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View From The Dolan: A Ballsy Afternoon

Ben’s view of an afternoon defined by the tennis-ball protest and a vital late comeback.

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What a terrible week. Like, a real downer of a week. Having reflected on the -3, I’m not sure if I’m surprised, confused, angry… I don’t know. But it’s clear that, this week, certain elements of the club have started to turn towards more vocal and forceful disapproval of the current owner. As a result, the football element of Saturday seemed to take a back seat.

There was plenty of talk online about what was and wasn’t going to happen. Tennis balls, getting on the pitch, rioting - these were all given air time. Whether any of these would come to pass was anyone’s guess but it was clear something would happen.

I actually arrived later than I wanted to, having been in Brackn*ll in the morning as my son had a game over there. Rocking up to the car park at 2.20 was not what I wanted to be doing. An increased security presence (who’s paying for that?!) but a lack of actual supporters was the first thing that struck me. Perhaps they were all in the mega shop perusing the training wear which I could see through the window as I made my way to the hotel.

That was also dead, but I was alarmed to hear vociferous cheering from the few that were in there as Liverpool scored late on in their game against Wolves (the game was on TV, they weren’t looking collectively at teletext). Having ordered a 0% Heineken (I’m not drinking) and paid my £5 digitally (£5!!!! They are like £3.50 for four in popular discount brand stores locally!) I settled down to peruse the hashtag.

Plenty of anger, buzz and emojis of middle-class sport balls flooded my timeline, but in among all that, I was able to see the team sheet with more than a few changes. One of those was Dom Ballard who, if I’m honest, was a player I had been very keen to see. Clinton Mola also started, alongside nine other chaps.

I made the decision to leave the hotel and get into the ground a little earlier and, as I approached my gate, I could see numerous bags of discarded tennis balls. The lad in front of me had his taken off him (I mean, to be fair, he was just holding it in his hand, so it wasn’t expert security in play or anything).

On one hand, I thought “I wonder how many have been smuggled in around the ground” and on the other, I thought “if only I knew someone that worked in a dog sanctuary because if the Disney Pixar film “Up” taught us anything, it’s that dogs really, really like tennis balls and these discarded ones right here would be greatly appreciated by those four legged heroes”. In the security team’s defence, they were as polite and respectful as they always are in the searching process.

I am growing concerned about current attendances. I get the reason for it, but my god there was hardly anyone in there at kick-off. It didn’t seem to fill up much afterwards and it’s quite sad really. Those that were in made their feelings clear about Dai Yongge from the off and the support for him to be removed was loud and clear.

On the pitch, we didn’t start brilliantly and on the 16th minute, balls rained down from the stands onto the pitch. It did look quite cool to be fair and the game was ultimately stopped. Ground staff and stewards scurried onto the pitch with buckets in hand to collect up the offerings and fans rose to chant and clap against the owner. Without exception, those in B13 joined in with their fellow fans around the ground and it was great to see the away supporters get involved too.

As soon as the game restarted, Bolton Wanderers made their way up the pitch and slotted home to take the lead. No doubt a good finish from a tight angle, but again the defending needed to be better across the team. Soon after, Femi Azeez slapped a long-ranger against the crossbar but we weren’t really in the game and the half fizzled out. I felt as flat as a concourse-bought lager, I have to say.

And now, I have to be honest (not that I’ve not been honest with you up until this point, I don’t want you thinking I’ve committed word fraud or anything). I did not expect the response we got in the second half. The subs concerned me - why take Ballard off?! But we got back into the game through hard work, determination and sheer bloody grit.

When Mr Charlie Savage rifled in his goal, I felt my soul leave my body. I’m not being dramatic - firstly I like Savage a lot. I like his attitude, his style of play and his courage. But I also needed that goal, as I’m sure all of you did. All that negativity just left me, all that anger disappeared. And no, it’s not suddenly “all ok” but the goal served to be a catalyst for the second from Caylan Vickers.

I had to leave early (Wales were playing - I know, I know…) but as I trotted down the steps of B13, I just stopped to look at the atmosphere, to breathe in the vibe. Yeah, we still have an owner who is taking the piss, yeah we are still in League One, yes very few things are perfect, but the game was the most enjoyable experience I’ve had for a long time.

If we can get past the off-field nonsense, we’ve got a team that could (key word) make waves in this league. I was up for it before this game, but I’m now more determined than ever to get behind, defend and support this growing group of young players. I want to watch them, I want them to succeed and, for once in a long time, I’m enjoying doing so. That might be a “tin point” or naive view, but I don’t care. Let’s do this and let’s do it together.

Until next time.