10 May ~ “The big monster called relegation is there, ready to bite us on the arse,” Steve Coppell once oddly observed while manager of Crystal Palace. Certainly, relegation can loom ominously like a creature rising from the dark and misty marshes, but whoever heard of a monster that specialised in taking chunks out of its victims’ rears? Relegation seems to me far more like the creeping onset of a serious illness. You and your team suffer more and more over the course of several months, and though you hope for a miraculous recovery, it’s more likely that you’ll take a few more turns for the worse and eventually be condemned. A bite on the arse can be treated. For many diseases, there is still no cure.

Of course it’s frivolous to compare the relegation of a football team with death, but at this time of year there’s little room for perspective. Post-relegation melancholy kicks in like dampness in a brick cellar. Rather than tackle the issue, you just shut the door and hope that over a long summer the problem will somehow take care of itself. You resolve to occupy yourself with something more productive. The family, the cricket or a home-learning course in Mandarin that will require hours of dedicated concentration. Anything to take your mind off the fact your team went down. Anything to distract yourself from the idea that beyond demotion there is only further doom.

Unfortunately, beyond temporarily attempting to numb your malaise in mild narcotic palliatives, there is little you can do to rid yourself of hope’s battered, sunken wreck that now lies anchored and inert in the base of your gut. Well-meaning friends send you emails of sympathy, but words of condolence are always marked by language’s strictly limited scope to relieve suffering. A glance at the reliably depressing world news to try to place the relegation of your stupid little football team into a wider geopolitical context doesn’t have the required effect. It’s done with the best of intentions, but there’s no space right now for the rational thinking that is required to stop you caring.

As human beings, most of us are wired to strive to progress in our personal and professional lives. Football mirrors our meritocracy, so this only works out for so many people or teams. The majority stoically settles for stasis – mid-table safety may not be ideal but we’ll plod along in the hope that something better might develop. But if people or teams must shift upwards (and they must), some of us have to shift down to accommodate them. That inevitability doesn’t make setbacks any easier to take. Even when you haven’t won for ten games and are poised for the drop, it still hits you hard. Like when you’ve been expecting your girlfriend to give you the axe for months, but when it actually happens you still can’t quite believe she can really live without you (but she can, and she does, just like League Two will happily survive without Lincoln City).

And while you mope, other teams are lifting trophies and celebrating titles and promotions, or even just avoiding the drop. Could they not party a little more quietly while some of us are grieving? Even the fact that Chelsea will likely win nothing, nothing at all (absolute squat, zilch) this season does little more than cast a shard of passing sunlight across the worn-out pitch that the groundsman can’t yet bring himself to reseed. The poor bloke stayed in bed because he couldn’t face standing on the spot where it all went wrong, again and again and again.

But one day in the next couple of weeks, he’ll reach out for the latest copy of SportsTurf magazine, crank up the rotavator and get to work on those arid midfield zones. Somewhere inside the stadium’s offices, a secretary is googling for directions to Gateshead, Tamworth and Barrow. Rubbish players are being told that their contracts are up and won’t be renewed. New names are thrown around and fans tour the message boards asking: “We’ve just got your 32-year-old centre-back Dave Slogger on a free. Is he any good?” The melancholy will dissipate, and it will soon be time to resume the struggle. It won’t be pretty, but what’s the alternative? No matter how much you’d love to, you cannot just give it up.

And so off we'll go again. And it will turn out that it was just a bite on the arse after all. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (9)
Comment by robw 2011-05-10 10:45:58

Nicely done.

The first thing I did of course on Monday morning was to go on Wikipedia and look at the articles for Braintree, Barrow and Fleetwood quickly followed by following Non League News, Non League Paper and Non League Show on Twitter.

It wasn't a shock at all going down on Saturday. City have been inept for so long there was an air of inevitability about it. So, I wasn't distraught, but angry at the effort of a team that seemed to fall apart so easily. Course, when the fixture list is announced utter despair will surface as I realise that the BSP will probably be our home for a good few years. I hope to embrace it all though. I'm looking forward to going to York again, and planning a weekend in Bath.

Comment by Mindbender 2011-05-10 11:42:15

At least Lincoln have been through this befor, at Stockport it semms like in fact it was only yesterday we were celebrating promotion at Wembley, since then administration, relegation and now CONFERANCE. All you can do is look at the bright prospect that next season we might win something or at least avoid going bust.

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-05-10 11:58:12

I don't go along with all this "promotion joy" and "relegation misery" thing. Ian. You need to forget about such judgmental and emotive phrases as "going up" and "going down". Tell yourself: we haven't been relegated, we haven't gone down - all we've done is temporarily change divisions, a bit like QPR Brighton and Crawley.

In some ways, relegation is actually better than promotion. When you get promoted the likelihood is you're facing the grim spectre of spending a whole season getting walloped week in week out, whereas with relegation there is a hope that you might have found your level and you might be able to actually win the odd game or two. YAY!

(Having said all that... I suppose it is possible that you might go down AND spend the next season getting spanked by all and sundry - in which case, I'm afraid I have no words of comfort to offer you. Sorry.)

Comment by palmerbcfc 2011-05-10 12:03:38

There's no need to worry Ian. The last time Lincoln were relegated to the Conference, we (Bath City) finished 10th with 63 points. This season, we finished 10th with 63 points. The season after, Lincoln won the title at the first attempt and City were relegated :(
At least we get to beat you again at our place though.

Comment by jameswba 2011-05-10 12:55:11

And, for the sake of the rest of the Conference, I hope (and believe) that Lincoln will play more attractive football than last time they were down there. Huge defenders, offsides and Mick Waitt knocking down long high balls are my dominant memories of the Imps (not the most appropriate of nicknames) from 87/88.

Comment by ZoltanBuchan 2011-05-10 21:36:22

When it became obvious Swindon were going down, I looked at next season's away trips and found quite a few decent-looking ones I've not done before. Every cloud etc etc

I was, however, particularly looking forward to going to Lincoln, as it's only an hour on the train (I don't live in Swindon, obviously), and looks a good day out. Ah well.

Comment by djw 2011-05-10 23:42:51

Great piece as usual Ian. I feel for supporters of Man Utd, Arsenal and their ilk; fancy never having the bitter pill of relegation to contrast your glee at finishing 7th in League One as my beloved Os have just done. It must be an empty existence.

Comment by lennon 2011-05-11 11:06:10

I like the imagery in the closing paragraph. Personally, I find the misery of relegation like being thrown out of a small towns' only late-licensed venue, knowing you have to wait until tomorrow (and thereby sober up) before you can have another drink. Best thing to do is go home, worst thing is hang around watching everyone have fun

Comment by madmickyf 2011-05-12 05:20:44

Look on the bright side, you'll be able to renew your local rivalry with Grimsby. If the thought of a trip to Cleethorpes doesn't cheer you up nothing will!

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