Well this has been a bizarre couple of weeks hasn’t it? Suddenly, after all our trials and tribulations everything has clicked into place and we are playing like world beaters. Style, substance, panache and tactical nous, it’s been stunning to watch.
Throughout our dreadful start, what was never lacking was fight and togetherness. I decided to mystery shop this in the opening 15 minutes of that incredible victory against Weston-Super-Mare by nestling close up to the dug-out and listening to the jokey and supportive comments amongst those on the bench towards their team-mates and the management team. There didn’t seem to be the slightest hint that anyone not in the starting line-up was remotely irritated by this – nothing but unbridled support for those on the pitch and the backroom staff.
I think that match against Weston-Super-Mare was my favourite ever Casuals game. In coming to this conclusion, I recalled a few highlights since I became a fan. I’m a relative newcomer to the joys of the Stags, my first ever game was never actually completed – it was in February 2014 at the old ground – we played Whitstable Town on a Saturday afternoon in rain and windswept conditions and with us losing 1-2, the floodlights went out in the last 5 minutes and never came back on again. During the final denouement, I recall players of both teams coming to blows in the changing room as frustration boiled over and some stocky visiting fans joining in the melee. I think we won the replayed match! Anyway, that afternoon was crazy and set the tone for my love of the Stags. Another favourite was a 3-2 win at Stompond Lane over Christmas 2014, when we again came from behind, saw Gabriel Odunaike sent off in the closing minutes (and taking ages to be persuaded to leave the pitch) then scored a breakaway goal to win it in front of delirious Stags supporters on the banks on the side of the pitch. In the ground that afternoon, the Swans faithful had a real sense of old-school, non-league club superiority but we wiped it off their faces.
Anyway, enough rampant, modern-day nostalgia, back to that game against Weston and it truly was a joyous occasion. There’s footage of the winner on Twitter which has gone viral at my son’s school as the kids are all taking the rise out of me going completely and utterly loopy celebrating – it’s pretty hilarious really – the best bit though are two Stags fans finishing off their own celebration with a prolonged hug! Those closing minutes were barnstorming, though, weren’t they? In the first half, I did my usual undercover mixing with the away fans and a couple were singing “is this a library?” to us, which was ironic because by the end of the game, we had our very own Ray Hole leading the Blue Seats into decibel shattering chants, along with those behind the goal. Such scenes at the end – I thought Steve Conroy was going to implode and as for Duncan Saunders, the glue behind the scenes here at The Home of World Football, he had the shakes long after the jubilant players had left the pitch.
Where the Weston game was frenetic and, on a knife-edge, the following Tuesday at Metropolitan Police was almost routine by comparison. Bear in mind, the Old Bill reached the Play-Off Super Final last season, yet in the first half we were in cruise control, winning every ball and tackle and passing with effective nonchalance. It was a really enjoyable evening from start-to-finish and great to see an impressive Stags contingent. One highlight, though, was the half-time entertainment which consisted in entirety of songs from Status Quo’s Greatest Hits being played over the tannoy.
Onto Yate Town and once again another confident and ultimately successful display, with two early goals from Stevie Ward and accolades on the home team’s social media account towards the Stags 7, led by Phil, who had made the trip out West and chanted the whole game. They were a friendly bunch the home fans, which brings us onto Merthyr Town, my second favourite club – after us – in the league. Merthyr have a great footballing heritage and a fantastic stadium, they are a “proper club” as the expression goes. Last season, their hospitality was fabulous – we got applauded as we changed ends at half-time then in the celebratory pitch invasion at the end, clapped again as we left the bar after the game and then serenaded with further applause and lovely comments as we walked onto the coach. These folk were truly wonderful, just like they were earlier in the season when they pitched up in a boat on the Thames, then drank our bar dry.
Despite my affection for Merthyr, it would be great to get another 3 points on Saturday, then, whisper it quietly we might be looking for a season angling for the Play-Offs….However, we absolutely must not get complacent, we haven’t cracked this Southern Premier South lark yet, we’re still relative newcomers and our team still haven’t been together long, even though they certainly don’t play like strangers. The next few weeks will be critical in seeing how things are going to pan out. As ever, at this crazy place, it is going to be a rollercoaster of thrills and spills.
Altogether now, “Steve and Chris’ barmy Stags Army!”