Yellows 1 Northwich Victoria 2

A man runs on the pitch in his pants, followed by another, then one reinvades into the arms of Billy Turley. Goal. Pitch invasion. Northwich walk off. Sundry chaos. Concentration evaporates and then another goal, 1-2. Inevitably, a fight breaks out in the Oxford Mail stand, it’s between two women.

I had come to the conclusion that the Conference experience was a dream because dreams get more surreal as they reach their conclusion. Then you wake up, gather your thoughts and realise your mind has been playing tricks on you. On this premise, I’d started to believe that the three results we needed would go our way. Then play-offs, Wembley and hey presto, I’d wake up back in the League.

We’ve always been an oddity of a club, but this season, the weirdness just accelerated. The new manager nobody has ever heard of. The loss of our most dynamic player. The realization that said player is a numbskull racist. A five-point deduction. 1 defeat in 22. A game which overruns by 30 minutes followed by one that is delayed by an hour. 94th minute winners and an away win against the Champions elect on the night they were supposed to receive their crown. It couldn’t be real, it had to be a dream.

But instead it was a bucket of cold water. We looked tired; as we have done for a few weeks but for the first time the players were confronted with the true face of this club and its insanities. They looked devastated at the end, sitting and staring at the Oxford Mail stand wondering why it was, after all their effort and drama, that everyone else contrived to scupper their success. It’s a form of self harming.

As I walked back to my car, a bloke who looked like he was involved in organized crime asked me the result. He said ‘you’re joking?’ with incredulity when I told him and looked at me like it was my fault. I shrugged my shoulders and kept walking. It was easier than trying to explain.

Northwich Victoria 1 Yellows 2

I liked Soccer AM; I was aware of the corporate cock-sucking of Lovejoy et al, but forgave it for its knockabout fun. It was no surprise when I was bought Lovejoy’s book for my birthday.

I paraphrase, but Lovejoy thinks football is brilliant. He thinks going to a game is brilliant, playing is brilliant, football on TV is brilliant, football in the pub is brilliant, he thinks the Premiership is brilliant, Wembley is brilliant, the money is brilliant. It’s all brilliant brilliant brilliant.

This is where Lovejoy and I depart because football is not all brilliant and nor should it be. No amount of brillianting will convince me otherwise. Observing Monday’s hyperbole surrounding the closing transfer window filled me with a chill that wasn’t brilliant at all.

The correspondents on SKY were salivating over it all. Without a ball being kicked Manchester City went from jokey bit-part players to Europe’s most financially powerful club. A journey that took Manchester United some 30 years and, perhaps 2000+ games, to achieve.

“We’ve got Robinho” sang the Manchester City fans on SKY Sports News. Actually THEY’VE got Robinho, I thought, you have fuck all. Amongst the grinning and brouhaha no one questioned whether it was actually a good thing or not. Is football just about admiring the playground show-offs and gloating about your vicariously acquired riches? It’s all just entertainment, some will say, but these are people with the power to pull countries in and out of recession. Now they’re at the helm of a constitutionally weak, culturally significant institution. People think I admire this gluttony because I like football and football is about greed. It feels like I’m being implicated in a kind of cultural terrorism.

Well, not in my name.

Football is about hoping, one day, you’ll actually get to the end of a season and feel you’ve got something out of it. It’s about finding out that your new striker actually scores goals. It’s about struggle and torment and worry and joy and never really know what you’re going to get next. My football is grinding out a 2-1 win away from home and basking in the warm glow of sheer fucking relief it gives you.

Us 0 Northwich Victoria 1

“They know what Steele can do” was the scream from the bloke next to me as though his winner yesterday had resulted from an arching run off the shoulder of the defender, a decoy run from his strike partner, and a deft outside of the boot chip into the net.

