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How Do They Feel?
From the other camp. By: Mark Stilton 29/04/2010
Grimsby Town A
01/05/2010   (Click date for match details)
League 2009-2010
L  0- 2
Attendance: 7033  (435 Away)
More On Grimsby Town

The Torquay match was an odd affair. We gathered in the Rutland Arms pre-match as normal and the chatter was as it had been for several weeks. We knew it was an important game, we knew to win would put the ball back in our court in the relegation battle. We could catch Torquay and Cheltenham - yes, Torquay and Cheltenham. At this point Barnet were in the back of our minds. It's true that we'd been keeping an eye on their results, we'd noticed the plummet down the table. But this happened last season (and probably the season before). Barnet are one of those sides like Accrington that (generally) seem to start strongly but when injuries and suspensions kick in, their lack of squad depth leads to a drop down to the table which begins steadily, but then turns in to free fall in the latter stages of the season. But Barnet and Accrington are also those sort of teams that pick up an odd scrappy win here and there which sees them safe from relegation with about three games left.

We were late getting in to the ground - we usually leave just enough time to get from the pub to the ground via the chippy and we're usually in our seats ready for kick off. Today there were queues. Cheap tickets had brought back the fans - and the buggers had all decided to turn up at the last minute. As I entered the ground there was a strange atmosphere, like a crowd in mourning almost. Before I even reached my seat my mood had changed from my usual cheerful optimism to one of dread. This wasn't going to be nice.

The game was awful, completely flat. The crowd was largely silent and the players seemed like they'd already given up. Then the news that Barnet had taken the lead came through - well, that's them out of the picture then. Typical Barnet, teasing us, pretending they were going to join in the relegation battle before pulling out with a few weeks to go. Damn them.

The second half was more of the same, for Grimsby fans at least. Torquay won a debatable penalty early on which they scored and that was that. If it was possible for the crowd and players to collapse any more, that is what they duly did. They collectively fell in to a big, gaping hole in the ground.

I slumped out of the ground at the end of the match thinking about away days at non-League grounds I'd never been to before. I've not taken my son to a match yet, but maybe next season? Is it cruel to take a four year-old to an away match at Barrow? Will he get taken in to care? Do I need taking in to care?

I was alone with my thoughts, wandering through the crowds back to the car park. When we win, draw or play well in defeat we tend to walk out together and talk about the match. When we lose, especially when it's this bad, we tend to filter out alone, mumbling at our shoes and feeling angry with the world - not even wanting to look each other in the eye. But after a mardy stomp down the road, we meet up with dark clouds slightly lifted and start the recovery back to optimism ready for the next match.

And so it was that I caught up with friends down Cleethorpes Road - they'd obviously marched more stroppily than me.

"A relegation no-pointer at Darlington next week then", I quipped. "Yeah, I'm not going to bloody Darlington to watch us get relegated, " came the reply, "at least Barnet lost"

Hang on... Barnet lost? Now then, glorious optimism take me now. I was blind and now I see. I can see the light.

And so the familiar pattern re-emerged. Outwardly, to friends and family, I gave the impression that we were practically down, that only a miracle would save us. But in my mind: if Barnet, if Barnet. If. If. If.

The following Saturday I kept tabs on the game via the wonderful but tense and frustrating BBC text service. Home games are away games for me, so I like to spend the odd weekend with the family - although they tend to leave me alone to sulk for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon. I wasn't too nervous - ok, it could all be over here, but I'd already been there after the Torquay match - I was prepared, mentally (I'd even started looking at train times to Barrow). But I had a strange feeling that we'd beat Darlington. We don't usually and I don't usual expect anything from an away match at Darlington except unjust defeat, but I just felt different. I also felt fairly confident that Rotherham would beat Barnet, driven by their late push for automatic promotion. There were moments of tension during both matches, but the impression from the text commentary for both matches was that Darlington and Barnet looked unlikely to score. This was, relatively, comfortable. Optimism was starting to rise to dangerous levels now. If Barnet, if Barnet. If. If. If.

For many seasons now, my mind has become consumed by football in the latter part of the season. It's good supporting a team that always does something, whether that's involvement near the top or the bottom of the table, but it can really take over your mind at this point of the season. To give you an idea of how I've functioned during April and May over the last ten years, consider the following:

2000/1 Relegation battle
2001/2 Relegation battle
2002/3 Relegation
2003/4 Relegation
2004/5 Comfy mid-table
2005/6 Throwing away automatic promotion and not turning up for play-off final
2006/7 Comfy mid-table and early cup exits
2007/8 Mid-table and paint pot cup final (lost)
2008/9 Relegation battle
2009/10 Relegation battle (possible relegation)

You'd think you'd get used to it. You don't. You get a bit numb, a bit thicker skinned. But you never get used to it. I've also been a season ticket holder since 2002/3 - yes, it's all my fault.

Tuesday night I was sat on the sofa, trying to engage in conversation with my partner, trying to watch telly to take my mind off things, but failing. My netbook sat on my lap flashing BBC text commentary at me: Accrington 0 Barnet 0. Defensive throw-in for Barnet. Attacking throw-in for Barnet. Here we go again. And then a substitution: Billy Kee. The name had a familiar ring. I looked him up - young striker on loan from Leicester, had scored a few goals. He's going to score, I know it, or I was convincing myself that he was going to score. And seconds later he did. Billy Kee - like Kirk Hudson whose two goals sent Chester down last season (and helped us stay up) - this man could become a hero for us. Billy Kee - I love thee!

The reports from Grimsby fans who went to the Accrington match claimed that Barnet were poor. Very poor. We just need to play as well as we have done recently (before Torquay) and we'll be fine. WARNING. WARNING. Optimism at critical level. Meltdown and depression imminent.

And so here I sit typing this (it's Thursday afternoon) and I know that Hendon has been sacked - my optimism has dipped, significantly. Teams always win just after they've sacked their manager don't they? Except us, of course. But everyone else, including Barnet. God, I hate this sport.

Whatever the outcome on Saturday and whoever it may be that gets relegated, one thing we know is that it could be a number of years before Barnet and Grimsby play each other again. I like Barnet and I'll miss playing them wherever we may end up.

And so, for now adieu.

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