Monday, May 17, 2004

Sounds of a soccer play-off, in Staffordshire

Aldershot Town v Shrewsbury Town
Nationwide Conference Play-Off Final
Britannia Stadium, Stoke, 16 May

Shrewsbury won 3-0 on penalties

The perpetual wheeze, belch and blast of a thousand rave horns told us that the game would have a ‘carnival atmosphere’, bolstered by it being beautiful day in the Potteries.

A town of military nostalgia and disproportionate pride given its parlous state, Aldershot had two drummers to give songs that extra momentum. One is the standard snare drum roll fare, the other the even more basic bass drum thud. Basic, but very emphatic with the right tune and the occasional break. Wrong (to these ears): endless ‘Great Escape’ renditions/other triumphalisms. At times, you could be in Ulster. Right: a wordless celebratory rumble that I’m sure is the riff from Incredible Bongo Band’s Apache. However, I am unwilling to give credit for such an approved cultural reference (this song is rosetta stone for hip-hoppers). Given an old Shots’ favourite mimics the tune to Rainbow, I await confirmation of its source.

Ever-inventive the 6,500 ’Shots then attacked the Shrews with satire, citing their rural base as feedstock for inbred chants. “Your mother is your sister, your brother is your father – the Shrewsbury family”. A lovely whoop along to the Addams Family refrain. Shrewsbury, a big market town about 50 miles away from Stoke, brought over 13,000 fans but contrasted by singing very little. Sometimes this can be seen as the sign of a confident fanbase, content to rely on their team to produce and celebrate at an appropriate time. Not here, the majority of the blue and yellow fell firmly into the “here for the day out” category. This is always slightly biased, as obviously the noise reverberates the most the nearer it is to you.

Continued exhortation and commendable enthusiasm from the Aldershotites were to no avail. Extra-time. Penalties. Shrewsbury miss their first: mighty howls of schadenfreude and derision from the north Hampshire masses. This is a lovely characteristic of tribal fare such as football – disproportionate joy in other’s failings. But Aldershot miss all theirs to lose. Their noise rebounds two-fold. Relieved if not ecstatic, the Shrews are a league club again after a year out. Gutted, the Shots can wait to regain their status as it’s been 12 years already.

We did not fancy sticking round for the bland pleasantries of the presentation, overamplified by corporate representatives of the sponsors. As we trudged out and round the policed roundabouts and bland consumption taverns the last sound was of comparative silence. Yet no poetic allusion can be made to Simon & Garfunkel or even to the four minutes and thirty three seconds of Cage. This was the furtive mobbing up of the scum – including loads of Stoke who weren’t at the game – via hushed code into mobile or similar directive from the luminous-jacketed law. A Hampshire bobby implores Darren to get back on the bus; so desperate for a ruck he says “But I’ve got a hotel”. All in all sufficient reminders of the delights of watching (lower-division) football, and to quicken up our strides towards the car.
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