Saturday, 12 September 2009

A long shout-out for the boys

First published in Sons View, 12 September 2009, Dumbarton -v- Stenhousemuir

Along with the team and manager, Dumbarton fans will definitely be hoping that two home games after an enforced international break will give the Sons a fresh opportunity to dig out the results we very much need to get this season going properly.

Our opponents over the coming fortnight, prior to a long haul up to Peterhead, are certainly not unfamiliar. Both were strong competitors for the Third Division Championship last season, secured in the end by the Sons after an extraordinary, record breaking eight game run-in. How long ago that now seems.

Stenhousemuir looked as if they might well take the trophy themselves following a strong opening spell last term, only to lose momentum at the critical moment. In the end they claimed promotion via the playoffs, and are joined by Cowdenbeath, who had a bitterly disappointing season but eventually profited from the demotion of Livingston and their own subsequent promotion into this Division along with Airdrie United into the First.

Meanwhile, Stenny have enjoyed a much better start than the Sons again, having claimed six points from their opening matches, in contrast to our one. From Dumbarton’s viewpoint, we can only wish it to be another case of the tortoise and the hare once more … with our land-dwelling reptile from the family Testudinidae (don’t say you never learn anything from these columns!) suddenly sprouting wings when silverware or play-off places hove into sight.

Not being a naturalist, I don’t quite know how you’d explain that kind of achievement in evolutionary terms, but I trust that Jim Chapman is able to do so in their football equivalent! Not that he will be wanting to leave everything to the final furlong.

In 2008-9 Sons took crucial points from three out of our four encounters with the Warriors. Our progress – from defeat and a draw on to two victories – pretty much mapped the trajectory of the campaign as a whole.

This afternoon we can’t afford any nostalgia, however. We’re in a different league, and the terms and conditions have changed. On paper Sons have the talent and know-how to achieve the results we need to stabilise in this division. But something hasn’t been quite right. Now it’s a question of overcoming early disappointments, reaching for the team’s true potential, and making sure that the fans are behind the boys. That last point is the one we can all do something about.

Despair is written deep into the psyche of most dedicated football fans, even when we wish it not to be so. But a negative attitude doesn’t win you games. If anything, it’s more likely to help you lose them. You also don’t have to be a bandana-wearing New Ager (not many of those to the pound in Dumbarton, I reckon!) to recognise that a positive mental approach is deeply entwined with successful performance in the modern game.

Last season I wrote a piece about psychology and football for this programme before I realised that Dumbarton had indeed availed themselves of some constructive support in this area. It paid off handsomely in the end.

What’s true on the pitch can also have resonance in the stands, as well, where the “You only sing when you’re winning” taunt sometimes acts as a reminder that the time when the players need the most vocal support is often when we (understandably, given our disappointment) feel least inclined to give it.

A few weeks ago I was at a Carling Cup match between my local side, Exeter City, who have just got into League One in England, and Championship contenders Queens Park Rangers. Exeter did well to start with, but after losing a goal and a player they imploded somewhat and ended up being pasted 5-0.

What was impressive in the midst of this calamity was the way the home fans kept on singing in spite of it all. That isn’t always the case at St James’ Park, or the Rock, or many other grounds these days. Supporters have become customers in a harsh commercial environment, and we’re inclined to demand our pound of flesh, along with the rest. Especially when we’ve paid good money.

No one can blame supporters for getting frustrated or angry. Love and hate do get strangely confused in all of us when passions are running high. But what the Sons really need right now is an enormous boost from a very fine group of supporters, to help them make things happen on the pitch – as we all believe they can.

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