Fans of Bray Wanderers went home happy last Friday night. Joe Doyle and Paul Keegan had scored. Two wins out of two and top of the First Division. A huge travelling support the week before in Cabinteely had been followed up by a packed Carlisle Grounds for the visit of Limerick.
Whether they realised it or not the fans were happy for more reasons than the two wins, the lofty league position or the bumper crowds. The feel-good factor was back, that indefinable but unmistakable feeling that together with your fellow fans, the team, the staff and the ownership you are synergised into more than the sum of your parts, hurtling forward towards further exciting adventures.
Did the feel-good factor disappear with Pat Devlin at the end of 2013? Had it already gone at that stage? There were good times between 2014 and 2018, don’t get me wrong, but they were few and far between and not all were there to enjoy them, having jumped ship in protest at the goings-on at boardroom level, and for those that had stayed on board there was a feeling that the good times were built on a false future away from the Carlisle, which was somewhere no fan wanted to go or be led to.
For anyone familiar with the TV show Dallas [1980’s-style, not the modern remake!] there was an infamous stunt pulled by the producers where they brought Bobby Ewing back to life [after ratings fell when he had been killed off]. Wanderers in the first few weeks of the season feels a bit like that. Familiar faces are back for the first time since 2013, 2014 or whenever they had got off the bus as it charted its way through the difficult landscape of the last few seasons. I’m delighted to see these faces again; they are Wanderers people so they are friends for life as far as I am concerned.
I don’t blame anyone who stopped going. I don’t think they betrayed the club. I’m not afraid to assay also that I don’t have animosity towards the people who were running the club over the last few years; I gave them my guarded support and would insist on the good stuff that they did being recorded for the annals, like keeping the club going when it would otherwise have floundered. It may not have been pretty but it was necessary, a link in the chain from the Devo Days to now. It was a different style and it wasn’t to everyone’s taste but I’m grateful for their efforts.
I think it must be pointed out too that the return of the feel-good factor has something to do with us being back in the First Division. Bray are a club that historically bounced up and down between the divisions a good deal. The excitement of going up was followed by the excitement of trying to stay up. If you didn’t survive you knew you’d be in the promotion mix the next year as the cycle started over again, like a time loop.
We broke this cycle by staying up for 14 years. We were in the Premier for too long, losing the excitement and joie-de-vivre of our previous guise under the bludgeoning financial strain of trying to stay in the big time as the recession hit to hit us further.