One long-suffering fan tries his best to put into words his feelings at the recent goings-on at SN1 as he experiences the downs and ups of supporting Swindon Town.
For those who don’t recognise the name, Zavier Austin was the man who introduced Clem Morfuni to Swindon Town back in 2014. That simple piece of networking has resulted, seven years later, in events that have completely transformed my club (and my mood).
I say ‘my’ club because that’s exactly how it feels now.
Swindon Town fans have been starved of any kind of positivity over the past 12 months, so it would be easy to exaggerate the importance of last week’s takeover. But, at the same time, I’ve been a fan for over 50 years and I’m struggling to remember many days that have brought such a lasting grin to my face.
Make no mistake, as important as it was to get rid of him, this is not just about the overthrow of Lee Power. While mightily relieved to see him gone, my unmovable grin is more about the promise of what’s to come than about finally being able to put that extraordinary shitshow behind us.
Of course, the happiness of a football fan depends almost exclusively on what happens on the pitch. All our most joyful memories are associated with the great Swindon teams of the past.
Only time will tell how next season (which promises to be a real toughie for more than one reason) will go for the team but, like most fans, I sense something hugely positive is going on at the club right now that goes far beyond that.
What it means to be a football fan
With only three teams out of 24 able to have a successful season in our league next year, perennial disappointment is one thing most football fans have in common.
I didn’t choose to become a Swindon Town fan. When I was six, my grandad took me to my first game and, that was it, hooked. (Aged seven, I would count the hours down to the next home game as soon as the last one had finished.) Following in the family tradition, I have now inflicted the same miserable fate on my own son – poor sod.
I’ve never lived in the town itself but, wherever I’ve been based, supporting this unfashionable club has always been a big part of my identity.
In my early days, we didn’t have social media to bring us together, just the occasional fanzine, like the magnificent ‘Bring the Noise’ in the late 1980’s, keeping us in touch with what other supporters were thinking and feeling.
Social Media has rightly taken stick recently for its inability to control racism, but it has also provided a brilliant connection between fellow fans with shared frustrations, experiences, and plenty of humour to boot. For me, Twitter makes our Club feel like a club.
If you haven’t read Nick Hornby’s ‘Fever Pitch’ (which inspired the title of the wonderful Loathed Strangers podcast series), I’d thoroughly recommend it. The simple premise of the book is that die-hard football fans are so absorbed by their passion, they can’t help associating the significant milestones in their lives with the football matches being played by their beloved team at the time.
Lost love, game won
That certainly rings true for me. Many years ago when I was at university, after weeks of persistent effort, I finally got the green light to take the girl I fancied out on a first date.
God only knows what I was thinking but, instead of taking her to the cinema or out for a meal, I took her all the way from Warwick to watch Town play Bristol Rovers, away. We stood on the uncovered terraces (couldn’t afford the seats) at Eastville, getting drenched in the torrential rain and, yes, somewhat predictably, that was the last I ever saw of her.
What a magnificent day it was though. A 4-1 win under John Trollope’s management seeing us go to the top of the league. I’ll never forget that day.
Yet, compared to many of our fans, I’m a lightweight. These days, I try and do three or four away games a season and many of you out there will do most of them. I can only imagine how invested you are emotionally in this club of ours.
Football is about the fans, blah, blah, blah
A football club is all about the fans. Managers and players move on, but it’s only the fans who are there forever. How many times have we heard that said by supporters’ groups and football pundits?
It’s absolutely true and yet most clubs keep their fans at arm’s length, happily taking their money without making them feel like anything more than a paying customer. (Some, like Mr Power, don’t even bother to do that.)
What a waste!
In the pre-takeover interviews, Clem promised to put a member of the Trust and another from the Official Supporters Club on an advisory board. In the end, he went one better and appointed Rob Angus, former Trust Vice-Chairman, as the club’s CEO.
One week, there was no communication between the club and the fans whatsoever and, the next, those links could not possibly be stronger.
But this isn’t just about the feel-good factor. It makes sound business sense too. Think what you can achieve by harnessing the passion of 6,000 or so dedicated fans who are already proving they are willing to give up their time and efforts, free of charge, to help the club they love.
In just one week, we’ve already witnessed changes, some big, some small. I love the fact, for example, that SeasideReds’ popular bucket hats will be going on sale in the official shop (if what I read is true). A tiny gesture that somehow highlights that we’re all in this together.
The ultimate irony
There is a huge irony here. The man who prided himself on being ‘above all, a businessman’ managed, through greed and a total lack of respect for the fans, to stop people buying anything from ‘his company’.
On the other hand, the man who has publicly declared he won’t take a penny out of our club and has put fans right at the centre of his thinking (literally, in the case of his appointment of our new CEO) is now watching season tickets and official merchandise flying out of the club faster than they can print the envelopes.
When Clem talks about transforming a small plumbing business run from his bedroom into a global organisation, I’m now beginning to understand how it happened. It’s early days, of course, but you can already see how our new owner is bringing out the best in all those around him, and beyond.
Who knows where this story will end (the Championship, we hope) or how long it will take? What’s clear is this energy, positivity and hope is all down to one individual. A man who happens to come from the other side of the world which, to me, adds further poignancy to the story.
My friend and fellow season ticket holder, Darren Crook, is a military man and a keen student of the qualities of leadership. I’d like to think Darren would agree, this is an example of leadership at its finest.
They say, it’s the hope that kills you. And for most fans of most clubs, that’s true. But, right now, for Swindon Town fans, it’s the hope that’s bringing those irrepressible grins to our faces.
Sod it, Zavier, I don’t just owe you a beer, I owe you a whole case. DM me on Twitter and I’ll gladly have it delivered.
by Richard Selbourne