Just the Champions League final to go before European club football wraps itself in a tight ball for the summer? Not a bit of it if you happen to follow a team wrapped up in the agonising process of the Football League play-offs.
Saturday's somewhat bloodless FA Cup final - unless you are Michael Ballack - was the latest addition to the laments about the world's oldest knockout competition and its inability to recapture the focus of the nation. While Champions League football, or the reaching of, now draws the focus of the leading lights, those in the lower divisions get their winner-takes-all kicks in an end-of-season knock-out on which footballing futures are placed fully on the line.
Monday night saw me granted my first taste of such a torturous and fingernail unfriendly fixture. A pal granted me the opportunity to be "Swindon till I die" for the evening as Wiltshire's finest took the fragility of a 2-1 lead to Charlton Athletic in the League One semi-final. To the victor, the spoils of a turn on that not-so hallowed-these-days Wembley "turf". To the vanquished, a summer of regret and inertia.
Charlton, of course, were latterly a well-established Premier League club, and The Valley retains some trappings of a much higher-ranked club though perhaps its advertising hoardings' flogging of the wares of Pukka Pies, second-tier sportswear merchants Cabrini and a raft of betting enterprises betray a fading of the comparative grandeur of the Alan Curbishley era.
My first visit to this stadium allowed me to tick off attendance at every London league club as one of life's great achievements though a noticeable number of empty seats and a palpable sense of resignation among the home fans reminded me that this was an outfit for whom better days, while recent, may now seem as distant as the heyday of Sam Bartram himself.
Placed among the Swindonian hordes, it was impossible not to cast aside neutrality and empathise as the Robins fans suffered a horrible first half when Charlton mounted the expected charge and fired in two goals that turned the tie in South-East London favour. Half-time was a study in desolation and frustration, as fans sought lukewarm liquid refreshment and tried to hide their cigarettes from watchful stewards. Hope was soon all but abandoned when Swindon skipper Gordon Greer was dismissed for a high-kicking attempt at mid-air surgery on Charlton danger-man Deon Burton.
Yet these fixtures appeal for their status as a test of nerve and Charlton's failed them with Wembley's Norman Foster arch in their sights. First, chaotic defending allowed Danny Ward - he of the Boney M "Daddy Cool" chant - to sneak in and level the aggregate scores and soon personnel numbers were at parity when last-man Miguel Angel Llera was red-carded for hauling down Swindon striker Charlie Austin, a bricklayer by trade less than a year ago. Extra-time was then a level playing field in which both hopefuls tried and failed to land knock-out blows.
Thus we entered the penalty shoot-out. One of English football's most time-honoured clichés is that of penalties as a "lottery": wrongly implying a game of chance. A lottery rarely includes a test of practised application and - that word again - nerve. A conversion of nine penalties out of ten was a credit to both teams and sympathy must go to Charlton captain Nicky Bailey for his unwitting impression of Chris Waddle in Turin 1990 mode.
As Swindon fans linked arms in the fashion now so familiar among teams competing in a shoot-out, Liverpool loanee Stephen Darby slotted the clincher and the celebrations began in more than earnest, with only the jobs-worthing of over-zealous stewards not allowing the players to join the party. Every player hurled their shirt into the crowd, with Darby meekly completing the set, before the Swindon staff mounted that run-and-dive celebration thing that's been lately imported from the continent.
Choruses of "Que sera" rang out before, on exiting the ground, an uneasy pact was struck with Charlton fans, only a few of whom voiced hope that Swindon would get beaten in the final. After all, Millwall may lie in wait there. On reaching the railway station, with opposing sets of fans demarcated on either sides of the platform, a session of catcalling and jeering began though it remained on the right side of threatening.
Arrival at London Bridge brought a previously quiet group of incognito Addicks fans into play, as they hurled both abuse and beer through an open carriage door before then looking a little worried when their train took more time than expected to depart.
The Swindon fans, however, had the wonders of Wembley and Didcot Parkway to look forward to and were able to laugh off such assaults via the magnanimity of victory. Their anxiety shall return a week on Saturday.
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