Struggling to Care About Fleetwood
Back in the lead-up to the season I cautiously welcomed Fleetwood Town to the League. I’d heard about the dubious origins of benefactor Andy Pilley’s fortune, and I wanted to look a little more closely at this. I also wanted to ask how exactly a club whose average crowd was 134 just a small number of seasons ago when Pilley took over could afford to bring the likes of Jon Parkin and Damien Johnson in on permanent contracts, not to mention having a go at signing Joey Barton.
I spent an age on the article but, as it was, I didn’t achieve much more than collating the little information that’s already out there. Indeed, like some kind of sop, I was left to remark how Fleetwood’s first season in the League had “the potential to be fascinating”.
Since then, things have been going pretty well on the field but Fleetwood have hardly set the league alight. As expected, Town have emerged as one of League 2’s front-runners along with Gillingham, Port Vale and Cheltenham, yet haven’t perhaps dominated as they might have given the quality, depth and experience of the squad.
On Saturday — during my first ever trip to Highbury — I was hoping, then, for some kind of drama. Somebody to hate, or even love. Anything that would give me a reason to attach some kind of meaning or feeling to the Cod Army.
It didn’t quite work out. The team were decent for an injury-plagued side, but not to such an extent that I was left gurning in Pilley’s direction, berating the way in which he’s doping the team to success. Neither were they particular nasty; rather, they seemed a bit functional. They’d have had a game on their hands had Plymouth — the away side — turned up; a point which was emphasised in my mind by Fleetwood’s subsequent 3-1 home defeat to Accrington two evenings ago.
If anything, I was reminded that players who have come from non-league can sometimes appear out of shape in comparison to their preened colleagues who’ve never played outside of the 72; more than once did my companion on the day attempt to start a “who ate all the … fishermen’s friends” ditty in the direction of captain and enboobed man mountain Steve McNulty. Whether that provides much in the way of meaning, or makes me care any more or little about Fleetwood than I did before the game, I’m not sure.
The surrounds were interesting. While not quite as torrid as its seaside neighbour Blackpool — the place I’d least like to spend a day of my life in again, ever — this tip of the Fylde coast seemed as rundown and deprived a place as I’ve come across. Derelict buildings, closed down pound shops and mothers stacking up Rustlers burgers for Saturday night dinner courtesy of the local Tesco Metro made for a different 3pm build up, yet one that was still eminently preferable to wandering through an out-of-town retail park to get to a game.
And the ground was nice enough. Entering Highbury via a modern electronic gate without being pestered by interfering stewards looking for bottle caps and cameras, I came to appreciate that this was a cosy set-up; an entirely agreeable setting, which would put many Football League grounds to shame in its design and, well, cleanliness.
At £12.50, the cost of the ticket didn’t do the Cods any harm in my estimation, either. Way and below the cheapest price I’ve paid for a Football League game in some time, it was verging on £10 less than some of the more expensive grounds in the division.
Yet none of this imbued feelings of something that wasn’t simple flatlining nothingness. Rather, this seemed like a club that had airbrushed its past; the quirky stand hidden behind the current Family Stand one of few glimpses into what’s come before. And those prices still only pulled in a disappointing 2,657; although the swanky new Parkside Stand was replete with the kind of well-attended executive boxes that give grounds a nice sheen it was all just a bit … boring.
Perhaps that’s how it is when you watch football at this level, especially when it involves a team as poor as Plymouth currently are. Or maybe it’s more to do with Fleetwood’s youth; knowing that in the return game the Cods are likely to only bring a smattering to Home Park; realising that the majority of fans in the stadium have probably only been supporting their team for about as long as MK Dons supporters have theirs … I don’t know.
Whatever it is, it’ll most probably take me a good few years to develop any kind of empathy or antipathy. Or at least some kind of neck and neck promotion race, which is highly unlikely for the time being. And by then Fleetwood may well have returned from whence they came. Fascinating indeed.