I’ve seen plenty of laps of honour on the last home game of the season, but last Sunday’s was the most moving one I’ve experienced. As the players and their families made their way around the crowd, the mutual appreciation was tangible.
How remarkable that it came to this. Stockport seemed to have the title wrapped up, with an 11-point lead, and yet we’ve somehow reeled them back.
That feat has obviously been made possible by the terrific quality of players Phil Parkinson has been able to assemble. There’s absolutely no guarantee that class will lead to success: just look at the shambolic state of Manchester United’s superstar-studded squad if you don’t believe me!
Character is an important quality in football, and this group have it in abundance. I’m not just referring to the never-say-die attitude which has enabled us to launch so many late comebacks. It’s the sense of self-sacrifice that these players have.
Plenty of them have come from higher divisions, but there’s no hint of having created a team of prima donnas from what we see on the pitch. Instead, the work rate across the team is phenomenal.
Obviously, for some players that desire is what recommended them to us. James Jones, for example, is most notable for his utterly tireless energy. Having successfully made the “Red Baron” nickname for Aaron Hayden stick, I feel my next project should be getting everyone to call Jones “The Blur” because he never seems to be still!
However, that eagerness to fill every gap, make every run and execute every tackle isn’t restricted to box-to-box dynamos like Jones, Luke Young and Jordan Davies. Paul Mullin, the ultimate luxury product, for example, has an insatiable hunger for success, and he knows he won’t get what he wants by waiting for other players to present him with chances on a plate.
If anything, as Mullin has scaled the National League top scorers’ list, his work rate has grown. It’s a common sight to see him suddenly pop up deep in his own half to execute a tackle and launch an attack.
The truth is that, as the season ends, we’ve shown we’re the best side in the division this year. We didn’t have the freedom Stockport enjoyed to assemble their squad throughout the season, so it wasn’t until February that we were able to complete our line-up. Since then, we’ve clearly been the superior team.
Since mid-December, Stockport’s season has split into two distinct parts. Firstly, the remarkable run which seemed to guarantee them the title: two runs of ten wins, punctuated by a draw with Chesterfield.
Secondly, the run they are currently on, sparked by their defeat to us in the FA Trophy. Three wins and five defeats going into the Torquay game. That’s 12 points dropped from the last 21.
Meanwhile, we’ve been relentless. Only 9 points have gone astray from the last 51 we’ve competed for, and to find 12 dropped points you have to go back 18 league games. We deserve the title, and have done brilliantly to take our challenge to the last day.
It was a brilliant feeling, watching something so warm and special manifest itself after the game on Sunday. Yet, much as I’ve enjoyed watching them this season, I don’t want to see those players at The Racecourse again until pre-season, thank you very much.