For the clubs up and down the land, the metaphorical fat lady has popped into the respective club shop, picked up a XXXL shirt and is heading to the ground warming up her vocal cords, writes Craig Priest.
This season however is one which the fat lady has steered clear of our beloved Stags, as our wonderful football stage production is set to go on for at least two more games after Saturday’s trip to Kidderminster – with the possibility of one final showing again on the big stage.
Should Paul Cox’s men battle through two tough legs against either York or Luton, depending on the outcome of the latter’s game in hand tonight (Tuesday 24th )and then, possibly the outcome of Saturday’s fixtures – they know they are one step away from a return to the Football League.
As a supporter and, of late, broadcaster, the final game of the season is something I dread – especially when the fat lady sings at the end as her vocals often provide the backing track to a horrid video rerun of the season in my head.
Going back on bye-gone seasons I remember the final Football League match at Dagenham and Redbridge. As we all know our fate, thanks to Stockport’s inability to score, was already sealed and we knew we’d spend the following season in the unknown Football Conference.
The following season’s song was slightly brighter as we saw off Stevenage Borough 2-1 at Field Mill to maintain an unbeaten home record under new boss David Holdsworth, but still as a whole we’d done nothing and had nothing special to really reflect on.
Our second season in the conference ended against Saturday’s opponents Kidderminster however at Field Mill and in rather frustrating fashion, 3-0 up at the break curtsey of a Jake Speight treble, the Harriers overturned the lacklustre Stags in the second half to take home a point – summing up a season of failed promises once again ending with a barely recognisable squad as the Field Mill revolving door swung faster than the speed of light.
Last season was a little different as we still had a tiny flash of light at the end of an otherwise pitch black tunnel in the FA Trophy Final. A change of managers and owners during the season saw it become a bumpy ride and inevitably end in a lacklustre defeat at Bath City.
I remember leaving Bath last season and spending the majority of the car journey home wondering if our season’s song would ever be a bright one, no matter what I wrote at the time about it being an irrelevant result with Wembley next up, I was still hurt by it, I am a very bad loser.
Onto this season and as we all know it’s been phenomenal, in November early December it seemed like it wasn’t going to be but the right additions at the right time plus belief, dedication and hard graft has seen us change our fate from mid-table obscurity to a very possible return to the football league, an delightful run has seen us win 15 games since the turn of the year, losing twice with the other three of the twenty ending level to cement third spot and a play-off spot. We’ve set a new total points record along the way and have achieved numerous other feats, for example Alan Marriott’s wonder strike against Wrexham on Friday night was the first time we’ve scored 50 home goals in a season since the 1976-77 campaign. The fat lady may sing her song as the scheduled season draws to a close against Kidderminster but she won’t be able to finish, as we have at least two more games to go in the play-off semi-finals.
As I’ll write next week ahead of the first leg, what we’ve done so far will count for nothing and as such makes Saturday’s 1pm trip to 6th place Kidderminster rather irrelevant. However as we leave Aggborough and head for the coaches and cars home, the song playing will be cheerful and happy, a rather dreamy melody not from a fat lady, but from a bunch of dedicated, loyal loving supporters as we head into the play-offs still chasing the dream we had when the season got underway – promotion.
Before I sign off for this week, I must give a mention to a long standing tradition for football fans up and down the land, something I touched upon briefly earlier: fancy dress. Unfortunately in the press box I can’t really wear fancy dress but I hope to see a wide variety of outfits packing that terracing! I’ve heard whispers that in honour of his management this season, a few of you are going dressed as Paul Cox – I hope this is true, 500 or so Paul Cox’s look-a-likes all chanting ‘Yellows’ would be a wonderful scene, The travelling Stag’s fans or a Paul Cox convention? Get your grey T-shorts and black wigs out, let’s do this!
The song is not ending; it’s only just beginning COME ON YOU STAGS!