The Diary

05 October 2008: Albion Hit Seventh Spot, Dingles Just Hit Anybody They Can Find!

Between you, me and the goalpost, I?m not quite sure whether we actually deserved to win that one, or not. Of one thing I AM sure, though: if nothing else, this was a comedy of errors, with a certain gentleman wearing the flash, luminescent boots doing his level best to grab star billing for himself. Well, he certainly succeeded, but not quite in the way he would have wished for himself. Coco The Clown couldn?t have done it any better: at least Mogga had the common decency to bring an end to this farce during the second half.

Compare and contrast such serial ineptitude with the polished performance put on by another Baggie chappie, one claiming the rectangle formed by the woodwork as his own, carrying on the good work he?d begun at The Riverside last week. If there?s one person that surely laid the foundations for those three points, it was Carson, whose positioning, handling, command of his box ? yes, and saving, as and when required ? was just about faultless throughout. Yes, Kiely was good, last season ? but ?yer man? has taken things into a completely different dimension, this term. Far be it from me to be totally disparaging about Deanno?s massive contribution to last season?s Championship-winning side, but in his heart of hearts, he must surely know who is looking the better of the two, right now.

Hey ? let?s say it loud, let?s say it proud. TEN luvverley points in the old biscuit-tin, our Prem position is currently SEVENTH ? and it?s only the beginning of October: stick around much longer, and you?ll see blood gushing forth from my nose in copious quantities. But one dampener, mind. Remember the very first time we went up, in 2002, and three wins on the spin giving us nine, and a similarly-elevated perch? And how everything finished up come May? Quite. Yep ? it could all go pear-shaped again quite easily, of course, but with Mogga at the helm this time ? who knows?

Mind you, we?ve been quite busy with all things Albion all week. On Tuesday, we went to a Supporters Club meeting at the ground, where Messrs. Zuiverloon and Donk were the ?star attractions? Both lads are from Holland, of course, with Mister Zuiverloon ? or ?Mister Cool? as some Baggies now call him ? showing quite a dry sense of humour: as for his opposite number, imagine, if you will, a voice of darkest mahogany, the sort of thing you hear on voice-overs for cinema trailers.

Aw, you know, something like this, perhaps? ?They said it couldn?t haaaaapennnn ? then it DID haaaappennnnn. Prepare for the FRIGHT of your life, as blood-curdling FEAR pins you to your SEEEEAAATTTT?... Just a normal Albion defender by day, he becomes SUUUUUPPPPPERCOOOOOL by night. A LEEEGGGEND, the ONEANDONLY??? All right, I know ? don?t ring us, we?ll ring you?..

Thursday? That was The Denis Smith Roadshow, I?ll have you know! Yep, the lad?s brought out a book, published by the same firm that did His Nibs?s recent tome apropos Albion Cult Heroes. At least the words were pretty much his own: normally, ex-managers etc. employ fancy journos to do their ghostwriting for them, but His Nibs?s publisher solemnly assures us both this was mostly the work of Mr. Smith himself.

Although ?yer man? has reigned supreme at quite a few clubs, and at some length in the book, there?s only one small chapter devoted to all things Baggie, which is a shame, really. But Denis (being a Stoke by birth, once he?d started, you try to shut him up!) did have some relatively novel stuff to impart unto the small gathering present that night. He did admit that in Richard Sneekes, he found what Winston Churchill, when discussing Communist China, once called: ?An enigma wrapped within a mystery?? ?Or was it the other way around? ?Difficult? in other words.

As I put it to The Noise, listening intently in the Hawthorns pub, earlier today: ?Football managers are from Mars, Richard Sneekes is from Venus?.? Would Mogga have done better with our Flying Dutchman, had he been our gaffer? I?d like to think so: in fact, I?d wager a small sum Mogga would have constructed the entire side around him, had he been in charge back then. As my other half said, when I put the question to him, ?it would truly have been a meeting of minds?..?

