Diamond Watches: Don't You Know?
Pump It Up; A Reflection On Airdrie's Promotion-Sealing Season
Don't you know? Airdrieonians won promotion. If you've spoken to me at all in the intervening weeks since that evening of May 20th, then you definitely do know.
I enjoyed it so much, I dusted off Diamond Watches. Ain't you lucky?
Right, first off, let's get this out the way; I telt ye.
I bloody well telt ye.
I told you all I felt we were going to get promoted and I have been absolutely vindicated.
What's that, you say?
Why no, no I don't think it matters that I said this in season 2020/21. And then again in season 2021/22. Nor that I said we'd do it this season by winning the league outright. These are minor details relevant only to the most petty of pedants.
I still telt ye.
So there. Here's me, being smug.
That we did it this season playing the sort of gallant, swashbuckling football we've come to know and love, adventurous enough to shame D'Artagnan, made it ever so sweet.
That we did it after being written off at the start of the season for making the 'brave' decision of going the player-manager route (It never ever works, doncha know?) made it ever so satisfying.
That we did it on penalty kicks made it all the more thrilling (even if we could have done without the soul-seizing anguish of it all).
That we finally, finally got some playoff pay-off?
Truly an incredible end to a season that felt, even more than usual, like an honest-to-goodness journey, an epic odyssey worthy of many an ancient Greek Hero.
Anyone who's heard me on Diamonds TV co-comms is well aware that I know next to nothing about the grand old sport of football. Even so, it has been obvious even to the likes of me that Airdrie have been playing with a distinct set of principles underpinning everything that they do on and off the ball.
It was obvious even from those first league cup games in July (11 months ago, which is truly sickening when you think about it). Even in defeat, narrow or not-so-narrow (hiya Edinburgh; enjoy league wan, and never darken our door again please) it was emphatically clear that this Airdrie team were being coached to work in a particular way, to a particular game-plan, adhering to a particular set of fundamental values.
That's right, dear reader, the following passage will be a Rhys McCabe love-in.
How many superlatives do you need to give a player-manager (and his coaching companion/captain Callum Fordyce) before it gets a bit weird? I know I'm not alone in admiring the evangelical commitment McCabe has to his ideals about the game. I wholeheartedly agree with him about performances being the rock upon which results are built, and that if you go out simply and purely to get a win by any means without a performance-led focus, you will eventually be found to have built upon the sand.
Even so, Rhys McCabe and Callum Fordyce have been, by their own admission, learning as they go. It's quite literally impossible for that not to be the case. They'd never before had the responsibility of running training, signing players, managing players, dealing with the off-field stuff, being interviewed pre and post match by the likes of Brian Smith and, very occasionally, me, on top of their job as football players.
To learn as they go, in their very first season as manager and assistant, making adjustments whilst holding fast to their principles, would be an impressive achievement in and of itself. Add to that the other element that was very obvious to any observer, which is that they got and kept the belief of the players at their disposal, and you're talking about a formidable accomplishment.
To do all that; learn on the job, remain unwavering in their principles, get absolute buy-in from the players even during a couple of difficult spells, AND get the results that took us to the playoffs with games to spare before going all the way to winning them and mince-meating Airdrie's play-off hoodoo? Oh, and scoring 99 goals (and 6 beautiful penalty kicks, of course) in the process?
I wrote earlier about superlatives; I honestly cannot produce superlatives worthy of the achievement.
Over the course of the season, I've been writing the Club 1924 Newsletters that have been bugging members of said supporters club every month. I've been fortunate enough to co-commentate with Brian "Ohh Josh Rae" Smith and fill in for the DTV maestro for interviews a couple of times. Like last season, it has been remarkably rewarding to be able to get a glimpse into the work on and off the field that everyone at the club have been doing to get us here, work that stretches more than a wee bit back now. That the players seem a genuinely good bunch, that there are good people at the heart of the club, does add a wee frisson of extra joy, for me.
What next? Who knows. A league up will be a step up but I know many of you will have noticed, as I did, the sense that Rhys McCabe and Callum Fordyce view this as the start of a journey, rather than the jumping off point. This isn't the end of the road, as far as they're concerned.
[My Uncle And I in the aftermath of Josh Rea/Superman's heroics]
For now, we've got 99 goals to look back on. We've got the seismic play-off semi to re-watch, the penalty shoot-out win to relive, the 7-0, 6-1, 5-1, 5-0, 4-0, 7-2 (aggregate) score-lines and many other sumptuous wins to savour.
Calum Gallagher (He's Airdrie's Number 9) sending Kelty Hearts FC out for their messages, anyone? Callum Smith and his play-off speciality goals, perhaps? Gabby's last minute tie-leveller? Just that glorious front-three in general, with their oodles of goals, assists and goal-involvements? How about Adam Frizzell doing Adam Frizzell things? (I hear John McGinn has a Frizz poster on his wall).
Or maybe you'd like to revel in Aaron Taylor-Sinclair's headed goal to make it 4-0 in a half-hour? Could Fordyce making it 5-0 before halftime take your fancy? Possibly you'd like to glory in the umpteen team-goals scored this season, like the Euan Deveney one in Montrose, or the Gabby one versus Peterhead?
The connoisseur might perchance be interested in Darren Jamieson's 100% clean-sheet record.
And then there's that save. OOOOOHHHH JOSH RAE!
Players might come this close-season and players might go (no, no, no, I'm not ready for that whatsoever). Clubs in the division abo- no, sorry, in our division, will surely be spending a lot more money than we can, will or frankly should.
There's time for all that yet. Time for squad strengthening and scouting out the new opponents and getting our eyes on the new strips. The season will be here before we know it, so enjoy what we've done that wee bit longer yet.
What next? Who cares.
Bring it on.
Don't you know? The Airdrie's Going Up. You better believe we're pumping it up.
AirdrieFurraCup. Whit Cup? Any Cup.