Off and on

Tadcaster Albion 1

Gray 80

Bradford City 7

Hannah 8, 33 (pen), Davies 29, Hanson 35, Wells 51, Reid 70, Swain 88

Saturday 21 July, 2012

By Alex Scott

Staring out the window of the speciously named ‘Coastliner’ meandering nauseously toward North Yorkshire, I was struggling to define what exactly I was hoping to achieve. As we traded the built-up high rises of East Leeds for the altogether leafier, and hillier, satellite villages, I was forced to postpone this endeavour for the more pivotal task of making it through the journey.

I had seldom been as excited to alight in a sleepy market town. The emanations from the local brewery quickly tempered my relief. Having travelled through (by) the town numerous times, the reality of Tadcaster wasn’t a surprise, but it remained sobering. Just like the air leaving the station, each initially enticing, romantic vista is haunted by the industrial behemoth lurking in the backdrop. Akin to the troubled nephew, the community seems to ignore this looming dystopia, refusing to acknowledge its existence, carrying on like the market town they show on postcards. Initially founded by the Romans as Calcaria, Tadcaster’s anachronistic duality offers an unsettling sense of impending doom. This is no more true than on the walk down New Street, past the Death Star, toward the home of the town’s football team, the Albion.

 

Which, of course, is the reason I’m here.

Bradford’s hosts today, The Brewers, reside in the wide-ranging ninth tier of English football, patrons of the sensationally named Koolsport Northern Counties East League Premier Division.’ (A brief Google search has led me to the ‘discovery’ that Koolsport could be a struggling-to-defunct sports retailer from Birmingham, a Malaysia-based shirt manufacturer, or the greatest, and most misguided, effort ever in newspeak league-naming. Seriously, I have no idea what is going on with Koolsport.

Mostly hidden away from the domineering post-industrial cityscape, down by the final turns of the River Wharfe, 2inspire Park (Yes, really), guarded by legions of trees and greenery, provides the team with the idyllic, rural home befitting its host. The park itself is a picture, yet still, the brewery, looms above ominously. It is all beautifully unsettling.

I’ve come today to see my team play football, or at least that’s how I’ve justified the £4.50 stomach upset/bus fare and £5.50 entry. But in reality, that’s not why I’m here. There won’t be much football played today, despite the billing as the season’s curtain raiser. Instead it is merely a glorified knockabout, a training exercise to which admission can be charged. In itself, not necessarily a bad thing, I’m aware of the dissonance as I take my place down by the riverside and watch the players warm up for their warm-up.

If I haven’t come for the football, or the pretence to wit, why have I come at all? It’s a troubling question which I’ve struggled to answer. It is good to get a headstart on my all-too-public apiphobia therapy I suppose, but that isn’t enough of an incentive.

The pre-season is just a more tangible version of the godforsaken, hellish purgatory of the off-season. Each day is met with another click, another paper flipped through, skim reading an article which tells you nothing, but has to exist because we demand it, even though we are aware of its being merely an arduous struggle to clamber up to the word count. Nothing is happening, but it doesn’t matter. We need to see ‘nothing’ written down in 350-400 words.

Eavesdropped conversations between excitable fanatics (that term is never truer than today) surrounding the lone white railing protecting this unhallowed turf exude confidence, at times even impatience, anointing this squad as ‘The Best In Recent Memory’. They haven’t yet kicked a ball, let alone one in anger.

The game begins dreamily enough and it isn’t long before Ross Hannah glides in behind the Tadcaster defence and dinks a tidy finish over the charging goalkeeper.

How would our lives be affected if we just switched off our football heads from Juan Mata’s tap-in, until minute one of the Gillingham game? Seriously, would it be worse? We’d be a bit clueless early on, but if we bought a programme with the squad numbers neatly chronicled, and had a smartphone to fill in the gaps, how long would that feeling last? Ten minutes? Five? The costs of this debilitating summer obsession outweigh the benefits to such a dramatic degree, we’d require CERN computers to establish the power. Yet we subject ourselves to it annually, content in its normality. Even though we know better. Is this dissonance, doublethink, or something else entirely? Andrew Davies and Hannah from the spot have taken this game rapidly out of reach.

The signing of new players is supposed to be fun; this is the season of hope. But each passing day of the off-season carries with it more shame, like a heroin addict falling to rock bottom for one last hit. I see myself clicking through pointless, endless rumours and teased-out shirt launches, scrolling down timelines and wandering through message boards, and cannot escape the shame.

Staring out across these oddly beautiful surroundings looking at my mirrors, I can’t help feeling a depressing kinship. I feel damned, yet secure in numbers. This is a nice day, and we are all here attending a relaxing, thoroughly pleasant event. This is normal.

I want to utilise the phrase ‘this pre-season more than the rest’ when referring to the obsessive rumour-whoring, as if it’s a mutated creation of the Instawave, Twittagram generation, but to be true, I can’t. Not that I have definitely been this bad before, I might have been, but I don’t remember. It’s long been jettisoned down the memory hole. You remember moments in the pre-season; you don’t remember this intellectually debasing process of commenting, theorising, and shameful googling of ‘prospects’. Show of hands, right now, who knows what Mike Grella looks like? Anyone? Talk me through one goal he has ever scored. I know he was an All-American at Duke, he played for Leeds (amongst a handful of other third tier teams), and he’s supposed to be decent (and totally not that defensive midfielder from Blackburn.) I know these things. For no good reason. This stuff is using up precious brain cells in my head, some guy my team was apparently linked to (but never were). And I’m not alone. People have been commenting on their desire (or lack thereof) to witness his arrival at the club, without ever seeing him play. What is this? Is this normal?

