The highs and ( mostly ) lows….

Another season has come and gone in the blink of an eye. They say the years pass quickly as you get older, and that’s certainly true in football circles. To think it was barely a year ago that I stood on the Allotment End and watched my team – North Ferriby United – gain promotion to the National League ( Conference to those of a certain vintage ), the clubs highest placing in its 85 year history. Not bad for a village team on the banks of the River Humber, fighting above their weight in English football’s 5th tier. It was to be a year to “celebrate”,  to “enjoy” the experience ( the mantra coming from the club ). The reality would be rather different –

August – Saturday 6th of August 2016. History is made as The Villagers welcome Braintree Town to the EON Visual Media Stadium. But before I can enjoy it, I’ve other business to see to. At the back-end of the previous season, I’d decided to launch my own fanzine. After years of reading them, and then contributing to others, I decided the time had come to go it alone. With the help of a few others, View from the Allotment End was launched ( @VFTAE on Twitter ). At 28 pages and full colour, it came back from the printers just as I had hoped it would. Months had gone into the preparation, and now I had two hours to sell 130 of them to an audience that weren’t perhaps the fanzine type. Fortunately for me, we sold out – more out of curiosity I would imagine – thanks to around 40 sales via Twitter, and around 90 on the day of the match. With a smile on my face, I joined my mates behind the Home dugout ( our usual haunt ) to enjoy the match. An uneventful game finished 0-0, but we’d take that on the opening day. A crowd of 557 would witness it, the majority happy we’d done well against a team that made the play offs the previous season. The month finished with a Home loss to Barrow, leaving us in 20th position, but in between were notable victories over Guiseley and Torquay. The low point of the opening month was a 6-1 defeat at eventual Champions Lincoln. It was to be a steep learning curve.

September – A month to forget. Only one victory – an unlikely 1-0 success at Gateshead the highlight – and ironically our only goal of the month. This would prove to be our Achilles heel as the year went on. I managed both Home games this month, work dodged and shifts swapped, but two lacklustre performances in defeat against Maidstone United and Southport left me questioning my own wisdom. But this is what being a football fan is all about, right ? It’s not all about winning and promotions – something I had become used to in my 7 years supporting Ferriby – we’d had the good times, now was the time perhaps to batten down the hatches and hope for some kind of footballing miracle, all the while not forgetting we were a small ( part-time ) fish, in a large ( mostly full-time ) pond.

October – The severity of our situation hit home this month. Seven defeats, two goals in total, and out of the F.A. Cup at the hands of Macclesfield. The crowd for the 2-1 Home defeat to Bromley at the end of the month was 200 down on the opening days number. We were down to the 300 hardcore that the club has survived on over the years. Even with the dispute between owner and fans down the road at Hull City hadn’t seen any increase in crowds, seemingly the fans no longer attending the Kcom Stadium for their football fix, weren’t that bothered about venturing 5 miles down the road to Ferriby to watch it either. The highlight of the month was Issue 2 of View from the Allotment End selling out. Two issues in, and I’m not out-of-pocket. Result ! In the middle of October I was on my travels, up to the North East to visit family and take in a game. We picked a belter, as South Shields ( eventual champions ) would comprehensively beat Morpeth Town ( eventual runners-up ). My love of the non-league scene in the North East is well-known, but a picturesque ground and a decent game re-invigorated my love of the game.

November – The month starts with a well deserved point against Wrexham, followed up by our TV debut in the draw at Woking ( a game we deserved to win ). A week later we beat Sutton United at Home. Perhaps, just perhaps, we were starting to get the hang of this division. The naivety of silly mistakes and conceding late goals was slowly being eradicated, with 5 at the back being our chosen formation. The reality is this was a young team – the average age at the back around 22 – and mistakes were punished at this level. Several goals conceded in the last 5 minutes or less would vouch for this. But the players were noticeably improving, centre backs Jake Skelton, Ben Middleton and goalkeeper Rory Watson ( on loan from Hull City ) the pick of the bunch. At the end of the month, a tough loss to Bromley left us rooted to bottom spot. In all fairness, it’s where the majority of the league ( and our own fans ) expected us to be. Personally, November would throw up a new challenge. Made redundant the month before from a job I’d done for 26 years, I picked up a job in a similar role. The downside would be an increase in working weekends, not ideal for someone who basically planned their weekend around football ( not that I’d admit that to the wife ! ). But the sacrifice had to be made, and perhaps I’d start to enjoy the games more if they didn’t come around as often.

