Oh I do love playing away. The mantra of many a devoted football fan, who are never happier than when they are following their team around the country, or even the world. For players as well as fans, away fixtures are eagerly anticipated from the very outset of the season, their sense of solidarity heightened as they share the road, and the challenges of unfamiliar territory. This is no different for college football.
Away days do indeed present certain challenges to the college footballer, far removed from the home comforts of their own ground. ‘Oh, college X, that’s only just down the road,’ comes the overwhelming response from the squad as the captain posts the next game in the Facebook group, only to find out on matchday that said college’s sports fields are actually a considerable walk away, nowhere near the college itself. This poses a potential problem for the team, as the dressing room’s resident prima donna balks at the notion of jogging all the way there in order to make it in time for kick-off (“it’s across the river!”) and jogging all the way back in time for their afternoon tutorial.
In this situation, the role of the captain is of paramount importance. He might well take a firm stance, the best way to cure cold feet is to get your boots on and get playing!
However, with a squad of such strong personalities, the delicately balanced nature of the team dynamic might mean that a more conciliatory approach is required. Perhaps a captain’s most important asset is his ability to source extra players in emergency situations. Get on the phone to the lad who played that one game two years ago. He’s got a bike, so he should be able to get there for the second half.
A full selection of players? Excellent. Complimentary oranges from the home side? Even better. Yet away teams are not always met with such lavish hospitality. Nothing screams ‘pre-match preparation’ quite like being locked out of the changing rooms because you don’t know the key code and no one on the home team has arrived to let you in yet.
Then there is the occasional college groundsman who makes you realise that not all of them are as accommodating as your own, as he is inexplicably outraged by the notion that a game of football might actually require the players to set foot on the grass. Talk about a hostile atmosphere.
With all this to think about as players look ahead to their first away fixtures of the season, it’s no surprise that a recent psychological study has described the mental demands placed on college footballer as ‘on a par with those placed on air traffic controllers’. And air traffic controllers rarely have to operate after a night at Bridge.