24 August 2008: Baggies Licked By Lucky Toffees.
My take on yesterday?s disappointing proceedings? Much the same as the last time we were in this blasted league, I suppose. Welcome to Groundhog Day, all you lucky Baggie people. It really was like doing a rerun of a great deal of what went wrong on previous occasions, with (albeit minuscule) consolation provided in the fact that on the whole, our defence and midfield had not let us down at all badly on this occasion.
The glaring problem was precisely the same one that bedeviled us the last time we trod this very same Premier League path: goals, in short, a chronic lack of ?em. What was so glaringly obvious out there was our increasingly desperate need for a half-decent striker ? and the clock?s running down fast. If we don?t get someone (more than one?) in with an abundance of killer instinct around the box ere the transfer window finally shuts up shop for the current year, then we?re stuffed. No ?ifs?, no ?buts?, and no fortune-teller?s tealeaves necessary, either, for me to arrive at a correct diagnosis. The word from the troops is simple ?Reach under your bed, and past where you station the old guzunder in case of emergencies, probe for the battered old biscuit tin we know you keep there, then prise it open, Jeremy ? and quick?.?
What makes this defeat even more galling is the sure knowledge that lack of successful strike-power apart, we matched the Toffees in just about every other department. Defence? Had cohesion, worked well for each other, demonstrated good ability to act as a springboard for attacking moves. Midfield? Very comfortable on the ball, which is just what we?ve come to regard as normal from a Mogga-created side.
Main armament? Er, whoops?.. And that?s where it all fell down today; some great moves down the flanks, and around the edge of the box, and lovely to watch, too - only for the front men (well, man, given that Ish was our token target Baggie for most of the time) to fall sadly short of expectations where it really mattered. Ish tried his best today, but he?s not the finished article, not by a long chalk. He needs proper time and space to mature, and alternative striking options would help take the pressure off enormously. (Perhaps a bit of coaching in how to hold the ball up, help use his strength and build properly when under pressure, would help? I wonder if Supes is free for the next few weeks?) Everton simply used their better-skilled men to nullify our piffling penalty-box pinpricks, then, late in the game, struck with lightning speed. One chance, one goal. Their second came courtesy of shameful imbroglio in the box, complete and utter. Sound familiar, Baggie people?
Sort it. Now. If only to enable us to flog off what we currently have on the bench to clubs more suited to their skills and aptitude, while we still have the chance, and while they still possess sufficient confidence to resurrect their careers elsewhere. Beattie, a Premier League standard striker? Shergar, ditto? Yerrs, well. And don?t even dare get me started on the festering sore that calls itself Kevin Phillips, now well and truly banging ?em in for Championship front-runners Blues, and not us.
One small scintilla of good that emerged from our defeat was the lad Zuiverloon, who?d only returned from Bejing duty with Holland the previous Monday: still jetlagged, according to Mogga, he then proceeded to put in a superb performance for his new masters, showing undoubted class in just about every aspect of his play. As you might expect, seasoned funster-punsters like this column and John Homer were having a field day trying to think up suitable chants for the lad. More of that later. Don?t say I didn?t warn you!
As for our other new lad, Valero, he?ll be getting a run out at Hartlepool next Tuesday, so Mogga says. Not that I?ll be there: sure, I could have gone, no problem, but getting back at around two in the morning, and more, should extra time and pens materialise, and then expecting His Nibs to give me a lift back, simply wouldn?t have been fair to the guy. He has to go to work early in the morning, and I don?t. Perhaps it?s just as well; the last time we went there in the League Cup, I had the heady scent of cannabis wafting around my nostrils for a significant proportion of the game. No arguments, it really WAS that grim. Had our pot-head chum been nicked, purple haze around him or not, no jury in the country would ever have dared convict the poor tortured sod!
But there?s much more to being a Baggie than simply going to the game, then going home again. There?s the pre-match renewal of old footballing friendships, for a start, which is why our little midday sojourn into what used to be the Hawthorns Hotel means so much to us; they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in our case, a close-season break of some two months or so tends to impose a distinct sense of loss upon everyday summer activities. You get great mates at the Baggies, and what better way of renewing old acquaintanceships than by doing so over a pre-match jar or three?
