between an erupting earth and an exploding sky

wigan athletic 3 west ham united 2

I very nearly didn’t make it to this match. No matter how well you know a city and how well you think you’ve got the public transport sussed out, there’s always one obscure bus route left for you to get lost on. In this case, “we’re turning left at the college of music” meant “we’re turning left at the college of music and then not stopping for ten minutes,” and so, with about ten minutes before my train to Wigan was due to depart from Oxford Road, I found myself on a bus heading along what looked suspiciously like the road out of town. Thankfully, Manchester has nearly as many train stations as it does bus services, and with no small degree of luck it stopped outside of Piccadilly. What happened next was amazing. Straight into the station, clock where the Southport train was, get a ticket, sprint to platform. There was a guard outside the platform checking tickets. “Where are you travelling to, sir?” “WIGANWALLGATE!” I’m sure I was very dignified.

Two hours later, I’m beginning to wish I’d stayed on the bus. Two goals down – and two really, really sloppy goals down – and it just isn’t happening for the team. Hugo is stranded up front, West Ham are sitting back and defending in numbers, and Robert Green (of Failblog fame) is having a blinder. It seems that every goalkeeper has a blinder against us. I’m sure every other fan of every other team feels the same way.

Half an hour to go, and something changes. The only thing that could change, really – we score. N’Zogbia, free kick, pow. Top left. Unstoppable. And then everything else changes. The home crowd – we’ve been miserable up to this point – find their voice. blue white army blue white army becomes BLUE WHITE ARMY BLUE WHITE ARMY BLUE WHITE ARMY. The guy next to me has been shouting “Shit ball! SHIT BALL!” to every ambitious – and failed – long ball we’ve played, but now he’s shouting “Good idea, unlucky!” to the exact same passes. You’re 2-1 down and dropping out of the league, but you’ve got hope now. It’s the best feeling in the world.

Fine, second best feeling. We’re streaming forward now. It’s as if the game is being played on an inclined pitch, or on that moving ramp thing from Gladiators. After some neat build-up work, Momo Diame plays Conor Sammon through, and he’s got time for a shot, but he spends far too long teeing the ball up. But West Ham give him that time, and he curls the ball around Robert Green and into the net. Some shots look destined for the net, and somehow find a way to miss; this one looked every inch like it was going to tap against the post, or be scooped up by the keeper, but it finds a way over the line. Good ball. The place erupts. I’m screaming “GET IN!” into the face of a man I don’t know, and he’s doing exactly the same.

“FEED THE FISH! FEED THE FISH! FEED THE FISH AND HE WILL SCORE!” (Er, Sammon is the fish, if you hadn’t guessed.) We’ve been singing this since he joined the club in January. That was his first goal – he’s looked very bright all year, but he’s not done much in front of goal other than miss a couple of half-decent chances. But we still sing the song. It’s funny, the song always makes me think, how blind love and hope and desperation can make you.

Some distant part of me feels like we’re being very blind right now. Sammon’s goal was a truly euphoric moment, but a draw is still a terrible result for us. We’re elated because of the manner of the draw, clawing our way back from 2-0 down, but as things stand, once the elation wears off things are still bleak. And then I realise that we’re not blind at all, because we’re going to win. We’re believers, all 18,000 of us, and we know that we’re going to win this game. It’s our day.

Ben Watson hits the post in the 90th minute. It’s not going to be our day. Four minutes of injury time, and West Ham have spent the first two in our half. We’ll be lucky to get another attack.

We’re lucky. N’Zogbia has the ball on the right, but the box is full of West Ham players and there’s no right ball. So he takes it past Wayne Bridge, makes a little space, and has a shot at goal. It’s an awful shot. The Guardian described it as “speculative”. I thought that was very kind. It’s tame, underhit, and straight at the keeper. Rob Green picks this moment to revert to form. It’s a goal. It’s a goal!

I have to correct myself. I said earlier that when Sammon scored, the place erupted. It didn’t; that wasn’t an eruption. This is an eruption. But that’s underselling it. I’ve been searching for the past two days for words to describe the feeling when that ball went over the line, but it’s a conundrum that’s beaten my ability for emotional articulation. Here’s a recipe for recreating that particular feeling, if you want to try for yourself: take eighteen thousand people, put them through ten months and nineteen matches worth of emotional torture and nervous anxiety, and choose the very last possible moment to resolve it. We’ve scored last-minute winners before, there’s been late drama before, but it’s never really been like this before. Perhaps it won’t be ever again.

I lied. It was the third best feeling in the world. Nothing beats that last one.

* * *

Of course, the story isn’t over yet. In a way, it feels like it should be – that’s it for the home games – but there’s still one match left to play. The bottom of the table is a story of zero margins and knife edges, and it’s quite possible that we’ll win our last match and still be relegated. I’ll be ever so sad if we go down, not least because I think we’re a good side who are trying to do things the right way, rather than Allardyce our way to safety every year. We’re a young side, and we’ve put a lot of responsibility on those young shoulders. Perhaps a little bit too much, in hindsight but I’d rather watch James McCarthy and Victor Moses making mistakes and learning and then occasionally being spectacular than, say, Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer grinding out draws any day of the week.

So yes, I’ll be sad, but I’ll also be proud. In today’s Independent, the match report talked about “Wigan’s unlikely six-year Premier League adventure”. And that’s what it is – so, so unlikely. The impossible dream isn’t Harry Redknapp spending millions and millions of pounds and then squeaking past an inept Milan team, it’s this small club from this small town getting to – and staying in – the Premier League for six years. Every single second we remain in this league is a miracle. Maybe the adventure ends next week, or maybe there’s going to be more. Whatever happens – and I mean whatever – we can be so proud of what this club have done. Miracles are so rare, it would be a tragedy not to treasure one when it appears.


5 Responses to “between an erupting earth and an exploding sky”

  1. 1 anders! May 16, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    I ended up having to sprint across Picker the other day as well. :3

    “when’s the train OH SHIT IT’S ABOUT TO LEAVE BYE”

    • 2 rootpot May 16, 2011 at 9:28 pm

      Piccadilly is a really dangerous station to run late in. There are so many platforms it’s difficult to find out which is yours in a hurry, and there are those two platforms (13 and 14) at the back that take about five minutes to get to. It can be unforgiving, which is why I like Oxford Road. Plus it’s nearer. :P

  2. 3 anders! May 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Also, Victor Moses sounds like a name for a fictional character.

    …Sorry I don’t have anything useful to say. :p

    • 4 rootpot May 16, 2011 at 9:29 pm

      It does! Less so than Titus Bramble, however.

      The best thing about Victor Moses is his song. It goes to the tune of “Heartbeat”. Du du du du du…

  1. 1 everything you need is right here « like a daydream, or a fever Trackback on May 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm

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