The other ?different? tidbit of information he came forth with wasn?t anywhere near as uncontroversial. It concerned Bob Taylor: as older Baggies might recall, not long after Smith took the helm, Bob was on his bike, and in the direction of the Reebok, where he helped the Lancashire club gain promotion to the Prem.

Denis?s take on the theme? He reckoned Supes had entered something of a ?comfort zone? at our place: adored by his public whatever he did, all he had to do was turn up at the correct time and place, and he?d get a game. (More than Fabian De Freitas could do, much to our tame Stokie?s fury; even now, it still rankles with our ex-gaffer!) Wasn?t quite how we saw Bob?s departure at that time, of course, but we?ll just have to agree to differ on that one, I guess.

No sooner had we returned from that meeting (and book signing session), it was on with the old TV, ITV, to be precise, and a new series hosted by Stan Collymore, would you believe, called ?Glory Days? The start-time for this one was around eleven at night, so some might not have realised it was on, but essentially, it was a ?game of two halves?, the first dealing with Albion?s 1968 Cup winning appearance at Wembley, and the second dealing with the Ron Atkinson side of 1978-79, the one that so nearly lifted the League title for us.

All the usual suspects came forth, as you?d expect ? Bomber Brown, Graham Williams and Bobby Hope for the ?68 bit, with plenty of support from Laraine Astle herself ? the Queen in her Netherseal castle putting everything into perspective by way of various pictures etc. taken at the time. That equally-emotive second helping? Bomber again, of course, nattering about those European games, Champagne Charlie himself, with Ally Robertson also weighing in with several telling comments.

Naturally, they went large on that famous Old Trafford 5-3, just before that awful cold spell set in, the one that scuppered our chances of lifting the much-desired League trophy. My verdict on the entire 30 minutes or so? Not bad, on the whole. At least they didn?t go for any sensationalism, which seems to be the province of so many up-and-coming TV Tristrams, these days. There?s more to come in the series, which covers notable moments in the history of all the West Midlands sides. I wonder if they?ll feature the Dingles? monumental promotion cock-up of 2001-02, I wonder? Go on, Stan ? you know you want to, have a good snigger where mirth?s truly deserved. Beats ?dogging? on Cannock Chase by a country mile, mate!

But back to the present. Now we?ve shifted parking spots, one thing that truly amazes me is the number of cars already there when we park up on the dual carriageway adjacent to the southbound carriageway of Junction 1, M5. Today, we?d docked at around half-twelve, but it was already quite clear that loads had arrived much earlier than that, even. We thought we were early: what do they find to do with their time, for Pete?s sake? Where do they go? In the motel bar, or into hostelries nearer the town, I wonder? Or do they simply sneak into the bushes in the middle of Junction One island, where a surreptitious orgy awaits, perhaps?

Mind you, quite a number of early-birds simply sit in their vehicles reading a newspaper or mag until the time comes for them to go and do the dirty deed. More to the point, do they behave in similar fashion when the snow and ice is on the ground? After all, there?s only so many times you can turn a car heater off and on. Even when you?re busy ?dogging?, Stan! (oops, sorry, keyboard ran away with me a bit, there: what a silly Baggie I am?.)

More news on the educational front ? but nothing to do with me, this time. You know what? I reckon this ?course? malarkey must be catching, or something: today, I learned that The Noise has also gone and taken the plunge, entered the wonderful world of spare-time learning, him and Jayne both. It all started when they both decided they didn?t have a clue about the maths and English homework their daughter Bethany was bringing home, and in true bulldog spirit, decided to do something about it.

Result? The pair of ?em are now signed up for various courses, bless their little algebra-overburdened hearts. As for The Noise, perhaps it?s just as well the awarding body don?t do maths orals, isn?t it? (Carly, re: your current romantic tryst with a male Baggie, your secret is safe with me. For the moment. Ish. And yes ? I AM amenable to bribery. Liked the club coat you brought your dad with your newly-acquired ill-gotten gains, though.)

