I manage to make myself think with the last bit about pressure (or to put it another way there was more to add but I didn’t get around to it). Is there no end to the pleasure you can generate for yourself on a dark night when you just close the curtains and shut out the world (in addition to the bottle and Cohen warbling in the background)? Well, the two activities are obviously linked (and conclusions only put an end to the enjoyment, like a Ronnie Corbett monologue).
Our recent record in high-pressure matches is even worse than I indicated (and this is not harking back to some 'good old days', it's trying to highlight what usually lworks). Remember Operation Riverside and Operation Ewood Park? Contrast with the play-off games against Ipswich (and just before that the away game against Birmingham, which showed intimidation as an art form). Different class of opposition of course, but we thought we were better too. After getting back into the Premiership Curbishley was a past master at keeping us away from any relegation struggle. It meant busting a gut to get to safety and then inevitably tailing off as squeezing out the extra does take its toll (of course there were other reasons). We were punching above our weight – and loving it (before over-expectation and boredom/dissatisfaction crept in for some).
Everyone was well aware of the consequences of one bad season – and as long as we were in the top flight we could realistically continue to expand The Valley and develop the fan base needed to survive there. And it’s that that goes to the heart of the matter (in my view). Maybe just like Lawrence before (going to the well too many times), the pressure of over-achieving finally told on Curbishley (and the club), especially as expectations were running ahead of what was possible – and were overshadowing the massive achievement that was keeping us in the Premiership each season.
On the way to a recent game (I think it was away at Scunthorpe; well, it was a long way and we had to exhaust every topic of conversation) we were discussing size (cheap joke I know, calm down, we sticking to football). One of our number commented that we were comfortable in the Premiership for a few seasons and I disagreed. To my mind we were never comfortable there, because we knew that one bad season could easily send us back to never return (or at least not for a long time).
Of course a ground capacity of around 35,000 does not guarantee you a place in the Premiership. Nothing does. But it’s fair to say you have a much better chance of staying up than a club perpertually having to punch above its weight – and a massive advantage over the others in the event of relegation, especially including parachute payments. Personally I don’t feel the remotest bit sorry for fans of clubs like Sunderland, Birmingham (well, sorry isn’t a term to be used for them), even West Ham (may they still be relegated for the Tevez disgrace) when their clubs are relegated. They can rightly feel confident that after a year or two they will probably be back and can cut their cloth accordingly. Man City, underachievers to the last, even made it to the old third division before returning (how different it could have been if another play-off game had gone the other way, I never did like Dikov but then nobody does).
We are in a different boat (so are Bolton, Wigan, and Fulham). There is no argument for expanding the capacity of The Valley as long as we are outside the Premiership (and everyone is well aware of the threat to season ticket sales and attendances for next season). And unless and until the ground is expanded we can never feel that we truly belong in the top flight. Happily football is a meritocracy and every club is where they deserve to be – even those which have sold their soul (see Man City). So a return to progress and expansion is possible if we get our act together on the pitch (and in the stands – shit, we’re back to booing again). We can get back up and punch above our weight for the necessary period before we can add the quantum mass. Otherwise our role model will be Southampton.
This does lead on to a final point (honest). The best thing that can happen for our club over the next few years (in addition to promotion) is that Peter Varney’s efforts to secure support for expanding the Premiership to two leagues bear fruit. That would be a massive plus for us. It could buy us the time we need for the development of the area can lead to an influx of new fans (and for that to happen it has to be a pleasurable experience to go to The Valley, which means fans being united in support of the team .......). Of course, if we get promoted this season (come on, its still possible) or next bin the idea and ban relegation.