EXCLUSIVE Red Balloons extract: Swindon Supermarine #2

To mark Swindon Town's annual pre-season visit to Swindon Supermarine, we're publishing an exclusive extract from Liam Walsh's heartfelt and heartbreaking Red Balloons.

It’s the afternoon of 20th July. Tonight, a Swindon XI, any old eleven I guess, are due to play the annual pre-season friendly at Swindon Supermarine.

After an interminable period of scepticism, doom-mongering, and desperation too, news breaks suddenly and jubilantly that Clem Morfuni has been confirmed as the new owner of Swindon Town Football Club.  

I’m working, of course I am, but verify the news through reading the press statement on every available platform across every outlet. On Twitter, on the Town End forum, there is joy unconfined. There are metaphorical jubilees and hypothetical open-topped bus tours, this is the real deal and this is what sheer waves of relief actually means.

I don’t cry, because I do enough of that anyway. But if I did, I’d surf those tears of joy all the way to Supermarine.

Even so, even without the tears and the surfing, it’s a contemplative, emotional drive down the A361. I’m alone, and that in itself, is very much not right. I’m positive, hopeful too — I can’t change the past and what I’ve lost — but I have to find ways of looking forward. Suddenly, I can be a football fan, and dream again. I can imagine glory-filled evenings, last-minute winners, a charge towards promotion. I can temper all that, and quietly wish for a self-sufficient, sustainable, community-based club. Just like Clem’s promised. That would do.

I park, pretty atrociously, on the verge, and there’s no one there to chide me for it. I straighten the car, straighten myself and head for the ground. Inside, there’s no Red Arrow flypast, no fireworks, no red balloons. There is, though, an excitable murmur of friends catching up and sharing the good news, smiling. This is what optimism looks like. As a mixture of the loyal professionals, Academy players and a smattering of trialists take to the field, there is special, heartfelt recognition of Steve Mildenhall. Our erstwhile goalkeeping coach has fulfilled a multitude of roles through the summer, most certainly not in the job description, and clearly deserves the immense credit he’s receiving. It’s a touching moment.

I’ve found a quiet bit of barrier to observe from, and lean on. In front of me, the press photographer is stationed, painstakingly piecing his craft together between sporadic bursts of action.

The murmur grows and gentle applause ripples, Mexican Wave style around the ground. It’s evident that the rumours are true: not only is Mr Clem Morfuni in the country, he’s here at Swindon Supermarine, now. He’s making his way slowly around the perimeter of the pitch, acknowledging well-wishers with smiles and waves as he goes.

He’s coming my way.

Good luck Clem, I say, when it’s my turn, and shake his hand. When scrolling through Twitter the next day, I see that the handshake moment was hazily captured by an onlooker, and there, I think, that’s what optimism looks like. On the pitch, our scratched together team scrub up fairly well. Anthony Grant, the spiritual leader of our asterisked championship winning team makes a popular and surprise appearance, and I quite like the look of a quirky goalscoring trialist called Harry McKirdy. Of course there are other trialists I’d happily drive back to their non-league resting places, and we barely see or hear of them again.

At last though, at last, we can look forward to cheering on or occasionally moaning at a team of footballers in red doing their best on a rectangle of green. We just need a few more of them, but that can wait a day or two, although not too many please.

The league season starts in two weeks.


You can buy Red Balloons from us in paperback and hardback here.

A share of the proceeds from every copy of Red Balloons sold is being donated to SUDC UK.