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Friday, 19 August 2011

Reflections On The First Day Of The Season: Part Two

'If only I'd won those first eight games'

Disclaimer: This isn't really about the first day of the season. Rob went off-message. That's just how we roll.

It’s always nice to see football back. It’s always nice to feel the flush of expectation on the first day, whether it’s over the fact that York might get promoted, Macc might finish somewhere that doesn’t end in ‘teenth’ or relegation and life will stop shitting on us long enough to let one, just ONE, of the £680 accumulators we routinely put on actually come in.

When you’re putting on an accy though, it helps to have some kind of form to go on. And that information isn’t really available at the moment. These opening weeks are viewed at something of a default setting. After all, football in the sunshine doesn’t really count, does it? If you don’t actually need a Bovril to thaw your organs – for it is more akin to anti-freeze than drink – it’s more of a pre-season friendly, isn’t it?

Even those great bastions of sporting expertise at Sky and the BBC smugly say that ‘there’s not much point looking at the table’ at the moment, even if they do carry on showing both the top and bottom of the league in question and encouraging fans up and down the country to look at the table. ‘For what it’s worth’, they smirk. It’s fine, because it doesn’t mean anything. The points don’t matter; no one ever got relegated in August, right?

Well no. But teams have been proper fucked in August. And that lackadaisical attitude soon fades when you’re bottom of the table after three matches having shipped seven and scored one. That away defeat doesn’t matter? Try telling that to the team who will now go without a win on the road until Christmas. The psychological implications of a poor start, or indeed a great start, are vast.

A case in point in the Premier League is Everton. More pertinent and pressing parallels can be drawn between Macclesfield Town, in their annual appearance on Magic Spongers, and Coventry City, in theirs. After two games, Macc had lost twice, conceding three. Coventry had lost twice, conceding two. On Tuesday, Macc won 4-0 at Hereford, Rob nearly had a heart attack and Macc were 15th. Also on Tuesday, Coventry lost 2-1 at Crystal Palace, and were suddenly second bottom of the Championship with no points and one goal.

It didn’t help that losing to two injury-time goals created the cruellest of circumstances, but it also didn’t help that this was now three defeats on the bounce. At Macc, the overwhelming sense was that the rot had been stopped. At Coventry, by contrast, the malaise was setting in. A similar unease must have pervaded at the Silkmen’s victims, Hereford United.

Paul Ince’s debut season in management is a lesson in runs, both good and bad, and also involves Macc, so is a shoo-in for use. Under Brian Horton and then Ian Brightwell, they won NO games from August to November. The club somehow won twice in the FA Cup before winning its first league game on DECEMBER 5th. After that they were unbeaten in seven, winning six league games and drawing one. That run kept Macc up after another run had threatened to completely shaft them. Another pretty dire succession of results towards the end of the season meant survival was still only confirmed on the last day. And it was a miracle they came out of it at all – just look at Lincoln City in League Two last season.

It doesn’t matter who you are, but the importance of putting together a decent run at some stage of the season is paramount. That’s not to say, for example, that Southampton will win the Championship. ‘Early days, innit’, everyone is entitled to say. And it is. But this time of year continues to be a great leveller for excuses. In reality, the situation becomes more desperate with each passing week.

‘Sure, we might not look like scoring a goal if we LITERALLY played from now until May, but it’s only August, so what does it matter? Plenty of time to turn it round’ Well, your team could have nine points, but it’s got none. One vowel might not be a cause for concern for you, but it will be at your club. You’ve essentially gone to the shops looking forward to getting a big bag of apples, but you’ve come home with a punnet of onions. And your attitude is what? Next time, you’ll definitely get some apples? You’ve not been to the shops all summer, but you’ll definitely be able to pick up some apples when you get into the swing of SHOPPING AGAIN? THE APPLES WILL COME? WAKE UP.

Form at this stage of the season is important. Don’t you think every other fucker who’s been lumbered with onions will be going to the shop too, just as desperate for apples? And when they see you coming, the bloke who notoriously cannot buy an apple, they’ll firstly be snapping up all the apples available and secondly will not be afraid to take apples off you in the 94th minute while making consoling noises about your ‘character’ and how if you keep working hard in the fruit and veg aisle, the rewards will come. Well they’re not your fucking psychologists. They’re the bastards who’ll be eating apple pie for tea.

Form might be temporary, but it’s vital to make the most of it. August can wreck your season as much as April.

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