Goodbye old friend
A smarter man than me (and one with considerably better facial hair) once said: "In the end, it`s not the years in your life but the life in your years that count." - Abraham Lincoln.
We all know, have always known that Layer Road is a bit of a state but we`ve had many, many happy years here. Promotion, relegation, near misses and more goals than anyone cares to count.
From the famous springy floorboards in the Layer Road end which, quite literally, had the crowd bouncing; to the infamous rusty roofs and flaking paint. If it was a dog, we`d have had her put down, out of love, a long, long time ago.
But we didn`t. We stayed the hand of the 'vet` and painted over the cracks and not just metaphorically.
When we were in Division Four (younger readers, ask your Dad, it did exist) and later in the GM Vauxhall Conference (what the Blue Square Premier League was called before it grew up)- there were calls-to-arms to the community to come and paint, carpet, build, sweep, tidy and clean the ground.
Ironically, moving up the leagues often made the old girl look worse, at least to the stattos. As the U`s rose, our capacity fell. Sections of the ground were deemed 'unsafe`, parts of stands were closed off as they couldn`t be properly segregated. Bits were bolted on, rough edges knocked off and we patched up her battered face with the emulsion and matt equivalent of a bit of slap.
She`s a mess but by god she`s loveable. Like a dear old relative, on her last legs there are times you wonder why you love her. When you`re wading through other people`s urine or catching an elbow in the face as you fight for a view you spent a week`s beer money on - your love may have faded but it still beat in your chest.
However far your memory goes back you`ll have memories, probably more than one, of Layer Road. If someone says "Layer Road" to you, you don`t just think of the ground, the bricks and mortar (or bricks and blu-tac as the case may be) do you?
You think of your first game, or your last. You think of great goals; great saves; tackles that made you cheer; tackles that made you wince; hugging friends; hugging strangers; hugging yourself on a cold, rainy night when you passed up a warm sofa to watch your team lose.
Hopefully, the happy memories push ones like that last one aside.
Grin and 'bear` it
It seems an appropriate time for quotes, so here`s another: "Promise me you`ll never forget me because if I thought you would I`d never leave." - Winnie the Pooh.
If you`re reading this today you`ve been to Layer Road at least once. By coming to this game you`ve taken on a responsibility - a responsibility to the club`s future: help it remember its past.
I don`t just mean that when you`re at the new, shiny Community Stadium when someone complains about the queue for the loos you shouting: "You don`t know how lucky you are! I remember when we had to wee in a portakabin!" Not just that. You have to inform the club`s future fans about its past. When Layer Road is just flats and houses, when there are no neighbours fishing footballs out of their begonias and garden ponds - you have to remember.
And not just in the bad times with the "You`re so lucky!" speeches but in the good times too. When Arsenal come to Cuckoo Farm you can remember when Altrincham came to Layer Road. When Ronaldo dances down the line in front of the West Stand you can remember Ron Green throwing one in his own net at the Layer Road End.
When your disappointed kids shuffle on to the air-conditioned park and ride bus, moaning about you taking them to the football instead of the cinema - you can tell them how you gladly stood in a sweaty, heaving crowd trampling on the hallowed Layer Road turf, waiting, baying for a glimpse of the promotion winning Conference team; or sang until you were hoarse outside the Town Hall for the League One promotion-winners. They`ll look at you like you`re insane (arguably you were, at least temporarily) but you`re passing more than time, you`re passing on history.
History is what Layer Road will be after today - at least until the message board team (dis)grace the pitch on May 9th (do come and barrack us, we`ll deserve it).
I`ll leave you with a final quote.
Shout yourself silly - it`s your last chance to mark the passing of Layer Road. Upwards and onwards to the new stadium and new beginnings. Leave the past behind, but don`t forget it.
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