The Diary

31 August 2008: Carson, Kim, The Stars In A Bruising Bolton Encounter.

My initial thoughts after the final whistle at The Reebok? As per the title of the old TV sitcom: ?Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width?. A gritty, niggly game, it was, with little in the way of silky skills to appeal to the average casual spectator. What few scoring opportunities we did have, we stuffed up entirely. That?s why we failed to land all three points when Bolton were there for the taking, but as you?ll quickly come to appreciate, there were a huge load of positives to take away from there, as well.

This was a pretty gruelling battle with Megson?s little cherubs, as we all knew it was going to be; some of those players are going to be engaged in a painful ?bruise-count? during the course of today, with some of them paying a visit to the physio?s room as well, I shouldn?t wonder. This was a point well dug-out, believe you me; if we can only display half the work-rate and commitment we did at the Reebok over the remainder of the season, worries about relegation should be few.

And as for Kevin Nolan ? how the Bolton player stayed on that pitch the entire length of the game is a complete mystery to me. Either he?s the referee?s secret love-child, or that whistler possesses great gobbets of patience far beyond the bounds of normal human tolerance. Discuss.

Now here?s a funny thing: The Fart told me during the game that Nolan is in possession of quite an unusual record: he?s the most fouled, and most-fouling, player currently in the Prem. Which doesn?t half explain a bloody lot; for the whole length of the game, the man played as if on a seeming mission to land half our lot in A and E. And here was me thinking that this sort of thing only happened lower down the leagues? Oh dear.

But back to the beginning. Thanks to ?Im Indoors and his motorway driving skills, we arrived at the Hawthorns a good 30 minutes early. Even then, the car park at the back of the East Stand was already a riot of colour, both blue and white striped flavour, and what I like to call our ?radioactive? away strip. God knows what it does to those susceptible to migraine; it certainly makes me reach for the sunglasses pretty smartish. Mind you, I didn?t need tinted specs to read the logo printed on the body of the coach parked next to mine; not one belonging to our usual transport provider (it being the holiday season right now, coach firms subcontract out to just about anybody they can find with a decent reputation), it read ?BATTLEFIELD TOURS?, to my great amusement. How the hell did they know?

Finally, some 15 minutes behind schedule, orft we jolly well went. And, just as the vehicle was swinging onto the Brummie Road, the driver then proceeded to play something I?d never once heard on a coach trip before ? an airline-style safety video, little diagrams, helpful hints where the safety exits were located, the works!

All it wanted to complete the scene was an announcement on the lines of: ?Ladies and gentlemen, we shall shortly be going onto the M6 motorway, and from there we?ll be cruising at a height of 0 feet, and at a speed of 65 mph. We expect to land around lunchtime. Bolton?s Mister Megson informed me that the weather there is very hot and sticky, and this may well worsen considerably once the game kicks off?..? Well, you get the idea.

Mind you, steward Damien didn?t half make a good ?trolley dolly?, dishing out refreshments as and when required; all he needed was a skirt ascending to within centimetres of his ?naughty bits?, and black stockings, complete with obligatory suspenders, to carry the illusion to a successful conclusion! ?I?m Damien ? fly me!?? Have to do something about his complete lack of mammary upholstery, though.

Bar for a slight delay around Junction 15 ? The Noise?s Stoke stamping-ground ? where a lane was blocked off (nothing whatsoever to do with our talkative chum, presumably), the remainder of the journey to The Reebok passed off in a highly civilised manner. I was a bit puzzled by the route taken once within sniffing distance of the town; a circular one, which almost landed us back on the M6 once again. Then, the penny dropped. As it was so early, the man at the wheel had elected to kill time by going the pretty way round. And yes, I give full permission for those of green inclinations to wax furious to absolutely everyone concerned about the amount of diesel needlessly squandered.

