Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mid-Season Ennui

Well, good news for those of you that have stumbled here randomly, in a feverish search of TV theme tunes. The issue over my domain name has been resolved, and they should be back up here over the course of this evening. My own stupid fault, to be honest. Many apologies for the brief hiatus in service.

Also, before I move onto these evening's main agenda, let's just take a quick moment to chortle together at Arsenal getting knocked out of the FA Cup last night at Blackburn. Maybe I just haven't watched enough Premiership football this season, but I could swear that Arsenal have flattered to deceive since the opening day. Now - Chelsea have a potentially tricky match against a recently rejuvenated Tottenham team in the quarter-finals. Could Manchester United be being handed both legs of the double on a plate, here? They play Middlesbrough in the quarter-finals, and Boro have made an almighty meal of getting this far, requiring penalties against both Bristol City and West Bromwich Albion. Still, at least two of the teams in the semi-finals will be from outside of the Monolithic Four.

So, to business. I went to my first match at St Albans City in August 1982. My first match there was a 2-0 home defeat by Walton & Hersham in the Isthmian League First Division. What I remember of it all is a little patchy - I have it lodged in my memory that Walton may have had two players sent off, and that one of them may have been their goalkeeper. City were pretty bad at the time, and ended the season relegated. Since then, though, their fortunes have improved. They were promoted straight back from the Isthmian League's basement division the next season, and in 1986 they returned to the Premier Division, where they stayed for the next seventeen seasons, until the creation of the Conference South. At the end of last season, they were promoted to the Nationwide Conference, though this stay in the "fifth division" may well turn out to be a fleeting one.

I was, as some of you may recall, disproportionately excited about the new season. I travelled up from Brighton to the Midlands for the opening match of the season at Kidderminster, and then back three days later for the opening home match against Cambridge United. Since then, though, I've only been to two matches, and I'm not planning on going to any more until the home match against Kidderminster on March 24th. So why, at a critical point in my twenty-fifth year as a supporter, is my interest starting to wane? It surely deserves closer attention.

Well, first up, I'm hardly a fairweather fan. During three seasons between 1987 and 1990, I think I only missed about three matches, home and away. It's worth pointing out that City's league positions in those seasons were something like 16th, 15th, 14th and 17th. I have been at almost all of the defining matches of the last couple of decades - winning promotion back to the Isthmian Premier at Lewes in 1986, the FA Cup matches at Telford in 1992, Bristol City in 1995 and Stockport in 2002, and the FA Trophy Final at Forest Green Rovers in 1999. I've done my time and, by and large, I've thoroughly enjoyed it. It's not the cost, either. The return train ticket, entrance fee, something to eat and four or five pints would cost me about £40. Not an extortionate amount. It's not that I've lost interest in football generally, either - after all, I've spent enough time writing this over the last nine months or so. I haven't even stopped going to matches - I've been to Wimbledon twice recently, Worthing a couple of times and, as reported on here before, we're off to Whitehawk vs Truro in the FA Vase this weekend.

So, what it is it? Okay, the distance doesn't help. If I've had a heavy night the night before, it can be a strain. But I went to the Crawley away match in November with the Mother Of All Hangovers, so it's not completely the issue. Also, I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoy just sitting on a train, staring out of the window an listening to my MP3 player. I simply don't find it to be an effort.

I certainly think that I was looking to make a clean break in my life when I moved to Brighton last year, but I can't handle paying a very large amount of money to watch a very average team at a ground as poor as the Withdean. I haven't ventured to Lewes or Eastbourne yet, and Worthing, while I was charmed by their midi version of "Sussex By The Sea", just didn't quite feel right. AFC Wimbledon is an excellent place to watch football, but it's not very local to me.

The alternative is to become a "ground-hopper", rather like the esteemed Hobo Tread (from where I blatantly nicked the picture at the top of this post). I suspect, though, that I could only tolerate so much as a neutral. I'm less than convinced that I could turn up at random matches for the rest of my life, without really caring about who wins. I am, for example, fully prepared for the possibility of accidentally meeting people from Truro on Saturday afternoon and finding a small place in my heart for them. I really couldn't say.

How it all ends up is very much in the lap of the Gods at the moment.

Oh, and one more thing. David Lepper (Lab, Brighton Pavilion) still hasn't voted on the EDM mentioned on my previous post. So, that's at least two extra votes for the Green Party at the next General Election, and I think I can talk more people into voting for them, too.


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