Friday 21 March 2008

The Mighty Saddlers

It’s not easy being a football fan.

It’s even harder supporting a team whose threshold of success is firmly capped at mid-table in the Championship, or as I like to call it the old Division 2.

I support Walsall, a team that in recent years has yo-yoed between Divisions 2 and 4 suffering seasons of brave torment in the upper echelons, where victories are sparse and defeats are expected against so called “big” teams like West Brom and Wolves, and seasons of glory in the basement division beating teams like the mighty Accrington Stanley and Macclesfield Town.

My father took me to see the mighty Saddlers as a child. I barely recall the game; I only know that we won and I was totally hooked. I begged my dad to take me to every home game and occasionally he obliged. I became part of the tribe, utterly devoted to the cause. There was a blank piece of my mind waiting to have a football team etched on there permanently, like some kind of bizarre mental tattoo, and that team was Walsall.

There have been times when I have been proud and delighted to stand on the terraces and scream with the crowd as one as our beloved team destroy the opposition. But there have been other times when we have all been cast into the pits of despair as a team like Exeter City score their third goal.

These days, living in Manchester, I rarely get to see them play at home and have to suffer the infamous “away days” at places like Rochdale, Bury and Oldham. I am surrounded by people who support Manchester United and I hear the red side of the city complaining when United suffer a rare defeat. They don’t blame the players, or fate; they blame the referee. Their team has a divine right to win every game and every trophy the play for. They cannot understand why I have chosen to support a team like Walsall.

But let’s get things into perspective here. A club like Manchester United won a colossal amount of trophies; 15 top division championships, 2 second division championships, 11 F.A. Cups, 1 League Cup and 2 European Cups. Liverpool have an even better record. And what about Walsall? Two division 4 championships – and a play off.

I dare say that there are a large number of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal fans who are season ticket holders and have the logo etched on their brains. Sadly, the remainder have leaped onto a bandwagon, supporting a team just because of their success. That would never happen to Walsall.

Despite Walsall’s failings, I will continue to support them through thick and thin. I will sit in the driving freezing rain at Oldham’s Boundary Park and cheer on the lads in the vain hope that they pull off a shock away win. I will even occasionally travel down to Walsall and watch them, hopefully, brutally destroy the opponents with assurance and no compassion.

Watch out for Walsall’s results. When they win, you will know that this particular Mancunian is delighted. Don’t even consider the alternative.

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