2010-11: a season in recovery

Cod Almighty | Article

by Chris Smith

10 January 2021

2010-11 was a testing one for us all, and especially for Chris. Yet he drew strength from it.

The 2010-11 season - our first in the Conference - is not one many Town fans are likely to look back on with much fondness. For me, it brings back poignant, personal memories. But those memories remind me how much there is to enjoy around the game, even when the football itself is often disappointing.

I missed some of the early games, including our false dawn of an opening-day victory at Crawley. 2009-10 had been abysmal enough, and my own experiences surpassed the team's in wretchedness. 33 games - 18 at home, 15 away - for just 2 wins; when I stopped going to away games, we won the next 3. It seemed better for everyone that I stayed away as Town found their feet in non-League, and I didn't finally renew my season ticket until November.

Despite mixed results, I had watched home games using a friend's welcome pack vouchers, and I had become quite a regular at away games. On a Thursday night, we played Forest Green. It would be a fair haul from Yorkshire and I had to be up at five the next morning to work in Leeds but it gave me the chance to watch three games in four days, so it was a no-brainer.

Three of us travelled down early that afternoon and arrived at a set-up that fans wouldn't recognise today. It wasn't just the ground. We were welcomed by officials, including the then-chairman, and made the most of the spacious bar. As I have written before, there had been a time when I had needed to take a break from the game when I realised that football, alcohol and me do not mix, so in my case that meant tucking into an excellent cottage pie and drinking Diet Coke. This became the first in a series of games where I met up with the usual faces: the London Mariners and a fair sized group that travel from the Chesterfield area. It all added to the sense of belonging.

Forest Green were on a poor run of form, so the game had looked winnable. Town being Town, it was hardly surprising when, despite having had good chances, we conceded two in the first eighteen minutes. Rob Eagle pulled one back a few minutes later but the home side restored their two-goal advantage just after half time. Then Andrew Wright scored his only goal of the season on 65 minutes and Rob Eagle equalised a few minutes later to send the full away end wild with delight.

I met up with a friend in the area. An Oldham supporter, he loves the passion with which we sing "We are Town!". He sings it down the phone at me to this day

Another reason for travelling to the game was that it had given me an opportunity to catch up with a friend who I had met in the Slough area and shared my recovery with. He was an Oldham supporter who I owed a huge debt to, as he'd encouraged me to return to football when I'd been wary of it. He is one of the many supporters of other clubs who helped me, and who I hope I helped, in our mutual recovery. One of the pleasures of the season was arranging away trips to meet up with them. He'd come along to Town games at Cheltenham - I'd stayed over on one occasion - and supported us purely because he loves the passion with which we sing "We are Town!" He still sings it down the phone at me to this day.

He watched the Forest Green game with locals, so I had the moral victory there, but the tables were turned when he met me for the next game in my mini football festival, a 3-1 home defeat for my second team Brentford, against Oldham. While he was reminding me of the score throughout, my Latics-supporting boss was texting regularly to ask solicitously what the game was like.

Next day, I watched another defeat, at Kidderminster. Once again, we were two down early on, pulled a goal back but conceded again, and although we scored once more with 20 minutes left, we never quite looked to have enough to snatch a draw. Strangely though, it was a good day out. I'd stayed overnight in Windsor so getting to the game meant a new rail journey, which added to the interest. I was meeting friends, and Kidderminster was a new ground for me. It was a gloriously warm and sunny day and another homemade cottage pie was a must. I think many of us began to wonder if non-League football was that bad with the welcomes we had, imaginative catering and light or no policing.

When the shattering blow came, it was totally unexpected. Some people will remember fondly the first week of 2011: we beat Mansfield 7-2 and Histon 6-1. I was at both games but distracted by Mum having been taken ill. She died a few days later. Dad lost his companion of over 50 years and three sons lost a much-loved mother who had nurtured them, and loved them unconditionally.

