Wednesday, April 28, 2010

That sinking feeling...

Last weekend was possibly the worst weekend of football that I've experienced, and yet I didn't experience it at the same time. For the first time since I can remember, my team got relegated on the last day of the season. Tiverton Town, once of the Southern Premier League (the 7th step on the English football pyramid), lost 2-0 away to Bedford Town in what was apparently a lacklustre performance from the boys in yellow. If I'm honest, I started supporting Tivvy as they were approaching the pinnacle of the club's existence. Three trips to Wembley in the 1990s with a return of two victories. Doesn't sound quite so glamourous when I admit it was the FA Vase and not the FA Cup, but for a semi-pro team from a small town in mid-Devon it was a major success. Reaching the FA Cup 1st round proper on multiple occasions and moving on up the pyramid were rosy days for the club. Talk of reaching the Football Conference grew and even one or two hopelessly optimistic spectators uttered those magical words - 'league football'. We would get crowds larger than numerous teams in divisions above us and for a while the outlook was bright.

Fast forward ten years and the club has hit the proverbial glass ceiling and is now falling again. Spectators are more intersted in getting the latest Premier League scores than what is happening in front of them on the pitch. Attendances have shrunk and the quality of football on show has deteriorated almost to the point that it bears more resemblance to the kick and chase game of the school playing fields than the professional game. Perhaps a tad harsh but I don't recall seeing an entertaining game at Ladysmead for years. Yet seeing as I only make it to a handful of games every I spend a long time overseas, perhaps I've just been been unlucky with the games I've managed to get to. Speaking to some of the regulars though, it doesn't seem likely. Maybe there is a silver lining, that relegation will force the club to take a long hard look at itself and consider who are the right people to take the club forward. This could be Tiverton's Steve McClaren umbrella moment, after which England's fortunes have changed. Or maybe not.

There is apparently still hope. While many Premier League clubs struggle under the ballooning debt that is slowly crippling some teams, spare a thought for Merthyr Tydfil who could still become bankrupt and thus allow Tivvy to remain in the SPL. While the problems surrounding Portsmouth are well documented, teams such as Merthyr collapse without the media batting an eyelid. Survival is survival no matter the means but if they fold, it will feel like cheating.

Much of the world's football fans are more interested in the title run-in between Manchester United and Chelsea, but there's far more to football than just Rooney and Drogba.

I wasn't at that game. I was fast asleep in bed on the other side of the world, in Dunedin, New Zealand. I had to get all my information second hand. It doesn't seem quite so real when you're so far removed from what is going on. No doubt when I'm back for next season and they're playing lower class opposition, it'll sink in then.

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