A review of last season

8 07 2013

Bangor’s pre-season matches begin on Saturday so here’s a review of last season, a review could have been in When Saturday Comes.

“This review of Bangor City’s 2012-2013 season is based on the last four matches.

My abridging is not due to the contemporary trend of short-termism and it’s not because the rest of season was boring, we had a last minute Welsh Cup Semi-final winner and three 3-3 draws that featured injury time equalisers.

There were noteworthy matches too; a first European match in Bangor for 15 years,  a 7-1 victory against Aberystwyth Town on the 50th anniversary of the famous Napoli tie. I abridged because the four matches represent the thing that makes football interesting; the tension between hope and disappointment.

Hope had March’s unbeaten run, three chances for Europe and the fact Neville Powell had always taken us to Europe on its side. The other side saw three, possibly four, stressful matches, a summer without a Euro trip, a season without UEFA’s prize money and players leaving. For Welsh clubs Europe means prestige and much needed cash, the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

Things were simple. We had three possible chances for European qualification. 1) Finishing second in the league. Bangor were third in the league because Airbus had scored twenty more goals. We needed to beat Airbus and XXX XXX XXXXXX to be sure of second place  2) Winning the Welsh Cup and 3) Winning the play-offs. No-one wanted the third chance.

In the week before Airbus away fear stalked my reverie. Thinking positively had no effect, the six years under Nev, the three chances of Europe and the four victories over Airbus became a list of meaningless numbers. I could only contemplate the horrible; the stress, the potential lack of money and our leakiest defensive moments.

On the first matchday the omens were there if one chose to see them; like September it was a sunny Saturday. Beating both Airbus and XXX XXX XXXXXX seemed infinitely possible in the Broughton sun, we could win the stand-off for second! Rationally speaking Bangor also had a good chance; our top scorer may have been suspended but we weren’t bad going forward, and we only needed to win 1-0. Airbus’s extensive recruitment policy may have earned them the title “dark horses” but we’d beaten them every time this season. However they matches were all close and Airbus had stocky players so they had just as much chance of winning 1-0.

Luckily for the enlightenment rationality was on top in the rationality versus omens contest in my head by half time. Rationality held firm in the face of Airbus’ goal and Bangor failure to click. In the second half it was clear that Europe wasn’t going to happen today; even after Airbus’ second goal we hardly saw a shot in anger, our performance remained insipid. I settled for searching for omens and hoping the ball would drop in the right place, the enlightenment had lost as well.

I didn’t want to admit it during the match but the day had had an anticlimactic tenor ever since I’d closed my front door, I had a nagging sensation that things wouldn’t work out. The longer the match wore on the more anticlimactic things felt; Bangor were insipid and neutered, Bangor’s supporters were subdued and S4C delayed Airbus’ spontaneous celebration of a first European adventure until a commercial break had finished. It wasn’t meant to be like this, we weren’t supposed to lose 2-0!!

The first chance of Europe had gone but people weren’t bothered “Never mind” they said. “We’d win the Welsh Cup Final” they said. “We did well to catch them in the end” they said. “We’ve still had two chances to qualify for Europe.” they said. I took heart from the consoling words.

XXX XXX XXXXXX match was now meaningless, which was lucky in one way; when the fixtures came out we worried that they would receive the league trophy at our ground but thankfully, in a way, they’d won the league weeks ago. XXX XXX XXXXXX then won the match 4-2 but people weren’t worried “This match didn’t matter” they said, “We’ll still win the Welsh Cup Final” they said. “We still have two chances for Europe” they said. I took heart from the rational words, even if the end of season party was a little flat.

After another week and a bit the Welsh Cup Final versus Prestatyn Town was upon us. Before the match everything felt right on the surface; the coaches were full, the sun was out and the pre-match drinks flowed. It was the Welsh Cup Final and people were singing in a car park, we were on the road to glory and Europe. Underneath the surface my old friend anti-climax was waiting; hadn’t we’d thrown away a three goal lead against Prestatyn in December?

