I’ve been watching Stevenage on and off for my entire life. Back in the days of Martin Gittings et al, my dad used to take me to watch the odd game, but I was always too young to fully understand what was going on or to form any sort of affiliation.
I never really experienced the glory years under Paul Fairclough; the regular promotions; rising through non-league from the Vauxhall Opel League to its very pinnacle and most importantly, the 95-6 championship. Of course, I remember Barry Hayles, Neil Trebble, Paul Barrowcliff and Steve Berry. But I was never truly what you might like to call a fan. I was a local lad with a passing interest.
I started supporting Stevenage Borough in a “full time” capacity in 1996. The commotion surrounding the promotion-that-never-was got me interested and the atmosphere inside the ground got me hooked. For the first couple of years, it was a fantastic experience to be at Broadhall Way every other week. The crowds were a decent size and the atmosphere was brilliant – even if I was too shy to really get in with the Barmy Army early on.
However, it didn’t last and the sale of Barry Hayles to Bristol Rovers marked the beginning of years of, well, sort of nothingness. Managers came and went (or, y’know, never really arrived); whole squads were in and out year after year; mid-table finishes; a relegation battle; an air of malaise; and every new season bringing with it an air of uncertainty.
That’s what has made these past seasons such a fantastic experience; knowing that we’d put up with our fair share of rubbish and achieved something that we’d all been waiting years to achieve.
There’ll be people reading this who have followed a similar path into following Stevenage. They’ll have only been around for long enough to have known the good times of the last few years. They’ll have always known that they’re going to return from the summer break for the start of the season and know who they’re shouting for. They’ll have already known their favourite player and what he’s capable of.
For me, that’s been weird.
I’m in the part of the fanbase that is used to watching one Stevenage side on the last game of the season and turning up for the next one to see a dozen new faces and not knowing a single one of them. That’s what I’ve been brought up on and as such, this large-scale squad changeover is nothing more than a return to normality.
I guess what I’m getting at is that what we’re going through now is nothing new. It seems a lot harder to take, because the lads we’ve lost will go down in history and we’ve replaced them with players who we don’t really know anything about, but at the end of the day, it does no good to worry about it.
My plan is just kick back through the summer, and then do what I always used to do – wait for the teams to start warming up on the opening day of the season, look at one of the lads in Boro’ shirts and ask “Who the bloody hell is that?”…