Now for my ?Good Grief, Hasn?t Time Flown!? spot. Tonight, the limelight falls upon Nigel Johnston, formerly of Thornbury, near Bristol (back in the early eighties) and now of Banbury. The reason for my remarks apropos Time?s chariot breaking the speed-limit, just about, in his case? It?s his daughter. When I knew Nige in Bristol, he was still at school: today, I understand his eldest sprog recently started at Oxford Brooke University, where she?s doing Sports Science. Got in by a country mile, apparently, UCAS points hitting the roof. Well, come on - what else would you expect of the daughter of an Albion supporter?

And so we come to the main part of the day?s frolics, our lover?s tryst with the chaps formerly known as ?The Cottagers?. (No sniggering at the back, please?) As I said earlier in this piece, I?m still trying to piece together how we actually won this one. We were somewhat remiss in our passing ? but the visitors were just as bad. Not long before the end of the first half, my other half said to me: ?It?s a shame you haven?t brought your China pictures to pass around, again!....?

An allusion to a game, back in the eighties, when Albion were so bad ? well, it was the Saunders era ? out of sheer boredom, I started passing round the holiday pics I?d picked up from Boots that very morning: in a matter of minutes, every single Baggie in the entire row ? plus a few behind and in front, too! - were to be seen somewhat ostentatiously sampling the many pictorial delights to be found in The People?s Republic Of China! About the only place they didn?t go was the home dugout. One hell of a protest vote, that, and one I hoped got to the right ears, too. Come to think about it, if I could lay my hands upon the sods (I suspect they got lost in my move back to the Midlands, sadly) and we were as dire again, I?d do exactly the same thing.

The best bit of the first half? Noting to do with the actual game, just the bit when all the players shook hands at the beginning ? and when it came to Paul Robinson?s turn to shake the hand of Zoltan Gera, Robbo planted a sloppy great kiss on his lips, instead! Result? Collapse of entire Halfords Lane Stand in complete hysterics. (And the lad got a smashing burst of applause, too, come the final whistle: once a Baggie?.)

More about Mister Gera, and his futile efforts to upset the applecart later. But first, more about Mister Miller, who seemed to misplace so many passes during those early stages, at one point, I wondered whether it was his eyesight letting him down, or something. But it was Carson that provided most of the talking points during those opening minutes: come an early Fulham corner, he made it clear he was standing no nonsense whatsoever from the West Londoners; his decisive punch out ended up nearly in Smethwick, I?d say. And neither was Bednar. Standing any nonsense: with just eight on the clock, he?d been put through one-on-one with their keeper, and seemed set to take the ball all the way: a shame, then, that the ball fell right into their keeper?s welcoming arms, rather than the back of the net.

Miller, again ? with every touch he got, his passing and distribution got worse, much, much worse. In the end, whenever it seemed likely the sphere would bobble in his direction, I reckon you could hear the collective groans right at the back of the bakery over the road, a noise much enhanced by some pretty plaintive wails from John. A nasty sort of variation upon an overall theme of ?negative feedback?, with Miller getting the entire lot at Warp Factor Nine, poor sod.

Debating that very same subject much later on in the proceedings, our little group couldn?t quite decide whether it was simply the fact he wasn?t up to this standard of play, or not, or whether he?d simply suffered a catastrophic loss of confidence. On the balance of probability, in the end, we decided that the fault lay completely within his own head, rather than his somewhat errant feet.

As I said, so dire was the game (and it didn?t help one little bit to notice it was raining also), amidst all the water-assisted frolics, I desperately looked around for things to mention in this here column instead, so never let it be said I don?t think of you. I suppose the funniest, unintentional, of course, was when our former hero, Mister Gera, somehow contrived to miss an absolute sitter from almost point-blank range, right in front of the Brummie.

