There’s something magical about flying to another city for the sole purpose of watching your favourite football team play. The sense of superiority and satisfaction that goes hand in hand with the distinct possibility you might be the most dedicated [demented] fan on the planet is one aspect. But I also love the way it allows me to imagine what it might be like to live in Italy and follow my beloved Roma around Europe. While the plane is above the clouds you could be enroute to anywhere – Amsterdam, London, Istanbul, Budapest or wherever else a full stadium awaits, ready to erupt into song as you cross the river (there’s always a river) and approach its hallowed gates.
Flights give you compulsory internet-free time and space to dream. I like to put my headphones on, flip through my iPod until I find a great album I haven’t listened to in a while, close my eyes and mentally wander off to another place. Today that album was Neil Young’s ‘On the Beach’. There’s a song on it called ‘For the Turnstiles’ that meant a lot to me a few years ago – particularly in the months following a 2015 road trip to a WaiBOP United men’s national league game in Cambridge.
“You can really learn a lot that way
It will change you in the middle of the day.
Though your confidence may be shattered,
It doesn’t matter.”
WaiBOP scored in the 90th minute to earn a 4-3 victory that day. It was only the second time I had ever seen them win. It’s a special memory.
Neil Young has been an important spirit guide for me this year. There are so many aspects of his story that inspire me. The particular chapter that came to mind as I listened to On the Beach, and contemplated the game I was flying to, is the way Young responded to a super dark period in his life shortly after he’d hit the bigtime with Harvest – his enormously popular 1972 easy-going folk album. Instead of doing what most artists do – cash in by making as much similar sounding music as he could before the bubble inevitably burst – he did something very different.
As he famously quipped five years later – “Harvest put me in the middle of the road so I headed for the ditch.”
The result was what fans lovingly refer to as ‘The Ditch Trilogy’ – Time Fades Away, On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night. All three albums were heavily influenced by the grief inflicted on Young by the sudden loss of two very close friends, original Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, who’d both passed away courtesy of heroin overdoses.
Seen as far too morose and melancholic, the ditch albums were all wildly unpopular with critics and the public at large when they were released, and making albums such as these eventually led to a long running and bitter legal battle with Geffen Records – they just wanted Young to “make rock and roll albums.” But long after we are all gone, history will acknowledge that what he did in the ditch was vastly superior to anything he’s ever done in the middle of the road.
What am I prattling on about here? Ok, fine, I’ll come to my point. Here it is: Successful doesn’t = good. At all. Oh, and in the finest traditions of Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition, it turns out I actually have two points. Here’s the other one: The ditch can be a place where a lot of the best stuff happens.
I’ve seen football teams purposely head for the ditch. In 2016 Birkenhead United won the Chatham Cup for the first time in their history. After the 2017 season they decided to let the overwhelming majority of their star players find other clubs because they wanted to start again with promising youngsters. In 2018 they won the Chatham Cup for the second time in their history.
And while certainly not on purpose, WaiBOP and Central’s combined 2019 National Women’s League record as at 3pm today was four games played, four defeats, with fourteen goals conceded and none scored. But was that a complete picture of their dual seasons thus far? Hell no. Both improved enormously between their first and second games while their high flying opponents appeared to have regressed somewhat.
Today’s game was an exciting watch that could have gone either way. Both sides scored their first goals of the campaign and both emerged from their afternoon’s work with a mixture of things to be proud of and things to work on. For WaiBOP there was the added reward of three precious competition points but also, possibly even better than the win, there was the satisfaction of holding their nerve under pressure for large chunks of the game – a marvellous phenomenon that I never got to write about last year.
The moral of the story is this: Defeats teach you more than victories, and losing 6-0 teaches you a LOT more than winning 6-0 – both about football and about yourself.
Nobody wants to struggle. Most of us would much rather be winning the race than in the ditch. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get what you can out of the ditch while you’re there and be better for it in ways you never would have been if you hadn’t strayed from the middle of the road.
Central 2, WaiBOP 5
[My other images of this game are available to view and purchase here]