But well before that, I reckon I had something of a premonition of the sheer frustration and misery that was to be our lot that very same afternoon. No sooner had we left our pit, disaster followed disaster for yours truly. As Worzel Gummidge would have put it, ?Oi put on moi clumsy head terday?? Deciding to partake of a pre-breakfast orange, instead of grabbing my Old Faithful, and chopping up said citrus fruit with that, I plumped for ?Chef?s? latest acquisition to his nascent ?batterie de cuisine? instead, a small, but devilishly sharp, prep knife.
More fool me, purely and simply because I?d already fallen foul of the wretched thing just seven days previously, right across the tip of my right middle finger. The floor turned red, and the air turned blue, the second following the first in very rapid succession. But being of the belief that lightning couldn?t possibly strike twice, I picked up the blasted blade for yet another go this morning. Yes, same result, and yes, the blood from my thumb dripped absolutely everywhere once more. Cursing like a navvy, and using a hefty wodge of bog paper generously donated by His Nibs, I finally staunched the flow of red stuff, then finished the job off properly courtesy Messrs Elastoplast. Several of them, in fact, leaving me with a thumb that bore close resemblance to the attire of a bit-player in ?The Curse Of The Mummy?s Tomb?.
And that wasn?t the end of it. Two minutes after I?d finished dressing that, I then contrived to trip over a cardboard box I?d left close by our sofa, detritus from a new camera lens I?d had delivered the other day. Ouch. My piece de resistance? Mislaying my denim jacket: I couldn?t for the life of me remember where I?d last left it! Could it be senility?s gradually creeping in, or something? Naw, I consider Dingles to be the pits as an article of faith, almost, so some spark of intelligence resides there, still! Oh, yes, one more thing ? anyone wanting a bit of slapstick comedy to jazz up their kid?s birthday party, I?m just the person you need.
What with one thing and another, it was quite a relief when we finally headed on out for the ground: a considerably longer journey these days, what with having to make the trip from Halesowen, and not sunny Bearwood. And it was those changes that prompted us to embark upon a small experiment, i.e. forsaking our normal parking spot completely. In times of yore, we?d park up down one of the side-streets abutting Halfords Lane, but now we have to take the M5 to get back home, we decided to give the dual carriageway next to Junction One a whirl instead. Being somewhat further away than our normal matchday ?socket?, everything hinged upon my back, and how it would stand up to a gruelling post-match pounding along the Brummie as far as said island. As neither of us had used that road to park up for a good 25 or 30 years, going there today represented a bit of an exercise in late 70?s nostalgia, if nothing more.
What really got those precious sepia-toned images whirling through the old grey matter was the great number of spanking-new home shirts in evidence, design vaguely redolent of the Atkinson era, and sans new sponsor?s name, of course. Back in the game?s Paleolithic era, the corporates were just a figment of the imagination, and, more often than not, one belonging to someone who?d overindulged in cheese prior to hitting the sack. Away ones too.
Definitely not an attempt on the part of the club to capture the retro market, so why no name on the front of new shirts yet? Because we still haven?t found a new mug with more money than sense ? er, pardon my Freudian slip, I really meant to say ?new sponsor?! - yet! That?s what happens when you have a chairman who tries to play hard-nosed businessman with the big corporates, pushes and pushes for a bigger Premier league pay-day from them, then gets his fingers well and truly toasted when they adamantly refuse to bite. Well, that?s the way I see it, and with a nasty recession looming on the horizon, it ain?t going to get any easier. I wonder what the Premier League record is for trotting onto the field of play corporately naked, so to speak?
As per usual, we?d arrived pretty early, with a good two and a bit hours to spare. It being a first home game of the season, and a Premier League one as well, you would have thought that The Hawthorns pub would be packing ?em in like very thirsty first battery hens. No they hadn?t: when we entered the bar, the place resembled the Marie Celeste. Where the hell was everyone?
