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Beauty and the beast: two FGR games and lessons to learn

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Climbing out of the relegation zone has to be about more than scoring goals, writes Simon Hacker

Burton Albion 3 – FGR 2

FGR Women 8 – Weston-super-Mare 0

True to the tradition of sports reporting, my son and I headed north for the weekend’s clash against Burton Albion with a bulging sack of easy metaphors.

It was time to serve the brewers some sobering news; at FGR, we’ve been working on a reset, so woe-betide any lower-league upstarts who spill our pint; at their so-called Pirelli Stadium, we’d soon have them tyred and deflated. Mark our words, the only team losing its grip would be the home side.

Oddly enough, if you’d left fifteen minutes before the end (as some much-taunted BAFC fans reportedly did), you might have good reason to buy into this clunky narrative. But while the good people of Burton upon Trent really are a very genial crowd, their team, rotten spoilsports that they are, had no intention of sticking to their allotted script.

IMG 9268 | Beauty and the beast: two FGR games and lessons to learn
Jemima Hacker watches the action unfold at The Bolt New Lawn.

After the hosts went up a goal within minutes of the kick off, we came back in the second half with a gorgeous zinger of a shot from Reece Brown to gain parity, following soon afterwards by a socking second goal as Connor Wickham walloped in a penalty from a red card foul on Josh March.

And that was that – we’d done it, we were going to win. But? But… down to 10 men and the clock ticking towards injury time, Burton fermented something wicked, levelled the game again and, you got it, served up our worst recurring nightmare on a plate with a last-gasp ninety-second-minute goal. Yes, we were beaten by the most-beaten team in League One; yes, we had missed again. 

IMG 9266 | Beauty and the beast: two FGR games and lessons to learn
FGR Women played Weston-Super-Mare on Sunday, defeating the visitors 8-0.

Rumour has it BAFC’s snack stalls will commemorate this turnaround in their season – their first home win – with the menu addition of a Quorn vegan sausage, to be served in one option only: heavily battered. Okay, maybe such a meat-minded club won’t be so vainglorious, but it is hard not to feel that League One life for our team is beginning to feel like every team we meet, everywhere we go, is biting big, tender chunks out of our survival-chasing buttocks.

And to put this kindly, many of the fans who happily traverse the country to cheer on the team are now voicing disappointment, not least the gang of mostly younger men who rushed to the closest point of the dugout to chant a little ditty that, translated, invites manager Ian Burchnall to consider his position. Disappointment doesn’t cover this. Try spittle-flecked apoplectic rage.

Try mutiny, and you get closer. A few games back, fans were wondering where to find the panic/reset button; now they are clawing and smashing it with all their collective might. 

IMG 9260 | Beauty and the beast: two FGR games and lessons to learn
Warming up at the Pirelli Stadium, FGR prepared for action on Saturday.

Having closely watched every single game from the edge of this simmering group of fans, I can share their sorrow and understand their rage, but I already perceive the modus operandi of FGR well enough to accept that no degree of max volume ranting is going to improve our search for a pathway out of this relegation zone paralysis.

Yes, we stand to throw away the tears and sweat that earned us the glory of promotion, but for a team to show the door to a new manager so early into the season, not least a manager who has one arm tied behind his back by half a hospital ward of injured players, the optics of such a move would surely illustrate precisely the kind of football FGR seeks to change. After all, this is Nailsworth and we are many things, but we are not Watford. Long may that yawning gap persist.

IMG 9259 | Beauty and the beast: two FGR games and lessons to learn
FGR ambassador Rupert Hacker outside the Pirelli Stadium.

And so we go again. In my case, just 23 hours later, for a home clash at The Bolt New Lawn, where the tannoy’s final message after the whistle declares “And at the end of play, Forst Green Rovers win by eight goals to nil.” Yes, do not adjust your lugholes: FGR Women played their opener of the 2022/23 FA Cup campaign against Weston-Super-Mare, serving a salty display of strength to the maritime visitors and, er, drowning them in a tsunami of net-pumelling prowess. Blimey, this sporting metaphor game is so much easier when you’re winning. 

But the best take home from today’s socking victory for the Women’s team may well come in the form of medical advice: if following the Green Army is triggering too much bile, why not make a date with the women’s team? The vegan vixens were possessed of such discipline and solidity on Sunday that you almost wanted the other side to have a chance with the ball. Well, almost.

Disgruntled by our Burton skirmish, my son passed on attending Sunday’s fixture, but my daughter, suitably attired in a retro black-and-white army hat, came along for the spectacle. Fans convincingly filled the main Candriam stand and were treated to a thrilling display of ability. And as the lady sitting next to me suggested, some of the more vociferous male followers of FGR’s first team could really benefit from coming along. 

“We went to Burton yesterday and, to be honest, we were appalled by the savage reaction of some fans. It’s not helping the team,” she told me. “And I know from one of the players we are in contact with that another player was in tears after the end of the match.”

Such reports are hearsay perhaps, but they do underpin my realisation from a weekend fo two distinctly different FGR games: whether it’s in his game or hers, our collective pathway to success has to be one where we stay behind the team, keep the love positive and the passion pure. It’s how this unique, world-first club got as far as we have. 

Forget that, forget the unsinkable spirit FGR fans showed when we sang at five-nil down against Sheffield Wednesday and one result will be sure. Football may be about winning goals, but what of the ultimate goal, of winning hearts and minds? That’s what really makes our game beautiful.

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