Both this column and The Fart spent the time with our noses buried right inside our respective papers, mine being the Mirror, and our elderly chum indulging ? if that?s the right word ? in the Daily mail. No wonder I rapidly developed all the signs of an acute allergic reaction; that?s what that ghastly rag does to me, first time, every time. And, much to El Tel?s delight, not one whiff of the customary ?in-flight film?, either!

Eventually, our driver must have got bored, because when I looked up once more, there were the distinctive floodlight pylons of the Reebok to our right hand side. Said The Fart, ?We?re early, way too early??

Said moi, ?You sound like one of those pensioners on the bus I normally catch ? ?Am I too early?....? ? That?s why it?s known as the Twirly Bus, folkies ? Twirly ? too early? Aw, suit yourselves?

Having left the environs of West Bromwich absolutely dripping with sweat ? the humidity there was something awful ? it came as quite a shock, on debussing, to find that there was quite a breeze going around. Which did us a favour, actually, reducing the air temperature to something more bearable. All to do with having a football ground atop quite a lot of open ground, quite close to the beginnings of the dark and brooding Saddleworth Moor - yes, THAT one, Brady and Hindley cognoscenti will recognise the name immediately ? lurking beyond the town.

Pausing for a brief time by the players entrance ? The Fart was hoping to catch our former manager, I think ? then watching our finest roll up in their own vehicle ? we then proceeded to take a stroll in the direction of the nearby shopping mall. As we did so, loads of Baggies going in the opposite direction, and all of them strangers, greeted us warmly.

?Who are these people?? enquired a distinctly puzzled Fart, once the bulk of them had gone past.

?Buggered if I know,? said I, equally mystified, ?I was sort of hoping you?d tell ME!?

It was about that time that El Tel discovered that there were Fire Service sniffer dogs on display, as part of the local brigade?s fundraising activities, for which we?d already chucked something in the bucket, of course. ?Oh, Lord,? thought I, ?Now we?ll NEVER get him inside the ground before kick-off?.?

Nattering to their handler, it turned out that these dogs are trained to go into premises where a fire?s recently occurred, look for any traces of petrol, etc. left by arsonists, then lead their handler straight to the evidence. Such is their sensitivity, apparently, they can get better results than those obtained by the use of specially designed electronic instruments. That means evidence present in molecular quantities only, believe it or not.

Being as besotted with canines as The Fart is, I also commenced fussing operations, whereupon the canine in question, a very friendly lady-dog, started to give ME the olfactory once-over. Not being in the habit of splashing flammable substances around my clothing, I was somewhat puzzled ? then it suddenly came to me what was going on. My moggies. Of course!

?Well, said I to the handler, ?I don?t know whether or not cats qualify as arsonists, but your dog can certainly smell MINE!?

Many minutes later, and incorporating what the Yanks like to call a ?refreshment stop? inside McDonald?s ladies loo (where I encountered a delightfully friendly female Trotter engaged in conversation with one of our own, and your truly being drawn into the debate ? it was about the relative fortunes of both clubs ? also) we then headed for the away end, with a brief halt for Tel to greet the many police horses present, incorporated into the journey.

And, just outside the turnstiles, I suddenly caught a glimpse of something I hadn?t noticed before, a huge metallic thingy adorning a nearby traffic island, modelled on the lines of the old Jules Rimet Trophy, the one that Bobby Moore held proudly aloft back in 1966. Was it a new addition? Let?s put it this way, I couldn?t, for the life of me, recall it being there before.

Once inside, I quickly discovered that the away end actually possessed a lift! Quite a revelation, that, and I would never have known, had it not been for a very helpful steward informing me of its existence.

Grateful? Not half, especially after the one and only time I had to use the upper tier stairs, when we played Bolton in the away leg of our 2001 play-off semi. The problem had arisen because of our late arrival, caused by motorway congestion, which meant we only got through the turnstiles with minutes to spare before the kick-off. Neither my back nor myself enjoyed that frantic upwards dash, hence my profound gratitude towards the steward concerned! (And a big pat on the back for all Bolton staff, who were a real pleasure to deal with, quite a contrast with some grounds I?ve been on, where stewards seemingly operated on a ?commission for every successful ejection of away supporters? basis.

