This is the most exciting yet most painful time of the season for a football man, “squeaking bum time” as Sir Alex used to called it. Titles, promotion, cup finals and relegation will all be decided within the next few weeks making or breaking seasons for thousands of fans. For me,Cardiff City’s promotion was my best experience as a football fan, winning the Championship and having a crazy party in the Cardiff Bay area to celebrate with 20,000+ others. This topped off an amazing year for Welsh football with Swansea winning the Capital One Cup, Newport winning Promotion to League 2 and Gareth Bale cleaning up with the individual player awards too. There is something that’s been getting to me though; the amount of people who couldn’t give a stuff about anything under the Premier League!
I’m a backer of “support your local club”, can’t say I always was but certainly the last 10 years I’ve been down at Ninian Park then Cardiff City Stadium following City’s Championship exploits and you know what? Despite regular play off heartbreaks I wouldn't change that for the world! In fact while of course I can’t wait for our Premiership adventure and silly season rumors to begin I will miss being in the second tier, not least because the fans that are there care so much about the side. Promotion and Premier League brings glory fans, good for revenue, good for filling the stadium but ultimately not immersed with club life like the rest of us. But what about even further down? What about those games on the FootballLeague show gone 1am or those that don’t even get a highlight show?
Newport County faced off against Wrexham in an all Welsh Blue Square Premier play off final atWembley, 16,346 were there as County won 2-0 to make it back into the Football League for the first time since their reforming in 1989. For The Exiles fans’ it was the stuff of dreams although I have since heard people saying it doesn’t matter or mocking the achievement. Surely this is what we should be investing our time and money in? Developing the love for the game from the basement divisions and at grass roots level, you can only win what’s on offer in the league you play in as it is!
Looking even further down we find Gosport Borough who dramatically sealed a penalty play off final win to be promoted from the Evo-Stik Southern Premier League. Next season they will play in the Conference South, an incredible achievement of back to back promotions as well as winning the Russell Cotes Cup 2-1! Those FL show viewers will recognise Gosport as Steve Claridge’s 23rd career team when he turned out for them last season but next season they will only be 2 tiers from the Football League (2 leagues from being on FIFA to those who don’t track below the Prem!). Check out the video of their game from this link: 2-2, a cracker of a free kick and then the magic of penalties. What stuck me though was their fans being interviewed after the game, dizzy at the prospect of Havant and Waterloovile and Eastleigh! It genuinely made me happy to see their joy at such teams most would scoff as ‘minnows’, that’s what football is about. No one turning out for Gosport really has a chance at making the national set up or theChampions League but for them, winning the Evo-Stik Southern Premier play off is what they’ll be going on about for the next few seasons!
You see, football isn’t just incredible turns, worldie volleys or millions and millions of pounds spent on transfers. That’s what we like to fill it with that’s what so many seek but actually football is permanent and does matter regardless of what league and stadium you’re in. No Newport, Gosport and even Cardiff don’t play tika taka to rival Barcelona or don’t boast a star studded line up but my goodness it’s entertaining to watch! Dining at the top table with Cardiff will see everything we do now come under scrutiny, manager Malky Mackay linked already painfully with the Everton job and we will have to deal with the ridiculous play acting and rolling about seen weekly in Europe’s top divisions.
|Barcelona B -The Next Generation|
Today (11/5/2013) as well as watching the FA Cup final, I’ll be at the Cardiff City Stadium as our Development Side take on Charlton Athletic’s in the Development League 2 play off final. Some may call that silly but my club is what I care about, the success of my team includes our youth academy and reserves sides too. I can't claim this is always my intention but this is definitely the attitude in those successful nations, like Spainand Germany, who are considered current greats. They have encouraged this and the youth system is vital meaning in testament to this, Barcelona B v Castilla (the 2 El Clasico reserve sides) had a full stadium of 15,000 for the Mini Clasico. The FA this year opened St George’s Park, a move that should, within the next 2 decades at least, certainly mean the national team finds much more talent and desire at a grass roots level.
Ultimately, as someone told me when Cardiff lost in the play off finals “football will continue to happen, whatever league you’re in you’ll play home and away and you’ll win some and lose some”, this is the heart of what I'm writing about. Football is permanent, football is important, from the Premier League to Evo-Stik Southern
Premier and beyond...