For those who try and ignore pre-season’s procession of A.Triallists and defeats in ex-mining villages, the new domestic season arrives as it always does.
Like the sudden appearance of those Back To School posters that so brutally punctured the mood of long summer holidays, it’s an unwelcome and untimely reminder of an approaching autumn, and that the pointless wait for good weather – and the chance to set fire to thirty quid’s worth of meat on a picnic BBQ – has been rendered obsolete by the return of more familiar disappointments.
It’s a weird kind of football, this summer lark. It’s football to the soundtrack of an ebullient Blowers barking ‘my dear old thing!’ at seagulls as cricket fans bask in sun and glory at Trent Bridge. It’s football that smells of cut grass and warm dust, rather than mud and toilets.
It’s sunglasses and t-shirts, rather than eight pairs of socks versus a biting Cumbrian wind. Football this early doesn’t feel quite real, like it doesn’t really matter.
Perhaps that’s because the season always seems to surprise managers, too. From un-inked blockbuster deals in the Premier League to the frenzied merry-go-round of the loan market lower down the leagues, it’s as if August arrives without anyone having the good grace to warn them. Certainly, it feels like the season has caught Boston out.
Two defeats out of two – the former a close run 2-1 defeat at Stockport, the latter a home tanking from a hugely impressive Solihull – and the hangover from that play-off against Chorley appears to have left the Pilgrims groggily reaching for last night’s leftover lamb shish.
Unlike Stockport – who basically went shopping for a whole new team – and Solihull – who flogged their best player and strengthened – it has been a quiet sort of summer at Boston United.
Almost too quiet for some. After Dennis Greene opted to forgo an expensive refit in favour of a spot of tweaking and tuning, Pilgrims fans arrived in Stockport muttering about square pegs in round holes, goalkeepers, left-backs and squad depth. And that was before Zak Mills pulled out injured. Here was a team that felt incomplete, not quite ready for it.
If only, you felt, the season started a week later.
But despite it all, nobody seemed too concerned. Instead, fans shared a pre-match pint, preoccupied with discussing the Ashes or their holidays. Or, in my case, reliving the uniquely British highlight of a music festival the weekend before: the sight of SuperTed simulating an indecent act with a Ghostbuster while being egged on by Bananaman. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.
Two hours later, a snarling Dennis Greene was racing onto the pitch to remonstrate with the referee as Pilgrims fans packed up their flags and inflatables and filed out beneath a scoreboard nobody wanted to stop to take photos of. Instead, it was an awkward shuffle back to the pub, where Stockport fans drank in the sun, looking forward to their big derby at FC United, and Boston fans shrugged off defeat with that kind of ‘all to play for’ attitude that drains the pressure from these early season games.
Perhaps it’s a good thing.
Boston’s opening fixtures were always going to be tough, and Dennis Greene has an enviable track record of successful in-season wheeling and dealing that, more often than not, yields exactly the results he wants. Zapped of the bile and anger that these two defeats would have been met with in January, Boston United have breathing room for a bit of old-fashioned introspection to put their problems right.
Not that they’re crippled by issues, of course. A little more tuning and tweaking and we already know that this is a side that will be able to go toe-to-toe with the best in the league. Perhaps not right now, but we can start moaning about football properly in September.
And anyway, there’s always somebody worse off.
Inside Stockport’s Armoury pub, a young lad sat waiting for a train that would take him to Nottingham for a test match that had long since finished. “I had tickets for day four,” he explained, the delight of winning an Ashes series tempered by the fact he wouldn’t get to sit in the sun for eight hours dressed as Chewbacca on Sunday.
Boston fans appalled at the young man’s sorrowful plight sucked their cheeks in and offered words of consolation, their own troubles forgotten, because everyone’s still in summer mode and missing out on the opportunity to dress as Chewbacca at the cricket is exactly the kind of serious calamity that really matters at this time of year. Never mind Boston losing: that’s sporting tragedy right there.
Then again, he might have dodged a bullet. He might have bumped into SuperTed.