If you were trying to come up with a single fixture, and a single result, which sums up the banality, frustration and overall sense of pointlessness which can be engendered by following a football team, you wouldn’t go too far wrong with “Bristol City lose 2-1 at home to Peterborough”. It works quite well with prefixes like “Endless Saturdays wasted watching...” or “I seem to have spent half of my life watching...”. It seems to capture something of the joylessness, the grind, which blandly fulfilling a season’s fixtures will inevitably evoke from time to time.
It wasn’t quite as bad as that; but in its predictability, its uninspiring regurgitations of set-pieces and moments played out innumerable times before, like some defeated provincial rep company running through their thousandth Lear, it was almost the archetypal Bad Football Match. You know they say that you have to live through the lows to appreciate the highs? This was specifically the low they were thinking of, a lower-table Championship clash with no full-time manager on the touchline (Wigley in caretaker charge, Ferguson suspended for our opponents), a slot at the bottom of the table confirmed for the losers, but somehow no sense of anything at stake beyond those three tiresome points.
One of the best moments in the movie Groundhog Day (which, in a pleasing irony, can be watched repeatedly without suffering, so perfectly constructed is it), comes when disaffected weatherman Phil Connors uses his knowledge of a single repeated day to steal money from a bank truck. Sitting on a park bench, he predicts the bark of a dog, the conversation between two workers and the movements of the bank staff seconds before they happen. He’ll wake up tomorrow without the money, of course; he’s starting from scratch every day. He’s doing it to keep himself interested.
Watching this game was like playing the role of Phil Connors. Every incident was so tediously predictable – and this foreknowledge brought us no comfort at all. Like Cassandra, we were cursed to see the future but not to affect it.
Walking past the burger van outside, Ross and I discuss Marvin Elliott – he’s won his first cap for Jamaica during the international break. Is this going to change him as a player, we wonder? It seems doubtful, and I say that he’ll still be missing headers from a yard out just as he was before.
It’s, what? Twenty minutes into the game. Kilkenny’s found some room on the right and put in a perfect, teasing cross. Elliott’s burst into the box. He’s beaten his man. He’s forced his way to the ball, inside the six-yard box – and he’s sent it flying over the bar and into the Williams Stand beyond.
That Elliott will later find the net with his fourth or so headed chance is immaterial – this game is so rote that it can be described beforehand.
As can the goal that kills it, Peterborough’s second. We’ve spent the game amused at the girth of Lee Tomlin, number 8 for the opponents. We’ve not seen a player that size since Lee Trundle was doing his bit at the Gate; not regularly since we were a League One outfit. So every time the oaf is involved – particularly when he has to break into a run – we chuckle heartily.
You’re way ahead of me here. With our central midfield depleted by a player to introduce a winger for game-chasing purposes, Tomlin receives the ball, finds himself some space, pulls back his leg – and beside me Ross is already there, already the “no...” is leaving his lips – yes. It’s flown past David James and they’ve effectively won the game. The comical fat lad on the other team’s done it again. Just like at Wembley, when it was Windass. Just like every bloody time.
“Bugger” I say, knowing we’ll lose now, and “bugger” is the single word I text to a friend after the match. Back comes the response “*pretends to be surprised*”. Well, quite. Nothing to surprise. Nothing to excite. Nothing I haven’t seen a thousand times before.
We’re on the verge of appointing a new manager, one of those rare-enough-to-be-exciting football moments. It’s the right time. As a football fan you spend a great deal of your life watching the same cards dealt in the same order, great if you happen to support Barcelona, less so if you support the sort of club that’s dealt threes and fours. But most of the time you’re caught up in the game of football, not the meta-narrative of capital-F Football, so you don’t notice. I’m noticing now so I think it’s long overdue a shuffle of the deck.