If it hadn?t been humid outside, it certainly was in the bit below the stand, so much so, and rip-off prices or not, I quickly felt the need to grab a bottle of Coke from their bar. Having left The Fart watching a handy TV monitor, I dived in to make my purchase, and on return, glugged the contents as if there were no tomorrow. In fact, I sank the contents in about two minutes flat: with every succeeding ?gulp?, my little chum?s eyes grew wider and wider!

After watching the fag-end of the Southampton-Blackpool early kick-off, we then headed on up to our seats. Very well-placed, they were, too, the only snag being their distance from the action, compensated for by the steep rake ensuring that we wouldn?t be too mithered by those in front standing up during the game; like the poor, it?s a problem that?s always with us. But not this time.

As the pre-match music rose to a ear-shattering crescendo ? think ?massed bombing raid? and you?ve got the picture ? and both sides emerged from separate tunnels, as predicted last night, a generous chant then erupted, in our end, of ?There?s Only One Gary Megson??

Obligatory handshake ritual having been performed to the satisfaction of both parties ? do the players find this nonsense as ridiculous as I do, I wonder? ? it was time for the team news. As we?d all thought beforehand, new boy Valero finally got to wear the shirt in action, with poor Chris Brunt playing the role of sacrificial lamb. Also benched were Hoefkens, Shergar, Cech, Kiely, Bednar and Moore. The rest? As per Everton, more or less.

Once the show finally got onto the road, it came as no surprise to our contingent to find the play more than a tad cagey on both sides. The opening ten was positively strewn with daft mistakes, balls going everywhere bar the place intended by the kicker in question; scrappy, too, which meant Mr. Stroud?s whistle being pressed into action far too many times for my liking. Bolton? Think ?Stoke?, with some added sophistication.

And there were some really hairy moments for us, too. Come the 6th minute, come a dubious free-kick in the home side?s favour, when Bolton?s McCann eluded his Baggie marker, only to see his shot end up in the side-netting. Phew! But we had our chances too, as per Ish Miller, latching on to a Morrison cross, letting fly deep in the Bolton box, only to see it deflected by a panicking Trotter.

One Bolton subbing and one almighty scare for the visiting side later, Kim almost made a name for himself, courtesy an absolute screamer, stopped, as I was to discover later, by the wonderfully named Shittu. Following on from that, the action then switched to our own box, where Carson was beautifully positioned to cut out an effort that came from a very narrow angle indeed.

But it wasn?t always a case of ?Might Is Right: there were times when we were producing some wonderful passing football, none more so than the occasion when Valero was put through. Not believing his luck, possibly, considering there was a Baggie lurking unmarked close by, he then unleashed an absolute corker for the benefit of his adoring Baggie admirers. A shame that it didn?t trouble their keeper one little bit, mind, but the idea was right.

While all this was going on, a verbal war was hotting up between both sets of supporters, and as per usual, prompted by geographical embarrassment of massive proportions on the part of the home crowd. How many times do we have to tell people? We DON?T come from Birmingham, OK?

Coming close to the fag-end of the half, ironic cheers aplenty erupted from our end, all aimed in the direction of the referee, who, throughout the half, had seemingly wielded his trusty Acme Thunderer pretty much in their favour, rather than ours. A Bolton infringement spotted, for once ? hooray!

But this came by way of interlude: prior to that, our faithful had kept up a series of almost non-stop chants and songs, something that left their opposite numbers? efforts sadly lacking. Never used to be the case, back in their old Burnden Park days. Like many a Prem club before them, their demographic has since undergone massive change, and not for the better, either. No wonder there then came a mocking (but warm-hearted) chant from our end, of ?Megson?s Too Good For You!?

