I was in a sports psychology seminar at university last week, and we were asked to talk about our most inspirational sporting memory.
All the answers were pretty standard.
One girl cited Jessica Ennis’ surge down the home straight to win the 800 metres and secure Olympic heptathlon gold in front of an adoring home crowd. Another mentioned Alex Ferguson calling time on his glittering managerial career with one final Premier League title. Andy Murray, Katherine Grainger, Tiger Woods. All the headline acts from the last decade of sport were thrown around the room.
And then it was my turn.
“My most inspiring sporting moment is when Pablo Couñago scored an 97th minute winner for Ipswich against Coventry in 2010.”
“Excuse me?” The lecturer replied, bemused.
“Ipswich had been 2-1 up,” I explained, a little put out that he was unfamiliar with this famous victory. “We’d dominated the game but hadn’t been able to get that all important killer third goal. Then in the 96th minute, Coventry equalised.”
The lecturer continued to stare at me blankly, I was sure he just needed his memory jolting, so I ploughed on. “Then straight from the kick off we went up the other end and grabbed the winner. Pablo Couñage – you must have heard of Pablo Couñago – scored this beautiful lob. I just remember it seeming to take an age for the ball to go in, but when it did it was the best feeling in the world.”
“Right, I don’t really follow the lower leagues so I don’t really know much about the rivalry between Ipswich and Coventry-”
“No, no, no. I think you’ve misunderstood. It wasn’t about beating Coventry, it was a 97th minute winner.”
The lecturer swiftly moved on
The next suggestion up was someone talking about Bradley Wiggins. He may have had a PHD, but for some reason he was struggling to grasp why a 2010 win against Coventry is one of the most cherished memories of my life.
But that’s the beauty of supporting an average local team. We don’t get a lot of success, we don’t have too much to celebrate. But when we do, we cling to it, we treasure it and we make sure we milk it, because who knows when you’ll next beat Coventry City 3-2.
Here are the benefits of supporting your local football team through the thick, the thin, and the even thinner.
1. You Appreciate the Smaller Things in Life
When supporting an alarmingly average side, you certainly learn to celebrate the small successes and not take things for granted. A last-minute win against Charlton is greeted in similar spirit to how Manchester United would celebrate a league title.
Success is like a drug; once you’ve sampled it, you need a bigger hit for the same effect next time around. Not an issue if you’ve never actually had any success in the first place. Manchester City finished second in the Premier League in 2013 and sacked Roberto Mancini, despite the Italian guiding them to their first league title in nearly half a century the previous year.
Roberto Di Matteo was dismissed by Chelsea in 2012, six months after he spearheaded a double winning campaign. In 2014, Ipswich brought out a DVD to celebrate finishing 6th in the Championship. That is the very epitome of appreciating the smaller things in life.
2. You Become Accustomed to Heart Ache
The heart is a highly adaptive muscle, with arteries capable of dilating in order to withstand high blood pressure. However, the heart can’t withstand consecutive playoff semi-final defeats at the hands of West Ham United.
My poor little heart was shattered in 2004, and just as I was picking up the pieces, history repeated itself in 2005. Yes, it was devastating, but failure is a regular feature of supporting your local team, and this sets you up to cope with failure in real life; jobs, exams, relationships.
This breakup does hurt, but so did seeing Alan Pardew running down the Portman Road touchline in celebration in 2005 as West Ham booked their place in the playoff final at your expense, despite finishing 12 points behind you in the league. You got over that, you’ll get over this.
3.Your Games are the Same Time Every Week
3 o’clock every Saturday without fail. Fixtures are rarely rescheduled to awkward times for TV broadcasting purposes because no one else on the planet wants to watch your team play football. No annoying Monday evening matches, no inconvenient Sunday lunchtime fixtures. You always know where you stand with your local team. Just a plain, good old fashioned, route one Saturday afternoon game.
You’ll get the occasional match moved as Sky are forced to show every team a certain number of times per season. They will ensure they inflict your beloved team on the nation for as short amount of time as possible, with a quick 15-minute pre-match build up which can be just as entertaining as the game itself thanks to the pundit Sky will have drafted in.
Said pundit will often have no affiliation to either side and therefore very limited knowledge on your little local team. It’s always enjoyable seeing them mispronounce the name of every member of your back four and attempt to form an opinion on a team they clearly haven’t seen play football all season.
Fortunately, they’ll do their best with the stats they have in front of them. They can reliably inform you that your top scorer has an eye for goal, your captain is a real leader and your oldest player is an experienced head in the dressing room. Insightful stuff.
4. You Take Pride in Former Players
Although supporting your local team is accompanied with little success, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the accomplishments of others. As a team with little hope of reaching the promised land of the Premier League, any player with a whiff of potential is snapped up by a bigger side and whisked away to begin their new life in England’s top division.
And we can watch on as they blossom, taking pleasure from the fact that your little local team gave them the leg up they needed. Aaron Cresswell, Jonathan Walters and Darren Bent all graced the hallowed turf of Portman Road prior to their big money Premier League moves. And how we’ll remind you. Every single time they touch the ball on Match of the Day.
Unfortunately, as the quality slowly diminishes at Ipswich Town, so does the number of players being pinched by Premier League clubs. We are now forced to get excited when a player we once had on loan makes an appearance. Ryan Fraser, Mark Noble, Andros Townsend; we really are spoilt for choice.
5. When Something Special Happens, it Really is Special
Promotion, a cup run, a giant killing; all joyous occasions that taste so much sweeter thanks to the years of abject failure you’ve had to endure. Witnessing a giant killing evokes emotions like no other; delight, astonishment and sheer pride at seeing every single mediocre member of your side play out of their skin to topple a much more talented team.
You’ve heard of the magic of the FA Cup, yet people don’t tend to have time for the magic of the League Cup. But in 2011, little Ipswich Town welcomed the mighty Arsenal to Portman Road for the semi-final first leg of England’s second most prestigious cup competition.
The creative midfield force of Cesc Fàbregas and Jack Wilshere had no answer to the steely determination possessed by Mark Kennedy (aged 34) and Colin Healy (contract terminated by mutual consent 10 months later). Andrei Arshavin spent the game in the back pocket of little Jamie Peters. Tamas Priskin (sent out on loan two months later) was the hero of the hour, slotting home the winner as we clung onto a 1-0 victory.
Despite our best efforts, we failed to hang onto our slender lead at the Emirates. Arsenal eventually managed to break down the double-decker bus we’d parked in front of our goal after an hour and dually dispatched us 3-0. But that hard fought first leg victory was more than enough. The elation at the final whistle made the West Ham heartache worthwhile.
Supporting your local team is an investment.
There is no immediate gratification. There is no guaranteed success. Disappointment, failure and pain are almost a dead cert. But you don’t even question the constant disappointments when they make the small successes so sweet.
Things have gone downhill for Ipswich since our glorious DVD worthy 6th place finish in 2015. We are currently marooned at the foot of the Championship, attendances are dwindling and the prospect of League One football next season is creeping ever closer. But who else are in League One? Coventry City.
Perhaps history will repeat itself. Even better, we might get a DVD out of it. Or maybe even a Netflix special.