The Diary

Cod Almighty | Diary

Both ends of the rainbow

14 March 2019

In the car home after Tuesday even an eternal optimist such as Casual Diary was forced to admit that this season – as far as Town are concerned, anyway – is now a dead rubber.

That this can be stated in mid-March is testament to the progress Town have made since Russell Slade was finally handed his P45 after defeat at Crawley last season. There was no doubt in my mind then that I would be back to planning trips to Braintree and Eastleigh rather than Pompey and Scunthorpe, as my early-season optimism had led me to hope.

Further testament to Town's progress was the lack of a Twitter meltdown following our 4-1 defeat at Tranmere. The game itself reminded me of our own four-goal win over Notts County just before Christmas or indeed the home game against Tranmere. Both times the scores suggested a pasting but were no reflection of the actual matches. So it was on Tuesday. Town were much better than they’d been against either Crawley or Cambridge, with a couple of obvious exceptions and very poor defending. This was, by and large, the fans' reaction.

On the way home, talk turned to motivation for making the journey to Colchester and Morecambe. There will be nothing to play for unless both Town plummet and the teams below us have a significant improvement in form. As a regular away traveller, the only reason I could offer for going was "what else you going to do on a Good Friday?"

I began to wonder when was the last time Town had a dead season. How often had it had happened in my time as a supporter? Therein lies the beauty of being a Town fan. Mediocre, run-of-the-mill seasons are infrequent. Apart from two brief periods in my lifetime, we have always been a yo-yo club.

It was my sixth season as a fan before my first experience of mid-table nothingness

In my first season, having just endured successive relegations, Town were forced into the ignominy of seeking re-election to the Football League. The following year only a late-season run prevented a repeat and was not enough to save Bobby Kennedy’s job. One year later? Promotion. 1971-72 is still my favourite ever.

In '72-73 only a late run of poor form saw us fade out of a potential promotion bid, and we had a decent cup run too. Ron Ashman actually finished higher in his first season but he lacked the passion of McMenemy and it didn’t feel the same. It was my sixth season as a fan before my first experience of mid-table nothingness. Invincible at home, putting Tranmere, Rochdale and Oldham to the sword, we couldn’t buy an away win.

Twelve months on Ashman was sacked with Town in danger of returning to Division Four. When the drop inevitably came in '76-77, it was merely a precursor for 20 seasons of double promotions and relegations, promotion chases or relegation dogfights. The only times of middling stability I've ever known were the couple of seasons before Mike Lyons' arrival, and the brief period under Alan Buckley when we stayed fairly comfortably in the second flight.

Not that Town fans seemed to welcome stability. Buckley saw attendances fall and fans grow critical of his insistence on playing football to feet. Negativity surrounding the club and fans failed to recognise its achievements. Five years of relegation fights and a losing play-off final would leave many of the moaners reassessing what they wished for as we slipped into the Conference. The next five were ones of disappointment turning to frustration, followed by the ecstasy of Nathan Arnold rounding the Forest Green keeper.

Which brings us nicely back to my original point. Those first two seasons in non-League were Town's last dead rubber seasons and even the second of those was live until very late on in the campaign.

Town's first season back in the League was more edgy than most. It began with hope that Town would retain the status which for over 100 years we’d taken as a given. Then, for a time, we glanced upwards rather than down. While it could be argued the season fizzled out after the sacking of Marcus Bignot, he won his last game at promotion-chasing Blackpool. This left us on the verge of the play-offs with sufficient games left to mount a challenge had the momentum held.

Then came last season's dogfight, which was anything but comfortable. So when you think, as you will, "shall I bother today?" when faced with Stevenage at home or a long trip to Morecambe and Colchester, think again and go. As you travel, hold on to to this thought. The season isn’t dead because, if rumours are to be believed, one more win secures the exit of a certain major shareholder and the start of a new era. And that, my fellow Mariners, may just be the biggest prize on offer. UTM. See you Saturday.