What I want from my football club - Part 4: Basement boys
The Seventy Two has canvassed the opinion of several Football League writers from a variety of different clubs to ask one simple question: what do you want from your football club? Given around 300 words to play with, there were numerous responses so we will be looking at a cross-section every day this week, continuing with the thoughts of supporters of four clubs who have spent 2011/12 towards the bottom of their respective divisions – Doncaster Rovers, Northampton Town, Macclesfield Town and Plymouth Argyle.
Doncaster Rovers by Glen Wilson
I’m a Doncaster Rovers supporter, because I grew up in Doncaster. I didn’t enter into this looking for success and glory. I went along to cheer on my home town against the rest of the world, whether that rest of the world be represented by Altrincham or Arsenal. Its very rare in life you will hear people say, “I wish I was born in Doncaster”. Samuel Johnson did not write “When a man is tired of Doncaster, he is tired of life,” and for good reason too. And so instead we take pride instead when folk speak of our football club with apparent jealousy. Why can’t we play football like Donny? Why can’t my club do what Rovers are doing?
We had that vibe, that sense of the underdog for over a decade; as we clawed our way back from the foot of the Conference to a point where we could see the Championship play-offs shimmering in the heat-haze ahead, people rooted for us. We were the Comeback Kid, sticking to our values, sticking it to the man. And then the club got greedy. And saw second tier survival as something worth sacificing all this for. It wasn’t. It isn’t. It has not been. So now, as we drop from the Championship people may be sorry for the supporters, or the long serving players, but they are not sorry for the club. The affection has been moved out back to clear further space in the ‘shop window’. No-one wants to be a Doncaster Rovers fan anymore.
So, what I want from my football club, is a sense of humilty and of self-awareness, so that I and others can learn to love it once again. If the only way we can hope to stay in the Championship is through finding a wealthy investor, or believing the exaggerated prophecies of travelling salesmen then perhaps the second tier isn’t the ambition for us. I want my club to realise that ambition is not simply about upward momentum. I want them to realise the importance of community, stop complaining about the town’s residents who choose to go to Leeds, or Sheffield, or the pub for their football fix, and instead reach out to those who do bother to turn up, or invest, or stay in touch. If you can’t beat them, offer something different. I just want a club I can feel proud of once again, one that represents my town against the rest, and not one that is trying far too hard to be someone else.
Northampton Town by Haydon Spenceley
What do I want from Northampton Town? I want success. What is success for Northampton Town? Well, this season it will be to finish comfortably lower mid-table, after Aidy Boothroyd has worked something approaching a minor miracle to keep a team shorn of confidence, skill, bereft of nous, teamwork, tactical acumen and the ability to score goals and keep clean sheets after the Johnson and Lee Circus (™) had breezed Cockney-ly into town and left with nothing more than a “it wasn’t my fault, it was everybody else’s”.
Looking to the future, I want to see a town mobilised to support a local football team which could follow in the footsteps of its near-neighbour Northampton Saints RFC and become the pride of the local area. I want to see an expansion of the wonderful Football in the Community Schemes for children and disabled people, a growth in group tickets and schools initiatives which not only swell attendances, but draw in young and excited fans, who might just stay for long enough to see ADB put together a squad, a winning mentality and a work ethic strong enough to get us out of this God-forsaken league and bob around in League One for a year.
I want the local council to stop vote-winning and sloganeering and actually support the club in its aims to expand the Sixfields Stadium (along with Saints) and turn Northampton into a vibrant sporting area again. Not many towns can claim top flight rugby, league football and first class cricket within 10 minutes drive of each other, and Northampton needs to stand up and be counted.
More than all of that though, I want to be able to continue to enjoy supporting my local team. Perennially crap, but with me since I first clapped eyes on them at the age of six, I can only hope when I’m old and grey there’ll still be a Northampton Town FC for me to grumble about.
