I’ve been thinking about death a bit recently. This week the album Dig Your Own Hole by the Chemical Brothers was 25 years old. I remember it coming out and our post-pub game of trying to keep up with the lyric from Electrobank as it pumped out of the speakers at a friend’s flat; grand old days on the Cowley Road which feel like they happened about five minutes ago.
If I cast forward 25 years, I’ll be my parents’ age. My mum recently asked me to come over to fix a flat tyre on her car. When I got there, everything seemed fine. Eventually she explained she’d seen someone apparently looking at her tyres in Waitrose car park and convinced herself that they must have been thinking it looked flat.
That’s life; from vibrant to befuddled in the blink of an eye.
I’m reaching an age where, when bad things happen to people, I start to calibrate it against my own age thinking; that could be me in a few years. Bob Mortimer had open-heart surgery at 56, which no longer feels old to me. I could have five more years or thirty, I’m in a permanent sense of wanting to take my time while feeling that time is simultaneously running out.
With results going against us, yesterday’s win still looks like it’ll have little impact on our stalling quest for the play-offs. Even though those at the top still have to play each other, we can have little impact over the fate of the teams that matter – beating Rotherham or MK Dons won’t have any impact on the lower end of the play-off places, they’re just very difficult games.
Still, it’s nice to break run of three defeats as well as our duck at Fleetwood and to keep our season alive for a few more days. It’s not inconceivable, given those next two games, that we could have been looking at quite an extended run of poor form taking us into the summer, which may have created a jitteriness that we don’t need in the new season.
As is often the case, the performance was analogous of the season; the opening twenty minutes were – according to Karl Robinson – perfect. Their penalty looked like a blip, the second goal had us looking down the barrel, they had a third cleared off the line as we looked in imminent danger of collapse. The closing minutes had us running on empty, there was even a grim looking injury to James Henry to represent the loss of key players this year. It was a year in ninety minutes, judging by Robinson’s post-match interview, it sounds like he felt it.
Recent form has even encouraged some chat at the margins about the manager’s future. People point to us ‘going backwards’ – play-off final, play-off semi-final, miss out on the play-offs. There’s no sacking imminent and it’s hardly a mainstream view, but if it were to happen it would surely be a firing in anger rather than a strategic move to see us progress. You want to see decline? Two seasons ago Fleetwood, like us, were in the play-offs – now they’re fighting relegation. Lincoln were in last season’s play-off final and are nowhere have been looking down more than up this year. It’s a competitive division with at least half the teams thinking that they’re playing below their natural level and we’re holding our own.
Which draws us back to the original theme. Should you judge things in short bursts or try to spread it out over a long period of time? Personally, if we are going to miss out on the play-offs, I’m not too bothered. I think League One is a brilliant division to be in; it’s entertaining, competitive and accessible. Play-off places and promotion are added bonuses, by-products.
If I were the owners, I would be thinking about a strategic goal of being in a new stadium as a sustainable and competitive Championship side. That’s still a minimum of four years away and the question they need to ask themselves is whether we are on that course. I would say that given we’re still in with a shout of the play-offs with three games to go, we’re filling the stadium and playing entertaining football, as well as developing players to sell on; we’re absolutely in the right place to capitalise if the stadium can be delivered.
But equally, how long do you wait? For some people, they won’t see promotion in five years or a full stadium at Stratfield Brake. People like me probably will, but maybe won’t. Should I be demanding success or complacently let another season pass? Should I be angrily lashing out at the manager at the passing of time? What if we are at the crest of a downward curve? What is this is a trajectory towards the bottom of the table next year? There’s always next year, or is there?