The ubiquitous issue: why I'll be supporting Stevenage
Running a Football League blog brings about some odd emotions. My reasons for starting one had little to do with resentment of the constant hype surrounding the Premier League and everything to do with an appreciation of the three divisions beneath it. As such, my admiration for many of the seventy-two clubs covered is growing. And this can sometimes mean going against the grain.
The first round proper of the FA Cup provides the best example, in particular your average national media commentary on a tie between a league side and a non-league outfit. A thought-provoking and deliciously controversial post from Fwtbol outlines the dilemma rather neatly, amid some opinions I wouldn’t necessarily share regarding FC United of Manchester supporters. The fact remains: I have started to feel in some ways a representative of the seventy-two clubs covered by the blog (many of whom I see very rarely and know little about, but that’s another story entirely).
The most obvious comparison is the weight many Englishmen throw behind English clubs in European competition. Personally, I’ve never understood that. I dislike many of the usual contestants and that doesn’t change depending on whether they’re playing against Bolton or Bilbao.
Just last week, Blackpool’s Premier League encounter with West Bromwich Albion drew my new-found solidarity with the Football League sharply into focus. Two of the three newest graduates of the second tier, both known for their attractive football, slugging it out in search of three points to propel them further up the top table.
Two Baggies were dismissed early in the game to alter it as a contest. Nevertheless, I enjoy a closer appreciation of the recent history of the two clubs from the perspective of their supporters than I could reasonably claim when two established Premier League clubs meet – and this despite the greater media focus.
And despite his heavy involvement in the events leading up to and including one of the most miserable days of my life, I hope Ian Holloway keeps Blackpool up and, no matter that his side stuck four goals past my own recently, my wish remains that Roberto di Matteo achieves the same feat with West Bromwich Albion.
Two reasons, really. Firstly, as mentioned, both sides play football in an enviable fashion, two comparable styles which will increase enjoyment of the game in the Championship should existing second tier sides attempt to emulate them. Reading between the lines, they’re not Stoke (although even the Potters play a better style of football than they are often given credit for). Secondly, perhaps the ongoing success of clubs promoted to the Premier League will consign this notion that there is a huge gulf between the top two divisions. There isn’t and there hasn’t been for several years now.
That, improbably, was just the rambling introduction. The point is this: if and when AFC Wimbledon meet Milton Keynes Dons, it will be a dark day for football. And, as this excellent article proposes, legitimacy is the watch word.
This, despite apparent evidence to the contrary, isn’t a U-turn. I didn’t go quite so far as naming the blog The Seventy One, which I now admit in retrospect would have been an interesting concept, but the decision not to is one I stand by. If I legitimise them by ticking a box categorising this post as relating to Milton Keynes Dons, then so be it.
Like it or not, Milton Keynes Dons is a reality and the battle must be won on the pitch rather than in the stands or streets surrounding any possible future clash between the franchise and the momentarily disenfranchised.
My own team once scored an ill-deserved 97th minute equaliser at the hideously-named Stadium: MK. It was a moment of unrivalled triumph, made all the better by the quality of the goal, the fact it extended a long unbeaten run and the goalscorer possessing a heartbreaking “back story” that would have put any X Factor contestant to shame. It also put a glorious finishing touch to a moral victory, if not three points.
I can’t claim to be right or wrong about whether AFC Wimbledon v Milton Keynes Dons is a prospect anyone should welcome. There is no definitive right or wrong on a subject as emotive as this. It is for each individual Wombles fan to decide. My team, like all others that face Milton Keynes Dons, were given the chance to settle our score on the pitch and it would not have been a defining moment in my life had they failed.
What makes it a dark day for football is that it has even come to this.
The day that the action on the pitch becomes both too meaningful to describe and at the same time entirely meaningless in terms of what football should represent is the real tragedy.
I may find pride in being associated with many Football League clubs but there is one that still rankles and will not gain my support in their FA Cup first round replay.
Welcome – again – to The Seventy Two, Stevenage. And the very, very best of luck.