Macclesfield Town by Kieran Knowles
It’s been almost fifteen years since local newspaper The Macclesfield Express commemorated our gaining promotion to the football league with a front page full-frontal naked photograph of then goalkeeper Ryan Price (it became their best selling edition.. although strangely is a tactic they have never since repeated to boost sales). Fifteen years since that exotic, at times effortless waltz through the fourth tier of English football when promotion from the Conference had set in place a momentum that, along with a freshness and fearlessness of the new surroundings, saw the side promoted again as runners up to Notts County.
The good times couldn’t last. Despite talk of us being a new Wimbledon (at a time before there was a literal new Wimbledon) we struggled amongst the likes of Manchester City (at their lowest ebb), Wigan, and Fulham and were spat straight back down again. The novelty wore off, crowds dwindled. Sammy McIlroy, the architect of the success, understandably departed to try his hand at the Northern Ireland job. Despite all this the side trundled along unspectacularly. Sure there were a few scares along the way but for the most part it seemed Macclesfield had made themselves a part of the League Two furniture – like an unexciting coffee table or a beige lamp shade.
This season, however, has seen a run of twenty games without a win and with just three games remaining the side are comfortably camped within the bottom two. What I want from my football club is this – League Football. If only for just one more season. I want to be able to see us drawn away to Walsall in the first round of the league cup when the fixture list is produced. I want to be able to stay up until the early hours of Sunday morning each week to watch a flicker of ‘highlights’ from a drab 0-0 draw on the BBC. I want to be able to peruse the latest FIFA game on the Playstation and see which one of our players they have woefully misjudged/over estimated. I want league football. For all those reasons and more. Just league football. Please. I beg you. Please.
Plymouth Argyle by Jon Holmes
“We’re Devon boys!” Soppy, sentimental, Spielberg cinema it may be, but play to my county pride and I’m likely to be charging into battle faster than a War Horse.
Living hundreds of miles away from Home Park, there’s a lot of Westcountry fondness in my absent heart. Family, friends, football club… that’s what home is all about to me, so I want Argyle to strengthen that bond wherever possible.
That’s why Argyle’s recent period in administration was depressing for us exiles too. We didn’t suffer acute financial hardship like the club’s staff, we didn’t even have to sit through the early-season home humblings by Rotherham and AFC Wimbledon, but watching from afar as the Greens went from Premier League wannabes to potential Blue Square Premier candidates in a little over three years turned our pride to embarrassment. When Argyle went into administration with debts of over £20million, over 250 firms – many of them small local businesses – were left high and dry. For example, Cornish Farm Produce received a final settlement of a £10 cheque from a total claim of £4,832. Even after the club’s survival, the feeling remains that people’s perceptions of the Pilgrims have been damaged.
New owner James Brent, who has largely impressed the local community thus far, has promised to work with creditors wherever it is “commercially justified”. Incentives and opportunities are being offered to inspire confidence in the new regime. Argyle’s reputation must first be rebuilt within Plymouth. There has been renewed talk of the long-desired new grandstand for the stadium, which is critical to any significant plans to move the club forward. In addition, the Argyle Trust are in talks with Brent to take a 20% stake in the club – it’s hoped the price will be reasonable and funds can be raised to meet it before the end of September.
A new approach to memberships for the 2012/13 campaign sounds encouraging – the slogan of ‘Join The Club’ and a variety of packages should foster a sense of belonging beyond just a season ticket. Those Green Army soldiers like myself stationed up country and further afield will welcome the return of a £100 option with six match tickets and other benefits; that will help encourage us to make the long journey down to Home Park more often. However, there’s a fear the 17-21 age bracket and students could be priced out of memberships – there’s a big jump from the £60 junior cost to £250 for concessions. Those Devon boys and girls should be key customers.
As for achievement on the pitch… well, all fans want that. However, when ambition spirals out of control like Argyle’s did and the administrators arrive, you’re reminded that the stability of the club is far more important than the style of the football. When Argyle are successful again – all in good time – it’ll be even more emotional for the fans who helped keep their club alive.