Pre-season – on the pitch

Pre-season has been like going to a gig of your new favourite band. Not during the tour to support their multi-platinum selling breakthrough album, you couldn’t get tickets for that one. This is the tour for the much-anticipated follow-up; arenas and stadiums only. Like Blur touring The Great Escape, or Stone Roses with the Second Coming, or Nirvana with In Utero.

The 6-2 defeat to Didcot is the new album’s big opening number, not necessarily the best song but one that gives you a sense that you’re listening to something big. The 2-0 victory over Dumbarton is the new album’s first single. A big hit simply off the back of the previous album’s success. The band’s artistic input has been curtailed by the record company who want more of what made the first album successful. It’s our Country House, a good song, but nothing new. A reminder of why you’re a fan.

Livingston and Winchester are the songs from the new album that made you realise that the new album is, well, just a bit boring and pedestrian.

As the crowd are thinking about heading to the bar, they play Leicester, the big breakthrough single, our Wonderwall. Suddenly everything is bouncing again.

Brackley is a forgettable ballad, then Manchester United XI is the big anthemic hit. A 12 minute set closer. You’re buzzing, what a tune. The lights go down. Bring on the encore, it’s going to be amazing.

Sadly, the band come back on to play Oxford City, a cover version of an old punk classic involving some guest who is probably the drummer of the support band on mouth organ. It wasn’t really the kick-ass encore you were expecting, but you cheer politely in anticipation of the big finale.

Instead, they play Banbury, a sentimental acoustic number they’ve been writing on the tour bus. It’s a paean to the lead singers’ dead grandma. It doesn’t really have a hook or chorus and nobody’s ever heard it before. Quite frankly it won’t even make the next album, it might, possibly, make the bonus CD of the 10 anniversary reissue of the big breakthrough album. The band depart satisfied they’ve discharged their artistic responsibilities. We, on the other hand, go home a little short changed.

So pre-season has passed me by a little. But so did the World Cup and Tour de France in what should have been a top summer of sport. But then, from time to time, I think of Wembley and still get a little frisson of excitement. And then I realise that in the past the summer has been a break from the drudgery of the season and the pre-season campaign has been for vainly trying to spot signs of recovery. This season, however, the recovery is underway and the summer is just a pause in the story. Screw pre-season, I just want to get going again.

Duffy does Didcot

Duffy’s brace against Didcot on Saturday probably underlines how important the pre-season is to him personally. Duffy’s season was a microcosm of the club’s; a curious mixture of success and failure. Any other season in any other division, his goal tally would have been seen as an unequivocal success, but in the wash-up it wasn’t because the ultimate objective of promotion was missed.

With the Twigglet coming in, Duffy has the potential of being left on the margins. When interviewed last year he was adamant that he knew what he was capable of and what he wasn’t. But that wasn’t good enough, because when we needed to score goals, he didn’t; as the miss against Exeter painfully demonstrated. There simply wasn’t anyone else on the pitch mopping up his failings, and nor should there be. He doesn’t have the luxury of saying that he’ll stick to what he’s good at. It’s like Billy Turley saying that he’ll do the goal kicks and let Chris Tardif do the shot saving.

Duffy’s acceptance of his strengths and weaknesses highlights the challenge he has in front of him. It is his attitude, rather than his fitness or ability that needs sharpening up. This is the hardest attribute of them all because few people, especially inherently arrogant footballers, are self reflective enough to change their mindset and values. But, in the end, if things aren’t going well he can’t afford to amble around writing the game off as ‘not his type of thing’ and waiting for next Saturday (or Thursday) to come around. He will have to impose himself on the game, or to use the footballing vernacular – get stuck in. If he doesn’t and the Twigglet does what he’s supposed to, there may be very little sign of him as the season progresses.