Saturday, 13 November 2010

Surviving the football winter

First published in Sons View, 13 November 2010, Dumbarton -v- Ayr United

This afternoon Dumbarton host one of a trio of sides vying for the top spot in Irn Bru Scottish League Division Two, while Sons find themselves three points adrift at the foot of the table – and six points away from the all-important safety zone. It’s going to be a long, hard winter, whatever the weather!

Last weekend the team battled hard but unsuccessfully against title favourites Livingston, whom today’s visitors Ayr United beat 3-1 at home on 2 October. Mind you, the Honest Men did us a favour while we were labouring at Almondvale, beating Peterhead at the same time as our other immediate rivals, Stenhousemuir and East Fife, were picking up a draw and a win, respectively.

A match against the Lions on the road was always going to be a tough one, even after that morale-boosting 4-1 victory over the Fifers at SHS the week before. Now Dumbarton have an opportunity to consolidate their improving form at the Rock. It’s a truism that “home results are the bedrock of achievement in league football”, but it’s one Sons will be happy to have justified once more by ten to five.

In our last encounter with Ayr, at Somerset Park on 21 August, there was little separating the teams, other than the unfortunate slip leading to Paul Maxwell’s own goal. This season there have also been a number of significant result-reversals in home and away Second Division fixtures, including Dumbarton’s turnaround against the side that thumped us 6-0, in the last match at SHS.

Sons fans will be hoping for a similar transposition this afternoon, as Alan Adamson’s men seek a positive path through the cold months ahead – and hopefully do so with a bit of an early spring in their steps.

Meanwhile, although the full freeze has yet to come, it doesn’t take a prophet to predict that over the coming weeks we will have a revival of that established annual ritual: the debate about summer football or a winter break. That thought will probably receive as many groans in the stands as some of our recent results. But it’s also an argument that’s unlikely to go away.

In April this year, former First Minister Henry McLeish (who is also a former professional football with East Fife) suggested that changes to the shape of the season could be most profitably tested in the youth game before being transferred to the senior level.

That was one of 53 recommendations that formed the first part of his review of grassroots Scottish football. A second tranche of analysis and suggestions is expected sometime soon, but seems to have been overtaken by the recent headline crisis around Dundee, and the subsequent review and revamp of the SFA announced by its new chief executive, Stewart Regan, on 4 November 2010.

McLeish is known to have been looking at the successes of football in Germany, while stressing that its highly federalised structure and culture is quite different to what prevails in Scotland. In the past it was Holland we wondered about as a role model. But in terms of a change to the timing of the season, the example of Ireland is the one that may carry most weight if there is to be reform – which many doubt, given a long history of inertia.

Summer football in Ireland has helped teams do better in Europe, it has been argued. It has also led to bigger crowds in some games, fewer postponements, less serious injuries and a better fan experience, proponents suggest. The League of Ireland elected to make the switch in 2003, and now operates between March and November. There are very few people who want to reverse that decision.

But for many hardened traditionalists there’s more than a whiff of romance about enduring the tough weather conditions that December, January and February can bring. Those of us over 50 have little difficulty in recalling (allegedly) classic games played through a blizzard, for instance. We also look back – some of us – with a strange nostalgia for standing around in swirling, icy winds while our limbs are steadily rendered undetectable by the still-functioning portions of our cerebral cortex.

Vicarious suffering and football fandom often go together, but given the choice I’d frankly rather it was the temperature I was required to moan about instead of the threat of my team finding itself on an irreversible down escalator.

Better still, I’d like to see the game played in conditions that make it more a matter of skill than a climatic lottery. And most of all I desperately want a win for Dumbarton this afternoon. Next week, next month and next year can wait!

1 comment:

Mike Blackstone said...

I have always said that footballers in England, Scotland and Wales are the most adaptable in the world when it comes to climatic conditions. And long may it last.

Having said that games are postponed a lot more easily than they ever were when I started watching football in the late 1950s, early 60s. We pander too much to players, especially the top level now.

I would not be in favour of summer football. Who cares about European games? The domestic leagues must always come first IMHO.