Hoping and Praying
28 April 2003
The really ironic thing, I guess, is that by the time you read this I'll already know the answers. I'll either have been jumping for joy since 4.55 GMT on Saturday 26th April, or catatonic and whisky-stained since the same time (or probably several minutes before, when the tension kicked in). Whatever happens, chances are I'll be breaking my latest health burst (current duration - eight days) and having a cigarette or two.
Yes, in the immortal words of 'Sir' Alex Ferguson, it's squeaky bum time. And nowhere are things squeakier than down at the bottom (nice) of the Conference. (Apologies in mid-flow: I've written about this love of mine before, I didn't mean to then (but James got there first and that was an important watershed for me), and this may bore some of you. Well, no one's forcing you.) The fact is, I have to write something in the next 72 hours (oh, the tyranny of the Clown) and this is the single thing obsessing my brain (apart from Memento, which I watched last night slightly stoned and has been playing with any spare brain cells ever since). So I'm afraid you, like me, are stuck with it. Get empathising.
This is how things stand: we are staring relegation in the face. I won't bore you with the details (just yet); just let me say that, in order to survive, we have to win on Saturday and hope that at least two of our four rivals slip up. As I said, I won't bore you with the football details - but have any of you any idea how that feels? I'll try and explain.
You know the so-called 'sinking feeling' you get in your stomach when something goes seriously wrong? Try having that for the best part of several weeks, with the occasional lurch in either direction. Thing is, it's not so bad for the guys at the top of the football ladder - while the implications of dropping out of the top-flight are massive, at least you can follow the team's progress (on TV, reports in the papers) wherever you are, and see them fighting for it. Me? I'm reduced to hearsay, internet message boards, match reports that go online about a week - the BBC have even dropped Teletext over here so I can't use that as a way to watch games (remember watching the classic West Brom - Woking FA Cup tie, all 90 minutes of it, on Ceefax - best game I've ever seen). The highlight of my Saturday is sitting in front of Ray Stubbs and Final Score between 4.30 and 4.50, hoping to get a goal flash from one of our games.
This isn't always a good thing. In fact, at the moment, it normally isn't. Take a few weekends ago - desperately in need of a win and needing others to slip up, all the other games seemed to be flashing up goals that put us deeper and deeper in the mire. Then, the line I'd been dreading: FC GL Halifax 1 Woking 0 (Midgley 87). If you want to talk about sick-in-the-stomach moments, this was one I'll remember for ages, far more so than England going out on penalties to Argentina, or Germany, or Germany again; a bleeping typeset scrolling across the bottom of a screen is just so, so final. You can't prepare for the disappointment the way you can when David Batty steps up to take a decisive penalty; you can't put your hands over your eyes as you would with Rivaldo bearing down on Seaman's goal. And there's no consolation, no qualification. [On this occasion though, it went the other way. FC GL Halifax 1 Woking 1 (Canham 90) flashed up shortly afterwards. Turns out we then went on to hit the bar before the final whistle went. Didn't hear about that part until the match report went live a week later. You see my point.]
But times like this remind you of why you're a fan of whichever club it is. Our club forum has been a hive of activity, with combinations of exhortations, frustrations, messages of support from our bitterest rivals who want to ensure the rivalry lives on; this is what it's all about. So tomorrow, I'll spend two hours praying we give Telford a good stuffing, and that two of our most hated local rivals do us a favour by taking points off other teams in the dogfight. So, I will now utter words I never thought would leave my keyboard. Good luck Woking. Come on Farnborough. And my heartfelt support to Stevenage Borough - you can do it lads.
That last bit was damn tough.