First published in Sons View, 10 April 2010, Dumbarton -v- East Fife
Only a week ago I found myself expressing scepticism about the notion that Dumbarton might seriously be battling for a play-off place. The gap seemed too big and the level of consistency required too great. Now, following back-to-back away wins against Stirling Albion and – most recently – Brechin City, I’m starting to have inklings of belief again. Darn it.
After that deeply disappointing home defeat to Peterhead, I really did think we’d blown it. It seemed as if Sons’ ability to play well but not claim the requisite result, or alternatively to play less consistently and reap dire consequences, would be our early undoing. Then we claimed two well-crafted victories against teams in the top four, and it looks as if it’s on again.
Football is like that. When it’s not providing little cameos of joy, it toys with your emotions in the cruellest ways imaginable. Being a natural sporting pessimist (or a typical Sons supporter, some might say!), it isn’t the shattered dreams and thwarted desires that get to me. I’m well used to those. No, it’s the dashed cynicism! If you can’t even be right when you’re being harshly realistic… well, I ask you, what hope is there?
Of course everything could be turned upside down again after this afternoon’s encounter with East Fife, who topped the Hedgemen on 30 March by twice as many goals as we achieved on Tuesday night. Two, that is. This triumph aside, the men from Bayview, who only a couple of seasons back marched triumphantly past us into the Second Division after beating East Stirlingshire at Firs Park, have had a tough time. That means just one win in five, following convincing victories in mid-March against the Blue Toon and the Red Lichties.
Today, the Fifers come to SHS looking uncertainly over their shoulders at the drop zone and urgently needing points to move towards safety. Dumbarton, on the other hand, cannot afford to take their feet off the accelerator if fourth spot is to be in any sense a genuine prospect. The present situation is that in spite of our 1-0 win over Brechin, Sons still trail the men from Angus by two points, the game they have in hand, and a massive goal difference of 16.
To put that another way, we need to claim six points over Brechin – the only side we can realistically overhaul for a play-off place – out of a possible 15 available from the remaining five games, this afternoon’s included. With two games each against Stirling and Cowdenbeath plus one against Alloa and another with our opponents today, Brechin have a more difficult run-in than Dumbarton. On paper. On the pitch? Who knows. There’s virtually no margin for error as far as the Sons are concerned, while we are relying on City to slip up two or three times – or those competing for automatic promotion to do us a favour.
One good thing about a situation like this is that there is all to play for and not much to lose. Fifth spot, which I have been predicting for some time (though there’s plenty of scope for me to be proved wrong… yet again) would be no shame. Dumbarton fans would have absolutely jumped at it after the first six weeks of the 2009-10 campaign. But there’s an ambition in the dressing room and elsewhere in the club which will not remain satisfied with mid-table. That’s positive, though there’s also evidence that unrealism about your prospects can be just as harmful in football as aiming too low.
The point is, what we have to do is “just go for it, and see what happens.” Those rigged old fitba adages keep biting back because, well, they’re true. You can calculate and conspire to your heart’s content from the terraces, and even from the dressing room. But real fortunes are shaped in a few rash or spectacular moments on the grass. Fortune is settled by foolishness, bravery or a bit of both. Unless you’re Barcelona, that is. Then you know you can sweep all before you, as poor Arsenal discovered while the Sons were winning at Glebe Park.
Meanwhile, I can report (as someone married to an American) that it was Tartan Day in New York on Tuesday, and my friends across the Atlantic were celebrating all things Scottish, while closer to home some were remembering the Declaration of Arbroath. Let’s hope a good portion of that pride and passion rubs off on the Sons of the Rock, actual and honorary, today.