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If you have never coached or managed a football team you will believe, like I did, that the fans feel the highs of victory and lows of defeat more than anyone else. You will believe that the players and staff just don’t care as much as you do.
I have always felt this way about my beloved Watford. I have always thought, ‘if only the manager and players cared as much as I do and had the same passion for the club as I do, then we would be alright. It just doesn’t matter to them enough.’
Well I can’t speak for managers and coaches at the upper levels of the game as I have never been involved in any football other than at grassroots level, but if they feel emotions in anything like the way I do as a coach then they definitely care. Make no mistake about that.
I am currently coaching Wilton Town FC. We are a local league side playing at the seventh tier of the non-league pyramid in England. Not a great standard but not bad. We are a new club this season and we have played just three league games so far.
I have been a Watford supporter for forty years and I have been involved with Wilton Town for three months. My son asked me on Saturday morning if I would be happier if Watford or Wilton won their game that afternoon. I didn’t have to think about it for a second. The answer was obvious to me straight away and it surprised me greatly when I heard myself answering the question by saying, Wilton Town.
It is absolutely true that for me, at least, being a part of something makes me feel more passionate than just being a fan. I’m a pretty passionate fan so that is saying something!
So, Saturday afternoon came around and I traveled with the Wilton team to a place called Castle Combe to take on their reserve side. We had lost our first league game 5-0 but got an excellent 3-1 win away from home last week. Confidence in the team was high and I could sense victory in the air.
Ninety minutes later I was unable to even say a word to our players as they trooped off the pitch having lost 1-0. I didn’t go into the dressing room after the game for fear of saying something I would regret. The manager went in, but he said little and left the players to have their own inquest into what went so horribly wrong on the pitch.
The journey back from Castle Combe took just over an hour and I hadn’t managed to say more than one or two words by the time we got back. I was devastated, distraught, frustrated, angry and hurt. I found out that Watford had won their game 2-1 against Ipswich. A good win. I hardly raised a smile.
I know experiments have been carried out on Premier League managers and that they have shown that heart rates and blood pressure reach dangerously high levels during a match. I can well understand that when, as a mild mannered man, I can become apoplectic with rage when a throw-in is given against us in Wiltshire League division two! If there were millions of pounds at stake, my own livelihood and forty odd thousand people watching, I’m not sure my tired old ticker could cope at all.
The problem is that not only am I watching the game hoping that the players do what they have been told and coached to do, not only am I watching the game hoping that we win, I am also kicking and heading every ball, making every tackle and hitting every shot. I expect my players to have the ability of the top professionals and get so frustrated when they haven’t. If I actually could still play I wouldn’t be any better than the players we’ve got so I don’t know why I bother kidding myself that I would be!
The end result of all this is that my favourite team won their game on Saturday. I’ve spent the rest of the weekend with my lovely family and I’ve watched some great football. I’ve had a glass or two of a particularly nice red wine and I’ve had some truly excellent food. Despite all that, because the Wilton Town forwards couldn’t convert any of the numerous bloody chances we created on Saturday afternoon, I’ve had a rotten weekend.
I didn’t think the game could matter to me any more than it already unhealthily did, but I’m afraid my world has descended even further into clinical footballholism.
I now have even more reason to lie awake at night and try to tackle those difficult life questions like, should we play a flat back four or go to a three with two marking and a sweeper? Should we continue to try to play football or should we go a little more direct? Forget the meaning of life, these things are really important.
All I know is that the next time I accuse a manager or player of not caring enough, I will stop to reconsider my views. They are putting their whole lives into what they are doing. At Wilton we are just doing it for fun. Fun?… hah!