We football fans are nothing if not a reflection of our society. Like everyone we mirror the current desire for melodrama, for scripted cruelty, for the fast fix – and those cheap site hits.
Football has incorporated it through manufactured ‘mind games’, managerial churn, the zombie-like lust of the transfer window. It can also be found in the adored click of you, the unique user, and in the shorter sentences without which other, lesser readers, would probably have started skimming a long time ago, scanning in horror towards the listicle further down the page.
It also goes some way to explain why this season at Swindon Town has resulted in a mixture of mumbled apathy, howls of self-harming rage, and, if you listen very closely the gentlest whisper of sensible, sober debate.
After all this is a club and a team, that required a messy intervention to stop it marching into glory and simultaneous oblivion. Despite that it has still maintained a credible play-off push although this much leaner team is now suffering with declining attendances, growing ambivalence and slow season ticket renewals
Cries of ‘boring’ and booing have both echoed around the increasingly empty County Ground as many Swindon fans have found other things to do on Saturdays, such as gripe on social media. Too many passes, they bleat. Too little arm waving from manager Mark Cooper, they whine, Then they hashtag it CooperOut, and even more bizarrely SherwoodIn. Inside the ground, their peers jeer a 19-year-old ‘keeper for daring to slice a back-pass on his home debut, or sarcastically applaud a striker who has scored six goals in 14 games.
It is tempting to say Swindon fans have been spoiled by what went before – the millions spent by Betfair’s Andrew Black and the near-millions signed by Paolo Di Canio. But ‘spoiled’ implies that they were innocents before, when we all know Swindon crowds had long been intolerant, particularly of youth-team players who fail to be the new Don Rogers within three touches of their debut. Yet, they did became hooked on the adrenal teat when gambling-pounds created an environment in which a League One club was prepared to promise one individual £15,000 a week (at least according to current chairman Lee Power).
Amid the cries of boo and meh this season, during which the club that has halved its playing budget and gone through two managers and two chairman, there are still many signs of progress, which even for those of a limited attention span might make up for the shortage of drama.
1. Swindon are reclaiming ‘tippy tappy’ football
Toss your accusations of hipsterdom now if you want, but some of the football at the County Ground has been fascinating. Prompted by the need to appeal to Premier League technical directors, Swindon have played a short-passing style. The ball hasn’t always been rotated quickly enough, but when it has the football has been beautiful and effectivve. Results haven’t been bad either – 8th place in League One and a Southern Final in the JPT.
2. Swindon are turning trialists into internationals
Last season Yaser Kasim left Brighton for loan spells with Macclesfield and Luton before being released. This season he has become a full Iraqi international, making a composed debut at the culmination of their qualification for the Asian Cup. Fellow midfielder Massimo Luongo’s path to becoming an Australian international might have been simpler, smoothed by his years at Tottenham, but the chance of a World Cup finals place certainly shows how he has also progressed while at Swindon.
3. Swindon’s reserves are becoming regulars
While much has been made of the informal link with Spurs, the integration of home-grown talent has also grown apace. Youth teamers such as Miles Storey and Louis Thompson have been gradually integrated into the side, while Louis’ (slightly) bigger brother Nathan has taken over the captaincy. Ben Gladwin, signed from Marlow Town mid-season, also offers an intriguing proposition – he’s a powerful dribbler and creative passer but with the bulk of a central defender.
4. Swindon are taking a different approach
Swindon’s informal relationship with Spurs has attracted column inches and criticism from many around the Football League. Some see inequity, some see the slippery slope to feeder status, and some see an experiment they might like to repeat at their club. So far, success has been partial with midfielder Alex Pritchard earning numerous nominations, if not awards, while defender Gareth Hall has received little more than abuse. However, the chairman Lee Power has revealed that two other clubs are interested in letting Swindon “babysit” more of their bright young things next season.
5. Swindon have Nile Ranger
Having been found innocent of all charges earlier in this year Ranger is still a Swindon player, and with an option to extend his contract into the new season there is a good chance that he might remain one. If he does he will keep everyone on their toes, and he might even play some football. The fact that that Swindon actually got 19 league starts out of him – more than any other club in his career- so far is undeniably an achievement.
6. Swindon are growing up
As one local reporter noted in the recent win over Preston, Swindon’s team had less than 876 league appearances to their name – more than half of which came from one player, defender Jay McEverley. And yet Town won the game against a Preston eleven with over 2,538 under their belts, and on 12-match unbeaten run. Yaser Kasim chose to contrast the performance with the one seen at Deepdale, noting how he and the team now had the experience to have mastered the darker arts of ‘game management’.
With a little bit of patience and a bit more of time, Swindon’s project might yet reach a positive end, just as you did. Well done you! Even if you skimmed that boring bit.
Written by Alex Cooke, We Are Going Up’s Swindon Town blogger
Alex tweets at @STFConly