While everyone I’ve spoken to is friendly, St Ives is the kind of town most people seem to have lived for at least three decades, rather than three months; everyone knows everyone.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been enjoying the games. In fact its nice to have the radio on and listen to the overblown drama of the Premier League while watching proper football; I often stroll around the pitch, watching from here and there, having a sit down every now and then. Mostly, its been a very peaceful experience (which is odd for football).
But in mid October the Saints played Potters Bar Town at home in a league game. It was on the back of two heavy league defeats on the bounce that had started to put the great start of the season in perspective. But Dunstable and Rugby were looking like contenders for the title, unlike Potters Bar who were seemingly more mid-table. As the table began to settle down, this looked like a truer test of where St Ives were in the great scheme of things.
Just one minute in, literally as I walked through the turnstiles, Potters Bar Town took the lead. My heart sank a little, as to their credit St Ives had (in my limited experience) the tendency to go blazing off for an equaliser – leaving big holes at the back. Worth a try, but at this new level it seemed to backfire more often than pay off. But attack like mad they did.
Ten minutes later, the saints equalised during a spell of pressure that simply had to result in a goal – and they kept it up for another 15 minutes until the second one went in. Panic over – this was going to be a rout! Yeah, because that’s how football goes…
It should’ve been more by half time, but wasn’t, and in the second half Potters Bar were immediately back into a better rhythm. As the minutes ticked by St Ives got deeper and deeper, which didn’t seem likely to end well after recent weeks. But despite time passing slower and slower, they held out.
About three hours later (or so it seemed), the final whistle blew. I was exhausted. I just stood there, breathing sighs of relief. They’d done it; they’d survived a real test of character against the kind of team they’d need to beat to stay in this league – and better still they’d done it when they were most likely low on confidence, especially at the back.
But for me it was equally significant; I’d really cared. For the first time I wandered home feeling like a fan. Next stop, the newsagent, to arrange to have The Non-League Paper delivered…