Season 2018/19 will be remembered for one thing: it’s the first year in my life where the team I’ve played for has finished bottom of the league.
As soon as the season started, we knew we were up against it. Having relocated to Southend, we had a new coach, a new set-up and a whole new group of players, with just a handful left over from the previous season. There were talented individuals, but too few of us were playing collectively.
In truth, we never really adapted.
There were some bruising early defeats. We were losing heavily against teams we should have been competing with, perhaps even beating.
Our new coach left in November, followed by a period of instability. Players followed him out of the door. The club was being pulled in different directions.
We were a mess.
When you lose, you learn the true character of people. Some moved on naturally. Others who weren’t up for the fight left. And those who stayed showed themselves to have real character. They were the ones still happy to train, even with six players and no coach. The ones happy to travel to games with kit missing (thanks to Manchester for lending us spares), no club staff and no manager. Some of them happy to sit on the bench all game just to join up with the squad and keep team spirit high. One of them even happy to miss out on playing the start of a game while my parents rushed to the nearest shopping centre to buy an extra pair of match socks.
As the months went by we still weren’t playing fully as a collective. But off the court the team was more of a collective than ever before.
It ended up being one of my most enjoyable seasons to date.
That’s not to say I like losing. I hate losing. But when you’re losing with those who give everything, who show their desire to make the best of a bad situation, then every small victory is magnified.
We weren’t the worst team in the league. We have many top players. But sometimes things just don’t work out. When you get into a losing streak it’s hard to get out of it. A chance will come along in a game and you believe it may be the only one. You stop taking risks. You become too safe, too scared to concede. Then, when you do concede first, it feels like a mountain to overcome. When you score first you wonder how long it will last.
The cycle repeats itself.
All season we lacked a goalscorer. With that extra streak of ruthlessness, we’d have done okay – probably mid-table.
But that’s another thing about losing. Every game becomes a ‘what if?’ What if we’d have made the most of our early dominance? What if we’d pressed our opponents from the start? What if we’d scored any one of the five penalties missed during the game (cheers Cambridge).
The ‘what ifs’ can’t get on top of you. Losing teaches you to move on, to look past what has happened and focus on what’s to come.
Attention now turns to 2019/20. I don’t want to suffer another season of defeat. I won’t suffer another season of defeat. But I don’t for one second regret the season I’ve just had.