Part-time love calls the Shots

No 100: Aldershot Town FAN'S EYE VIEW
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The Independent Online
I felt for poor Hunter Davies last autumn, when he was unable to take the turmoil and torment at White Hart Lane. How would he have faced the immeasurably greater trauma of watching the terminal illness of a bankrupt Fourth Division club, and that after a fake life-saving operation by a "millionaire" teenage surgeon with toy scalpel?

I felt ashamed that I did not attend the final cremation of Ninian Park but, like Hunter Davies, I could take no more, preferring instead to admire from my armchair the spirit of Ian McDonald's band of teenagers and unpaid professionals. Such was the agony, even from afar, that I have somehow banished from my memory the details of Aldershot's lingering death, choosing instead to remember happier times when lower League venues such as Barrow, Bradford Park Avenue, Darlington, Wrexham and Swansea could be visited after energetic days on hill and fell.

Terry Mancini, whose head briefly reflected the Recreation Ground floodlights, once joked that on a rare hotel stay during a trip to Workington the players slept two to a bed to save money! Such luxury! I was freezing the night away in a Lakeland lay-by in a Fiat 600.

Sadly, even though automatic demotion from the Football League was still a few years away, several of these teams disappeared from the five o'clock pools check. Sadly, too, these Sixties delights faded to damp, depressing days in Wigan's cow-shed or lock-ins at Prenton Park until the good folk of Tranmere had gone home to their tea.

But now the phoenix has risen. Instead of being frisked by Cardiff constabulary, we are welcomed with open arms by the friendly, unpaid officials of Royston, Barton Rovers or Epsom who direct us personally to the bar and the burger stall and the spotless toilets. We park our cars in school playgrounds requisitioned for the day.

Occasionally, at places like Hampton, we are entertained by the wit of a PA announcer clearly relishing his chance to perform for 1,000 people instead of the usual 75. Can Premiership watchers honestly say that having to remain in one seat in some inconvenient corner of a vast stadium is such an enjoyable experience?

Winning Diadora promotion in the leafy surroundings of Pendley at Tring was every bit as thrilling as the previous club's play-off victory in front of 20,000 at Molineux. The excitement generated by a County Cup derby with Farnborough before 6,000 fans at the Rec surely matched many a battle against the "old" enemy, Reading.

Of course it helps that we have won a few games along the way but the loss of a wheel, with the collapse of away form, and expulsion from the FA Trophy will probably help us to focus on the future with a little less optimism than our chairman's 10-year plan to return to the League.

I wonder how many of us really want to be watching full-time professionals so soon, if at all. We won't forget yesterday's heroes: the great Jack Howarth, as brilliant with his head as he was inept with his feet; David Jones' penalty save from Tony Hateley at Villa Park; Roger Joslyn's promotion- clinching goal at Stockport. There have even been links between old and new, with Pat Morrisey, a midfield general from the early Seventies, turning up 20 years greyer as Hemel's manager and substitute; the nomadic Steve Osgood, keeper in the last Fourth Division game, appearing for and against us in the Diadora League.

Even tactics have remained, like those bizarre kick-offs, with ball dispatched immediately to a sprinting trio of left wingers! It never worked then and still doesn't and hopefully will be killed off by Steve Wigley, our newly appointed manager.

But now we have our new heroes, like the ex-Millwall striker John Humphrey and the rapidly improving Stuart Udal, cousin of Shaun. Too many recent defeats means that our new manager will need to strengthen the side quickly to maintain momentum, but whoever trots out at Wivenhoe on Saturday, at least we will know that they have done a week's work like the rest of us. And still with the time and energy to play the 60 or 70 games per season that Premiership prima donnas find so tiring.

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