Saturday, 30 October 2010

Being a chip off the old Rock

First published in Sons View, 30 October 2010, Dumbarton -v- East Fife

Sometimes it’s more enjoyable to write about football than to watch it. Then again, there are moments when the thought or the word is just as painful as the sight – perhaps more so. No-one connected with Dumbarton FC is having a good time of it at the moment, but as three o’clock nears in this vital home match against East Fife, we have to put all that behind us and let the passion fill our lungs once more.

There was an air of near resignation among some of the Sons’ away faithful last Saturday, as that final indignity, a fourth Stenhousemuir goal moments before full time, hit the back of the net. It was as if the hope had drained right out of us. Eight defeats in the first ten games of the season, 24 goals conceded and only five scored is enough to knock the stuffing out of most football fans.

But on-pitch disappointments and upheavals on the bench aside, the strange appeal of this game is built on unexpected results, hard-worked-for revivals and the possible ‘new dawn’ that each weekend provides for us. It’s what makes predictions so perilous, much to the joy of the bookmakers.

Right now, you’d get some pretty good odds against Dumbarton avoiding the drop. If you’re that way inclined, I’d take them on. There are 26 games and 78 points still up for grabs in this League, and while you wouldn’t stake your life on the Sons bagging a whole lot of them right now, by next year we could be talking in quite different terms. It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again.

The problems Dumbarton have at the moment are not, I’d contend, a significant difference in class between the sides that make up the 2010-11 Second Division. They’re based on the continual ebbing away of confidence in recent weeks, the inability to gel as a team on the pitch, and flaws at crucial points in matches which are frustrating (as much for the players and staff as for any of us) but resolvable. Above all, we supporters want the players to show real guts and collective spirit, and they want exactly the same from us in the stands.

In the interests of raising morale, it’s tempting to ransack Dumbarton’s long and illustrious (if sometimes tortured) history to think of one or two examples of Great Escapes and Determined Turnarounds. But it’s now and tomorrow that really counts. The past can drag you down as easily as it can lift you up – except when it’s used as a means of learning from mistakes, rather than blindly repeating them.

Which brings us to today’s opponents. The Fifers are fellow strugglers. They are one of four sides, including ourselves, who have yet to win on the road this term. Seven of their nine points (five more than Sons, as if you needed telling) have come from six home matches. Dumbarton, on the other hand, have only played four times at SHS in the League since August, and the first three of those performances were by no means bad. It was silly mistakes that cost us another two points.

So if we can, for the moment, put that painful 6-0 away drubbing at New Methil to one side (it was two months ago, after all), there are grounds for thinking that a turning point is possible from here in. But a change of attitude as much as approach is needed.

That’s where passion comes in once more. It might not be a substitute for technical ability, tactical acumen and cunning, but it’s still the lifeblood of football: the elixir that gets all the other ingredients working together and pumps the team up to take on the world... or in this case, one of the four senior clubs based in the Fife region!

It’s often said that “seeing is believing”, but there are many times in professional sport where it’s equally true to say, “if we hadn’t believed, we’d never have seen it.” This is not so much about ignoring the facts (those are plain for all to view in Dumbarton’s case), or putting a glossy ‘spin’ on a dire situation, or being blandly optimistic. It’s about the kind of shared determination, self-confidence and willpower that enables you to set the agenda before you, rather than just accept it on someone else’s terms.

So this game against East Fife is another opportunity to get the fight-back against the relegation threat underway. Not the only one, not the last one, but the one Sons have the chance to grasp right now. To show, if you like, that they’re a ‘chip off the old Rock’.

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