Supporting a Lower League Football Club

When someone asks you what team you support and you reply with: ‘Rotherham United’, they’ll probably look at you with either pity, bewilderment, or disdain. The next thing they say will probably be: ‘yes, but what Premiership team do you support?’ 

You see, they want to talk about proper football. 

I started going to Rotherham matches when I was five years old. This was my dad’s fault. He’s a lifelong season ticket holder and, if you give him half a chance, he’ll proudly talk you through his collection of spreadsheets which detail every Rotherham United match since 1980. It’s all there: the result, the squad, the attendance, yellow cards, goalscorers, little graphs on league position from week to week. He’s an invaluable resource should you ever feel a pressing need to discover who came on as a sub in our 0-1 defeat against Darlington in 1996 (Jim Dobbin).

I got my own season ticket at nine and attended most home games until I moved away from South Yorkshire at 18. Even then, I caught as many matches as time, money and my location would allow – driving two hours on a freezing Tuesday night in February to sit in horizontal sleet while Rotherham hoofed out a belligerent 0-0 draw with Mansfield Town or Walsall.

Some of the bleakest moments of my life have been at Rotherham matches. But there have been some of the most joyful too, and I shared all these moments with the community of people around me. I may not have known their backgrounds or what they did for a living – or often even their names – but they were reliable, familiar faces that I saw week in, week out for decades. I’d grown up alongside them, changed with them, watched as they started bringing partners and eventually their own children. A woman who used to sit behind me hadn’t missed a home game in 50 years and she was still able to dance up and down the touchline like a teenager when we scored a last minute penalty to knock Sheffield United out of the Cup.

This was at Millmoor, a ground where you usually couldn’t get advance tickets for matches because the one printer they had in the office was invariably broken. Right up until 2008 when the team moved stadiums, many of the advertising hoardings around the pitch still encouraged you to ring numbers that hadn’t existed since the area code changed in 1994 and the lavatory was a concrete wall behind the main stand that had a shallow trough dug into the floor and the word ‘tiolets’ written on it in chalk. During one of our brief visits to the upper leagues in the late 90s, a corporate hospitality area was added. It consisted of six portacabins painted red and stacked precariously on top of one another.

‘Yes, but what Premiership team do you support?’

I don’t have the first clue what the Premiership table looks like and, to be honest, I’d be hard pressed to name many of the clubs in that league with any degree of certainty. I don’t care who’s likely to win the league or qualify for the European Cup or play in the FA Cup final – the most a lower league supporter can hope for is reaching the third round where you might get drawn against a big Premiership club.

This happened for Rotherham United in 2001. We were drawn against Liverpool and the mass euphoria in Rotherham was probably greater than in Liverpool when they won the UEFA Cup. Of course, we lost the game itself. That wasn’t important though. What mattered was that we had a big day out at Anfield and our team battled with passion and pride – our £75 a week YTS lad man-marking a £60,000 per week Liverpool striker and keeping him out of the game. Success is relative and, when you support a lower league team, you have to recalibrate your expectations.

You get used to the club never having any money and scrabbling around to build a squad from free transfers. You get used to watching promising young players develop over years only to get snapped up for a pittance by a bigger club as soon as they show the first sign of any flair. You get used to not seeing your team on television or hearing the commentary on the radio, you get used to dismissive match reports on sports websites and always being ‘the opposition’ for the team that’s actually the focus – even when you do win, it’ll be because the other side played badly rather than your team’s performance. 

You also get used to people’s expressions of pity or bewilderment or disdain when you tell them what team you support. You see, they want to talk about proper football.


Sofia Drabbles

I’ve been living in Sofia since June 2018. It’s a fascinating city at a fascinating time but it’s neglected – I doubt most people could place Bulgaria on a map and there’s very little written about it, even less that’s written well. Therefore, I thought I’d have a crack at it. I don’t know when or what form that will take though, I’m trying not to force it.

I’ve done a bit of travel writing before and it comes with some difficulties. If you try to capture the ‘essence’ of a place you can look too hard, become too self-aware, and end up attaching significance to every encounter and experience no matter how trivial. On the other hand, if you’re too immersed, you can take for granted all the everyday nuances and little telling details that are the most revealing. Your position as an outsider needs calibrating carefully.

Sofia Drabbles is an ongoing attempt to find the right balance.

It’s a blog about what it’s like to live in Sofia but it’s not a diary or journal, it’s an online notebook. There’s no chronology to it, no regularity, no uniform style – everything is posted randomly. I may draw upon this stockpile of material to add background detail to something, or the posts may start to coalesce around a connected theme – maybe one of them will even spark an idea. I don’t know exactly what it’s for yet but I’m hoping it’ll come to me later.

Each post is exactly 100 words, not 101, not 99. This is known as a drabble and it’s a form that encourages disciplined creativity – very useful for a writer who needs an exercise to keep writing. The restriction of the word count also seems to suit me well. It’s enough for a brief unit of thought and has the scope to let me play around with different styles without becoming an off-putting commitment. I should be able to fit in a drabble occasionally, even if I’m overwhelmed with work. We’ll see, anyway…

Where’s the design stuff gone?

Market forces. I haven’t done any commercial design work for about eighteen months – it’s all been business writing and teaching. I thought I’d make the transition official so I’ve updated the website accordingly.

Nevertheless, if you’d like to look at my old design portfolio you can find it here.

Ghost Blogging

A selection of blog posts written for SES Recruitment between November 2015 and July 2016. SES gave me the themes they wanted to address each month and left me to write the content using their existing tone of voice…

How to improve your networking

10 tips for communicating within a business

5 ways to boost office morale during the winter

The dos and don’ts of office Christmas parties

Common hiring mistakes

10 New Year’s resolutions for businesses

10 tips for writing job and character references

A brief guide to LinkedIn

10 tips for running an effective interview

Experience vs Personality

Agency vs Consultancy

The pros and cons of hiring school leavers

Guide to hiring graduates

The real costs of hiring the wrong person

10 ways to invest in your employees

Another Q&A for Faber & Faber

I took part in a few more live chats recently for students on Faber & Faber’s online writing courses. Just like the chats in November, The Professional Writing Academy very kindly tidied up my answers and put them together into a blog post.

Falmouth Rowdy Dickhead Night Bingo!

Thursday night in Falmouth is Rowdy Dickhead Night. I don’t know why it should be a Thursday, I just know that it gets LOUD.

I used to live in a flat on the main street that overlooked the route between the pubs in the centre of town and a bar that has a licence until 3am. It was a typically narrow Cornish street which meant all the noise was directed upwards and, as the building I lived in was listed, there was no double-glazing to block out the noise. If I didn’t get to sleep before 11pm I was awake until about 3.30am when I’d get about an hour or so before the delivery vans for the shops and restaurants started thundering through town.

I did this on a night that I failed to get to sleep in time. I thought I might as well do something productive instead of laying there swearing and imagining what might happen if I had a crossbow…