Well, part of the mystery was solved, and within a matter of minutes, too. It seemed that the bar staff had been taking the proverbial when it came to the prices they were charging for a bog-standard pint of beer, lager, or whatever else they could muster in the ?alcoholic drinks? range. An eye-watering three quid for the former, and for soft drinks, the same deal as well. Strangely enough, following near-mutiny on the part of their paying customers, they suddenly relented on the soft drinks front. Within minutes, in fact. That dropped to one pound fifty per can, assuming they?d got Coke etc. in stock in the first place, which they hadn?t when we walked into the room! No Coke? Before a Saturday home game? That?s the stuff to give the troops: Moscow Department Store, circa 1980, an alleged choice of refreshment options ending up as no choice whatsoever!
Enter the Lewis clan, and with them came quite a shock. Carly had decided to turn what had been a part-time holiday job, into a full-time permanent number instead. It involves ?meet-and-greet? duties for a well-known pub restaurant chain, and she loves it. Her new employers have agreed to support her in her endeavours to grab higher vocational-oriented qualifications, so she won?t miss out on the academic front too much. After a year, she?ll look at her options again, then make a proper decision regarding what kind of path she wants to take for the future. All her own decision, apparently, and made without parental interference or comment, adverse or otherwise, of any kind.
With a recession looming, I feared for her longer-term job prospects ? whether for reasons connected with educational snobbery, or not, employers still seem incapable of recognizing the hidden talents of recruits devoid of a university background - but His Nibs (who ought to know, because part of his own job consists of compiling statistics for government ministers, not to mention writing erudite-sounding speeches for the buggers) assures me (and The Noise!) that Carly?s new employers are currently very much bucking the trend regarding getting hungry bums onto restaurant seats. Just like a solitary flower blooming in the middle of a barren desert, if you like, but only time will tell whether Carly?s made the right decision, of course.
As for Number Two Daughter, Bethany, she was wriggling around like she?d got an entire colony of ants taking up residence in her still-bijou knickers! The reason? The Lewis clan hadn?t received their season tickets, but they did have a vague idea that Steve The Miser might be holding them instead. All that was needed was Steve?s presence, but Bethany, worried that they might be left out in the cold, was impatient to seek out The Parsimonious One with little further ado. But The Miser?s never around before an hour to kick-off. Oh dear ? ?patience? is not a word you?ll find resident in Bethany?s vocabulary, sadly.
It was around that time when our bit of mutual pre-match yakking took a completely different direction than that originally intended. It all started when both Carly and The Noise starting banging on about the chronic lack of suitable transport facilities for those of her colleagues opting to work a very late shift indeed. I chipped in by suggesting that several girls banded together after their shift, and jointly ordered a taxi to take them all to their various destinations ? the more participants, the lower the cost, of course - but it was The Noise who, hearing my mention of late-night apr?s-work taxi services, had a story to cap the lot.
It?s been a long time in the telling, sure, but what happened was this. Back in the seventies, three Wedgwood girls working late shifts upon what?s known as a ?sandblasting machine?(something that removes glaringly obvious manufacturing mistakes, a bit like laser-guided tattoo removal, if you like) somehow got it into their pretty little heads that their place of work was haunted, and refused to do more unless Something Was Done. Their bosses? solution? Sticking a male on their machine, preferably one not minding a bit of assistance from the spirit world occasionally, hence all those urgent shouts of ?MARTIN!? from gaffers very desirous of his eventide spook-bothering services!
Which was where the late night taxi thing came in; back then, employers were more than happy to stump up the requisite fare for these ladies, plus our hero. Actually, in the interests of gallantry towards the fairer sex (not to mention some very handy extra cash!), taxi services or not, our chum was more than happy to oblige. What hadn?t been made clear to him, though, was the fact that the sandblasting thingy I mentioned just now was the precise spot from where the troubled spirit was alleged to have manifested itself on previous occasions! Not that our garrulous chum ever saw it, mind. Interjected this column, at that point: ?Don?t worry, Mart, no self-respecting spook would dare appear near you ? you?d only talk the poor thing to death!?
