One of the many wonderful things about sport is the collective sense of hope that occurs seconds before the first ball is kicked, thrown or batted away at the start of a season.
Thus, at a couple of minutes before 3pm on a Saturday afternoon in August, football supporters who follow teams from Clevedon United to Manchester United all secretly thought “this is going to be our season”. Within maybe a few minutes some may have doubted that thought, but for that glorious moment before it all kicks off, everybody can see only glory.
That is how Bath City’s loyal supporters may well have felt as their team lined up on August 13 at Mansfield Town where they went on to pick up a creditable draw to start the season in style. The team had gone into the campaign on the back of a superb top ten finish in their first foray into the Blue Square Premier League and with a new, enthusiastic chair(wo)man on board, hopes were high on and off the field for a season to remember.
Well, it has certainly been that – but sadly for all the wrong reasons.
For last Tuesday night, City became the first club in the top five divisions of the English game to be relegated. Cast adrift at the bottom of the table they didn’t even have the opportunity to influence their own fate as it was decided by a result elsewhere which left the club down and indeed out of a league they seemed so at ease in 12 months ago.
It is hard to take much comfort from the season that has passed and to those loyal Bath City fans – and we should never under-estimate how loyal so many of them are even when the club has performed so consistently poorly on the pitch – this will be a very tough period indeed. To be looking down the barrel of relegation before you’ve even had the chance to open an Easter egg just doesn’t seem right.
But, in this gloomiest of weeks for local football fans, I want to try and stay positive. The second season after promotion is always notoriously difficult – it is sport’s equivalent of the second album syndrome – and City week in, week out were competing against teams with bigger squads, bigger budgets and bigger crowds. The fact that they did so spectacularly well last year seems even more remarkable now and I hope the club and their fans will remember that. And, once they have licked their open wounds in the coming weeks, I hope they will start to think afresh about next year when they will be in a league where they will go from being the underdogs to being among the top dogs again and the winning habit will return.
I watched City myself last Friday night as I returned to my hometown Tamworth to watch the fixture between my two favourite non-league teams and it was great to see City perform so doggedly there and claim an unexpected victory. I hope for the rest of the season they will exhibit a pride and even maybe a sense of freedom now their inevitable (?) fate has been sealed.
Bath City are a great club and an important part of the local community. I sincerely hope that they will regroup in the summer and come back stronger, fitter and more determined when the 2012/13 campaign begins. Oh, and there is one thing we can all do to help as well. If more of us watch this team more often then it will have more resources to be able to ensure that horrendous seasons such as the one they are currently living in are very much the exception not the norm.
Bath needs a strong football club – but it also needs us as a city to invest in that to make it happen.