The fan’s lot

After plans for the evening came up in conversation yesterday morning, a Manchester United-supporting work colleague told me he couldn’t imagine a worse place to be that night than Spotland.

His views were partially based on the ignorance Premiership supporters like to inflict upon us lower league fans – his evening was to be spent in front of the TV watching Liverpool fool themselves into believing a 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid was the stunning achievement it might have been a few years ago – but as Rochdale charged forward in the final few minutes and almost delivered their own 4-0 win, I couldn’t help but look back on his words as prophetic.

Just getting to Spotland had been a tension-packed episode. I had booked a half day holiday and went through to Bradford with my friend Steve to meet my wife Rachel, a Primary School teacher, who was holding a parents evening. It overran by 40 minutes, which left us very late getting onto the M62 and subsequently stuck in horrific traffic in the ridiculously badly-planned roads leading into Rochdale, with less than an hour to kick off. After more stress finding somewhere to park, we finally got into the ground just as the teams were coming out onto the pitch and the consistent stream of people who arrived after us demonstrated the traffic congestion had not got any better.

So the least we deserved was a decent performance, right?

That’s the problem with football. Ultimately success is enjoyed by the few and the rest of us are left regularly coping with the heavy feeling of disappointment we had to bear as we made our back to the car at full time. The last few games for City have triggered a huge contrast of emotions that leave you wondering why we allow ourselves to be so openly exposed to them. It’s horrible to watch your team lacking the stomach to fight back while knowing there is nothing you can do to change it – and it’s a feeling we’ve become so used to in recent years.

It’s easy for us to feel sorry for ourselves, but many of us at least have the consolation of having seen City succeed and what better days are like. My feelings were more of concern for my wife, who first started watching City on a regular basis four years ago and who’s time as a season ticket holder has not seen anything like the level of success this season has been.

On evenings such as this I think I’m paying my dues and that, when success does eventually come around again, I can look back on these darker times and enjoy the moment that bit more. How do you keep faith without the good times to fall back on and if the belief grows that success will always be someone else’s preserve?

In the last two seasons City have grown their fanbase thanks to the season ticket offers and for away games there’s been rekindled enthusiasm. The true damage of last night’s defeat may not be reflected in the league table, but in maintaining the level of support the club has worked so hard to gain.

Stuart McCall talks about the players feeling the pressure when playing in front of large away followings like the one at Spotland and there’s an absurdity about the situation. Whether long-time supporters or relatively new, no City fan believes the Bantams should be playing at this level and getting thumped 3-0 by a League Two promotion rival falls woefully short of expectation levels.

Unfortunately this present team does not look equipped to compete at a higher level and the pressure of at least getting there is weighing them down. It cannot be a coincidence that the players have generally performed better this season in front of smaller away followings, something which might be more of a regular occurance if next season’s fixture list again includes Accrington and Barnet.

Maybe my friend knew what he was talking about when he said Spotland was the last place to want to be last night, in the second half it certainly appeared the players felt that way.

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