Saturday, 20 February 2010

Exciting the football passions

First published in The Grecian, 20 February 2010, Exeter City -v- Stockport County

Somehow you get the feeling that the milk of human kindness doesn’t flow freely when football passions are at their most intense. Fans love to kick a team when they’re in trouble, and around this time of year chants of the “You’re going down!” and “You’ll be sacked in the morning!” variety start to resonate more regularly around terraces up and down the land.

Exeter City have had a few of the former serenades over the past few weeks, but we’re determinedly ignoring them. Losing away to Millwall at the last gasp was hard to take, and one that didn’t do credit to the effort put in by our players. But it did illustrate the toughness of grabbing points at the New Den these days.

At this stage of the season there’s no point in looking back and grumbling, however. Every Club in the country would have an extra 15 points in the bank if all those near misses, unlucky losses and “we wuz robbed” moments had gone the right way. But they didn’t, and we are where we are.

The important thing this afternoon is to retain focus and to go for a convincing win – against opponents who, in a close and high quality third tier, are still seen as the closest thing to whipping boys… but who will have absolutely no intention of living up to that reputation at St James Park.

Stockport County took an important point off fourth-placed Colchester United at Edgeley Park last weekend, indicating in the process that they are willing to fight for every inch of turf this term, in spite of major difficulties on and off the pitch.

That said, the Hatters have a pretty grim away record, as their basement status and overall 31-goal deficit confirms. ’Keeper Owain Fon Williams will also want to forget the moment that let United’s David Prutton's innocuous free-kick slip through his grasp and in for the opener last Saturday. A classic “comedy goal”, though the man between the sticks certainly won’t be laughing!

Things got worse when Colchester then went two in front from Anthony Wordsworth on 18 minutes. But County showed tremendous courage in clawing themselves back from the brink of destruction, and Jabo Ibehre’s brace, completed with thirteen minutes to go, secured them a deserved draw. It might even have been a win if substitute Ian Henderson's shot hadn’t hit the post… but we’ve already observed that football teams cannot live by “if” alone.

Incidentally, it was a redemption moment for Islington-born Jabo, too. The well-travelled front man is on his second loan spell at Stockport from Milton Keynes Dons, after being released by Walsall last year. This follows a less-than-auspicious end to eight years and 209 senior appearances from 2000-2008 at Leyton Orient – where I put in terrace appearances when I’m in the vicinity of East London these days.

Stockport County could do with every bit of fortune passing their doorstep right now. In March they are appearing as a featured team in the excellent When Saturday Comes magazine, though not exactly for the reasons they would choose.

‘County caught’ is the headline for David Meller’s article about the web of financial, legal and municipal woe surrounding the Hatters at present. What follows is an all-too-familiar litany of money mayhem. Football is in a crazy state economically, and the government’s recent announcement that it plans to take action on governance, debt and regulation within the game has not come a moment too soon.

There’s another dimension to this story, however – one that rarely reaches the tabloids. So David Meller (no relation to a certain Chelsea-supporting ex-Tory MP, who spells his second name with an ‘o’) also reports on the solid action Stockport supporters have been taking to highlight the crisis that has gripped their club, and to try to get them out of it.

It’s not the first time this season that Exeter City are welcoming to their Devon home a football team whose fans have had to channel passion on the terraces into a practical concern for how their club is run and how it can be salvaged from destruction. Brighton and Hove Albion also come to mind.

What the financial shenanigans have demonstrated at Stockport, says Meller, looking on the positive side, is “a determined and loyal supporter base worthy of investment” from the right sources. Though the Grecians badly need to pile the agony on County from a football point of view today, we should wish them all the best in their efforts to stay afloat. Another needless casualty is not what the game needs.

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