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|The County Ground|
A Dysfunctional Day
By: Andrew Doherty
"WHICH end are we going in?" asked my son Merlin. This issue had occupied my mind too. Let me explain. My daughter Revis (11) supports Grimsby, or to use her words of clarification, whilst she accepts the principle of supporting the team, she generally "sits watching" the mind numbing Mariners.
Merlin, by virtue of where we used to live and his motherâ€™s birthplace, supports Swindon. Is this what is known as a dysfunctional family? Both of them now attend school in Derbyshire where they proudly wear the badge of suffering which goes with following lower division teams. Both have served their time to the point where prison may seem a more attractive option. I recall that over the first 30 Swindon games I took Merlin to, they won just twice (4-2 v QPR, 3-1 v Crystal Palace). The rest, as they say, is catastrophe. None more so than successive defeats to Ipswich (0-6 at home) and QPR (0-4, away). Revisâ€™s appearances at Swindon coincided with an upturn in form but she preferred to go with the misery that the Mariners bestow upon its public.
The lifestyle choice became automatic when Revis borrowed Merlinâ€™s GTFC top, black and white with the "Youngs" crest proudly emblazoned on it. Frozen fish from a frozen place. Swindon has railways, Grimsby has fish. No compromises, we were going in the Town end.
We arrived in Swindon nice and early and had our pre-match meal. Pre-match meals are always nice, the last crumb of comfort before 90 minutes of pointless atrocity. The hangmanâ€™s meal, what the Germans call the "Henkermahlzeit". With the Mariners, every meal is a Henkermahlzeit.
Not only is my family dysfunctional in its football loyalties, the same word can be used to describe our Mighty Mariners. Having been to just one game this season, this being the victory against Walsall, I can only go on the reports of others. Itâ€™s baffling stuff. We seem to take pride in losing to the bottom teams, yet beat the top one. Last weekâ€™s result and display against Hereford was encouraging, but for how long? Thereâ€™s no danger of being overburdened with optimism.
The previous day I had caught the World War II morale-boosting film "Sink the Bismarck" with Kenneth More on the TV. "Emotion is a peacetime luxury" stated the dispassionate and tea-drinking English hero. Emotion is best avoided with Grimsby Town too. Significantly the emergency ambulance was stationed outside the away section at Swindonâ€™s County Ground in readiness to take in those who could not cope psychologically with the eternal and abject suffering.
On arrival it was a pleasure to see my mate Gary ("Swanny from the Ponny") outside the ground. We exchanged enthusiastic Grimbarian greetings. "Itâ€™s great to see you, Andrew. Are you ready for a good hammering?" Swanny goes every week.
We had a nice chat which almost turned to optimism as Swanny described the second half performance against Hereford. "We might get a draw today", he concluded. "Here comes the hearse" he exclaimed. The Town team bus had arrived.
We watched the team get off the bus. All of them looked about 15, which I guess is a statement about my age. They seemed a nice bunch of guys, but a lot of them looked like frightened rabbits. Surely theyâ€™d seen more than 15 people before. This was worrying.
I offered Revis the opportunity to get some autographs. Youâ€™d think from her reaction that I had emitted a bad smell. I guessed that she didnâ€™t want any.
This excitement over, it was time to consort with the enemy. We went to the Swindon club shop for Merlin. I performed my fatherly duty, having to explain to a very sympathetic gentleman why Revis might be wearing a Grimsby Town shirt in the Swindon shop, before returning to Swanny and the civilised throng by the away entrance. This included Swannyâ€™s mate, who apparently being a superstitious type doesnâ€™t wash his socks when we win. At this rate heâ€™ll be up for a cleanliness and hygiene award (the prize: a new washing machine?).
It was nice to just walk into the ground after a civilised chat outside. I recalled that 20 years ago you couldnâ€™t get in because of membership schemes. Not to be deterred, I talked my way into Northampton Town, took membership at Notts County, Shrewsbury and Wolves in order to see the Mighty Mariners. I even had to come up with a solution to become a Town member as I was living in Wolverhampton at the time. Swanny and I concluded that our education was geared up to getting into football grounds. We couldnâ€™t think of any other reason for it.
How wrong could I be. We stepped inside the County Ground and I looked at the signs around the ground. At first I thought my eyesight was failing but my children confirmed what I was seeing. Next to a banner stating "Red Army, Loud and Proud" was another one with "Red Army. Salubritas et Industria Quon 1881". I didnâ€™t realise that Latin was in current usage in Swindon. Then, in spite of my advancing age, I remembered that Swanny had a degree in Latin. "Quick, Swanny, get here. I need your help with a translation". "Just having a pee, see you in a minute". "Good health and hard work" was the translation â€“ whatâ€™s that got to do with Swindon, I asked. I speculated that "Quon" was perhaps "Quorn" but Swanny, with his academic cap on, adjudged that they didnâ€™t have vegetarians in 1881.
Looking towards the Town End, another sign stated "Hickmans at Old Town". Thereâ€™s a dark memory for older Town fans to savour. "Youâ€™re rubbish, Hickman" proclaimed the inhabitants of the Barrattâ€™s Stand in the late 60s, referring to the venerable Mike of the same surname. Maybe things have got better since. Itâ€™s debatable.
The pre-match entertainment began. Meanwhile Revis drew cartoon characters. There were plenty of those on the pitch, we surmised, notably Tom Newey, a cultured player who is deadly from 70 yards, but canâ€™t dribble, cross, tackle or pass. An asset to any team. Swanny and I discussed breathing. Itâ€™s important to get the basics right to ensure a quality of life, I say. "Amarillo" blared out in tortuous fashion. I realised that I was perhaps lucky not to be living in the UKâ€™s premier tourist resort where "Amarillo" is the symbol of fun and entertainment, and more fun. The day could only get better.
The report continues in Part 2
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