22 March 2011

This is a low . . .

First posted on intostoppagetime on 18/3/11 
There are many things in life that are worse than the scene I am about to describe. I have come to terms with that, as all football supporters inevitably must.

The section of our soul where our football club nestles is not meant to exist in the real world where people have real problems, nor should it ever be exposed to it, because it is irrational and it is pathetic. Civil war, earthquake, tsunami, Prince Andrew, Charlie Sheen. I read the news. I know there are people out there with a lot more on their plate than this. This is something that I know, that we all know. But allow me to try and explain.

They didn’t have a sub keeper.

For the second time this season, they didn’t have a substitute goalkeeper. Not my team, I hasten to add. I’m referring to Tamworth FC, “the lambs”. This is the second time this season that a professional football team has arrived at Kenilworth Road without a goalkeeper on the bench. Arrived at the gates of the biggest club ever to play in the Football Conference, Luton Town, no less, without a reserve goal keeper on the sidelines.
No Chris Woods to warm up Peter Shilton. No unlucky number 13 on the team sheet at all, to carry that weight of superstition on his back for the rest of the squad – the weight that is too heavy for an ordinary player to bear.

And sure enough, for the second time this season the first choice keeper had to leave the field, this time through injury. For the second time, my beloved team were forced to take part in that rarest of sporting farces: the outfield-player-in-goal scenario.

For two thirds of the game the gathered crowd witnessed the shattered confidence of the visiting back four, the cries of “shoooot” from the home faithful every single time possession was retrieved, and the spectacle of the dead ball goal-kick repeatedly and inexplicably failing to reach the half way line. “You’d think he’d at least be able to kick it…” they murmured.

This may be a good time to add that the final score in this game was 2 nil to Luton. We won. Just as we won the last time it happened, 5 nil on that occasion.

But it wasn’t about the result. The Saturday before had been a disappointing draw and the crowds were inevitably down. A hundred or so proud Lambs fans had chosen to swerve the Barcelona/Arsenal show and join us in Bedfordshire for another rearranged Tuesday night under the floodlights. Kenilworth Road, the creaking wooden footballing theatre that once bulged under the weight of 30 thousand, was quiet. Among the home fans a sense of duty over pleasure hung heavily in the air, like the leaving drink of an unpopular boss.

Football is about the moments you remember. The euphoria of a great goal, the unexpected moment of skill, the nausea and oxygen-starved gastric dread of defeat. It was that moment – as Tamworth defender Tom Marshall pulled on the oversized jersey of the departing no.1, the moment five thousand Lutonians realised we will now probably win the game – that will stay with me from this season. Looking around at the empty seats, the echo of the players calling from the pitch ringing in the rafters, it became clear that this was a new low. This season in the conference has brought disappointing results, poor crowds, a winter-ravaged farmer’s field of a pitch and the prospect of dragging ourselves to Wembley for a tin pot cup final – but this was one insult too far.

They don’t even bring sub keepers.

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