An unlikely unsung hero?

Pretty much everyone came through Tuesday’s night with some credit. But one player is beginning to show that he’s at the very heartbeat of the club. And whoever you think it is, it’s not them.

Anticipating a another soulless evening at the Kassam, where the atmosphere disappears in a puff of blue seats, I already had an idea about this blog post before the 0-0 draw with Exeter.

I’ve been reading the Morrissey autobiography, which opens with a 10 page paragraph on his early life in Manchester during the 60s. It is a majestic avalanche of pretentiousness which acts as a passive aggressive threat to the reader. If you want to read about The Smiths, first you have to subscribe to the authors own very particular idiosyncrasies. His rules. Like almost everything Morrissey does it is awkward and uncomfortable – there are no chapters in the book – but his eccentricities and apparent discard of convention is also endearing and above all, fantastically skilled. You have to surrender yourself to his ways, it is a great book if you do.

I thought, expecting a drab encounter on Tuesday, that I could try writing a similarly lyrical tribute to evening games at The Manor. Talking about the old days is a crowd pleaser in terms of this blog and anyway, I quite like the challenge of trying to capture the memory in a similarly poetic floating style.

But the game on Tuesday wasn’t drab, it was entertaining, with a buoyant crowd and two good teams playing at high quality and pace. I was so taken by it, that had we conceded, I was going to do something on being a gracious loser. It had felt good to be part of something good; the result was almost an aside. I descended the stairs from the stand in a buoyant mood, it wasn’t an evening wasted as Tuesday’s at the Kassam frequently are. Had we taken all three points, it might have masked the general contentedness I was feeling. 0-0 had been a good and fair result.

Into the night I bounded, I could hear the murmur of post-match analysis around me. It’s difficult to pick out individual comments, but there seemed to be an acceptance of this being a good all-round result. There was warm appreciative applause at the end. But as I was touched by the night’s damp cool air, I heard a clear comment for the first time. “That Raynes is a liability”.

This deflated me; nobody really deserved criticism on Tuesday. Dave Kitson should be able to keep a lid on his bookings, but his sending off wasn’t in any way a dampener on the evening; it was just an everyday consequence of being competitive. However, it was the comment about Raynes that frustrated me most.

Back-up centre-backs are an unusual breed; your first choice centre-backs are like your mum and dad; trusted and dependable. Back-ups; Steve Wood, Brian Wilsterman, Rhys Day, Harry Worley, are like your uncle who comes to look after you for the weekend. He looks like your mum and dad, but his stay is littered with weird idiosyncrasies like feeding you baked beans out of a tin and letting you drink pints of beer at the pub even though you’re only eight. Raynes’ recent form has seen him nudge slightly beyond the label of back-up, but with Wright and Mullins looking so dependable, his inclusion still feels a little bit like you’ve got your crazy uncle staying over.

He looks like Spud from Trainspotting; you half expect him, when interviewed on the radio, to open with ‘My pleasure in other people’s leisure’ before kissing Jerome Sale and departing. At our school, sweatbands were considered the mark of a nerd; someone who wanted to be part of the crowd, but frankly didn’t get the look. Raynes wears two sweatbands. At our school that alone would have had him playing with the Joey Deacons and the infants. There’s a kind of sympathy towards him when he plays; on Tuesday he put in a clattering tackle at the touchline and was greeted by the kind of applause often reserved for children completing a Christmas play. A mix of sympathy, admiration and relief.

Raynes’ occasional tweets point towards questionable holidays. You imagine him to be the kind of person who finds himself in the hills outside Ibiza town with a broken moped, off his bonce on pure MDMA in the company of a 40 stone transvetite, two Druids, a member of ZZ Top and German Chancellor Angela Merkel thinking, ‘I shouldn’t have taken a flyer from that Swedish girl promising an unforgettable night’. He also seems like the kind of person who’d then find himself in a not dissimilar position the following night.

But, even at his wobbliest, Raynes is the one talking, geeing up the team. Wright may command more brooding respect, but Raynes is the most animated in the back-four. He’s the one who rises highest in the box at corners. My lasting memory of Tuesday was him in the 94th minute running back from another foray forward; arms and legs pumping but apparently running on the spot. Like an exhausted marathon runner from the 1918 Olympics. You suspect that as he made his way back up the field; powered only on fumes, that everything was turning black and white and those around him were fading from sight. I was half expecting him to simply drop to the floor in the centre circle in utter exhaustion.

There are other dimensions to Raynes, he spoke warmly and generously about his brother; Jordan, a goalkeeper for England’s Cerebral Palsy team. As he should, of course, but it is still good to hear. One tweet even suggested that he was engaged in a university course; a man thinking of his future?

Is Raynes the unlikely heartbeat of the club? An example to those around him; he plays as if it’s his last game – and given his position as a back-up centre back at a League 2 club, let’s face it, every game could well be his last professional game. I have fanciful images that at the end of training the likes of Andy Whing, Jake Wright, John Mullins, Dave Kitson, James Constable and Ryan Clarke retire to their mansions (Clarke’s being glove shaped, Kitson’s made of red and yellow card) to bask in their glorious assuredness. Raynes, on the other hand probably stays behind to help out in the ticket office just because being in a football club is just so bloody brilliant.

A dream perhaps, but Raynes strikes me as the kind of footballer you or I would want to be, someone never complacent about what he has, always trying his best. Always getting up, even when things get him down. No, he’ll never match up to the likes of Matt Elliot or Malcolm Shotton, but in so many ways he’s an absolute credit to both his club and himself.

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