Just after we’d arrived at the turnstile something told me that things would go awry. The Football Association of Wales had not only decided that they would only open the Yale Stand, they had decided to situate the Bangor fans in the smaller of the two sections. Bangor were always going to bring more fans to the final and the only people in Welsh domestic football unaware of this possibility were the sport’s national administrators. My hope returned in the crescendo of noise at the kick off. I knew this was going to be a good day! Glory would be ours!!

In the second minute Jason Price, one of Prestatyn’s two ex-football strikers, took advantage of Bangor’s defensive sleepiness to score. Hold on this wasn’t meant to happen!!! A few minutes later Bangor were awarded a penalty. We’d be back in it!! Hill-Dunt saved it. Hold on, we should have scored, I’d closed my eyes and everything. The rest of the first half felt hopeless. Hill Dunt is that most annoying goalkeeper; a sufferer from split performance syndrome. He’ll let balls slip under his body against others then channel the spirit of Southall against Bangor.

The second half was better, accurate passes, shots and a Bangor equalizer. The equalizer exerted a Damascene conversion upon events, now there was only one winner! Bangor had verve, vim and vigour.  Prestatyn were reduced to muscular tension, tiredness and time-wasting. Obviously Bangor didn’t score.

During extra time it wasn’t apparent who would win. I was thinking about penalties when Andy Parkinson, Prestatyn’s other ex-football league striker, engineered a free kick, and second yellow card for Bangor’s captain. I felt safe, the free kick was at an acute angle. Somehow Parkinson scored. This wasn’t on, Prestatyn had taken advantage of two Bangor concentration lapses, that’s surely ungentlemanly conduct. Price then scored a third against our visibly deflated players. Defeats in the sun just don’t feel right but that’s football.

The second chance of European qualification had gone. “Never mind” they said, “We’ll win the play-offs” they said, “We still had another chance to for Europe” they said. I could tell that hope had gone.

A week later I cursed the fact I had a match to go to for the first time in my life, who wants a play-off versus Bala? Would we take our chance of Europe this week?

I feel that must explain the play off system. In the old days the top three clubs in the league qualified for Europe. The FAW now desires drama so it’s the top two and play- off winner. Here’s how the WPL works. There’s a traditional league competition between August and January, then there are two mini-leagues formed by the top six and the bottom six. The play-offs feature the top six clubs that haven’t already qualified for Europe and the top team of the bottom six. There are three rounds in the play-offs.

Bangor versus Bala was one of those annoying play off matches; the highest placed team versus the lowest. Most people weren’t worried, they thought it was going to be easy! I was slightly unsure about this inevitable victory.

It became clear that Bangor weren’t going to Europe by the time Bala had scored their third goal in the 40th minute, well I say Bala scored but Bangor’s keeper, Lee Idzi, virtually rolled the ball to the Bala striker in front of an open goal.

I was shell-shocked in the rain. Wasn’t this was our last chance of Europe.?……. And we’re 3-0 down versus Bala………We beat them 5-0 in October……. We’re top six……..they’re bottom six. Bala’s celebrating keeper looked at me and smiled. He was wearing fluorescent yellow.

After Bala scored their fourth there was an incredulous voice in my head; “This isn’t on……. Bala’s side is full of ex-football league players like Wrexham’s Mark Jones and Kenny Lunt and  they finished in the bottom six……….They actually finished in the bottom six…….This is a bit fishy…………They’re  playing the system…………….They get a confidence boosting run against easier opponents to prepare for the play-offs…………….. They couldn’t do it  honourably like Bangor………………..They couldn’t risk life and limb in trying to win games….. They played the system instead……………They make me sick.” I didn’t externalize these sentiments as I didn’t want to sound bitter.

The last chance of Europe had gone. The consoling voices were now quiet.”

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