Football: Sons of the Rock and a hard place

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The Independent Online
THE lot of a Crystal Palace fan may not be a happy one at the moment, but spare a thought for the lowly Dumbarton supporter. While relegation looks ever more likely for Palace, that luxury does not even exist for the "Sons of the Rock" - demotion to the Highland League is defunct these days. Dumbarton are so bad that there is nowhere left for them to go.

The bottom of the Scottish Third Division is a sad and lonely place, and until last week opponents regarded a trip to Boghead Park as a guaranteed three points, no questions asked. Dumbarton hadn't won at home this season and to be perfectly honest, no one expected them to. Where Palace at least managed an "away" win over their tenants Wimbledon, the Sons hadn't even had the chance to beat their lodgers (they share Boghead with Clydebank, who ply their trade in the nose-bleed territory of the Second Division).

Then, last week, Dumbarton won. But a 1-0 victory over the mighty East Stirling does not a new dawn make, and no one is expecting a repeat too soon. Boghead is no theatre of dreams, more a waterlogged music hall of failed resurrections. While there is room for 5,503 die-hards (303 of whom can luxuriate in the opulence of the main stand), few realise the footballing delights awaiting them, and consequently nobody turns up. The average attendance is currently about 300, but seems to fall almost weekly. To put things in some kind of perspective, it would take the Sons over 160 games to fill Old Trafford once.

Life at Boghead is not all doom and gloom, though. There are moments of glory amid the morass of disaster and depression. The last time I watched the mighty Sons was the home cup tie against Premier division Motherwell in January. Expecting a drubbing from our opponents, it was all the sweeter when we pulled off a 1-1 draw. Had the outcome been a home win, it's tempting to wonder if Scottish football might have dissolved into total anarchy. Some things should never be allowed to happen. Lions may lie down with lambs, but the Sons must never win at home (they lost the replay at Motherwell too).

Hope may exist, however, with the Sons' Italian connection. Crystal Palace can show off by appointing Attilio Lombardo as player-manager, but the Sons have got "Il Postino". OK, so midfielder Hugh Ward is not strictly Italian, but he is a fine postman. Surely it is time Dumbarton followed suit and hired a foreign manager - Julio Iglesias or Bjorn from Abba would be fine.

It hasn't always been so tragic. Dumbarton's history is rich and varied. The first ever Scottish First Division Championship in 1891 was shared by Dumbarton and Rangers, and the Sons won the second outright. They made Graeme Sharp the great player he was and sold him to Everton for pounds 125,000. They even tried to sign Johan Cruyff - but that fell through when he saw Boghead. Past glories, however, offer little solace when your club is in freefall towards extinction.

A breakaway Premier League will surely spell the end for the Sons - lower league clubs cannot hope to survive without the major guns of Scottish football. Would it be so bad if Dumbarton did slip beneath the icy waters and disappear from the leagues? Well, yes it would. Small clubs will be missed when only the superpowers are left - who will provide the hope of a cup shock, or a quiet chuckle when the results come in on Saturday evening? After all, who wouldn't miss East Fife 5, Forfar 4? Or even Dumbarton 0, Cowdenbeath 3...