It’s a boring story. And, down the years, I’ve used it 201 times before.
But there’s a point.
When I first started out in sports journalism, I was the sports department on the weekly paper in Wiltshire – the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald.
The biggest event of its sporting calendar –by far – was the Badminton Horse Trials. Second was the polo at Gatcombe Park. You got to drink Pimms with a tiddly Jilly Cooper in the break between chukkas.
I was, clearly, completely at ease in such company.
Fortunately, light relief came in the shape of a ticket to the Press Box at the County Ground. I watched Swindon Town for the better part of three years.
I watched as Ossie Ardiles came – and went. I was there with Glenn Hoddle. And John Gorman. And unless you were from The Daily Mail, you got to speak to neither of them.
And I was there when Swindon got promoted to the Premiership via a Play-off Final at Wembley – only to be demoted back to whence they came from on the back of the financial ‘irregularities’ and betting practices that went on in the regime of the then chairman, Brian Hillier.
He was a builder. Not from Yarmouth, but from Calne.
So, it wasn’t a bad place to cut your journalistic teeth.
Particularly given the teams that first Ardiles and then Hoddle built – albeit on some of the foundations that Lou Macari left.
But in that year that Swindon did – and then didn’t – get promoted, I think they used about 14 players. At most it was 16. Tops.
I can, to this day, still run through the starting XI: Digby, Kerslake, Bodin, Calderwood, Gittens; McLaren, Hazard, Foley, McLoughlin; White, Shearer. And that, basically, was that. Shearer (Duncan) and White scored some 54-odd goals between them.
And they played the diamond. McLaren sat and sprayed; McLoughlin twinkled in the Hoolahan role.
Long, long gone are the days when anyone can ever hope to go a full, 46-game season in The Championship with just 16 players to call on.
The pace and the power of the modern game is such that aches, strains, bumps and bruises are part and parcel; the speed and rate of ‘collisions’ on a football pitch have upped since the days when Swindon danced through that division.
But why it sprang to mind this week is the way in which City boss Paul Lambert is playing a blinder on the squad-front.
Because, I suspect, every one of those boys in that dressing room feel ‘involved’.
That they get the whole notion that it is a ‘squad’ game; there is no definite starting XI; no-one is in by a divine right – free from being dropped however low their form and fortunes dip.
Tuesday night was a case in point; three out to sit on the bench; only one of the four changes that Lambert made was enforced – that of Marc Tierney, in for the injured Adam Drury.
Otherwise, he was ‘rotating’ his players; keeping them all involved – all part of the growing success story.
The manner in which all concerned – keeper included – celebrated Henri Lansbury’s late winner merely underlined that point.
They are, indeed, all in this together.
Because Lambert has also been smart in his use of the loan market; not in bringing Premiership flotsam in, but by honing his squad ever nearer the finished article by loaning his fringe players out.
A group that was – from a distance – always pretty tightly-knit, has now become even tighter; there are no glum faces to be found amongst the Gills, the Smiths, the Tudur Jones’ and the Berthel Askous of this world.
All decent lads, no doubt. But hard, hard work to keep them in game-ful employment if you know in your heart of hearts who your preferred 20-strong ‘crew’ is going to be between now and the finishing line.
The slight exception to that rule will be this week’s departure of Michael Nelson – for whom Lambert, and indeed the supporters, had much time.
He was ‘a man’s man’ – to quote Lee Clark’s description. Of himself.
A rock. And one that, probably, deserved a better send off than to disappear off in the night to Scunthorpe.
But that’s football. It’s a meat business, all too often. And when a 30-year-old player is out of contract in the summer and someone offers you cash and the player a two-and-a-bit year deal, sentiment goes out of the window as the player goes out of the door.
He might be one of those that – given a clean slate from the bankers – you might have kept deep within that dressing room brew.
Alas, that was not to be.
But, given events, results and performances of late, the Canaries don’t appear to be short on the character front. Nor are they lacking in togetherness.
That flows out of every pore.
Stewart Gillion says
Excellent article Rick and a good insight as to why this close knit team is over achieving and could even make the jump to the promised land.
If it happens, maybe Delia will buy you a large Pimms!