Chris with his mumChris with his mum. The beer is Chris's dad's

My mum had sent me envelopes full of Evening Telegraph clippings about the Mariners, often with a covering letter, since I had left home in 1980 to go to university. I looked forward to receiving these on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning, an invaluable connection with home and the football club. Later, when I was living in Yorkshire, she would assiduously save the clippings so my friends and I could pore over them before we headed off to the match. My parents had also fed and watered a stream of London Mariners over the decades until age caught up with them. It was Mum who I would ring from rehab on a Saturday evening with a pile of coins for the corridor phone to catch Town's score followed by Brentford’s with Lincoln and Scunthorpe added for local interest. These are memories I'll always treasure.

Being a Grimsby supporter gave me the opportunity to see more of my parents as I got older and that is something I will never regret. I was also to find some solace in the fact that for the last decade of her life, my mum had never had to worry about what alcohol was doing to me. I'd largely shielded her from the substance abuse. Nevertheless, this loss was something I'd never had to deal with before and it was one of my friends who offered me advice I have never forgotten: "You never get over the loss of a parent but you come to terms with it."

For a time, naturally, the football that I'd started to enjoy again took a back seat but one of mum's sisters offered advice of her own: my mum wouldn't have wanted us never to enjoy life again, and we should never feel guilty about laughing or smiling even when suffering a tragedy.

Friends came up to me and offered commiserations, a touch, an embrace, words of comfort and even a kiss too from one lad which felt like a benediction

I travelled the short distance over to York just a few days after she died, reasoning that not going to a game wouldn't serve any purpose for anyone and at least "working the program" told me that a few hours of escapism and living in the moment would be beneficial. There was a car-load of us, one of whom I'd known for decades, as I have many fellow Town fans. You are always comfortable with those who you have shared the many ups and downs of watching Town with. After all, they share your many dejections and also hugs when bouncing up and down in the stand when celebrating a goal.

We all had the emotional intelligence to say exactly how we felt. One thing I said was that I needed space: that is sometimes forgotten. Messages of support are most welcome and offers of practical support even more so, but many suffering bereavement are often too busy to be answering the phone to answer well-meaning calls. If you have good friends they instinctively get this.

At the game, word had obviously got about and friends came up to me and offered commiserations, a touch, an embrace, words of comfort and even a kiss too from one lad which felt like a benediction as it was given unhesitatingly and unembarrassedly. As for Town, they slid to an uninspired 1-0 defeat which didn't really matter in the wider context of the evening. Another hard lesson learned: never rely on Town to cheer you up and don't trust them not to turn the knife when you've reached your pain threshold.

Mum's funeral was on a Monday and we scattered her ashes the following day, before several hours of reflection as I slowly made my way to the evening game against Kettering. The father of a friend had died that day: we met at the game and I did my best to offer the same support that I had received. Like me, he found continuing to watch the Mariners was part of returning to some form of normality, with the comfort of being with friends where no words are needed.

As for the game, we conceded an early goal and my friend reasonably thought a few pints were in order. After he disappeared, Town rewarded him with two goals and a win. It was a similar story a few weeks later at Southport: at two down my friend went for refreshment whereupon Town pulled two goals back. Apart from that, the latter game was memorable for having a good look at the turnstile with its old-fashioned crowd counter. I found it fascinating.

On 22 February we played Forest Green again, this time at home. We managed a 1-1 draw against a side that narrowly avoided relegation. The sheer apathy from the 2,401 crowd meant that we knew Neil Woods' managerial tenure was at an end. It was another sad mark in our decline but, after the seasons which had gone before, it was at least a C+ of a season after several Fs.

Given our propensity for double relegations, I was quite happy with how it turned out. It brought more enjoyable away trips to Newport (followed by a train to London and yet another Brentford defeat at Wembley the next day) and Barrow, enjoying the small pleasures they brought with them. Watching was no longer a chore and I found I had an ever-growing set of new friends who had shown they were in it for the long haul.

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