Golfers love being under par. I hate it – with regards to being ill, that is. An ear infection has caused problems with headaches and balance in recent days, but hopefully I’m over the worst.
It is in situations like this, when you’re part of a team in any walk of life, that you pull in favours to cover the gaps. These are favours which must not be forgotten when the team takes any plaudits that are being handed out.
So it was at the weekend when Ross Heaton, usually found behind the sports desk at BBC Oxford, answered a fire-brigade call from my friends at BBC Gloucestershire to do commentary on Cheltenham Town’s League 2 game at Exeter City. His “lap of honour” is well merited, as it was up and down the country, as fans of many teams gave their players a generous hand for their efforts over the season.
At the last home game, crowds tend to be generally well above average for a multitude of reasons. The match itself; the departure of some well respected players; the fact that there won’t be another game for at least three months, and in the case of Barnet FC, the club’s emotional farewell to Underhill, complete with a slope which has helped the home side for almost a century. They won’t want to leave the Football League as well, but the last day of the season is not without risk. Fail to win at Northampton, and AFC Wimbledon could dump the Bees in the Blue Square Premier if they beat Fleetwood. The Hive – their new home – will feel very different if that happens.
We’ve all heard just about anybody associated with a club in a team sport say “the supporters can make a huge difference if they get behind the players.” I’m not sure I buy that argument for every game across a whole season – not every fixture has the same intensity about it – but particularly when it comes to the final handful of games, when points, honours, and in some cases livelihoods and being able to pay the mortgage is on the line, human nature often produces a bit more.
How else can you explain Gloucester Rugby’s win over Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens, or York City’s vital home victory over Southend near the Football League basement ? There were over
15,000 at Kingsholm, about 3,000 above average, and almost 6,000 at York, almost twice the normal number. Such days are loved by accountants. Boards of directors wish they came round more often, but then across sport it is increasingly the case that the ones
with the money finish nearer the top.
Rugby’s Premiership has always tried to rationalise the playing field to keep the league competitive. PRL, who run the top end of the game, maintain they vigourously police the salary cap, and I have no reason to disbelieve them. Central revenue is equally split.
Aside from Leicester, most of the other teams would average between 8,000 and 12,000 at the turnstiles. If Newcastle Falcons
replace London Welsh, that may tighten the league even more next season, when Worcester, with Dean Ryan in charge, will hope to break through the glass ceiling that has appeared to exist for a Warriors team unable to break into the top half of the table. It cost Richard Hill his job.
Play the numbers game in the Football League this season, and the argument holds water too. The teams dropping down are, if attendances indicate the size of your club, generally among the smallest at that level. Bristol City in the Championship, along with possibly Peterbrough and Barnsley, would tick that box, as would Bury, Hartlepool and Scunthorpe or Colchester in League 1. Barnet, despite their crowd on Saturday, and Aldershot would be likewise in League 2.
Historical factors mean we do find some teams playing below where the football hierarchy suggest their natural level should be. Portsmouth, Coventry, Bradford City and Luton would be the most striking current examples but by and large, these are becoming fewer and fewer.
Let’s rightly applaud then, the over-achievers. Bournemouth (promoted), Yeovil (play offs) and Kidderminster (play offs) have all had outstanding seasons. Their fans have had a whale of a time, whatever happens now. In the words of a friend of mine, “your lot have had a great year.” Their lap of honour deserves to be thunderously applauded.
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