It wasn?t too long after that when The Fart decided to bless our company with his sage-like presence, and greatly enthused by his new-found role in Ade Goldberg?s nascent website, The Stirrer, was he. His role a dual-purpose one, embracing not only the usual football stuff, but also as theatre-critic for the site. The Noise?s brief for the site specifically embraces musicals, and all stations west: a mission-statement for our happy chum somewhat akin to giving a drug addict the keys to his local pharmacy. His most recent critical venture involved a visit to a 70?s musical revival, called ?Boogie Nights?: not his bag, I would have thought, but nope! Our hero absolutely adored every minute of it, glam-rock, Abba hits and much, much more. As did all the kids there, surprisingly enough.
But our chum?s visit was but a fleeting one: not long after he?d fled the scene of the crime, so did we, our journey taking in also a quick visit to Anorak?s Corner, choice place of pre-match residence for Albion?s foremost number-crunchers, ?Im Indoors included. No real summer surprises from that little lot, but what did come as a shock to the system was our first proper taste of the revamped, new-look Halfords Lane Stand interior.
Where once extreme congestion ruled beneath the stand, there now stood, in its place, a much improved concourse and snack area. Even the resident bookies benefited greatly, courtesy a timely upgrade. What amounted to a poky hole of a cupboard last season had now become a much more spacious working environment: their customers also gained by not having to do sardine impersonations while trying to place a pre-match bet! As for what the Yanks coyly label ?rest-rooms?, it?s no exaggeration to say that my first visit of the new season left me with the distinct feeling I?d died and gone to heaven.
Two big ladies toilets (one temporarily out of use: plumbers still finishing off all the necessary pipe-work, I assume), plus loads of extra cubicles, which should considerably shorten those maddening half time queues, for starters. All that, and much more: for the very first time ever in my supporting time, proper hot and cold water, plus ample soap supplies (my other half reports similar improvements to the Gents) and hot air dryers that actually did what it said on the tin. Sheer luxury. Whoopee!
It took the team announcement (Where on earth did Albion find their new PA person, I ask myself: it?s immediately ? not to mention painfully - obvious to me that football work isn?t exactly his forte!) to bring me crashing back down to earth, once more. Roman Bednar apart, a bench seemingly incapable of mustering better attacking options than Shergar and Beattie, smacks of pure desperation to me.
The rest? As I said in my opening remarks, sacrificing Hoefkens to provide a first team start to new lad Zuiverloon proved to be a pretty astute decision on the part of our gaffer. Robert Koren was brought back into the fray as well, with fellow-midfielder Cech sacrificed to make room. Talking of midfielders, that seemed to be the alpha and omega of our game-plan. Packing the midfield with fluidity, I mean. Everton, as I?d predicted last night, had chronic personnel problems as well. Only one change from last Saturday?s defeat, though, the youthful Jose Baxter replacing Nuno Valente, but the presence once more of bumfluff-faced kids in their side gave the distinctly duck-like impression of a club?s outwardly serene appearance belying a desperate need to keep those webbed feet hidden below the waterline paddling like crazy.
But the worst aspect of their appearance upon the field of play, by a country mile, was their new away kit, a migraine-inducing lemon-green if ever there was one. Who sponsors The Toffees, these days? British Nuclear Fuels? Talk about ?radioactive?: if I were Mogga, I would have made it mandatory for players not to go anywhere near without radiation monitoring instruments of some sort in their clammy little hands Still, as I said to my beloved, ?Look on the ? erm ? bright side. It?s well-nigh impossible to confuse ?em with anyone else, isn?t it? Stewards excepted, of course!?
And so to the kick-off, an event closely supervised by our very own refereeing bete noir, Rob Styles. And that?s when all the Zuiverloon-inspired banter mentioned previously started, too. From something of a patchy start came my inspirational opening gambit, courtesy iconic Swedish popsters Abba. You all ready for this? Right, here goes: ?Zuiverloon, how does it feel you?ve won the war??
