the hard work surely merits: a title for the first time since 1991-92, when Dumbarton clinched the Second Division Championship.
Football writes its best scripts in blood as well as champagne. So the fact that we are also marking the 25th anniversary of Dumbarton reaching the Premier Division is bound to be part of our thinking. The top prize this year would certainly add a wonderful final note to the book on Sons in the SPL that your programme editor and I have been working on. But in terms of what we need to do this afternoon, it matters not a whit. Romance in football is a hopeful afterthought, not a blithe promise.
As for the play-offs, well the ‘p’ word is probably even more taboo than the ‘c’ one. But breaking the spell is no bad thing. Superstition, be damned. More games for a second prize would seem a bitter consolation now we’ve got this far, but it’s also a safety net which should take away just enough of the fear to leave the adrenalin we need. ’Mon Sons!