First published in Sons View, 08 January 2011, Dumbarton -v- Forfar Athletic.
Football loyalties are strange beasts. There are some fans who are strictly 'one team' followers, others who stretch to two or three sides (sometimes insisting that they should be located in different territories or countries), and others who seem to switch allegiances faster than spouses - which can be a lot these days!
I guess I have always maintained a strong personal distinction between 'my team' (Dumbarton, of course) and the 'local team' I may have shown a passing interest in for a defined period of time... because, well, they're down the road, I love football, I value community connections, and I just couldn't bear the thought of going from Saturday to Saturday without watching some live action.
Maybe that sounds a bit casual or condescending to the 'locals'. Not a bit of it. I still look out for Exeter City's results and I'm still in touch with several friends there. But not even while quite genuinely sharing the Grecians' most inspiring moments (two Wembley play-offs, two promotions from the Conference up to the third level in the English Football League) did I seriously doubt where my true loyalty lay - with Dumbarton.
I guess that makes me a one team guy with platonic friendships throughout the game, rather than a serial football monogamist - like those people who end up owning several clubs in one decade. And frankly, I'm happy to jeep it that way. As are the equally dedicated fans of the 'local teams' I've watched over the years.
Of course that differentiation between my team / local team only makes sense if - as in my case - you have lived many miles from the home of the mighty Sons, and simply couldn't afford the trek to Strathclyde Homes Stadium (or Boghead in the old days) more than a couple of times a season. Needs must, and all that.
These days Hibs and Hearts are the nearest senior football clubs to my regular residence, but there's no way you'd catch me down Easter Road or Tynecastle if there was sight or smell of a Dumbarton match within 200 miles. Maybe more. Sense? It doesn't really come into it!
Reading through the 'Fan of the Week' feature in The Sons View, it's evident that a high proportion of committed Dumbarton supporters come from the town itself. Then there are those who moved away but can't help coming back, those who've gravitated towards the area out of work or domestic arrangements - and one or two downright oddballs like me.
I ended up a Sons fan on what was essentially an inexplicable youthful whim, following the realisation that a dull spell following Manchester United (one of those fleeting fancies many impressionable young minds toy with in the first flush of their football addiction) was unlikely to provide the solid bedrock of misery and disappointment upon which all genuine football loves need to be founded.
I realise that this is a definitively 'lower league' perspective. Frankly, I've never really 'got' the idea of supporting a massive team stuffed with multimillionaires and forged on a regular diet of top-notch trophies. I mean, what's the fun in that? It's like buying the answers to a really tough quiz from a cheat site on the Internet, and then convincing yourself that you deserve to come first anyway, so it makes no odds.
No, for me Dumbarton are a real football team, unlike the fantasy Old Firm / English Premiership / AC Real Barcelona kind. They just exist in some parallel plastic television universe where sponsors' logos compete with the over-green pitch to get you scrabbling for the colour contrast control, and the very notion of loyalty is spelled out in banknotes rather than blood, sweat, tears and two insane offside decisions.
Mind you, on a Saturday evening you'll probably find me checking out how Barrow did (my namesakes, obviously), Leyton Orient (a very good friend), Southall (so far down the pyramid they're more or less propping up the foundations these days!), Brentford (my dear 'ol grandad)... And Exeter, of course.
Then there's Saint Paoli in the lower reaches of the Bundesliga, because another friend and valued ex-work colleague has been lending them his vocal chords for many years - even when they slipped down into the third tier of German football and onto the brink of non-existence. Now that does take loyalty, especially when you've been reared to anticipate better things.
These are the types of club that deserve to have proper fans, rather than celebrity backers with an advertising deal on the side. But, nevertheless, this afternoon only one result matters above, beyond and before all else. 'Mon Sons!