Groans aplenty from Messrs. Homer and Wright, of course, my opener only serving as ample excuse for the former to display his very own sick-making lyrical skills, in the shape of that well-known sixties chart-topper, ?Zuiverloon, Zuiverloon, ooh Looney, Looney, Looney, Zuiverloon, Zuiverloon?.? Well, I did warn you! A scant minute later came my own variation on the theme, in the shape of Zoonie The Lazoon, extraterrestrial pet character in that iconic Anderson-crafted sixties puppet favourite ?Fireball XL5? In company with Robbie The Robot, of course. ?On-Our-Way-Home. On-Our-Way-Home?.?
Not to be outdone, and with both our other halves begging for mercy by then, Mister Homer came up with a real killer chant, and one owing much to Doctor Who?s personal Nemesis, those lovely Daleks, too. ??OO-ARE-YOU, ?OO-ARE-YOU??.? went John?s splendid imitation, done in true staccato style, and drawing distinctly puzzled looks from various neighbourly newcomers as he did so! Never mind, chaps, you?ll get used to him eventually! Honest!
But back to the football. Albion dominance was the name of the game during those distinctly fraught first few minutes, but the visitors safeguarded their goalmouth really well. Only to be expected, mind, given that dogged defence in depth is their ?signature dish? these days. Despite our good early showing, the best we could come up with on the goal front were screamers from Meite and Kim respectively. Somewhat prophetically, I quickly gave voice to doubts in that department, born of genuine fear that our distinctly Milquetoast-esque attack would cost us in the long run. Closest of all was the clever Kim cross that the lurking-with-intent Miller couldn?t connect with; had he done so, their keeper wouldn?t have stood an earthly, given Ish?s presence well inside the six-yard box. That, plus a commendable bit of 36th minute trickery on the part of Looney, almost cracked ?em open.
The one aspect of our first-half play that did disappoint, however, lay in the shape of poorly-taken corners. The Bloke In Front Of Me, looking suitably invigorated following the summer break, had it in a nutshell: ?We ay ?ad a good ?un yet!? he wailed, following Rob Styles?s award of yet another one in the face of sheer panic on the part of the visitors.
His observation, born of sheer frustration, it has to be said, was absolutely spot-on. They either overshot the runway completely, curled harmlessly out of touch, or fell at the feet of an opposition player. On the rare occasions we did get it right, our goal attempts simply ended up stifled at birth, the cause of which mostly revolved around poor positioning in the box. But one thing was abundantly clear as both sides headed for the tunnel, and a welcome half-time cuppa; for well-nigh all of the first half we, not the visitors, had the upper hand.
The arrival of the break also provided ample opportunity for me to catch up with Jean?s domestic affairs, with particular emphasis placed upon the various doings of her mog, now sadly renamed in the wake of Zoltan?s departure to Fulham. Apparently, when in the garden the other week, it suddenly took it upon itself to indulge in a spot of bird-catching. Quite a bold move that, considering Jean?s feline normally shows distinct reluctance when invited to venture outside, never mind catch birds. The inevitable occcurred, of course: after clawing his way up a tall conifer in a futile effort to grab one of his feathered friends in flight, the cat got stuck in the tree. Even more embarrassing for Jean was her eventual source of assistance. No, not the fire brigade, just a neighbour who, by sheer coincidence, also happened to be a Dingle!
There was a certain inevitability about what went wrong that second half, I suppose. After a great start, which kept the Scousers pinned inside their own territory for quite some time, eliciting eardrum-busting Baggie chants and roars innumerable from all four sides of the ground ? a phenomenon of astronomically-rare proportions in its own right, adding enormously to the atmosphere, of course ? it seemed but a matter of time before Everton finally cracked to overwhelming force. Their defence was visibly rocking. Our finest, thinking the job more or less done, lost concentration ? and in the Prem, it?s fatal. Come the 65th minute, and following hard upon a previous warning in the shape of a disallowed Everton strike, they well and truly rained upon our parade, Osman being the perpetrator of the damage. Typical Prem, that; one chance, one goal, the root cause of which was an error from Meite leaving the door well and truly open for the predatory Osman to capitalise courtesy giving Looney the slip at the crucial moment. Poor Carson, a spectator for a fair bit of the time, had no chance at all.
