Saturday, 31 October 2009

Football can never be captured by celebrity

First published in The Grecian, 31 October 2008, Exeter City -v- Brentford

Exeter City and Brentford both come to this afternoon’s match needing a good result to help take them out of the lower reaches of the League One table. If last season’s encounters are anything to go by, supporters of the two sides can expect a competitive and absorbing game.

While the Grecians were securing a last gasp draw at St James Park to basement team Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday, the Bees were claiming a 2-0 home victory over Stockport County (who have exactly the same number of points and precisely the same goal difference as City) thanks to goals from Charlie MacDonald and Myles Weston.

Brentford’s two previous outings have resulted in a defeat at Leyton Orient and a goalless draw hosting Hartlepool. The upshot is that the two sides are now separated by just four places, three points and seven goals. This division continues to be very tight indeed.

At the end of this season, I remain pretty confident that both teams will be safe. They have good players and a positive attitude, though their respective qualities are being tested robustly by football in a higher division. So there’s much hard work to do before either can breathe easily.

Neither the Grecians nor the Bees could be described as ‘fashionable clubs’ these days, but both have had their curious brushes with fame and celebrity. Exeter fans will probably look back rather ruefully on that extraordinary day when a certain illusionist produced now departed music superstar Michael Jackson to parade around the pitch. But whether you blinked or not, it happened.

Similarly, Brentford supporters will have been puzzled when it was rumoured that they had come to the attention of a number of Hollywood stars a few years ago. I’m not sure that they can match ‘the King of Pop’, but for a number of years rock keyboard legend Rick Wakeman was known to be a keen Brentford follower.

I happen to know that there’s even a dedication to the Bees on the inside cover of the 1977 Yes album ‘Going for the One’ – an obscure fact which might come in useful for pub quiz question hunters, if nothing else!

These days Rick’s affections seem to have migrated to Manchester City, following a mysterious falling out with his old Brentford pals. Fandom can be as movable a feast as marriage in the celeb world, but the constancy of the bedrock support at both Griffin Park and St James’ is something that will undoubtedly weather both time and fashion.

When the fixtures for this season were announced, this was one I marked with a big red pen in my diary. As a child I lived a decent stone’s throw away from Brentford, and my late paternal grandfather was a long-term supporter. Indeed it was a trip to Griffin Park with him at the age of nine that really confirmed me in my love of all things football.

That said, the schedule has not been kind to me as far as Grecians versus Bees tussles are concerned. I missed both matches last season, and this week pressing work and domestic commitments mean that I will be on my way from London to Birmingham as you settle into your seat or take your place on the Big Bank.

Would I have had divided loyalties? Not really. I want Exeter to grab those points, though I wish both clubs well overall and find myself keeping my grandfather’s memory alive through a watchful eye on what the Bees are up to.

Similarly, I found time a few weeks ago to go and watch my namesakes Barrow in action away against Crawley Town in Exeter’s old stomping ground, the Conference. They snatched a 1-0 win, haven’t lost since, and are making an impressive fist of securing their place in the Blue Square Premier for a second season.

The year the Grecians won promotion back to the League I made the away trip to Broadfield Stadium on a freezing midweek evening to watch a 2-2 draw along with 841 other people who had decided to abandon the Champions League on the telly in order to experience ‘real football’.

There certainly weren’t many celebrity fans to the inch in Crawley that evening, and after Exeter’s triumph in the Wembley play-off final I never particularly imagined myself heading back to Broadfield again. But then I found myself less than an hour away with a chance to catch the Bluebirds, and couldn’t resist.

That’s football for you. Quite apart from the loyalties we develop, there’s a breadth, passion and interest to the game that makes for unexpected treasures. You never quite know when something special is going to happen. Let’s hope it’s today.

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