Quick as a flash, up piped the BRE Glee Club, ?Gera Is An Albion Fan?..? to the much-murdered tones of the Pet Shop Boys , ?Go West?. Even better was the Very Loud Black Country Voice emanating from right at the back of our stand. ?That?s my boy!? he triumphantly crowed. The Smethwick, not to be outdone, simply told our former favourite: ?You Should Have Stayed At A Big Club!? All that because he managed to miss yet another sitter for Fulham. Many more of those, and it wouldn?t just be the neighbours talking. Inspector Knacker might want a few words also. I can just imagine the plods? pointed enquiry of our former player: ?Now tell us again, Mr. Gera. When was the last time you visited a betting shop, then, and why is it you can?t now reproduce the form you enjoyed when you were with West Brom?....?

And now, for me, what has to be the ultimate $64,000,000 question. Just what, prithee, is a ?one-eyed twonk?? Is it someone, who reaches a state of overall ?twonkiness? in similar style to the shamen of old? Get drugged up, dance around a bit, look mystical? Then ? ahem ? ?twonk out?? As per ?Ee?s well twonky, ?ee is?.?. Or could it be a title, as per ?His Royal Twonkiness the Duke Of York?? To be perfectly honest, I don?t have a ready answer to that one; what I do know is that with about 32 minutes of the first half gone, Mr. Homer, he of the seat just in front of this column, suddenly upped and called the referee, a certain Paul Dowd of Staffordshire (for the sake of his own sanity, I can only hope he doesn?t live near The Noise!), by the somewhat unusual soubriquet mentioned above.

A ?twonk?? When I?d finally stopped laughing, and enquired of Mister Homer precisely what he meant, he simply chucked ?A poor practitioner of his profession? into the mix. So I?m not really any the wiser, even now. That?s what happens when you have for a matchday neighbour someone quite capable of twisting and bending the English language into a form totally unrecognisable by most people on this planet, learned Oxford and Cambridge dons included. Suggestions, anyone? Or is it simply a case of ?a twonk (John) leading the twonks?, with predictable results? As for Jean, his long-suffering missus, she looked as though infestations of neoglisms of vaguely Black Country origin were a commonplace enough event in their household!

Come the break, come the Big Problem. Well, for me, it was. It?s all to do with the new toilet arrangements for females in the Halfords. Before the place was gutted, then rebuilt, there were several female toilets in that corridor underneath, one serving those in the two blocks nearest the away dugout, another dealing with those females putting down roots in the middle, and a smaller affair by the turnstiles.

Because there were three lots, it kept the numbers down all around the stand, so the queues were manageable. Now, come the Big Opening of the new ?facilities?, we find that the ?loo traffic? gets intermixed with the queue for the Gents. And the bar. And the food section, so to be female and actually reach your destination before somewhat embarrassing diuresis supervenes is quite an achievement!Anybody know of a way of getting the toilet arrangements back to how they were again?

Come the second half, things didn?t get appreciably better for our errant player, either. But it did for Donk. Well, nearly ? he managed to hit the post. Best bit? When the man on the line suddenly saw his nice flag and handle collapse into a welter of watery disintegration. Result? When the time finally came for our lad to apply the flag in the correct manner, it simply fell apart. A swift repair job undertaken with the ref?s assistance - shouldn?t he have simply asked our bench to produce a spare? - only produced more jibes from the East Stand, seemingly developing into pretty practiced refereeing critics themselves. Bawled Mr. Homer, in his usual acerbic manner: ?Wot ?appens if the chain comes off ?is boike?? (Translations on request.)

Meanwhile, you could see Miller gradually descending into a bottomless pit of his own making. The more he tried to do, the worse it became. The writing had to be on the wall, surely? Ironic, then, that what really delayed Mogga?s decision to have him replaced was our goal!

