By Ed the Red
Being a Swindon Town supporter isn’t easy. It never has been and it never will be. But it seems a particularly grim sentence as we stare down the barrel of 2017.
That this is my 20th year as a fan only adds to my reflective mood. Under Lee Power’s dystopian dictatorship it is impossible not to look back wistfully at the great occasions of our recent past: Planning trips to Wembley (albeit doomed), cup scalps against Premier League opposition, exciting players on their way to the either legendary status like Sam Parkin, or the top division like Charlie Austin or Matt Ritchie, the most flamboyant, bonkers and ‘box office’ manager that we will ever see (even if he shares some blame for our current predicament…), and some truly wonderful atmospheres at the County Ground and others around the country.
One forgets the Richard Drydens, the Eric Sabins, Maurice Malpas, the horror of the Paul Hart months, Terry Brady, false dawns involving Rufus Brevett and some shady Portuguese consortium, the cold wasted nights in Barnet, and our frankly abominable record against our biggest rivals.
How bad has it got? Well, recently I drove down from London on my own to watch the game against Southend, so I must either be barking mad or it isn’t so grim that I can’t face coming. The reality is probably a combination of the two.
Walking up to the ground, the signs are not good. When I first started coming, the Magic Roundabout seemed like Wembley Way. My childhood memories of playing the likes of Sunderland and Manchester City in front of a full house seem like they took place in another dimension. I now expect to see actual tumbleweed drifting across the car park rather than hordes of fans clad in red.
I’m convinced that you wouldn’t necessarily know that there was a game taking place if you drove past at 2pm on a matchday now. I never visit the shop anymore as I don’t want to buy the owner another turtle neck for his collection.
The club car park even has spaces in it. I recently had a whole table to myself in the Winners Lounge, and another great litmus test is the fact that I walked into the County Ground Hotel an hour before kick-off and was served immediately. I used to wait at least 10 minutes, and I don’t think it has changed because they have taken on more staff…
My childhood memories of playing the likes of Sunderland and Manchester City in front of a full house seem like they took place in another dimension. I now expect to see actual tumbleweed drifting across the car park
I sit up in the Arkell’s, in an area of other lifelong season ticket holders. The conversations now invariably begin with a line like “Remind me why I am here again today?” The natives are restless, and endangered.
We guess who might be in the dugout today and what their job title might be, speculate about Lee Power’s intentions, laugh about ‘The Swindon Way’, and agree that none of us can face away matches any more. I certainly don’t rush back to my car like I used to, to catch the mindnumbingly awful interview/propaganda broadcast with the manager/coach/head coach.
But we are still there, week in, week out. The hardy 5,000, now largely sitting in silence during the game, seemingly waiting for the next defensive calamity and subsequent implosion. I genuinely can’t think of any chanting or singing at all during the Southend or Fleetwood games.
Can the crowd get any smaller, or have we reduced back to people like me, who just love going, sitting with family and friends, for whom it is a habit, an addiction that can’t be broken, fuelled by some mad hope that there might be a turnaround in fortunes that means that one day we will be the old codger sat watching us play Barcelona saying “I still came when Lee Power was in charge”.
“By God”, they will say, “you must be a real Swindon nutter.”