Every lower league football supporter will tell you that they are a ‘true’ fan. They don’t need a Sky plus subscription or a club-endorsed credit card. For them, all they need is an away day in Altrincham on a wintery Tuesday night to reaffirm their faith. One fan, however, has taken his devotion to a whole new level – Simon Hood will be following York City to every match this year. Nothing new there you may think. He is, however, following them for the full 10 months on his push bike.
Already this season, Simon has completed a 300-plus mile trip from a Saturday afternoon match at Hayes and Yeading in west London to a Tuesday night match in Gateshead – City repaid him by coming from a goal behind to win 2-1. Later this year, whilst the nation celebrates the coming of the New Year, Simon will be in Mansfield, alone. The Stags are the Minstermen’s nearest rivals these days since the demise of Scarborough and, more recently, Halifax Town. And as is tradition in the lower leagues, the annual double-header against your local rivals comes in the same week. Still, next year should be better – Darlington isn’t too far past the North York Moors.
Last week Simon broke down for the second time already, but thanks to some very understanding sponsors at Ridgeback he managed to get back in the saddle to make it in time for the trip to Kenilworth Road. He was rewarded, along with 6 300 others, with a fantastic demonstration of the qualities of the Conference. The 1-1 result also confirming that Luton’s self-anticipated march straight back into the Football League may not be quite as simple as they once thought.
The Conference really is a different breed. It is a rarity for a team to bounce back into the Football League at the first attempt. More often than not years of learning to adapt are endured whilst watching teams that may have appeared previously to be Sunday league teams romping home to the league title – stand up Accrington Stanley and Dagenham and Redbridge. Conversely, following promotion from the Conference, teams tend to ride on the crest of the promotional wave and continue to over-achieve in the following season. Exeter and Hereford United have been good examples of this. Both these factors have led many to proclaim that the gulf between the bottom half of League Two and the top half of the Conference is narrowing. Any hope of the Football League agreeing to change to three up, three down? Not a chance.
The Conference continues to become more and more competitive every season. Of the 24 teams now competing for the miserly two promotion spots (one through the play-offs) nearly half have Football League experience. A nostalgic glance at the teams in the Conference these days will leave the uninformed slightly surprised. The roll-call of Oxford United, Luton Town, Mansfield Town, Wrexham, and York City among others mirrors the ‘big names’ now fighting their way out of the Championship. Fans of Newcastle United will enjoy their trip to Oakwell the same way Luton Town fans will relish their inaugural visit to The Glassworld Stadium of Histon.
Just six years ago York City played Hull in a local derby, with the travelling fans standing atop the Kwik Save store in the away stand. The Season in the Saddle would not be half the story if Hood were travelling from the Kingston Community Stadium to Villa Park and then on to Stamford Bridge. This is a real adventure in the real world of the lower leagues and this writer wishes him every success for the remainder of the season.
Simon is supporting the Alzheimer’s’ Society and all money raised through his site will be donated to their cause.