December – Never a good month for attending football. I work in an industry that is particularly busy at this time, and the added pressure of family commitments makes bunking off to the football ( pretty much an all day event ! ) difficult. However, the two Home games this month, I made it to. We started by doing the double over Gateshead, decent considering they were widely tipped to feature in the play offs. The month would end on Boxing Day, a local derby with once mighty York City. A capacity crowd shivered to the bone as an early goal gave the visitors the win. Our old problem of scoring goals had returned ( just 14 goals in 28 games ). Feeling pissed off with both life and football – pretty much the same thing – I spat my dummy out and decided not to go to the corresponding fixture a week later at York. Big mistake !

January – Perhaps the highlight of the season, and I wasn’t there to witness it. A 1-0 win at York City, arguably the best performance of the year too. By all accounts we could have had three or four. Bloody typical ! In my defence, I went to the launch of the City of Culture celebrations and gained “browny points” off the wife. I know, it’s no excuse for missing football….The players would follow up this unlikely win with another 3 points at Southport, another unexpected win coming off the back of defeats to Dagenham and Wrexham.

February – Yet another disappointing month. It would echo the form shown from more or less the first game, a few bad results either side of a fantastic, unexpected win. Gateshead, Sutton, Southport, and York all put to the sword in good fashion, but too many 1-0 defeats ( 11 over the course of the season ) would prove to be our nemesis. On the plus side, I got to both Home games that month. Unfortunately for me, it was two defeats ! Can you see a pattern developing here ?

March – Time is fast running out on our stay in the top echelon of non-league football. We’ve battled well all season, well above the levels many expected ( including our previous manager, who tipped us to go down with less than 10 points ! ) but that little percentage that separates decent players from good players, and good players from fantastic players, has been highlighted. We’ve competed on a budget a tenth of that of Eastleigh and Forest Green. We’ve earned respect from many opposing fans and managers, but ultimately we’re judged on league position. Three big defeats at the end of the month to Solihull, Tranmere and Sutton ( conceding 13 goals ) leaves us marooned at the bottom with just half a dozen games to play. The dream is over….

April – I miss the Easter games due to a small break away. Perhaps its needed. Work has been hectic, and it’s been a long season on the terrace. The fanzine has also played a bigger part of my life than I expected, taking up many evenings. It’s all been worth it though *. We end the Home campaign to Aldershot ( a 3-0 defeat, inevitably ) but we’ve made it to Issue 4 of the fanzine. We don’t quite sell out this issue, not surprisingly as we are outnumbered in support by the visitors, a slightly sad end to our campaign both on and off the pitch. ” Enjoy the ride” we were told the previous Summer. Many did, making the most of visiting new places down South to grounds we had never played at before. Some see it as a missed opportunity. A 20 goal striker and we would have survived in this division. Truth be told, we batted well above our average for the most part of the season. If relegation hadn’t happened on the pitch, we would certainly have been demoted off it over ground grading issues. Our ground may be quaint and a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon, but to the F.A commission it’s woefully inadequate. Perhaps we’re better off dropping down to the next division, it’s far more in our budget range and playing capabilities. Who knows, we may start winning games again and giving the small band of supporters something to smile about at 4;45pm on a Saturday.

Whatever happens to this great little club, I’ll be there, work permitting ! It’s been a big part of my life for 7 years, allowing me to enjoy the game I’d fallen out of love with in 2008, and stopped going to altogether for two years. Now back most weekends, it allows me to spend time with my Dad and like-minded people who I now stand with, that have become friends of mine along the way. The club is up for sale – it has been for a few years – so who knows what the future will bring. It’s fair to say we’ve had the good times, and now is the time to dig-in and support the club through tougher times, certainly financially. But like most of our fans, I’ll be there, whatever division. Roll on August, and we can do it all again…..

  • The fanzine raised £350, donated to local junior football sides. We also raised £40 for Prostate Cancer UK ( thanks to the generosity of the readers ) and £80 for a “Breakfast Club” initiative that provided breakfast to under-privileged children.
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