Today is an extension of this feeling, but at least it’s outside. It feels more socially acceptable, except that it probably isn’t. This isn’t really football, in the same way an early 2000s ringtone wasn’t really music. It alludes to it, we might even enjoy it, but it isn’t football. It might be better described as KoolSport. James Hanson just rose at the back post to open his account for the season, after a glorious ball in from Forrayah Bass.

Whilst the slightly patronising compliments toward ‘Nice Little Club Tadcaster Albion’ were inevitable, it doesn’t make them untrue. It is a nice little club. It is nice to get away from the depressing pressure-dome in League Two, Where Everything Matters Oh So Much. It can even make a man envious of this life, despite being fully aware of the despicably elitist, patronising overtones amid such a statement.

On the game itself, any judgments on performances is a tad preposterous at this stage, but we did learn a few things. 1) There’s something about Forrayah Bass. A converted winger playing at left back, he shone in the first half, linking well with diminutive trialist Anthony McNamee (Wycombe) in front of him and Tom Taiwo (Carlisle) inside. However it was his touches, his movement, his demeanour which really stood out. There’s something there. I’m not sure where exactly his destiny lies, but there is something there. 2) Gary Jones is good at football, and rumours of his athletic demise have been greatly exaggerated. 3) Whilst Phil Parkinson’s Four Four Two is back, it will be of an entirely new style. Each full back utilised against Tadcaster was dynamic, athletic, and played with an offensive intent seldom witnessed last season at Valley Parade.

The first half pairing of Bass and imposing trialist Michael Boateng (Bristol Rovers) overlapped impressively and linked well with the midfield pairing of Gary Jones and the tidy Taiwo. In the second period, new signing James Meredith and trialist Javan Vidal (Man City) weren’t afforded the opportunity to overlap (a function of the straight-line wingers, Kyel Reid and Adam Baker, running in front of them) but they both showed bursts of pace indicating the ability to, if the opportunity arose. I have wondered whether last year’s defensive outlook was a function of Parkinson’s fear-fueled paralysis over relegation rather than an inherent conservatism. This may be my own revisionist history concocted to raise morale, but the signings of this summer do hint at a sea change of sorts.

Intimate surroundings such as this have a humanising effect on players. Being stood so close, on pitches which we have graced ourselves, provides a Bruce Wayne-style demasking of our heroes. We get to watch Kyel, 24, from London run at ‘nondescript, faceless right-back’ rather than ‘Number Thirty Two’, demigod torcherer of helpless innocents. (Still, Luke Oliver remains really, really tall, and Nahki Wells remains really, really fast.) But on the whole, they appear just men, some just boys. Which makes the demonising so often administered to these ‘Professional Footballers’ all the more ridiculous. As if our position, sat in our plastic thrones reaching gloriously up into the sky affords us the right to treat these superhumans as subhuman.

The second half passes without much fanfare. Wells, Reid and Swain each bag their firsts of the season, whilst Danny Gray’s late slip past McLaughlin offers some consolation for the Brewers. City win comfortably (as they should), players play well (as they should), we leave full of hope (which is the point).

We want to feel hopeful, so rarely in an actual football season do we get the chance. This is the justification we wish to paint. It is far more stomachable than ‘we all have a problem and subject ourselves to this KoolSport because we cannot help ourselves. My name is Alex, and I’m an addict. Send help.’

This ‘game’ feels almost like a prologue, but more like a last meal. Spirits are high, we ensure they are so, anything else is a crime of thought. We all know what lies ahead. Winter is coming. We want it, but we don’t. We endure, but we enjoy to endure. Without it, there is a hole which we would prefer to fill with pain, than leave empty. To draw a line between football fanaticism and sadomasochism may be a touch on the nose, but I’m not sure it’s invalid.

It’s difficult to make judgements upon The First Time These Guys Have Ever Played Together, (against ninth-tier opposition), but that’s what we do. Much more than a medium for bee jokes and clumsily-implemented Nineteen Eighty Four thematic devices, we need, nay, must derive multiple cast-iron conclusions from this, the first of seven preseason matches, none of which matter anyway. Not that I’m diminishing the act of reaching such conclusions, it isn’t uncommon, but the whole thing is so bizarre, and unsettling. We act in a certain manner, we know it’s ridiculous, yet we don’t change. This is the medium for arriving where we cannot wait to get, and once we arrive we can repress this entire shameful, dirty exercise and start acting ‘normal’ again.

Walking away from the ground the consensus appears to be happyish tone of ‘pleasantly impressed’. “Wells is looking nippy”, “This centre back looks good”, “Meredith, he’s decent, him.” Still, like the towering, smoking relic haunting these picturesque environs, we ignore the depressing thoughts lingering in corners of our minds, content in our doublethink. This was a preposterous endeavour, but “that’s a promotion team, that.”

City:

First Half

Duke; Boateng, Davies, McArdle, Bass; Atkinson, G. Jones, Taiwo, McNamee; Hanson, Hannah.

Second Half

McLaughlin; Vidal, Oliver, Lowinsky, Meredith; Baker, R. Jones, Ravenhill, Reid; Wells, Swain.



Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: