And breathe …. So that’s it. The seasons over, and everyone can relax… Well almost everyone.
My heart goes out to the fans of those teams involved in this weekend’s play-off games; they say it’s a great way to go up, winning at Wembley to get promoted. It doesn’t get much better than that (apparently). Let me tell you from painful experience it’s a bloody awful way to lose; the pain is unbearable – a season’s toil evaporated in a single 90-minute game, followed by a 4-hour train journey home in near silence… It really doesn’t get any worse.
If I can offer one bit of solace to the fans of the three losing play-off teams, then it’s ‘do it right and you can come back stronger’. I know it’s an over used cliché but in my team’s case, it’s certainly true.
Something happened that terrible Wembley weekend, that defeat galvanised not only the team but the whole town. From the chairman down to casual “typical, I knew they’d blow it” fan, everyone got behind the team. Everyone’s mind-set was along the lines of “I’m not having this, we are not always going to be that team that ‘oh so nearly do it’. We are going to be winners”. #thisisourtime became the town’s battle cry for the season – a team had been forged from the depths of despair.
For the first time in years we had ‘a team’, and as the season unfolded, so the momentum grew. The sense of unity in the town was palpable – everyone you spoke to knew how the team was doing, everyone desperately wanted this group of players to succeed, everyone was a fan. Terribly sad circumstances only seamed to heighten the belief that this was our time; from the closure of the steel works – once the beating heart of the community – to the death of a radio commentator whose life was Middlesbrough Football Club. Everything appeared to bring the town closer together. How many football supporters sing songs constantly about their chairman? Have you ever heard any set of fans passionately sing their hearts out about a local Radio presenter? What we had this last season was something very special indeed, it was no longer just about a football club it was about a town and its community.
After success had been secured, and promotion won on that final day, how did the players celebrate? It wasn’t the pompous behind-closed-doors get together that most clubs arrange – set away from the riff raff. No, this group of players went into town (and not to some high-brow club with bouncers and VIP areas; this lot went into the town centre, into the busiest part of town and celebrated with the people who had so desperately wanted them to succeed. Social media is awash with images and videos of these players on fans’ shoulders, tables, and even pub rooftops singing their hearts out ‘karaoke style’ – just as we all do when we’ve had a few too many. They loved it, and the fans went crazy.
This has only served to bring this team and the community closer together, it’s a throw-back to the good old days when players mixed with the fans, drank in ‘the local’ and even sat on the bus alongside supporters on the way to the games.
I believe a new era in not only football but in all sports is upon us; look at Leicester – by no means the most talented group of players in the Premiership, but they find themselves anointed rightly as the new champions. They are a team that played for each other; a team that had the buy-in of the whole city; they had belief and incredible support, and attained the ultimate success.
We’re sick and tired of over-hyped, overpaid sportsmen removed from the reality of society – a group of people kept away from the common man. Lewis Hamilton is a so-many-times world champion, yet half of the country can’t stand him. He’s arrogant and has no connection with the public. Surely he must recognise this when the majority of the country would rather a German win the title than this jumped-up little berk.
Sport is entertainment, and football fans are very proud of their roots, community and town. If you play for the name on the front of the shirt, the fans will worship the name on the back.