Once upon a time it was possible to stroll along to the first game of a new football season in a state of optimistic ignorance, high on the joys of summer and that first pint from the bar. The average supporter really had no idea what the new season was going to bring, or whether the new players were any good or not, and simply hoped things had changed for the better.
The pitch wasn’t just alarmingly green: it was a blank canvas awaiting the first delicate strokes of a masterpiece. Anything seemed possible. Indeed, if you’d sunk more than a pint it was even possible to dream of Boston United winning an FA Cup match.
But more often than not, the masterpiece ended up being a bad crayon drawing stuck to the fridge. The problems started when the game actually kicked off, which is around the time you remembered why you were so happy last season had finished in the first place. And then, after the first plaintive cries of “Rubbish Boston!”, someone would spill their Pot Noodle down the back of your leg and it was business as usual.
Those days are long gone. For many of you, today’s game will be the first time you’ll have seen this 2017/18 version of Boston United, but thanks to the ubiquitous coverage of modern football, social media, and forthright internet punditry, you’ve probably already formed an opinion as to how good the new United side is without seeing the players so much as warm up.
The faces may be unfamiliar, but their backstories are no longer any great mystery. The career histories of new signings are pored over. Stats databases are number crunched, second-opinions sought from rival fans. There are YouTube clips – some good, some bad, some hilarious. It’s a world away from the days when a new signing would be announced with a couple of paragraphs in the Boston Standard and you felt chills up your spine because they were “ex-Rotherham”.
This year, Pilgrims supporters arriving at the Jakemans Stadium for today’s opener against Alfreton do so with a renewed sense of hope. As promised, Boston did their summer business relatively early and with the minimum of fuss, recruiting what is basically an entirely new team while everyone was distracted by disposable BBQs and sunburn. These new players have been scrutinised and ranked and studied and probed. Pre-season games have been live-tweeted, videoed, photographed and picked apart. Out of all this, a general consensus has emerged that this new side is actually going to be quite good. And, following on from a successful pre-season, there is something of a buzz around the old place once again.
For that, thank Adam Murray. If he wanted to put his stamp on the club, he’s certainly succeeded. Short of him erecting a giant mural of himself on the Town End and toppling David Newton in a coup d’état, it’s hard to see what more he could have done to firmly establish that this is now HIS Boston United.
Murray runs a tight ship and has an uncompromising, but impressive, vision for the kind of club he wants. It’s a vision that has seen Boston try to operate as much like a full-time outfit as possible. It’s a vision that has seen players reporting to a relocated training ground before donning GPS tracking vests as the Pilgrims go all Sabermetric on us. The manager even took his new team camping in the remote English countryside, a trip that was either intended as an enjoyable bonding exercise or simply to prepare the squad for a midweek trip to Gainsborough.
It’s been an impressive and transformative summer, but will it be enough? Fylde may have gone, but Boston still find themselves in a league of formidable strength. And while the management team are clearly doing their best to compete in this climate, even Murray concedes a title challenge may be too much to ask for. Still, the early signs are good, the new players highly regarded, and with the playoffs now expanded, expectations are at their highest for some time.
Above all, after the depressing defeat at Curzon, you just get the sense that Boston are back in business. There will be hiccups and bumps, but hopefully more good than bad along the way. We may even win a cup game. Anything is possible. And just LOOK at that pitch. Welcome back – I have a feeling this could be a good ‘un.
Terrace Chatter was originally published in The Pilgrim matchday magazine