That strike, coming very much against the run of play, it has to be said, served to shovel new heart into the gaping mouths of Moyes?s underperforming Toffees: suddenly it was our defence?s turn to come up with meaningful solutions, as the visitors made it abundantly clear they weren?t going to let matters rest at a single successful strike. Until the goal, Mogga had been keeping his bench-bound powder dry: he had no option now but to make some changes, most of them attacking ones. So off went Kim, Koren and Miller, and on came Bednar, Beattie and Shergar, at various times over the remainder of the game.
I do feel morally obliged to take the charitable view regarding their appearance upon the field of play, but nobody but a fool would ever admit to thinking they were going to change the outcome significantly. And so it proved: with just under 15 to go to the final whistle, The Toffees struck again to make it an undeserved two. Even more galling was the schoolboy cock-up that led to it, a complete breakdown in communications between Carson and Meite which gave Yakubu more than ample opportunity to head home, making it 2-0 to the visitors. The scoreline flattered Moyes?s lot, of course, but the Prem?s a distinctly cruel medium in which to ply your trade. Make mistakes like that, and you get caned, and hard, every single time.
With just a couple of minutes still remaining, some justice was restored to the final score, when an Evertonian foolishly handled in the box, and Styles spotting the infringement for once. Up stepped Bednar to smash home the resultant penalty to impart a sense of renewed hope to our crestfallen finest. But it wasn?t to be, sadly. Last minute salvation like that only happens in the Championship, not among the nation?s elite. Still, we certainly looked the part for most of the game: had our main armament been an effective one, the visitors wouldn?t have had even a sniff at the three points.
And, on our return to the old jam-jar, good news in the shape of us being able to mount a quick-fire getaway from the ground. The bad? Seeing all our local rivals perform better than we had. The Bluenose fraternity, those Dingles, they both registered wins. Even Stoke managed to extract a point from Villa, to my complete annoyance. The writing?s on the wall, Jeremy: the sooner you break open that blasted biscuit tin of yours, the better!
OOOO! FANCY THAT! According to Carly, watching a constant procession of beer-laden Baggies heading for the gents loo in the Hawthorns pub does have its plus points, after all. How come? Ladies, all you have to do to greatly brighten your pre-match potations is to position yourself in close proximity to the large mirrors surrounding the door of said toilet. The thing is, whenever someone pushes it open to go in, one immediately gets a tantalisingly brief, but truly voyeuristic image, via those mirrors, of innumerable Baggie blokes, all of ?em in thrall to intense concentration upon individual urination techniques, and sundry variations thereof. Or something like that. Ooer! Better still, not long after Carly brought this useful bit of excretory information to our attention, my other half?s anti diuretic hormone, confronted by an overwhelming cascade of beer-overload, chose that moment to raise the white flag of surrender.
?I?ll wave!? said the lad to a helplessly giggling Carly, practically sprinting towards the by-now-notorious door, as he said it.
?Depends upon what he uses to wave with, really,? was this column?s laconic comment, a deadpan remark that instantly caused The Noise?s eldest to practically collapse with poorly-suppressed heaves of laughter!
AND NOW FOR GLYNIS?S ?BADLY-THOUGHT-THROUGH FREEBIE OF THE MONTH? AWARD?? Which goes to McDonalds, who won by a country mile. Their way of packing ?em in before the game? A special offer of a free glass with every meal purchased at their place, so handily positioned just over the road from the ground. The big snag? You?ve probably got there anyway, but for the benefit of those that haven?t, this is what it was: ground regulations forbid glassware of any kind to be taken inside The Hawthorns! Oh whoops!
THE THOUGHTS OF CHAIRMAN JOHN?. Heard, during yesterday?s game: ?That Looney ? even when he?s unbalanced, he?s balanced?.? Well, I THINK I understand, but I wouldn?t like to put hard-earned money on it!
- Glynis Wright
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