If you can’t beat us, hate us

stevenage celebration

‘Am I happy supporting a team who play completely rubbish football?’

I’m paraphrasing slightly because my iPod is playing up and so I can’t access his exact quote, but that’s more or less the question I was asked by this podcast’s venerable host in the opening episode four weeks ago.

A brief, shocked, intake of breath from the assembled crowd can be faintly heard in the background before my reply … ‘I wouldn’t say we play completely terrible football’.

After three games of our debut League One season, I’d suggest that I was right.

The opening game was a tight affair against a decent Exeter City side. OK, we set up very defensively, and rightly so in my opinion.

Despite the fact we were at home, we couldn’t afford to go out and get comfortably beaten on the opening day and so we took steps to stop that happening. I’m personally glad that we took that stance against a side that finished inside the top ten last season and played some pretty neat football, with Exeter captain and Stevenage boy Dave Noble the main figurehead in a lot of their moves.

Following that up with a League Cup game at home to Peterborough was as tough a start as we had last year (Macclesfield followed by Portsmouth – both at home) and again, despite going a goal down early on, we gave a good account of ourselves, coming from behind three times to eventually be knocked out by a questionable penalty in the last minute of extra time following some George Boyd, let’s say… ‘theatrics’.

A point away at Chesterfield followed with their equaliser coming in the seventh minute of six minutes injury time and resulted in John Sheridan and the associated Chesterfield local press pushing themselves up my personal and wildly scientific ‘bitterness league’ (it’s actually got a different official title but it just wouldn’t do to repeat it here) after coming out with post-match rubbish like ‘I knew it wouldn’t be a great spectacle, but that’s the way that they are’.

Now, I’m no football manager, John, and I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but my suggestion would be that if that’s ‘how we are’, then perhaps you should have set your team up adequately to deal with it. Bit less time moaning, bit more time doing your job, eh?

And then there was Bournemouth, fresh off the back of mauling the not-too-dissimilar-to-Stevenage Dagenham & Redbridge 5-0 in the League Cup. I wasn’t confident.

As is usual though, when I’m not confident, Stevenage pull out the stops and to go there and win 3-1 is something that I wouldn’t imagine many teams will do this season.

So three games in and we’re unbeaten. What odds would we have got on that in the close season?

Many Bournemouth fans are complaining to anyone who will listen about how we kicked them off the park with niggly fouls (ironic really, considering they ended up with ten men) but the truth of the matter is, and in fairness there are a number of Bournemouth fans who have noted it, they’re just the latest in a long line of clubs that probably should, but definitely couldn’t, deal with us.

Despite this continual whinging from our non-victorious opponents, and it is, oddly, only the non-victorious opponents, I categorically do not accept the view that we are a bad footballing side.

Yes, we have a big centre back pairing who won’t be bullied, but we have a midfield and attack that are, on the whole, good ball players who can dish out some rough stuff if necessary. And anyway, who doesn’t want a pair of giants at the back aside from Arséne Wenger?

What you have to understand is that Stevenage grew up in a tough neighbourhood. If you couldn’t take a bit of a kicking from the likes of Barrow then you came out on the wrong side of a 1-0 or you’d lose to Welling Utd more times I care to remember. (Coincidentally, I’m writing this the day after Grimsby have just lost 5-0 to Braintree). We learnt the hard way after 15 years in the Conference that pretty football doesn’t win you enough points to achieve anything; you need to be able to play neat passing football when you can and be able to battle when you can’t.

I don’t understand why this is viewed as wrong.

Football is a results business and I challenge anybody to find me a football fan who would be happy to see his team get relegated because he could comfort himself with the fact they tried to play pretty one touch football.

So yes, in answer to the original question, I am more than happy supporting a team who play “rubbish football” because I don’t believe we do. I believe we play the type of football needed at a point in time to get a result, and up to now, it’s not done us much harm.

As it stands, I’d rather be a Stevenage fan celebrating back to back promotions and holding our own in League One than be a fan of a team like Chesterfield who ‘play football in the right way’ (whatever that dull platitude actually means) but can’t dispatch of a “non-league team” in their own back yard.

Written by Mark Hollis, We Are Going Up’s Stevenage FC Blogger

Mark tweets at @hollismark


  • Lopo says:

    The title sounds familiar 😉

  • As a Torquay fan, I’d like to defend Stevenage here too. This might be a bit of a surprise to some given that they denied us promotion last year, but I never felt that we were particularly cheated out of the play-off final. Boro were the better side on the day, played some attractive football and won fair and square.

    The only thing that feels slightly suspect is the time-wasting but at the end of the day, both teams are up against the same clock – if some teams aren’t using the wasted time as “constructively” as Stevenage, then that is their problem. It’s not like they are the only team that has players that feign injury or tries to kill games.

    The reason Stevenage isn’t the most popular club in the Bay is because of the whole affair in 1996 with Boro chairman Victor Green – he offered our chairman Mike Bateson the opportunity to “ensure” (i.e. financially) that Boro wouldn’t sell Barry Hayles, which may have resulted in Stevenage (who were ineligible for promotion) being overtaken by a club that could get promoted into what was then Division Three, and thus relegate us. But obviously that’s not the fans’ fault, and Green’s no longer there anyway, so it’s all in the past…


  • Maxi Hobbs says:

    I shall also jump to the defense of Stevenage. Yes, we’ve all heard the stories about the “30th minute injury” and physical football, but to have been promoted twice on the trot, and start the season in the fashion they have isn’t just down to dirty tactics or bad football, there is most definately good management in there to have had the recent successes that Stevenage have had.

    In both games against Cheltenham last season, yes they were physical, but not beyond the boundaries by any stretch. We dealt with it and won at home but felt the full force at the Lamex (score won’t be repeated by me!).

    All the best and I hope you defy the odds and stay up. We were linked with Westley after Martin Allen left, part of me wishes we got him now

  • Dan D says:

    Damn right, fella… Jose Mourinho, Stoke, Sam Allardyce (I know it might seem a stretch to put them in the same category, but tough… they ARE) all play football to win.
    And it works.
    It’s the opposition’s problem to deal with what you do.
    Good luck for the season ,mate, and I anticiapte seeing you in the comforting warmth of midtable medicority by the end of the season.
    Dan, the Notts County fan.

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