Saturday, 22 August 2009

Getting back on track

First published in Sons View, 22 August 2009, Dumbarton -v- Clyde

For most of us connected with Dumbarton Football Club, there has been something almost unreal about the summer period. We have experienced tremendous highs and unfathomable lows, an incredibly tough pre-season run in, and issues way beyond football pulling us together.

It would be surprising if all this had not also taken our minds somewhat off the immediate task in hand – digging into SFL Division Two. It’s clear that Jim Chapman and the boys have done their level best to focus. But they (and we) are only human, and to some degree the initial difficulties of the new season are at least partially accountable to all that has been happening off the field, let alone on it.

Now it’s back to the bread and butter stuff of Scottish league football. And after the visit of Alloa to SHS and the trip to windy Arbroath, both ending in 3-1 defeats, it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go for the Sons.

Any team that gains promotion has a big job on its hands re-shaping the squad for the challenge of higher division football, getting new signings to gel with existing players, and adapting to the fresh tactics that will be needed for different opposition.

After a few years in any league (as we were in the Third Division), a certain pattern of responding can set in, amid all the inevitable personnel changes. A mental attitude that tells us who we are and where we belong, if you like.

But the kind of stability this represents is not necessarily appropriate for the new situation. Indeed it almost certainly will not be. A new type of solidity will have to be achieved for the relatively fresh pastures of the Second Division.

Getting the team to take on board new ideas and possibilities while holding on to the best of what they have developed as individual players and as a squad can be tricky – especially when you are learning “on the job” against different opponents, and when you are having to look hard at where the gaps are and how they might be filled.

The boss has indicated that he sees weaknesses as well as strengths in all departments. In particular, Sons have leaked more goals than they should have in recent weeks, and there is a need for more ruthlessness up front. The higher you go in the game, the more important it is to grab rather than squander opportunities to clinch a goal or to out-manoeuvre the opposition.

Perhaps all that seems obvious, but in this game a lot of what works in theory doesn’t work in practice, and vice versa! That’s what makes football such an endlessly absorbing (and frustrating) sport to watch… and even more so to play, or to guide from the touchline and the training field.

Meanwhile, today we are welcoming one of the legendary sides of Scottish football to the Rock. As well as being local rivals, Clyde, founded five years after the Sons, in 1877, match Dumbarton with a proud history and solid aspirations. Their story is also joined to ours by a river that has been a site of struggles large and small over the years.

Recently I was re-watching a fine DVD called The Story of Scottish Football (Green Umbrella Sport & Leisure, 2003), partly narrated by that stalwart historian of the game, Bob Crampsey. I picked it up a couple of years ago on one of my periodic pilgrimages to Hampden and the Scottish Football History Museum – thoroughly recommended, if you haven’t ventured there yet, incidentally.

Suffice it to say that the men of Clyde are well recorded in this visual summary of the annuls of the game. In particular there is some good footage of the 1939 Scottish Cup Final, a match played at lightening pace and won 4-0 by the Bully Wee against Motherwell.

Clyde then held on to the famous trophy (less than willingly) for a total of six years, until the enforced hibernation of the Second World War ended, and normality could return to the disrupted domestic and international game.

Overall, our opponents have won the Scottish Cup on three occasions, and in the 1950s they were genuine challengers to the dominance of the Old Firm. Recent years have been much leaner of course, with the struggle for survival in the light of relegation temporarily eclipsing hopes of further glory.

Today both sides are hoping for a favourable twist in their fortunes and a boost to the 2009-10 Second Division campaign at this early but formative stage.

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