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A song for the Goldstone

Exiles

June 22, 2017 Comments (0) Views: 830 Albion Stories

The Love I Lost…

It never used to be this difficult. You supported the club where you were born, where your dad took you to, where your mates went. Easy. How could anyone possibly compete for your footballing affections? 

But what happens when you move away, or your club moves from the ground responsible for your childhood and adolescent football memories? What happens when your club, on the whim of a basketcase owner decides to change the home colours and badge that have forged its identity for 104 years and ‘rebrand’ (how I hate that word applied to football) in order to explore ‘new, emerging global football markets’?  

And, what happens when an apparent majority of your fellow fans, the ones you thought you knew, the ones who you thought shared a sense of what it meant to support your club, think this is kind of OK, or a fair trade off, for a chance to reach the ‘promised land’ (top-flight football to you and I)? 

Anyone who is afflicted by second-team syndrome has their own backstory – one they quite rightly have to draw upon to explain themselves to bemused friends, family and colleagues. 

If you haven’t guessed it by now this is mine, and how I lost the love for my team – Cardiff City. Sure, you need to suffer the disillusionment with your childhood sweetheart but second-team syndrome requires a temptress, a club to slowly pull at your heart strings and vie for your affections. So who was to be my paramour? The Albion, of course! 

In truth, we’d been ‘just good friends’ for a while. I remember my first trip to the Goldstone with my Dad in 1992 during a visit to my sister at Sussex University. We stood on the south-west terrace to see a 2-0 Albion win against Stockport County and a man-of-the-match performance from Clive ‘Flash’ Walker, a man for whom the description ‘swashbuckling winger’ was surely invented.  

Despite this rather enjoyable introduction, I never really gave the Albion a passing thought until I pitched up at university myself in Birmingham two years later and shared a house with two Albion fans. 

With our respective clubs both scrambling around in football’s gutter a mutual admiration was formed resulting in the odd Cardiff away trip for them, and the taste of an Albion excursion or two for me, but as the 1996/97 season drew to a close, concern for their side was probably more a topic of boozy conversation than Cardiff’s play-off push. So, yes, I was there at Hereford and looking back that is probably where the seed was sown. It would have taken a colder heart than mine not have formed some bond with the club after witnessing first-hand the events at Edgar Street that day.  

In the numerous encounters between our two clubs since, I’d remained steadfast in my support for City over what was rapidly becoming my second team.  

A sell-out top-of-the-table League Two clash at Withdean in February 2001 was an early test, which thanks to my friend’s intimate knowledge of the Withdean woods, I was able to ‘attend’ via a vantage point in the trees above the South Stand, with a Welsh flag to clearly highlight my allegiance.  

But, then came the summer of 2011 and the ‘rebrand’. It was Cardiff’s games against the Albion that season which made me realise things were never going to be quite the same again between me and the club I’d first stood supporting as a six year-old at the beautifully antiquated Ninian Park.  

Despite my anger at our ‘new’ colours and badge I had, as usual, got myself a ticket for the away end when Cardiff came to town for an early-season clash. I’d rather naively thought at least our away following won’t have bought into this crass change of identity. I was mistaken. As I sauntered to the away end, I was met with a wall of red shirted Cardiff fans. My heart sank. It was too much to take and I turned back and got the next train out of Falmer station. I simply couldn’t be among them.   

When the return fixture took place in February with Cardiff leading the Championship and Albion chasing a play-off place, news of 20,000 red scarfs being handed out to Cardiff fans again turned my stomach. It performed a bad summersault when I later heard of how the majority of our fans had not, as I had hoped, politely refused them but instead wore them with no apparent shame. 

A year later the fans finally united and successfully campaigned to return the club’s colours to blue, so things between us are a little better these days. Somehow though, permanent damage had been done to our relationship.  

And, what of the Albion and I? Are we still ‘just good friends’? It is probably a little bit more these days. Moving to Brighton and working for AITC as the club transitioned from Withdean Stadium to its shiny new home – and forging friendships with colleagues who’d battled for the club’s survival – probably didn’t help.  

But, and this is a little tip to anyone else suffering from second-team syndrome, I’ve come to think of a goal celebration as the acid test of whether a second love can ever match the first. 

Will I ever have the same outer body experience celebrating an Albion goal as I did when Nathan Blake scored ‘that’ winner against Manchester City in the FA Cup at Ninian Park, or when Ben Turner scrambled home an unlikely extra-time equaliser against Liverpool in the Carling Cup Final? Hand on heart I have to say ‘no’.   

I headed to Cardiff City Stadium on December 3rd with my Albion supporting mates for my first Bluebirds game since that forgetful balmy Amex evening in 2011. As we planned the weekend, one of them emailed me with the million dollar question: “I’m about to get the tickets for Cardiff mate, which end are you going in?” With a momentary pause for thought, I respond, “I’ll be going in the home end mate, in the home end with my old man.” 

 Joel Essex 

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