We are going up. The most intensely nerve-racking two weeks has generated some new and unknown emotions. I have to explain my feelings right now.
The last fortnight has been the best.
If you listen to me on the Nii Lamptey Show, you may know that I really do try my hardest to avoid applying the “best” or “worst” to events or feelings. This mostly serves as an affront to banal football analysis, as well as needless defiance towards our obsession with the definitive.
But at some point the best had to come for me as a Coventry City fan. This season has delivered that.
I’m a deceptively old bastard. Contrary to all visual logic I’ve actually been knocking about for quite a while now, holding plenty years reference when it comes to the ups and down of supporting the Sky Blues. I was even somewhat lucid around the time of the 87 Cup win, even if I could do very little but suffer the indignity of being paraded around Warwick town centre in a Sky Blue romper suit.
The point behind that revelation is this: I’ve seen a bit, obsessed a lot, and loved and hated plenty as a City fan. As hard as the years have been, there have still been great moments and I’ve definitely felt euphoric at points – even if the context of a last minute winner in the JPT will seem tame compared to the relative triumphs of other teams.
There’s a lot of importance given a team’s position in the football pyramid being the defining factor in just how happy football can make a person. The notion seems to assert that if you get to the Premier League, that can by definition make you happier than a supporter of a League Two club.
But I’m not so sure if personal emotion really cares about league structure. We’ve done the top flight and absorbed the quality of being one of the biggest teams – and I’d love to be back there – but being truthful, that era also gave me very little in terms of unabated elation. There were great goals, incredible players and stunning results – and yet we never came close to a moment that generated the ultimate joy of victory within me.
These last couple of weeks have introduced a new feeling into my realm as a football fan. Fans of other clubs will know it as “happiness”.
To this point there have been moments of pleasure, but they have all been fleeting, or somehow spoiled thanks to a backdrop of animosity or other struggles. Even before the Sisu era, hope never really translated into the fulfillment of seasonal achievement. We’re now, for the first time in my (non romper suit) memory, living the true joy that comes with league success.
As we found last season, Wembley brings with it something very special, from the togetherness of the fans to the sense of pride in simply getting there. Victory in the Checkatrade Trophy was immense from an event perspective, but it was also slightly tainted by the knowledge that we’d failed so abjectly in the league campaign. It didn’t stop me enjoying the day for what it was, and the memories remain strong in isolation, but it also wasn’t league-related. Somehow, that contributed to how far my brain allowed me to enjoy it.
Ultimately, league performance is all that matters to me. I’d give up a win in the FA Cup for three points in the league the following weekend. I don’t know why I feel this way- it’s purely an innate emotion I have little control over.
This leads me on to my strangest observation from Monday at Wembley. I don’t know why, but the nerves and anxiety weren’t anywhere near as close to the surface as they were for the Notts County semi-final second leg.
That’s weird, right?
For days before that Friday night match I felt the pressure and nerves in my chest whenever I thought about it. I watched the game and felt on edge throughout, which contributed to me celebrating the goals in a way I may never replicate again. Don’t get me wrong – the Wembley celebrations were raw, primal, and utter carnage. But dare I say, I was kind of putting it on because the event allowed me to go that mad…
This is the strength of the subconscious. I can’t explain why there was a difference in reaction or uninhibited emotion when the the game on Monday was clearly far more important, but for me, Notts County was out-of-body mania. Contrary to my usual posturing about demanding success first and foremost, I think the desire and pressure I placed on the importance of making the final was just that immense.
The Wembley experience brought different, and weirdly conflicting emotions. There were nerves, but I was also strangely relaxed. Of course it was ecstasy when the goals went in; I have no idea what happened in the five minutes after each because I was mentally and physically exhausted from the chaotic celebrations. But were they as raw as the semi-final? It’s strange to compare, but they weren’t. They were different. In a way, I think I’d talked myself into expecting them.
By this point you may well be judging me for being slightly odd. Why am I even tell you this? Well, I think I’d invested so much energy in willing us have the opportunity itself, by the time the day at Wembley came, I was already emotionally depleted. It’s been such a long and trying season, the desperation to get to this final one-off game seemed to be what I’ve been craving as a bare minimum.
The other key factor into such a confusingly calm reaction to our promotion was the nature of the 20 minute period blitzing of Exeter, which created a victory mindset way ahead of full time. I don’t believe in jinxing or tempting fate, so by the point of 3-0 I’d already entered Relaxation Mode. We were promoted in my mind, without the finality of an actual whistle or last minute winner confirming it. We’d done it, and the decades of Cov-related anxiety appeared to leave me all at once. I spent the final 20 minutes in a state of absolute calm and contentment. It was beautiful.
I left the ground feeling so incredibly happy, and actually a little bemused. All those years of grievances and feeling of disappointment were no longer there. It felt so fresh and new, and yet so incredibly normal, all at the same time.
This fantastic group of players have finally given our supporters the kind of football-related relief and joy that the vast majority of others will have experienced many times before. Regardless of league status, the residual impact of this achievement is going to be felt by this fanbase and community for a long time. Just look at us. Look at the support we’ve shown this season. Look at the parade. Look at what winning and success means to us.
For so long we’ve felt destined for failure and accepted that as the norm, without having any opportunity to truly experience the emotions associated with a successful season. But with this single achievement, I genuinely believe it can ignite the cultural determination and thrust needed for a new wave of momentum. A future for the club that actually includes upwardly-mobile thinking and a commitment to achieve victory on a far more frequent basis.
And I tell you what – I’m absolutely ready for it.