By now, events on the field had assumed all the intensity of a Cup tie, no mercy asked for, and absolutely none given, either. Talk about two opposing factions heating the Reebok air to boiling-point, almost. A classic scenario ? the fabled irresistible force meeting the immovable object. As The Fart commented, during yet another stoppage for healing purposes, ?There?s an edge to this game??

Said I, ?Well, Megson?s got a clear agenda, and in his own way, Mogga?s got one too. And we need the points!?

Then, come the resumption of play, and after Ish Miller had stuffed up yet another goalscoring chance in spectacular fashion, The Fart, now made furious by our spendthrift attitude towards the few chances we?d had that game, spoke once more. ?No right foot!? And, just seconds later, our chum was expressing great disapproval for a serially-errant Nolan, who?d nearly landed the lad Barnett in Casualty with a tackle of shuddering proportions. He?d already been booked, so was prime ?walking? fodder, but the ref, suffering a bad dose of ?sloping shoulders?, merely awarded the foul to us, nothing more. ?Just a bloody thing, he is?? was our hero?s angry comment. Now hang on a minute, Tel. Even things like him have rights and feelings! Now where did I put that loaded revolver, I wonder?

Come stoppage time, much activity around our dug-out. Mogga attempting to make a change, perhaps? I couldn?t see any wounded soldiers, but when I consulted The Fart, he had strong suspicions Hoefkens was showing signs of being hors de combat. But we never did get to complete the change; not long after that, the ref?s busy whistle sounded for the break.

During the interval, The Fart consulted his steam radio set to ascertain what was going on elsewhere. Depressing news from the Custard Bowl, where Wolves were busily engaged in tanking Forest, surprisingly enough. Blues were ahead at Norwich as well. Come on, Delia, surely you must have anti-Bluenose recipe or three lurking somewhere? But there was one ray of hope, and one clearly discernable from the Reebok, too ? bloody Stoke down to ten men, and losing. Love it.

The start of the second saw our mystery subbing manifest itself, at long last. Hoefkens on for Meite, it was. And we immediately found ourselves landing up on the wrong end of enormous pressure from the home side, Robbo heading away a nasty-looking ball, and one of theirs stuffing up the subsequent rebound. But The Trotters didn?t have it all their own way, during those opening moments. After an Albion free-kick soon after that, it was Looney?s turn to shine, his header registering a near-miss from close range.

To no-one?s particular surprise, Bolton, clearly not relishing the thought of a post-match rollicking from our former leader, then turned up the wick to maximum, something that sorely tested our rearguard?s coping capabilities. Cue, then, for another subbing: off went Valero, to great applause from our lot, and on came Cech.

Poor Ish Miller. Put through beautifully by Robbo, and with the Bolton goalmouth at his mercy, just about, only managed to send the ball carooming upwards, and in the vague direction of Row Z. ?Tis true that their keeper is one of this division?s best, and did his utmost to put our lad off, but even so, Miller still has much to learn about his striking trade. One day he?ll finally take on board a concept we supporters know all-too well from bitter experience at this level, viz: if you don?t take what few chances you do get at this level, you get punished for it. End of. Miller?s young, still learning his job, but he?ll have to grow up fast.

A minute or so later, it was Robbo?s turn to play the villain. Or had he? The decision to award a free-kick to Bolton, right on the edge of the box, incensed the home crowd greatly ? they thought a penalty was in order ? but you really had to question whether it was an infringement or not. Robbo saw yellow, but justice was done when Carson saved well from the resultant set-piece.

Come the 21st minute, cometh yet another copper-bottomed chance for Ish, courtesy the superb Kim: sadly, neither ball nor player could make the necessary connection. No surprise, then, to see The Fart wail despairingly to the heavens above, ?Whatever we do, it just WON?T go in. What have we got to do to score??.?

