And so, the thin black line stretched across the page tells us that we’re down. The number at the end of the row, 51, is the same as the place above, but it was the goals, those two goals, that finally relegated us. That easy finish for Jamie White, that ball swept home by Michael Rankie for Hereford. The result? We’re underneath the thin line, instead of being underlined by it.
It hurt. Well, it certainly did on Saturday when a stunned silence fell across the stadium as Cleggy announced we were down. Five minutes earlier we were staying up, as things stood, and then we were down. Fans were mostly subdued. Upset but understanding – we weren’t good enough, but still, we were so close…
Someone near me started ranting. Angry at how things had turned out. He blamed Neil Young, called him a “scouse bastard”. I disagreed but didn’t dare tell him so. I did want to tell him that though the team was crap, at least we’re financially stable and run by those who love the club, but, well, we all deal with being upset in different ways and I’ve found it’s best to leave people to it. I hope he doesn’t really believe that Neil Young’s a bastard though, that it was just the frayed nerves and raw grief talking.
My brother turned to me: “What do you want to do?” People were wandering onto the pitch, hugging the players, applauding their effort, milling about: “Dunno. Nothing really.”
Eventually we zombied our way to the bar. I’ve never seen so many people walking so slowly. There was the usual huge queue of cars going up Bumpers Lane, but even that seemed more relaxed than normal. No-one rushed, everyone was too dazed, the disappointment filling limbs and heads with lead. We chatted to a few fans (who could all could accurately analyse the team’s failings; after all, after 46 league games it’s obvious what’s going wrong), but it was just passing time. No-one was really in the mood, everyone seemed to just want a dark corner to curl up in for a bit on this mockingly sunny day.
I phoned a mate, I fancied a binge. I needed bitter ale to compliment my bitterness at relegation. I kept the phone-call brief though, talking would have to wait. “Hey, Neil!” someone called. “Sorry I’m the other one, I’m Richard”, I automatically answered to someone I assumed Neil knew from being a journalist. It was someone Neil knew from journalism, but it was someone that I’d wanted to meet for a while because I liked his twitter account (@shitchester), but not then, not that day. We chatted for a while but my brain was working slowly and I couldn’t work out who he might be so I just came out with it: “I’m sorry, who are you?” His friend laughed knowingly, he hesitated, told me his name and I was none the wiser. Like I said, a slow brain that day.
Neil went round the bar selling fanzines, then I went upstairs to the Legends Lounge after he’d got back (we think it’s a good idea to split the workload). Normally I like popping in, seeing a few mates, but I just wanted to go home after what had happened, after that horrible five minute turn around. But I went up, sold a few, chatted to a surprisingly chipper bloke from Westgrove (“we love this club, we’ll continue sponsoring it”), council leader Mike Jones (who also thought I was Neil – the joys of being an identical twin eh?) and a very, very downbeat George Horan and, oddly, started to feel better.
Footballers are often ridiculed for saying the obvious thing in the post-match interview (this being the best example) and as I chatted to George the conversation had a whiff of that about it. We weren’t good enough, should have done better and so on. But, firstly the obvious is sometimes just simply true and secondly… he was being so earnest, he was so clearly upset – this a man for whom the terms ‘chisel-jawed’ and ‘built like a brick shithouse’ were surely invented – that I had to say something, anything to cheer him up. So, I mentioned Hereford’s perilous financial position, the fact that they might be kicked out of the league still. George, quite correctly, stated that we shouldn’t be relying on that, but it was too late, my mind was racing. I was thinking about how much money they needed to get and how likely it was. How the Conference were notoriously stringent with their rules (quite correctly too).
Then I began to think of the opposite. What if they did get the money? Is the Conference North that bad? I enjoyed it last season, and we’d surely have a good chance of winning it again. We could play some of our youth players and get to play the likes of Stockport, Altrincham, Colwyn Bay and get back in time for dinner. In short, I woke up from my deadened state and became a football fan again. And there’s no-one more pragmatic than a football fan. No-one more optimistic than a football fan in between seasons, either.
So, see you all next season. I can’t fucking wait.