It all started off with an Albion corner, really ? and taken not by Greening, our usual corner-taker, but Valero instead. And what a nasty bit of work it was. In it came, from the left, was sort-of-cleared, but only a couple of yards further out. The ball then pinged around the box, in the manner of one of those old-fashioned arcade machines (Think ?Tommy?, and The Who, and you?ve got it, with or without Keith Moon?s lunatic escapades on drums?) Then, unbelievably, Bednar managed to latch onto it enough to give it that bit of additional impetus it needed ? and the Brummie bellowed in triumph! Albion 1, Fulham nil. Time for the real fun to start.

And they could have got it back within seconds, courtesy a free-kick taken far too near our goal for comfort, the Fulham taker treated to the sight of his masterpiece just about squeezing past the wrong side of the post. There wasn?t a lot in it, believe you me. Time for Mogga to make the necessary personnel change, with the equally hapless Luke Moore constituting Moore?s replacement. John, as the subbing was being effected: ?Did the PA say ?Luke Warm??

Me (unkindly): ?Er ? close!?

You could feel the mounting tension seeping, percolating, throughout the entire ground, by now. Whatever it took, we simply had to hold out to the final whistle ? and, as ever, our errant and slipshod passing wasn?t helping any. Out of the corner of my eye, I had a brief vision of Mogga, now on the touchline, anxiously trying to rally his troops. The Smethwick, seeing this, responded with a resounding chorus of ?There?s Only One Tony Mowbray?.? But no time to start waving, of course; once more, nervous energy crudely disguised as what?s popularly known as an ?electric atmosphere? began to make its presence felt: I could only hope some kind soul had fed the meter. Another subbing, Morrison off, Cech on ? and, with ten to go, all Baggie hearts in mouths when Carson, dispossessed close to his line, looked well beaten as a Fulham chap bore in on goal like a demented steam train ? then the lino flagged for the foul. Reader, I almost kissed him!

Then it was Fulham?s turn to ring the changes. ?Er ? did they just say ?Electric Storm? for the name of their bloke coming on?? I enquired of the by-now-exhausted Mr. Homer. I never did get a reply ? or if I did, it was totally incomprehensible. Mind you, that?s normal for John!

Five to go, about ? time for Roman Bednar to almost finish Fulham off in spectacular fashion, courtesy an absolute piledriver of a long-range shot that rattled the crossbar something awful. Had it gone in, Messrs. Lineker, Hansen and Shearer would still be discussing it now ? it really was that good. Then Fulham went charging into Albion territory once more: time for a quick rendition of the 23rd Psalm, the Smethwick decided.

Perhaps the Lord DID answer our prayers: for whatever reason, the Fulham attack went the way of the rest. Was I glad to hear that final whistle, just after that? Yup, you could say that ? and as we headed towards the exit, we just about had time to hear our people chant the name of the lad who should never have left the Black Country in the first place. There truly is ?only one Zoltan Gera?. Fulham don?t know the half of what they?ve got.

So there you have it. As His Nibs said, as we exited the ground, ?Perhaps we?ve got this Premier League lark sussed, at long last?? Maybe, just maybe. Watch this space!

PENSIONER PERIL?.. My poor stepmother doesn?t stand a chance, what with the sheer numbers of Baggies in our family only too eager to dissect the subtle nuances of every single event taking place on Planet Albion at every available opportunity. So conditioned is she, now, last Friday, she was the one to tell US of a late change to the fixture list even WE didn?t know about!

A HOLIDAY MINGLE WITH THE DINGLES?. That was the invidious position my sister and her hubby found themselves in, when they took themselves to sunny Spain the other week. Luckily, the couple involved were of the half-human type, and with passable table-manners also, so they got nattering. Turned out that the bloke of the family considered himself to be a bit of a Jonah, when it came to events in the Custard Bowl, so he?d stopped going for a while. But before my sis and their new-found friends went their separate ways, they did inform both our Baggie crew that they would be going again. Their next game? The midweek one, versus ? er, - Reading! Oh, well ? back to the drawing board!

 - Glynis Wright

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