All that glitters

Cod Almighty | Article

by Alistair Wilkinson

4 November 2010

Part 1: I ain't getting out of bed for anything less than a Sheffield Wednesday

There's a theme to part 1 of this article: love. I love the FA Cup; I love all the cups we play in. Cup games are special; they take you away from the grind of the league. But I'm a bugger when it comes to love: ask my wife and she'll probably tell you that I take it for granted. And it's fair to say that I've done the same to the FA Cup over the years. And not just the FA Cup: all the cups pass me by until we're in the third round. That means all cup games since the northern section final of whatever-the windscreen's-called-now second leg against Morecambe.

Do I feel bad? Do I feel that my team deserves my support no matter what game they're playing? No, not particularly. I always feel uncomfortable when I miss a home game; the idea that I'm missing out on the event, the potential for incident, as well as the game can drive me to distraction. But not so much in the cups. I'm a league fella, I'm all about three points and until there's some glory to be had in a cup game I'm not there.

Tamworth at home in a fourth qualifying round replay isn't glory. There was never going to any glory in that game, the event or the outcome: either eviction or a trip to Crewe. But it's not about glory, you might say. It's about supporting your team no matter what the opposition or the prize.

No, there has to be some choice in being a football fan and Tuesday night was one of the few opportunities as a Town supporter to take nothing but the prize: no wading through sludge for a few memories, no sitting through clueless decision making and dithering, just a patient wait in the warm. And my season ticket means I wouldn't even have to collect any Tamworth, Crewe or some other no-name-shit-that-we'll-eventually-see-in-a-league-game stubs. I can wait. And I can wait patiently. The only point of interest in Tuesday's game was if we were to go out before the first round proper for the first time for 99 years. Great. Here's my 15 quid.

Go to the Tamworth game and you're not just loyal, you're a martyr.

I don't understand a lot of things, like string theory, 80s fashion revivals and why it took me so long to buy the second series of Twin Peaks on DVD, but I do understand missing those early rounds

I remember that game against Morecambe. I remember queuing for the toilet. At first I was annoyed by all the part-time supporters making me wait but then I remembered that, for one night, I was a part-time supporter. It was a nice feeling, like I was a visitor rather than inmate.

Don't mistake my absence for flippancy. I loved Michael Owen's first senior hat-trick and Jevons' goal; I loved Craig Shakespeare putting Gullit in his pocket; I loved watching a fantastic Julian Dicks try to carry a poor West Ham on his shoulders and still concede three goals; I still love Plough Lane Harry Haddocks even though I wasn't there; I loved Livvo ripping Sean Teale's shirt; I loved Livvo scoring two to knock out Leicester when they were League Cup holders; I loved a 3-all draw against Sheffield United followed by a win on penalties and I loved that my friend brought his girlfriend for her first match and she was still bored; I loved Barnes' late save against Morecambe; I loved Kalala; and I loved Burnley away back in '98 and I love that that night might be my favourite Town memory.

I love cup games. But not the early rounds. An empty Osmond and a sub-2000 crowd on a cold night wasn't enough to get me away from Special Agent Dale Cooper. I don't understand a lot of things, like string theory, 80s fashion revivals and why it took me so long to buy the second series of Twin Peaks on DVD, but I do understand missing those early rounds. It's nice to exercise my right to choose every once in a while.

Part 2: Another season concentrating on the league

Eastbourne. Why is that name even smaller, even more of an indication of our fall than, say, Histon or Hayes or Fleetwood? Because it's a name that you can recognise but it's not recognisably football. Something familiar in a strange place is always awkward. Eastbourne is a familiar name found in unfamiliar surroundings. Like movie stars in sitcoms, it just doesn't sit right with the audience (Bruce Willis, I'm looking at you) and movie star and TV star both look a bit silly. A bit like Town as they dithered and jogged and generally took their opponents for granted.

And they charged about the pitch with spaniel-like abandon and terrier-like tenacity and some-gorgeous-breed-like wonder goal scoring and bulldog-like... yeah, you get the idea; it was a dog of an afternoon. A dog of a season.

Hopes were heaped on new shoulders as Ademeno strutted his stuff and widened those shoulders to take the burden. He looked pretty much fucking fantastic, a bloom in the gloom, a flame in the blame as he made us at least sit up a bit. Adrenaline and high hopes won't be enough to get us through the season but they might stop Hayes & Yeading's early season double and get us to Christmas and into the cold muddy winter of our content. Yes, content, for there is a theme to part 2 of this article: redemption.

Woods is on the up. It's a bumpy climb with lots of slips and trips over Bore- and Peacock-shaped lumps. But he's learning and he's adapting, adapting like an inefficient borg in desperate need of a new assimilation but adapting nevertheless. If Ademeno can stay even close to fitness then he's going to scare the willies out of the opposition and give Connell a much-needed lift. The manager has his first-choice back four and, while Atkinson still needs to remember to out-think rather than out-fight, Garner looks like he might be able to drag us over that top five finish line on his own.

Bore needs a kick up the arse and Wood should provide it. It was there on Saturday as Woods made effective substitutions, changing our game and improving the side to the point where we should have won - Connell's strange last-second effort still plays out in my dreams. Of course, there's no excuse for the Peacock-led plan A but, as I said, he's learning. We do need a shouty 'keeper but Arthur seems determined to snap, tweak or fracture his way through the season; get back in the team and get shouty. Wright is still here and that eases the pressure in the middle.

Again I'm looking at Christmas and hoping. By then Woods' fitness plans should be paying off as pitches get heavy and our squad size kicks in. Players are returning at the right time and we're still in touch.

We're a year into Woods' reign and it's been hard and it's not getting any easier yet. We need to improve quickly if we're to keep the season alive past January and if Woods is to keep his job. November's here and the knives will still be sharp. He has excuses with injuries and blame with the central midfield. His inexperience has been evident on and off the pitch with his team selection, substitutions and too-honest interviews, but there are signs of improvement. He's got a long way to go and so have the team. I think a top five finish is still the target and I think we can do it.

No-one's doing much to ease the pressure. Players, fans, management are all impatient and frustrated. I think that there's still a Football League hangover, still a feeling that we shouldn't be here. Assembling a League-standard team has perhaps been detrimental - it's certainly a year too late - but if we can keep the season alive and slip or charge into the play-offs then maybe it's a feeling we don't need to shake. And although the embarrassment of an even earlier FA cup exit, whether you were there or not, bites deep, our season is a long way from over yet. What we need to do is beat what's in front of us, and for now Woods is still charged with that task. League standard or not, if we don't start beating the lesser sides then Woods' redemption is on hold. For now I'm choosing to be optimistic.

What do you reckon? Is Al right, or is all this reason and calm just too much to bear? Speak your brains using the Cod Almighty feedback form.