The Diary

29 September 2008: Some Ruminations Upon Baggies Goalkeepers, Both Past And Present

It?s always maddening to receive second-hand info via a so-called ?friend? about some event or another that you deliberately missed, and ended up ruing the day you made the decision in the first place because what happens in your absence then causes you to look like the biggest wally that ever walked the planet. Said ?chum? will always take great delight in retelling what great deeds of derring-do were witnessed in your absence ? and that?s how I feel right now over Saturday?s historic away win at Boro. I hasten to add that nobody?s been that cruel to me, thus far, but I?m pretty sure The Fart will be gushing forth, with a quiet snigger (or six) carefully concealed within those weather-beaten eyeballs of his, ere we meet again, pre-Fulham. (Off I go again, to apply head to wall for the umpteenth painful time?..)

Mind you, attendance wasn?t strictly necessary to truly appreciate the massive contribution made to our epic victory by Scott Carson, one-time keeper to ?the lot down the road?, now reluctant owner of a somewhat toxic international reputation, thanks to an unfortunate incident or three during Steve McClaren?s final game in charge of the national side.

Although the sum-total of my Baggie-watching this weekend was the Boro highlights, I didn?t need a crystal ball to foretell which of our players would end up ?Man Of The Match? in so many Sunday publications. As so many of our Transatlantic cousins would have remarked, the award of the title was a ?slam-dunk? decision. Imitations need not apply.

But it?s not just the one game where Scott has excelled himself; for most of this season, thus far, and one daft clearance that cost us excepted, he?s either helped in a ?damage-control? exercise when being overwhelmed by better opposition, or he?s helped gain valuable points for us, e.g. at Arsenal and Bolton, with the icing on the cake duly dolloped last Saturday. A few more performances like those, and it can?t be long before Capello comes-a-knocking. ?Twould be truly humungous to see a current Baggie getting capped; the last time was back in the eighties, well before the time of a fair number of current supporters. Well, anything?s got to be better than Pompey?s David James, hasn?t it?

Should Carson get the call from Soho Square, he?d be carrying on with an Albion tradition of strength between the sticks that stretches back to way before my time. In my own supporting life, I?ve greatly appreciated the superlative efforts of John Osborne, who nearly ended up with amputated fingers as a result of his custodial over-exertions over the course of the decades. Jim Cumbes? Not in Ossie?s class, I would contend, but not a bad keeper, all the same. Shame he couldn?t defend his goalmouth with a cricket bat, really.

For our next outstanding exponent of the art, one has to look in the direction of Tony Godden; what a shame one truly spectacular mullock versus Liverpool blinded most Baggies to his true worth. By the time we?d descended into the lower sphere, followed by the nether Hell that was The Third, we had Stuart ?Bruiser? Naylor defending our rectangular territory against all-comers, up to (and probably including) various kinds of all-devouring monstrous beasts. What he lacked in technical ability, he certainly made up for with brute strength: that, plus a nifty line in successful straight saves, plus strength winning awkward crosses. Fast forward to Megson?s time, and it?s Russell Hoult that comes up for appraisal. During our first successful promotion push, having him between the sticks was akin to building a great brick wall on the goal-line before games, then inviting opposition forwards to blast their way past it. That most couldn?t is a true indication of the man?s huge talent.

So good were his performances around that time, it was rumoured that the lad was knocking on the door of the England side. Just like the present incumbent. All that stood between Houlty and international status was the nod from Sven - which never came, of course. I do wonder, sometimes, just how much was known by the FA about his murky extracurricular activities at that time. One of his successors was The Pole In Goal, who also proved an outstanding keeper with an almost cat-like ability to bend and stretch to opposition efforts he had no right whatsoever to grasp. Fergie certainly rated him: so much so, he ended up at Old Trafford, first on loan, then as a ?proper? United player.

My oustanding memory of the lad is a gravity-defying Anfield performance that completely frustrated Liverpool, the second time we ended up in the Prem. The more the lad shut even the better-performing Merseysiders out, the more ratty they became: in the end, it was only a fortuitous strike that finally beat him, and even then, the final score still stood at just 1-0. And that, my little Baggie friends, brings me to last season?s incumbent, Dean Kylie: again, his custodial efforts played a large part in our successful Championship-title-winning push.

But he did have his limitations, one of which was an unfortunate tendency to dump all common sense and reason in the netting behind him, when the heat was on. How many times have we screamed in anguish at some set-piece emanating from his end of the pitch going tits-up, the ball back in opposition hands once more, and the player responsible bearing down upon our goalmouth like an out-of-control 40-ton juggernaut down a precipitous incline? It doesn?t do one?s nerves a bit of good, so it?s just as well, perhaps, that Mogga decided to plump for the lad from Villa Park instead.

