Sunday 19 November 2017

There's always some fan much worse off

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

THERE'S an arrogance about supporters who are used to seeing their teams win trophies which grates hugely with those who spend most of the season going through the five stages of grieving.

1 Denial: The big-money signing turns out to be a crock, but you're sure he'll come good.

2 Anger: It builds for weeks until losing to a late goal tips you over the edge. Usually accompanied by a very hard press on the TV's 'off' button followed by the slamming of doors.

3 Bargaining: The team's run of league defeats means you are prepared to write off their title challenge, but only on the condition that they do well in the cups or Europe. Even the Europa League will do.

4 Depression: The team is playing on a Monday night because the TV company needs something to fill the airtime. Victory brings barely a flicker of happiness.

5 Acceptance and hope: New owners will stabilise the club. The best players will stay and rediscover their form and by the time July rolls around, there will be renewed and oddly ambitious optimism.

Liverpool supporters have had to endure such a scenario this season, but for anybody who doesn't follow them, Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal, it's an annual process made bearable only through blind faith.

Winning the Carling Cup would, for many teams, bring months of a feel-good factor, but if it is the "only" trophy won by United, their season will be deemed a failure and the cup probably acts as a bookend at Old Trafford.

It's two decades since Liverpool won a league and they are only a few years from having to justify their support to younger generations in much the way Leeds fans have to now.

"There's always someone worse off than yourself," Basil Fawlty was told to which he replied: "I'd like to meet him, I could do with a laugh", and supporters lamenting how badly "we" have done this season might just memorise Basil's sentiments.


Anybody of an impressionable age who nailed their colours to the Newcastle mast because of Kevin Keegan has endured years of false dawns yet, where once an away game to Plymouth would be dreaded, tonight's trip could be when they seal the Championship title.

Winning the old Second Division won't be enough to rouse this sleeping, almost comatose giant of the game, but for a team who lost a pre-season game 6-1 against Leyton Orient, it makes a refreshing change to have been happy for most of the season. As reality bites next season when they swim with the Premier League sharks, it might be difficult to recall such positivity.

The beauty of supporting such teams is that a season is never boring. It might be spirit-crushing, energy-draining and, ultimately, miserable, but it'll never be boring.

When Leeds were in the Champions League semi-final in 2001, nobody would have believed that, within a decade, they would have an unhealthy interest in how Huddersfield fared at home to Millwall on a Friday night.

Yet, three days ago, Huddersfield's victory meant Leeds had the chance to cement their grip on second place in League One, but, in keeping with teams where hope is a dangerous thing, they managed to lose 3-2 to Gillingham.

In the 2000/2001 season, Leeds drew with Barcelona and beat Deportivo, Lazio and AC Milan on the road to the final four of the Europe's premier competition, but those who have stayed loyal through the subsequent thin and thinner years would greet three victories from their final three games against Charlton, MK Dons (a team who weren't even formed in 2001) or Bristol Rovers with similar joy. They'll even have the added gravitas that comes with sticking by a club through years of misery.

Yet even if Leeds come up short, they could take a peek down two divisions and be thankful for League One mercies.

In October 2006, Luton Town hammered Leeds 5-1 at Kenilworth Road to move fifth in the Championship and spark dreams of the Premier League from fans who should have known better. Now, three relegations, two administrations and the novel sight of beginning last season on minus 30 points in League Two, the team are coming up short in a duel for the Blue Square Premier title against the might of Stevenage.

They scored six recently against both Grays Athletic and Histon, beat Hayes & Yeading 8-0 and Saturday's draw with Altrincham made it 32 points out of a possible 36, but it still won't be enough to guarantee promotion.

Instead, defeats to the banana skins of Crawley Town, Ebbsfleet United and Kettering, among others, means they'll have to take their chances in the play-offs.

The silver lining of promotion via the play-offs is that the final takes place in Wembley on the day after the FA Cup final when the pitch might resemble something to which non-league players are well-accustomed.

It was there where 40,000 of the team's supporters, including this one, celebrated winning the Johnstone's Paint Trophy against Scunthorpe last April like it was the Champions League. Another Wembley victory guaranteeing promotion would bring delight for those who will take small victories when they are used to no victories at all.

Failure would mean games next season against Newport County (runaway leaders of the Conference South division in case you didn't know) and whoever wins the Conference North promotion battle between Southport and Fleetwood Town, as well as not being able to find their result in a newspaper scoreboard.

If it happens, and there is a supporter worse off than that, step forward, I really could do with the laugh.

Irish Independent

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