Sunday, August 08, 2010

8 August 2010: Ebb

As a football fan, it's hard to justify supporting two teams. It really is. The only thing that makes it possible is if you support one big team and then a little local team. Nick Hornby justified this to some extent in 'Fever Pitch' when he covered his time at Cambridge University, when he and his friends would go and watch Cambridge United (then in the lower reaches of the Football League) on a regular basis. Never a supporter, he said, but he developed a fondness for the team.

For me it's Southampton and Plymouth Argyle. Southampton for reasons I know not why, but I started following them around age seven, and a look at the Division One tables (ten years before there was a Premier League, remember) from that period show Southampton clearly there-or-thereabouts at the top, vying for the top spot with Liverpool. The team of the time - Keegan, Shilton et al - was of excellent quality and so that's probably where the following came from, although I can't say for sure. Whatever it was, it ended up with me going to university there in 1994 and probably had something to do with me going back again in 2003 to do the PhD.

Plymouth Argyle, therefore, are the little local team. The 1984 cup run was enough to get my interest but it wasn't until a year or two later, when I started going regularly, that the 'fan' thing really took hold. The 1985/86 promotion team and the oh-so-nearly-made-it-to-the-top-division run a year later (lost the last three games - a win in any of those three would have seen Argyle in the first-ever year of playoffs) were good quality, exciting to watch and had a talismanic player (Tommy Tynan) who could score for fun and was the envy of most other teams outside the top division.

And naturally, aside from pre-season friendly matches, my two clubs never played each other. Once they met in the Zenith Data Systems cup (yeah, exactly) but that was it for competitive games for the longest time. Saints were in the top division, and Argyle were in the next tier, or (from 1992 to 2004) a tier or two lower. Never any clash of values, never any problem to decide who was the more important team to support.

Then Saints got relegated (thanks Harry) in May 2005. Argyle had been promoted the previous year to the second tier (by this point called 'The Championship'). Thus, for the first time since the mid-1970s, my two teams were in the same division and would play each other, home and away, during the league season. First game: September early-season clash at St Mary's. Gloria came, my mum even came up for it, and naturally I was there and wondered what it would be like.

I hated it. I had no idea what I should be doing or thinking. Dennis Wise (at that time of Saints) went flying in for a tackle - YERRRS, screamed the crowd, and I began to as well... but then saw Tony Capaldi, Argyle's Welsh international left-back, lying on the ground from the injury. Argh! What was I to do? How was I to react to this given that I was so partisan.. except I was partisan to both teams. I knew all the players in both squads, I'd seen them all so often. It was horrendous.

Then Saints went down again, which saved us the bother of having this issue last year. But then Argyle went down last year, meaning they're now both in the third tier...

And so yesterday they played. I watched the game via one of those internet streaming sites and still wasn't sure who to support. Once the game was over - slightly fortuitous 1-0 win by Argyle away at Saints - that at least made up my mind which shirt I was to wear the rest of the day. (New Saints shirt, by the way: isn't is bleddy AWFUL? Reminds me of 'We Are The Champions' tee-shirts from children's TV when I was young.) Saints will pick themselves up, Lambert will score another thirty-five goals this year (barring injuries) and Saints will probably go up, one way or another. Argyle are predicted to do ok, but we'll see. They're always surprisingly bad for years at a time. Don't expect anything much. But the match itself - again, I was largely on the fence... wanting Saints to get points for the promotion charge, but Argyle always seem to be in deep need of three points whenever they can get them... sigh, what's a boy to do?

The other thing, though, is that this is the low ebb for my teams. At least I hope it is. Both are in the third tier of the league structure, so let's say they score three points each for that. That gives my two teams a combined total of six points. This score has never been so high in my entire life.

Briefly Argyle were in the fourth, with Saints in the first - that's a total of five points. More recently, Argyle were in the second, Saints in the third - five again. But now - six. That's a bit depressing, really. I'd long for the day when the number is three again (2005 wasn't that long ago) or even the minimum: two. (Although then they'd be playing each other, so I'd be busy agonising again). But for now, it's the low ebb, and I'm going to have to live with the fact that when the baby arrives (due date just over a week away now!) she'll begin her life with Saints and Argyle so very very low in the league.

She probably won't care, to be fair, at least not for a while.

1 comment:

Nick Gibbins said...

"when the baby arrives"

Gosh. Congratulations in advance to the three of you. Hope that everything goes well, and that you all manage to get some sleep.