So there we are ? with Scott the inheritor of a proud Albion tradition that stretches back to the dawn of time. Well, sort of. I can only hope he realises he?s in truly exalted company. And the mention of such matters brings me neatly to discussions apropos the precise opposite, a lad who, no matter what, can?t cut the mustard to save his entire life. By that, I mean Shergar, whose contribution towards last Saturday?s thrilling events seemed minimal to me. And add to that the relative lack of contribution of Ishmael Miller to the war effort (Unless you were there, and know different on both counts, of course: I?m always happy to be put right when I?ve got it wrong).

Let?s start with Shergar. Brought to the club two seasons ago, he promised much, but has not delivered at all, sadly. The fact that Saturday was his first ?proper? start for the Baggies says it all, I reckon. I?m given to understand via one of our directors that he?s one of those people who can perform brilliantly on the training pitch, but can?t lay on similarly tasty fare when engaged in full-on first team duties.

It might be that the great physical demands of both Championship and Premiership football are a tad too much for him. I base my opinion upon a short loan spell he had with Hereford United last season: during his time with the cider-bashers, he managed to knock in no less than six goals, which did their own promotion-push quite a bit of good, of course. Those Bulls supporters wept into their scrumpy en masse when the lad was recalled by Albion on account of some personnel crisis or other. As I?m damn sure they?d love to have him back, perhaps the answer for both parties might lie in negotiations recommencing once we?re back in the transfer window?

Ish Miller? Dearie, dearie me. The Prem isn?t a kindergarten, far from it, and the sooner Miller gets a reality check, the better. Those dreadful misses of his last Saturday, the latest in a long list of such glaring transgressions? I can just imagine the scene Up There, as the likes of The King and Laurie Cunningham look on, with both ending up punching a cloud or three in complete frustration at having to witness such ineptitude. And I?d hate to think what goes through the minds of Cyrille or SuperBob whenever they?re around to see us play.

And it?s Cyrille that must feel it the most. Well, I ask you, there you have a young striker built like a brick outhouse (as Cyrille was at the same age: just watch on video those opposing defenders bounce off him, as if trying to tackle a tank - and failing miserably!), fantastic burst of speed within sight of the box (check), and a deadly finish that brooked no nonsense from defenders, no matter how good their reputation might be with the media (check again). So what went wrong in Ish?s case?

His is also the sort of physique, in fact, that should additionally be well capable of holding up the ball, provide a chance to bring others into the play ? but he can?t to save his life! Ish does have his plus-points, of course ? but, as I pointed out first of all, the Prem is unforgiving of failure, and unless he shapes up pretty soon, for all his easy-going managerial style, I can see Mogga arranging his shipment out ere those Christmas lights and baubles start a-dangling from baby pine trees innumerable.

And, talking of predictions, I wonder how long it will be before the credit crunch and allied financial problems start to impinge upon our improbably realistic, fiscally-incontinent, smoke-and-mirrors world of Premiership football? After all, an awful lot of firms with hitherto impeccable reputations are now having to pull in the washing, and batten down the hatches for the duration. Much more of this, and the next thing to go will be the ?frills? ? which will probably mean the sudden and near-total disappearance of stuff like shirt sponsorship, corporate hospitality, young player initiatives, etc.

Not much to concern those Premiership clubs already enjoying comparative financial stability, and because of megabucks foreign owners, all-but bomb-proof anyway eg. Arsenal, Man United, Chelski: it?s the ones that entered the Prem carrying a mountain of debt with them that will really feel it ? and the way things are going, it could be West Ham might end up tottering on the brink as well, given the way the legal wind?s currently blowing between them and Sheffield United, still sore over their relegation courtesy The Hammers? dubious transfer dealings, two seasons back. (Love him or hate him, at least our chairman?s ensured that we?re very much in profit, so we should be OK.)

As the main bulk of the explosion?s not long happened, things will probably just bimble along as if nothing?s happened, for a while ? but just wait until those corporate sponsors and prawn-sandwich-merchants start feeling the pinch in heaps.

The Black Country, remember, is an important region for the manufacture of all the various ducrots and dingbats that go to make the heavy stuff. Not to mention retail and leisure, which will feel the pinch rather badly also, a consequence of household incomes lost or drastically reduced as a number of the above concerns also go to the wall. Great choruses of ?Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime?? from certain Prem home ends, anyone?

IT?S A SIGN YOU?RE GETTING OLD when the bus driver looks blankly as you ask him whether or not a certain stop is ?the terminus?. Then looks happy again only when you realise your ?granny-moment? mistake, and change the offending phrase to ?the last stop?, instead!

 - Glynis Wright

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