Monday, 16 August 2010

Boston United 1 Stafford Rangers 0

Welcome to Mecca

So where was I before being so rudely interrupted?

I did have another blog on here - The Pilgrim - which like a half-thought-out Christmas present from an elderly relative, I made a big token fuss of initially but quickly grew bored of having to think of something meaningful to contribute to it every few days. And in the intervening two years, it would seem BlogSpot has entered into an unholy civil partnership with Google and, not being one to easily remember password and e-mail combinations, it can rot in the online ether along with Bebo, Chinese search engines and American confidentiality. RIP. Fresh enthusiasm and a fresh start here, then.

I remember where I was now – wading through piles of Titertape, celebrating a barely-mentionable single-goal win against Cammell Laird at York Street, breathing a mammoth sigh of relief that we all still had a club to support. Northern Premier was just about tolerable, it wasn’t where we wanted to be but it would do for now, while we found our feet again, restoring the Good Ship Pilgrim to a healthier condition with a new rudder and a couple of coats of paint. Kendal, Guiseley, Ossett, Frickley, Matlock and the rest of the northern tinpots– they weren’t attractive grounds to visit, they weren’t attractive teams to play but it was a million times better than Mickleover, Woodley Sports, Emley and Spalding, and immeasurably better than Old Leake, Kirton, Butterwick and Wyberton. And how the Boxing Day derby with Hucknall or Stocksbridge was better than Stamford or Grantham. And where the f**k is Quorn anyway?

But then it transpired that we were better than all this. We were better all along, we were big time after all in this company, we had just needed the right leadership – a spark. Suddenly we shunned kick and rush in favour of pass and move, we had players with pace, or speed enough for this standard at least. We travelled like we had always done, and in large numbers, but it was no longer in hope. Soon we EXPECTED to come away with three points, we expected good football. It was all happening too fast. We went to places where we had been soundly beaten just months earlier (Nantwich, Guiseley, Ashton) and won handsomely. We went to other places and played them off the park (Durham, Ossett, Hucknall, Worksop). We ate pies and pasties in every county of the north, with gravy, peas and sauce – the pastry was soggy and the fillings not exactly prime but when you’re pissed and winning, who cares? We dented the crap out of corrugated iron in every corner of this land, we tussled with gap-toothed local inbreds (Lowestoft, Stocksbridge), we played in rain, fog, snow and sun before handsome seated stands, bare terraces, eight-foot high fences and the odd grass bank. And we kept winning.
You should have seen the webbed feet...

Yeah, there were still Saturday afternoons when you wondered why you bothered but they came around every two months, at the most. We had adventures together, went places you never expected, we all had a laugh and a great time. And we were winning. In fact, we won so much our trophy cabinet collapsed (allegedly).

I made 32 games in 2009-2010, the majority away from home. Every week I stretched my student budget to the last penny on train fares, admission prices, petrol money, Burger Kings, programmes and all the other paraphernalia associated with following your team. I missed just three away matches: Quorn because it was literally impossible to get back to York without checking in to the nearest Premier Inn, Durham (second time round) because my bank balance read just the pence column and, frustratingly, the Play-off final with Bradford Park Avenue because I was leading my student newspaper sports team over in Lancaster. It would have been a massive liberty, but I regret not being in those celebrations. In a few years, I’m certain I’ll look back fondly on a golden year in my life when everything seemed to come together, and I’m sorry I didn’t have the time to write about it all. Sadly, the pressures of a final year at university precluded the time.

But here we were again. A new season, a new hope. A new league with a new roster of places to visit. A few new faces to get the regulars excited, a new set of kits to model. Thankfully, some things don’t change and as I sat in Wetherspoons gazing out at God’s piss-poor impression of the Great British Summer with Mr. James Housam (reliably offending sensibilities since 1989, his ribald remarks now at British Army strength) and Mr. James Broughton (a man so excited about the new campaign that he has taken to referring to York Street stadium as Mecca and gets a tingle down the spine when Thin Lizzy’s The Boys are back in Town comes on the radio) it was hard to escape the warm glow of the football being back. They will be a regular part of my Dramatis Personae this season.

I can confirm that the boys were, indeed, back in town

A decade or so ago, Sky Sports ran a new season advert campaign which has stuck in my memory. It simply pictured an octogenarian standing on an anonymous terrace, a line pointing to each of the wrinkles and imperfections on his face. Each was labelled: relegations x 4, failed European campaign ’86, play-off failure x 5, last-day escapes, championship success ’95 etc. Why fight it, we’re all going that way following United!

The match with Stafford Rangers was hardly a classic, but the slender victory was deserved. The crowd, at a handful over 1600 was healthy and it was actually nice to be able to identify the phenomenon of travelling supporters in the York Street End from across the entire length of the pitch without resorting to bird-watchers’ binoculars or a powerful telescope. While reports of 150 odd from the West Midlands proved unfounded, they were at least vocal and the ‘Shedenders’ label on one of their flags spoke of loyalty and the distant promise of some more corrugated iron to smack when we swing by their place.

Anthony Church had enshrined his place in Pilgrims legend with the extra-time winner at Bradford and he picked up where he left off with the winning moment just after the half-hour, leaping like a salmon fresh from a close season break to meet a flick-on from Jamie Yates’ throw. Stafford showed little to suggest they will improve on last season’s 16th place finish and debutant United goalkeeper James McKeown had little to trouble him.

A visual representation of the goal, as seen by David Attenborough

The perfect start, then, and as I nodded off on the sofa in front of Match of the Day after the temporary balance issues (I was pissed) caught up with me, my last thought was simply how good it felt to have it all back again.

I’ll try and write something for every match I get to this season - and not just Boston - but then again I said that last time.

Next match: Hinckley United vs. Boston United (Monday 16th August)

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