How Is It For You, Owls Fans?
We've experienced the highs and lows, the sackings, the suspensions, the drama, the lukewarm pies, the filth and the fury that is a season of football in the Championship with the Owls.
But the close season is here....
..and Auckland Owl is going slightly mad.
During the season, things proceed like clockwork, which is just how Owls fans like it. The entire non-footballing week is just a prelude to the main event: those 90 minutes on Saturday (or Tuesday or Wednesday or Friday night or Sunday lunchtime.. thanks, Sky) when the match day ritual can be observed.
Owls fan turn up early, well before kick-off. Is that because we want to get some chips, or meet our mates for a quick pint? No way. We get there early because we can't bear to miss anything, not one single moment. If anything important happened, and we missed it, our mates would be winding us up for years. The game might start without us. We're scared that Hillsborough might have mysteriously been dismantled and built somewhere else.. like Beijing, say. We buy our programme from the same seller, we turn round three times before taking our seat, we wind our lucky scarf anti-clockwise round our necks, we stay until the final whistle and always leave by the same exit, precisely 11 minutes after the game ends.. nothing wrong with that, of course. Comforting as a pair of old slippers.
And then, wallop, it's the close season and the ritual is no more: it's all over for another year. The sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach is only matched for severity by the sweaty palms and the headache that this particular thought gives us: WHAT ON EARTH DO WE DO WITH OUR SPARE TIME?
It's at least ten weeks to the start of the new season. Ten whole weeks of purgatory. So we go out with non-footballing friends we haven't seen since... well, the last close season, pretty much. Our minds wander to thoughts of Hillsborough and the famous blue and white stripes once every ten.... no, make that eleven, seconds.
But surely there's plenty of activity to keep our footy-obsessed brain occupied? As withdrawal symptoms kick in, transfer speculation, innuendo and gossip take hold. There's always the playoffs (nice if we're involved) and the FA Cup final: after all, it's traditional, isn't it, and good on the telly and a spectacle and a laugh and it's nice to be impartial for once and that nice Richard Keys is very funny, if a bit hairy and.... it JUST WON'T DO!
Despair sets in as those inadequate substitutes for Owls football fade away. There's only one answer (assuming there are no European Championships or World Cups to distract us): alcohol.
Drink enough of it and we won't notice there's no football: in fact whilst under the influence of it, we'll be able to re-live last season minute by minute, over and over again until we're left in a dark corner of the pub rambling on for the 23rd time about the team's need for a new goalkeeper, surrounded by empty crisp packets, fag butts, and broken glass. Our friends have departed long ago and there's a funny smell in the air...
Around the beginning of July, the Owls will chuck some sand into the Vaseline - the new replica shirts are released to the general public. There is hope! They're design-free, they've got silly collars, they're constructed of cloth that feels like it's made from recycled wellington boots, the away shirt looks like the high-visibility jackets you see on motorway workers, but hey presto, 90 quid disappears into the Owls Club Shop coffers and we shambling unshaven drunks are resplendent once more!
This helps us give up alcohol, because we're now skint. We're revitalised: transfer activity (or at the very least, rumour) resumes and miraculously we have something new to talk about. By now (it's the middle of July) we're desperate for football: we'll do anything or go anywhere to see the Owls and thankfully we are provided with pre-season games.
OK, they can be against mediocre opposition that struggles to attract a crowd. A groundsman, two cleaners and Harry Redknapp's chief scout might just be watching (you know.. that guy is everywhere). At least it'll be easy to boast about our superior away following. So we descend en masse to Athletico Brighouse and Young Boys Billericay to catch a glimpse of our heroes. Of course those heroes are not figuring for more than ten minutes in the team line up, but at least pre-season gives us the chance to check out trialists and second teamers, otherwise known as 'Those We Shall Never See Again'. We are not deterred or dismayed. We are convinced that these callow youths and old lags will suddenly demonstrate the devastating skill of Cristiano Ronaldo, when in the past they've struggled to show the half the talent of Spongebob Squarepants.
The score is meaningless, lets face it. Unfortunately this makes it even worse when an abnormal result occurs. It DOESN'T really mean anything when big teams are humiliated by non-league part-timers, but if it happens to us, we're in emotional turmoil. We don't even have the compensation of being able to moan about it to all and sundry (since we didn't lose any points) or being able to look forward to the next match (it's another pre-season outing to Farfenbarn 1843 of Norway).
We're completely wrecked. Newspapers, the internet, Teletext, satellite TV, the bush telegraph and pigeon post are all scoured for valuable insight into the new signings that will instantly make everything alright. Massive quandary: if a new player fails to sign, we're doomed. If he signs, we're still doomed, because invariably it's not the player WE wanted. It's almost unbearable, we're tearing out what little hair we've got left and we're counting the hours, minutes and seconds until..
..the new season eventually begins at 3pm on opening day.
And then we can just be NORMAL, regular, WELL-BALANCED human beings again, albeit obsessed by football.
What's that? Oh, thank you, doctor: no need for the strait jacket, I'll come quietly. I've finished typing now. You've heard it all before? Of course you have. Just keep those lizards in the corner away from me! And ask nurse to bring me my SPECIAL medicine.