With our choral efforts now well into fifth gear, Mogga made another change, Koren for Shergar. I can only assume that Mogga still retains some degree of faith in the latter?s abilities. Our secret weapon? If so, it?s so secret, all his own teammates remain in blissful ignorance!

Still retaining that Cup-tie air about it, the play still continued to crazily caroom from one end to the other. A Bolton free-kick should have been a pen, we both reckoned ? in fact we?d both thought the ref had given one ? but when they took the set-piece, it too defied gravity. Near the end, the home side managed to get the ball into the net, but only to see it ruled out for offside. Thank goodness for that!

That was followed by our best chance of the game ? which also proved to be our most glaring miss! Any other time, the Kim thunderbolt that started it all off would have found the back of the net ? but this being the Baggies, his effort, unbelievably, hit the crossbar, bounced down, right on the line, then out again. But worse was to come: Miller, more or less unmarked, had the rebound drop right on his head, and only he knows why his headed effort reached the questing arms of Jaaskaleinen and not the back of the net!

What with a cheeky Bolton shout at the other end of the park not given, although a free-kick was awarded to them instead, and the result of what I deem an unintentional hand-ball, closely followed by a truly stunning Carson save, we were under the cosh. And Bolton got the ball in the net again, with the same result, courtesy the lino, thank goodness. Had they legally netted, it would have been an injustice of massive proportions for our hard-grafting band of brothers.

After all that drama, it came as something of a relief when the ref blew for time. Cue rapid release of pent-up nervous energy on our part, the result being an away end full of wildly-celebrating Albionites. Yep, it really did feel like an away win! To their credit, our finest did eventually come over to acknowledge our vocal efforts - and quite right, too! Oh ? and another bit of good news, Stoke lost.

Thoughts? More a case of ?two points squandered, rather than a point gained?. But, hey, we deserved it, after the almighty battering Meggo?s charmers gave us out there. Defence? Solid as a rock. Midfield? We?re getting there. Strike rate? Squandered too many, for my liking ? yes, Ish, I mean YOU! ? but that?s hardly surprising, given that, Bednar apart, we simply don?t have too much in the way of forwards! (Why was he not brought on, I wonder?) Let?s hope that Monday?s closure of the transfer window won?t leave us bereft of stiffening-measures in that department. But overall, for the first time this campaign, I really do get the impression we?re building a competent Prem outfit, at long last. Only time will tell if I?m right or wrong.

FROM ALL THESE OPERATIONS, ONE OF OUR SUPPORTERS IS MISSING??? Sitting on our coach afterwards, I was listening to the Beeb on the radio, and patiently waiting to start the journey home, when Damien, our steward (no 666 jokes, or Armageddon stuff, please, he gets most upset ? unless you want the latter to mean ?Armageddon away from The Reebok - hooray!?) proceeded down the length of the coach to check for absentees.

It was while he was doing so I realised that The Fart was AWOL, which was strange ? he?d climbed back onto the coach at precisely the same time as me. As Damien retraced his steps towards the front ? was that REALLY a teensy glow of red I saw in his eyeballs? Ooer. ? I hollered: ?Hang on ? Terry?s not here. He was a minute ago, where?s he gone??

Clearly Damien knew where he was, because, in a flash, he replied, ?Er ? sunbathing outside!?

Nothing to do with yesterday?s game, this little tale, it?s more to do with our midweek trip to Hartlepool. As The Fart narrated, I?m given to understand (from Chris Lepkowski?s blog) that Hartlepool coppers stopped an Albion coach as it was about to enter the town preparatory to going to their ground.

No sooner had their vehicle ground to a halt, on jumped an extremely officious example of the law enforcement species, who brusquely told the occupants that they wouldn?t be allowed to proceed towards their destination until shortly before the scheduled kick-off time. Which was quite an interesting statement, really ? that coach was stuffed chock full of Albion directors, including Jeremy Peace, also former Albion medic Doc Rimmer, with assorted journos filling up the remainder of the seats!

 - Glynis Wright

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