Wednesday, 22 February 2012

18 February 2012: Peterborough United 3 Bristol City 0

On the back of what felt like the worst performance of the McInnes era (20 decent minutes out of 90 makes a 3-0 reverse feel about right), I was reflecting on what made it anything other than a painful, awful day; why it wasn’t a weekend I look back on with the venom it probably deserves.  Had it been a home match I’d have been deeply depressed  come the evening, and while it’s true I did later opine that “I can’t wait for this bloody season to be over, one way or another” I’m not sad I went to the game.  It’s something about away games, isn’t it?  They’re great, aren’t they; great like home games aren’t.  So at the risk of being the only person being positive about something involving City, let me present:

Ten Reasons Why Away Games Are Great (Whatever The Result)

1. Atmosphere
Fairly straightforward, this one.  Just for once, it was nice to be part of the 250 under a low metal roof making the most of the acoustics to generate a fantastic noise; as opposed to being one of 12,000 listening to that happen.  Away fans always sound better, which is why “shall we sing a song for you” is so popular (and why “you’re supposed to be at home” feels a mite unfair, not that chants are really about fairness).  OK, we went pretty quiet at 2-0 down, but that’s preferable to the bile that would have rolled from the stands had the same happened at Ashton Gate.

2. Socialising
This isn’t as true for me as for some; every game at Ashton Gate is an away coming from London, so I get this advantage either way.  But generally, away games are an opportunity to spend more time than usual with people, not just meet at the turnstile and part at the same spot.  It’s an excuse for a few hours in the company of friends, one which comes complete with a ready-made conversation piece.  I see different people away, too; while I do quite often go with Ross, I’ve taken a number of different friends to City games this season.  The football’s been mixed but I’ve enjoyed the company every time.

3. Discovery
There is quite simply no way on Earth I’d ever have been to Peterborough if it hadn’t been for this match.  But do you know what?  It’s got a lovely cathedral, a very odd Sam Smiths pub with a resident Leeds-supporting oddball, a river (the Nene, fact fans, as in Rushden’s Nene Park I assume) and a couple of barges serving booze which’d be lovely before an August or May game. That’s a little bit of knowledge I wouldn’t otherwise have, and I can say the same with regard to places like Crawley, Watford and Southampton too.  Not a who’s who (or where’s where?) of tourist destinations perhaps, but I enjoy these peeps into sleepy provincial Saturday afternoons very much.  One day I might even decide on the best way to get to Watford from central London.

4. A different view
As a season ticket holder, I get the same view of City game after game at Ashton Gate.  We tried changing seats for an FA Cup tie last year and got done 3-0 by lower league opposition; won’t be doing that again.  Away, you’re generally at one end and either quite high or quite low.  Either way you get not only the novelty  of a new angle on the game, but a genuine addition to your tactical appreciation, being able to see either the tactics laid out before you or a defenders-eye view of your side’s attacks.  I do feel like a better informed fan for seeing our away football.

5. The warm-up
At home, I tend to arrive a few minutes before kick-off.  Away, travelling to an unfamiliar destination, I allow plenty of time and inevitably find myself watching the strikers test their (usually pitiful) striking prowess, while David James does his visualisation exercises and the rest of the squad do strange tappy-tap warmups amongst cones.  I’m sure this does wonders for their hamstrings.  It’s sports science, sure, but it’s also ritual, a mystical pre-match procedure equivalent to the haka or the sacrifice of a goat.  There’s something of the open day about being allowed to witness it and I like it a lot.

7. Kudos
All of this greater knowledge and greater access than the home-only fan should mean your opinions get more weight in an argument, and they do up to a point but not for the logical reasons one would suppose.  When you hear about some chap who’s done 7,000 miles in a season to support his beloved Torquay United, you don’t assume he knows a lot about them because he’s seen them play so much (although he clearly has), you respect what he has to say simply because he’s done the distance, because he’s invested the time.  As if the act itself imbues him with esoteric Torquay-knowledge you couldn’t get simply from 23 games at Plainmoor.  I’m nowhere near being a member of that group, I never make it north of Ipswich, but going to unusual away games does make me feel more like the tribal elder we all secretly want to be.

8. Actual, proper support
But this sort of masculine who’s-got-the-biggest measurement is a slightly shameful reason for going to away matches.  The best reason surely is to be there; to be offering genuine support, particularly when the team needs it as much as City do at the moment.  Peterborough is a long, long way from home, and it must feel like it when you concede within eight minutes to a man who, as I’ve noted before, bears a passing resemblance to Nick Frost.  There’s a lot more going on between players and fans at away matches.  I’m not stupid, I know that’s partly because we’re all in one place and thus easier to salute en masse – but I do think away supporters have a really significant role lifting their side.  I’d connect our strong start to the second half with the seven or eight solid minutes of Red Army at the end of the first.

9. A bit of purpose
It’s a something more valuable to do with your Saturday than clean the house or get drunk over lunch at a pub and then become unable to do everything you were planning with your evening.  It’s up there with a trip to Whipsnade or a healthy walk up Box Hill – it’s spiritually nourishing, it’s entertaining (up to a point) and you feel like God when you win.   It’s a hobby.  It’s what you do.  But it’s a hobby with a wonderful kick to it at its best.  And like all hobbies with a big endorphin-fuelled ending it’s dangerously addictive.

10. An opportunity to eat badly
Which can’t be underestimated when you reach the waistline-watching age I've reached.  It was spinach pancakes last night.  It certainly won’t be on the way to Ipswich a week on Saturday.

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