A couple of months ago I entered the WSC competition for amateur football articles, needless to say I didn’t win. Here’s the rubbish what I wrote.
The Doors of Perception
What happens when your pre-conceived notions are thoroughly disproved? How do you cope? This season I found what happens when events take an unexpected turn.
Two things notable things happened to me this season; my club, Bangor City, were nearly relegated and I reconnected with the spirit of football.
During the last few summers I saw an impending season as a fantastically exciting script with a happy ending. That the improvisational skills of the actors always sullied the finely honed scripts never led me to question my methodology.
The actions of the arrogant actors forced worrying questions into my mind –“What if there’s no happy ending?” “What if they score next?” “What if we concede from this corner?” “What if Johnno slips passing the ball back to the keeper and their striker puts the ball through our keepers’ legs?” – but Bangor’s success rendered them meaningless so I carried on as normal.
Last summer’s script logically led to another perfumed garden. Our relatively inexperienced squad had earned European qualification via the playoffs, a trio of promising signings had arrived and we’d drawn European debutants, Icelandic side Stjarnan, in the Europa League. I foresaw another challenge for the top six (The Welsh Premier League’s European play-off places) or even top two (The guaranteed European places).
It turns out that the side slightly famous for their choreographed celebrations on You Tube were rather good so we experienced a hammering rather than a hotly contested tie, not even the unexpected pleasure of seeing Stuart McCall lightened the mood. Stjarnan later knocked out Motherwell and Lech Poznan before losing to Inter. Fate may have deprived me of a trip to the San Siro but the script was inexorably directing us towards another European trip.
Our first match of the season – a league cup win against Newtown – hinted at the script’s exciting story of logical progression but our first three league matches bellowed something else. Our opener saw one of our new signings, Sam Hart, earn an almost unprecedented eight match suspension for inappropriate contact with an official that had clearly simulated. Our second match saw Newtown avenge their league cup defeat and a contentious injury time penalty denied us a victory in our third match at Aberystwyth. Little did I know but a tone was being set and a script was being rewritten.
From then on logic made way for the quirks of fate, everything that could go wrong did. Victories became draws, draws became defeats, luck deserted, confidence evaporated, the ball bobbled at the wrong time and bounced in the wrong place, our keeper fumbled, dropped crosses and threw the ball to the opposition, the mishit clearances of our defenders deflected exactly into the running gait of unmarked strikers through on goal, even floodlights failed as we were winning.
By the end of October we were adrift. Bangor City the conquerors of Napoli, the only unbeaten Welsh side at Wembley, the coolest side in the Welsh Premier League, were rock bottom of the league and looking up wistfully, we used to beat those clubs. It was inexplicable.
In the midst of communal despair hope wafted when we won our first league match in Carmarthen on November 1st. The relief was so intoxicating the only detail of our homeward journey I’m able to recall is a happy fug of excited chatter about closing gaps and the pungent aroma of beef flavoured Hula Hoops. Naturally we had to wait nearly two months for our next win. By the end of November familiar shrugs were exchanged in Nantporth’s car park. Resignation reigned.
During the dank winter a mishit shot ricocheted off the perimeter wall and I experienced a Proustian episode. The questions from the carefree sunny days returned. I had always feared the mystery that shrouded the possible answers but now I was in the heart of the mystery I saw nothing to fear. The fact that Bangor had lost two thirds of their matches didn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme. The world was still spinning, we still enlivened matches with gallows humour and Chinese food was still freely available.
The penny finally dropped. I had been looking at things from the wrong perspective. My season mapping scripts were pointless. I should have just gone with the flow. I realised that I had been reconnected to the spirit of football, I thanked the power that had thrust failure towards me.
A few parallel processes reinforced my desire to reconnect with carefree football. Firstly being guided by circumstance meant that our terrible season suddenly felt less stressful. Nervous tension, caused by the pursuit of UEFA’s prize money, was a terrible by-product of the scripted seasons. We didn’t go in for financial doping at Bangor so the gold at the end of my script’s rainbow was our ticket to happiness. If we qualified for Europe we’d have no worries, we’d keep the same players. The trouble was that both the inevitable glory that we alone deserved and the slight mistake that would rob us of it were both tantalisingly in sight at all times. This tightrope meant stress.
Now that we were out of running for everything apart from relegation nothing else could go wrong and there was nothing to get stressed about. I could be feel normal again, I could just turn up and accept what was going to happen without worrying. Everything was relaxed and refreshing, what a sense of liberation!
Secondly, the stupefying structure of the WPL made our possible relegation look positively appealing. If the world’s most optimistically serene philosopher studied the WPL they would instantly become a cynical pessimist. Not only had familiarity bred contempt – in 2013/2014 Bangor played Rhyl seven times – the riches of our perennial champions prevented the light relief of success easing the monotony. Concrete plans about an artificial pitch revolution and annoying rumours about a switch to summer football hardly helped one’s joie de vivre. Relegation enticed me with the promise of trips to the exotic corners of mid and north Wales I’d never considered visiting.
Lastly, the social media bubble did its thing. Society may have been introduced to the concept of the reality distorting social media bubble in the aftermath of May’s general election but we had our own last autumn. The style will be familiar; uncaring players, lost dressing rooms, a board requiring instant removal and nothing being good enough. I was also annoyed by our position but we couldn’t change results
Where others saw ineptitude I saw fate dealing bad hands, months earlier the same squad had earned European qualification months earlier so hope seemed to be a better outlook. Criticism has never come easily to me and I find it especially difficult to criticise people that are better than me at something; WPL players are certainly better at football than me. When these four ideas combined I remembered that a true appreciation of the good times only comes from an experience of the bad times.
Anyway, back to our season. We eventually stopped floating helplessly just before Christmas when we managed to string a couple of unbeaten matches together. After Christmas we managed to string a couple of victories together, then construct an unbeaten run. If there was a single turning point it probably came in the fourth match of the season against Cefn Druids in February. We were 2-0 down after 20 minutes but ending up winning 5-3.
Several factors combined to lead us to safety; a new assistant manager arrived, the right January signings were made and we took points off all the teams around us. We were safe on the pitch with April’s away win in Prestatyn, by the time we cleared up the licensing issue we were totally safe from the Cymru Alliance.
Roughly five minutes after the final whistle of the Prestatyn match the sun moved from behind the clouds, the symbolism of feeling the sun’s warmth after a cloudy period wasn’t lost on me. Our steps leaving Bastion Gardens felt noticeably lighter but this feeling probably related more to relief than celebration. I was so happy I forgot about our cancelled tour of untouched north Wales.
This season we had seen a fantastic turnaround that was every bit as captivating as a season ending in Europe. To emphasise just how fantastic the turnaround here are some simple facts. Before December’s Prestatyn match things were ominous, we were stuck fast to the bottom, nine points from safety and five behind Prestatyn, the club above us. By the end of the season we were as close to the European play-offs (seventh place) as to relegation.
I don’t know whether my change of emphasis caused Bangor’s change in fortune, I have no scientific proof, but I was definitely able to deal with events with a carefree stoicism. This season may have been the one that no-one wanted but it was the one we all needed. Everyone needed to experience the bad times in order to truly appreciate the good times. Needless to say there won’t be a script next season.
You can’t blame them for picking something else.