‘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