Tear soaked Balti Pies and little chuckling at Bradford
Despite the lack of pre-season optimism and promise, the club still managed to sell more than 8,000 season tickets. Maybe, we all began to think, this was the season we would finally hit the bottom and bounce. Maybe we would all remember that sense of hope we once felt many years ago. Maybe we will join hands and come together as one, embracing the club to our collective bosom and reciprocating the efforts of the young whippersnappers with titanic waves of appreciative applause.
We lost to Aldershot Town on the opening day of the season. Then we drew. Then we lost. Then we lost again. Any sense of quiet optimism we may have had quickly dissolved like a lorry load of Alka Seltzer in a swimming pool. We were, quite simply, awful. Without wanting to single out any individuals for criticism, my brother and I would make bets with each other at the beginning of matches as to how many ‘minor’ and ‘major’ mistakes certain players would make during the course of an afternoon. That faint, rabid roar of the celebrating away-section had become all too commonplace, with many of the home fans venting their frustrations towards players who were too young and too frightened to simply take it on the chin. Held together by battling performances from midfield general, Michael Flynn and the almost psychotic willingness to receive physical punishment from striker, James Hanson, City would just about avoid embarrassing scorelines.
Then, all of a sudden, Peter Jackson left. Nobody was given a reason, with speculation rife in the Twittersphere, he presumably went back to emptying bedpans in a nursing home. Personally, I don’t believe Jackson to be a bad manager; he was just out of his depth at a club that has ruined many a greater man.
The temporary running of the club was then given to Jackson’s assistant, Colin Cooper – a former full-back at Middlesborough and respected footballing figure. The transformation was instant. We smashed four goals past Barnet before putting Sheffield Wednesday out of the JPT. The bloke with the haemorrhoids cushion who sits in front of me would gleefully cheer in between quaffs of his Bovril, and the fella behind me with the beard had finally managed to refrain from shouting venomous insults at young men who were a third of his age. Things were looking up.
We then appointed Phil Parkinson as permanent manager – a man who, although down on his luck, had a proven record of helping clubs (just Colchester, mind) punch above their weight. Parky didn’t mess about – he immediately signed players who were of a significantly higher calibre than we had become used to. Out went Guy Branston and Leon Osborne, in came Kyel Reid and Craig Fagan. Seriously. THE Craig Fagan. HOW?!
While performances improved dramatically, our results didn’t. Watching City bomb up the pitch with an almost nuclear force was truly a welcome sight at Valley Parade; what was decidedly unwelcome and depressingly familiar was the calamitous and often comedic defending that so often goes hand-in-hand with this style of football. Sometimes it’s like watching a chilling episode of Chucklevision, in which Paul and Barry had found themselves jobs as centre-halves, leading to a series of catastrophic mishaps that, to opposing fans, must have been hilarious.
To this day, we have continued to concede soft goals that cost us the game, but the most depressing part of the season is that the players have never stopped trying. As supporters, we have become so used to being able to point at the fact that we had a squad of talented but lazy individuals who would ‘squander our hard-earned cash on women and sports cars’, but we have no such explanation to fall back on this season. When the curtain was drawn on yet another heartbreaking home-defeat at the weekend (incidentally, to the Chuckle Brother-supported Rotherham United), some of the players, racked with exhaustion and dejection, fell to the floor. They had given their all – proving once and for all what we City fans will never truly accept – we aren’t good enough.
Should we win at Gillingham today, the balti pies are on me.