In truth, Turley, looked like he was set to skittle over the defensive cluster around the ball – the fans would have loved that – but bottled it allowing it to squidge out to Steele who was having a bit of ‘me’ time in the box. The result skewed what was an otherwise uninspiring game that had 0-0 written all over it. To lose, therefore, was disappointing. However I like Lee Steele, and Northwich Victoria because their fans make a bloody good fist of it in the stands – therefore, I hope it helps them stay up.
It wouldn’t be right to not pass some comment on the referee. I don’t believe any one performance, from referee or player, has a definitive effect on a season, or even a game. As such, refereeing is not about making the right decisions and applying the law – it’s about managing the game for the benefit of the players and supporters.
At no point yesterday was the game in any way feisty or violent. It wouldn’t have had any effect on the result had there been no bookings at all. The referee failed to see this; instead he looked at each incident in isolation – which is why both Foster and Mickey Lewis were sent off.
Good referees will see how games are developing and apply the law accordingly. If things are out of control, every foul is punished, if the game is just a bit turgid with tackles being just a bit mistimed – he’s best letting stuff go, just to see if the game can break free and offer some entertainment.
I do wonder what drives someone to referee at this level. At the top of the game there’s the buzz of being in amongst the big crowds and world superstars, in the parks there’s a sense of community spirit. But in the Conference nobody hears you scream, crowds are big enough to hail abuse but you’re never going to make it into the big time. Then, after the game, nobody cares who you are or where you came from. What kind of person spends a Saturday afternoon, when there’s sex and love and art and shopping and family and many other past-times available, wanting to drive from one end of the country to another to get abused? Someone with an odd sense of self worth, one would assume. Becoming centre of attention, as Mr Webb achieved with his decisions yesterday, is potentially quite a seductive thing.   

Northwich 0-1, Southend 0-3

Not since I was a student have I felt less engaged with the club. Then, a combination of geography and finance prevented me from going to more than a handful of games. In between, beyond the minimal national newspaper coverage and Grandstand final score, it was nigh on impossible to follow what was happening on a week-to-week basis.

Defeat to Northwich should have been met with uproar. But when you’ve already been slain by Droylsden and Histon, it’s difficult to get too het up. The cup defeat to Southend also left me cold. Let’s face it; a victory would hardly have been our greatest cup upset, and the prospect of Dagenham in the next round was not something to fight for.

Perhaps it’s because there’s nobody to blame. Nick Merry, for all his car salesman slickness, has the club’s interest at his heart. Darren Patterson needs time, which everyone recognises. Even the target of the boo-boys, such as Duffy and Gilchrist, haven’t been around. Gilchrist, of course, has called it a day. An inevitable conclusion really; and probably best for all concerned.

Maybe it’s simply that this procession of cup games preventing us from establishing any kind of rhythm. Tonbridge Angels in the Trophy hardly raises the pulse, although a good run may actually help make this season mean something. In the meantime, I snooze.

Us 3 Northwich Victoria 1

Maybe it’s the new regime, maybe it was my decision to watch yesterday’s win from the upper tier of the South Stand. For weeks our form flummoxed me, though from my vantage point yesterday it became a bit clearer where the problems are.

As a team, we’re don’t press enough. Phil Trainer drifts around midfield, when clearing a corner Yemi has a tendency to wait for the ball whilst the opposition’s defenders attack it. St Ameie looked ponderous, though he improved. Anyone who’d never seen Matt Day before would have thought he’d won his place as a right wingback through a competition on the Internet.

Matt Day, of course, is no wing-back and with such a horrific injury problem it’s not easy to read anything into the first game of the Patterson era. It’s good to hear that he’s already spotted an insightful area for improvement. His feeling is that simple patient possession play will help unlock teams. This is possibly a marked departure from Smith’s style who wanted things done swiftly – which maybe over-estimated the ability of his players. Patience worked yesterday, though the opposition was sub-standard and in front of an impatient crowd, it may be more difficult to replicate in the future.

A win is a win; progress in the cup will help with confidence, finances and dignity. It may even help in the league if we can get a couple of league postponements it will buy a bit more time to get players back. There’s still much to be done, but this is as good a place to start a recovery as anywhere.