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Beesotted’s Nemone Sariman looks back at the penalty defeat to Gillingham on Tuesday evening and asks why she always gets ‘that feeling’ when we play a team lower than us?

I am not an intuitive person. I am that person who takes silly risks that don’t pay off, and who sticks with things even when all the signs tell me that I’m wasting my time. However, occasionally, when it comes to football, I have been known to get a Feeling. Sadly this Feeling isn’t present enough in my life to serve me in any constructive way. Quite the opposite, in fact: it seems to consist of apprehension and unease related, in particular, to fixtures against teams below us. For this reason I have given it the original and ingenious name of, erm, the Teams Below Us curse/syndrome/affliction (delete as appropriate).

Last season, the night before our home game against then-table-proppers-up Norwich, I had that Feeling. I was at a party at the time, contemplating my inability to shake this sense of foreboding, and one of the other partygoers (a Manchester United fan, but I did my bit and chatted to him anyway) tried to convince me that I had it wrong.

Him: “Oh, come on. It’s Norwich. NORWICH!”

Me: “Yeah, but … Teams Below Us!”

Him: “It’ll be fine!”


Prior to the Aston Villa away game last month, the Feeling returned, despite our opponents being far from setting the Premier League alight at the time.

Everyone: “Oh, come on. It’s Villa. VILLA!”

Me: “Yeah, but … Teams Below Us!”

Everyone: “It’ll be fine!”

Yikes again.

Then came the Nottingham Forest away game last weekend, and this time that Feeling was stronger than ever. No, it made no sense that I should feel so doubtful about beating the team at the bottom of the table. Yet the Feeling lingered, engulfing every positive thought with an avalanche of negative ones.

Everyone: “Oh, come on. It’s Forest. FOREST!”

Me: “Yeah, but … Teams Below Us!”

Everyone: “It’ll be fine!”

For 93 minutes I thought perhaps I was wrong, and that my intuition had deserted me. Then: yikes once more.

They didn’t feel like points shared, did they, Bees? They were more like points wrenched away from our desperate, win-starved hands. Definitely not one to remember, remember on that 5th of November.

In the days leading up to the Carabao Cup game against Gillingham, my heart and my head did battle like good and evil forces from some twisted fairytale. This time, whenever the Feeling bubbled to the surface, the innate logic that I thought I had, shushed it and told it to pipe down. After all, this was Gillingham, below us not just by a few places but by a couple of leagues. Surely the Feeling had taken that into account and adjusted its algorithms accordingly?

Worse yet, I invited my boss, a fellow Bees fan, to come to the game with me. Here are just a few of the things I said to him, which now make me wince when I reflect upon them:

“Come and watch us win something, for a change.”

“I know it’s only Gillingham, but a win will do us good.”

“I want to beat them, but not thrash them horribly like we did Oldham. Once it got to 5-0 it became embarrassing.”

“This win will propel us nicely into Saturday, and take the sting out of the inevitable kicking we will get at the Etihad.”

Yikes, yikes and thrice yikes.

Not only did my Feeling let me down, but it utterly betrayed me and then laughed in the face of my pathetic foolishness. Things went awry in the most painful way possible: penalties. We English are used to them being our bête noire, but it’s still a punch in the guts when they turn against us. Penalties are cruel beyond measure, not least because they crush the team spirit that makes football so beautiful, then cast a wicked spell on the outcome to make it appear dependent upon one individual for success or failure. Goalkeepers: penalty shoot-outs are one battle from which you emerge looking good, irrespective of the result. Penalty-takers: expect utter elation or utter anguish, nothing in between.

I don’t want to disrespect Gillingham by suggesting that they only won because we were under par. They clearly had a plan right from the start – yes, the goalkeeper’s peculiar time-wasting even when they were 1-0 down, approaching goal kicks with all the urgency of a reluctant snail, was all part of this – and we have to admit that it worked.

But … why didn’t our plan work?

What even was our plan?

How have we come to fall victim to a Team (Significantly) Below Us again?

I don’t know enough about football to be able to analyse this one. However, no doubt some football egghead somewhere will have worked out that it was because we played 4-4-2 and not 5-2-3 (or whatever – I usually just nod sagely and smile when anyone talks formations because they mean nothing to me), so I’ll leave the inquest to them.

Genuine congratulations to Gillingham; I hope they do well in the rest of their Carabao Cup campaign. I don’t know how Northampton – 3rd in the table versus Gillingham’s 22nd – feel about their impending meeting but, if they have any sense, they will approach it as if it were a gladiatorial fight to the death with a gang of angry Terminators, not a cup game against a Team Below Them.

Nemone Sariman