Only fans of certain clubs will ever get the “pleasure”
2 January ~ AFC Bournemouth, in League Two as recently as 2010, currently lead the Championship. By the end of next season, without the need for a single away trip, some Dean Court regulars could have seen the majority of their country’s League teams in the space of six years. Watford and Wolves fans did likewise in the 1970s and 1980s. North of the border, some Rangers season ticket holders have already managed it in just three years. While you can’t see everything in football, you can see everyone. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.
The idea that you can travel round the country and see everything in league football is nice. “Doing the 92” or “the 42”, or visiting however many clubs make up your national divisions, is the closest thing to exotic adventure offered by domestic football. But if seeing all of them come to you while sitting in the same stadium, maybe even the same seat, there’s a caveat: it’s only an achievement if your team is storming upwards.
Between 1978 and 1982 Graham Taylor’s Watford went from Division Four – visits by Southend, Aldershot and Rochdale – to a Division One which brought the likes of Manchester United, Spurs and Liverpool to Vicarage Road. Within two years, though, Wolves fans experienced exactly the opposite journey. By 1986 Molineux die-hards were watching bottom-tier football in a ground which hosted the top flight in 1983-84.
Of course, by their very nature, fans who turn up every week regardless are liable to enjoy the completism. It will annoy the odd Molineux punter of that era that they missed a few clubs who were coming up as Wolves went down. The introduction of the pyramid system means England’s 92 is now a constantly changing list. You’d need some very particular cup draws to let you see each of the other 91 at your patch.
More unique yet is the recent situation at Rangers. Top of the Scottish Premier League on Christmas Eve 2011, by Christmas Eve 2012 they were top of the Scottish Third Division. The journey remained upward but the starting point plummeted dramatically when the intervening summer brought liquidation. Cowdenbeath’s Championship trip to Rangers this month meant Ross County are now the only extant Scottish League side I’ve never seen at Ibrox. And County could yet meet Rangers in this season’s two-legged Premiership promotion/relegation play-off.
It took me almost 38 years to see those 40 clubs visit my home stadium. However, an entire generation of Rangers fans will probably complete this same feat within five or six years. Albion Rovers went down to the bottom tier as we won it, but we drew them at home in the following season’s Scottish Cup. Morton and Hamilton are the only SPFL sides who definitely won’t have visited Ibrox between Christmas 2011 and the end of this season.
Football’s well of incident and ambition won’t ever run dry. But my December ended with the sobering realisation its pool of clubs can. This season sees the SPFL introduce the League Two relegation play-off, finally activating a Scottish pyramid system. It’ll take the Highland and Lowland League clubs a few years to work their way up and, for some of us, that’ll be too late to change the notion that some of football’s possibilities really are finite. Alex Anderson