SWINDON Town have sold almost 1,000 tickets to fans keen to see the team in action at Leyton Orient tomorrow.
Okay, granted, that’s perhaps the most boring intro to an opinion piece you’re ever likely to read but behind it hides a story of some relevance. Let’s read on together.
Town fans now believe they’re going to pay for something worth watching on a weekend. They believe they’re going to see a confident, energetic, dynamic, let’s face it almost arrogant display from their team – wherever they play, whoever they play against. This doesn’t often happen with this club.
Brisbane Road hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for the Robins in recent seasons. Actually, scrap that, it’s been like setting off on a fishing trip with a broken net and a line made out of sugar paper.
No goals in four games, no wins in four games. The most interesting thing to happen during this reporter’s experience of covering the club in east London was some muppet deciding to ignite a flare in a wooden stand.
Players don’t have a proper grasp of the history of the clubs they play at – or at least only a small percentage do – so silly stats like that don’t affect a squad in their preparations. But they affect fans. They affect men and women who have journeyed two and a half hours, seen yet another limp performance in Barry Hearn’s back yard and limped back home themselves; bruised, beaten, swearing they’ll never do it again.
Not this time. Hearn is no longer in charge at Orient and paranoia and pessimism no longer engulfs the Town fanbase like a cult of Eeyore. There is positivity in the ranks, though best say it quietly, and there’s self-belief.
Fans venturing down the M4 and M25, or clambering on supporters’ coaches, or boarding First Great Western Trains, or walking from their London homes for this game don’t seem to be going into it with any sense of fear.
This season, Swindon’s style of play has taught those who follow them religiously that “heart in the mouth” is just another way of saying “long ball” and risks are made for winners.
Sure, it’s a long season – blah dee blah – and everyone must take each game as it comes, just in case the treasured cliché loses its hard-earned status. But things are different now. People are making trips of their own volition, not swayed entirely by devotion and loyalty, because they are actually expecting to see something worth seeing.
Let me be dull and offer statistics by way of proof. Town have already sold in excess of 900 tickets for this match. Around 1,000 fans are expected at Brisbane Road. Since visiting attendance figures have been made available for this clash, only once has Swindon’s traveling army even got close to that kind of number.
When? In 2009/10 – the last time this writer can remember a real belief amongst those going away. Town were unbeaten in four on their travels and in the play-off places in League One. They’d just beaten Stockport County and Carlisle United comfortably at home.
This Swindon team is better than that one. More experienced? No. More physical? No. More organised defensively? No. Better? Yes.
And they play better football, passing with pace and precision and the premeditation of a number 11 batsman towards the end of a T20 innings. They know what they’re about to do and, even though their opponents kinda sorta do too, they’re powerless to stop them.
That’s why fans are starting to expect great things when they shell out approaching £100 on a day out to see their team – because now it’s worth spending that money. Expectation levels will rise the more this happens but that’s another lesson the players will have to learn at pace; something tells me they have the capacity to do it.
There were 983 there in February 2010, almost 200 more than have travelled to Brisbane Road for this fixture for at least 15 years. I’d wager there may well be more than that in attendance tomorrow.
Why is that? I’m sure the players will explain all over 90 minutes. If they don’t, this is the worst commentator’s curse ever.