Every now and then, it occurs to me that my club will continue to play matches after I am gone from this world. It’s a difficult thing to think about, let alone write about, but it reminds me of a complaint my dad once made about Eastenders for no discernible reason. “It never ends”, he said. “There’s no conclusion. How can anyone watch something that never ends?”
As you might guess, he’s not a big soap fan and neither am I. Instead, I enjoy the thoughtfulness that comes with the closing credits of the last episode in a television series or that rush of cold night air when walking out of a cinema. That opportunity for a period of reflection is something neither soaps nor football can afford.
While there are, at least, breaks each year in the football calendar, supporting a team is relentless. There is a constant hunger for better players or more options. Even before a season ends, talk turns to rebuilding for the next one. When the next one comes along, it often seems like there was no summer at all.
There will be no next season for some clubs. While that can never be seen as a good thing per se (least of all when, as yesterday, people are losing their jobs as a result), it can eventually have a positive outcome for fans as various supporter-owned “phoenix” teams have proven. Supporters of these clubs have learned the dangers of exceeding limits the hard way, but it might work out for the best in the long run.
When it comes down to it, we all just want to be proud of our football club. It doesn’t have to be the same one we began supporting as long as the values are right. Once you lose that pride in your club, it becomes hard to justify – or even think about – the money spent attending games.
Darlington FC are the latest English football club to lurch towards oblivion. At the time of writing, they are standing on the precipice and only a last-ditch bid can now save them from the same fate suffered by Rushden and Diamonds just a few months ago. Following close behind Darlington are Kettering Town, the club that, like an opportunist thief eyeing a wardrobe at a wake, now play at Rushden’s Nene Park. For how much longer remains to be seen.
As someone who has met in a pub with like-minded individuals to discuss how to save my football club and stood outside its stadium with a collections bucket, I can empathise to some small extent with what Darlington and Kettering fans are currently going through. I remember that feeling of bewilderment when faced with the prospect of an empty Saturday afternoon.
This was nearly a decade ago when there seemed to be fewer financial problems in the game, so they may not experience the same incomprehensible glee that some opposition supporters felt at the potential demise of a rival club. Half of the professional clubs in the country have been through a similar period in the recent past, so empathy is in greater supply.
Nevertheless, as things currently stand, I almost wish the worst had happened. Football would have survived in the city, a club would now exist at a lower level in the pyramid and, as long as it had been just one, perhaps this would have been preferable? Instead, the club was saved in order that the current incarnation of the powers-that-be could persist with an approach that often seems as far removed from what I want from a football club as it could possibly get. This feeling is heightened at the moment due to results on the pitch, but it has always been there to some degree. And for what, then, was the club saved? A continuation of things for the sake of it?
It is difficult to see people work hard to save something they love, only to watch on as the same mistakes are made several years later. After all, how are we to know at the time when we are merely delaying the end rather than preventing it? If a crisis club (which, of course, is not a Premier League side without a win for three games) is saved and still doesn’t end up in safe hands, was it really worth it?
In some cases, although not necessarily those of Darlington or Kettering, once it’s rotten then it’s time to move on. There must have been at least one Darlington supporter who looked around the Reynolds Arena for the first time and didn’t like what his or her football club was becoming. There must have been at least one Kettering fan who was so diametrically opposed to some of the club’s recent decision-making that it began to feel like it wasn’t his or her club any more. In both cases, there have probably been more than a few.
At that stage, it’s not your club any more. It’s just a club you happen to support. Then you might begin to feel a sense of detachment and a feeling nags away at you that this isn’t the same club you fell in love with all those years ago. That is when the unthinkable could happen and an ending to what you always imagined would run parallel with the world forever begins, worryingly, to make perfect sense.