The Diary

18 October 2008: Old Trafford, Via Oldham And Herefordshire!

Greetings, once more, pop-pickers. (Well, it?s a darned sight better than referring to you lot out there as ?nose-pickers?, isn?t it?) While we?ve been toughing it out there in the Herefordshire boondocks, there?s a whole lot of shaking gone on in the murky world of high (is it referred to as such by some people because it stinks?) finance. It?s a shame that the current troubles have to impinge so greatly upon those whom some City traders might well have once termed ?little people?.

That?s why I?m sure you?ll forgive me for having a not-so-quiet snigger at so many yuppies looking at their P45?s, right now, and having to flog off their second homes/yachts/bling pretty sharpish. And as for their trophy wives, the word on the streets is that they?re packing their suitcases in droves. Result? Solicitors and barristers are about the only people in the entire country regarding the current crisis, and the fallout from it, with unabashed glee. Oh dear, how sad, what a pity.

One small ray of sunshine constantly beams forth in these straitened times, though. The resurgent form of our national side over the course of these last seven days or so. Two wins out of two, no less. Not so good was the spiteful booing of Ashley Cole just a few days ago. Had we been left in arrears courtesy his embarrassing gaffe versus Belarus on Wednesday, such negativity might have been deemed justifiable by some.

Given that the goal only dented our lead rather than relinquished it, and given the unforgivably toxic nature of supporter reaction to Cole thereafter, I shall remain in earnest prayer to various demonic powers resident in Hell?s innermost circles that the people responsible all wake up one bright and sunny morning minus their ?family jewels?, talking in high-pitched voices, and sharing an insatiable predilection for electric pink underwear. With frilly gussets.

Most disappointing feature of both internationals from a totally-selfish (but being a Baggies-orientated one, it?s got to be OK, right?) point of view was Scott Carson?s absence from the fully-capped Holy Temple Of Rectangular Righteousness (names like Gordon Banks perfectly acceptable, of course) for the entire length of both games. Srange, that, given that Scott?s currently the man in smokin? hot form, and the bloke keeping him out of the side contracted a nasty form of acute Teflon Coated Fingers Syndrome in the Premiership games immediately prior to the two internationals just gone. Smethwick End, please feel perfectly free to keep on singing that well-known Hawthorns lament titled: ?If James Can Play For England, So Can I! You never know: the lad Capello might just be listening, one of these fine days!

The day after the first international, we set sail for sunny Herefordshire ? and via a very unusual route indeed. Look at any AA road atlas, satnav, whatever, and I?ll wager you a king?s ransom not one of ?em will tell you to go there via Oldham Athletic?s Boundary Park ground. And rightly so, but as Hereford were scheduled to be playing (losing?) there that day, we decided to say ?oh, soddit?, and make a very large ?boomerang? of the trip down Zoider Country.

Given His Nibs?s limpet-like attachment to Hereford United, and the complete and utter tanking the Bulls got at Boundary Park, yer man might not concur entirely, but as far as I was concerned, it was a day that positively shrieked the word ?football? at you. Pristine blue skies, suitably-autumnal tones provided gratis courtesy our own solar system?s parent orb, leaves on trees now bursting forth into an absolute riot of reds, oranges and bright yellows, perfectly acceptable temperature: climbing into the mid-seventies, certainly, but never too sweaty for comfort. Beautiful weather for a football match, in other words ? or, as we Black Country wallahs might say, ?cowin?bostin?.

Which, I suppose, is as good a point as any to bring up, once more, the still-contentious issue of someone else of distinctly Black Country flavour - and that means Lee Hughes. And, to be scrupulously fair, had Hughsie never played for our club at all, but arrived at the former cotton town?s football club by some other, less contentious means, I would have had little alternative but to give him star billing anyway.

How come? Easy. From the moment the game kicked off, to the exact second he was subbed, very late on in the proceedings, he never stopped. Oldham?s opener, albeit a tap-in, was vintage Hughes; even more controversial, though, was the home side?s second, a penalty, with the former Albion player the allegedly-injured party (sitting where I was in the away end, with a clear view of the proceedings, I can only say this: if that was a genuine penalty, then I?m Anne Widdecombe), which effectively finished the visitors as credible opposition. Having been afforded the luxury of a practically-gifted 2-0 cushion, they could then choose to pick off poor Hereford at leisure, which they did. 4-0 was the final score, and if that sort of scoreline carries on for much longer, The Bulls sure as hell look dead, dead, dead.

Once Oldham had achieved their brace, that was when Hughsie really began to astonish me. Gone was the wanton selfishness that had previously marred his Hawthorns career: in its place was a hitherto-unseen willingness to hold the ball up, lay it off to better-placed colleagues, and notch up a work-rate of astonishing dimensions. Even better was his lately-acquired ability to distribute with pin-point precision, right from one side of the pitch to the other. Not a one-off, that sort of thing, but a constant feature of his game.

On those rare occasions Hereford did manage to muster a feeble apology for an attacking move, Hughsie was seen to track back into defensive mode with an alacrity and willingness I could never recall from his days with us. Also obvious was his undoubted capacity for on-pitch leadership, another trait of character sadly missing all those years ago. You might even want to describe his current game as ?pure Bob Taylor?, which is what sprung to mind ere I watched, that sunny Sunday afternoon.

Yes, Lee Hughes has been good for Oldham, all right. But will Oldham continue to be good for Hughsie? He?s started to arise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of his former Hawthorns incarnation, and you won?t be too surprised to hear that it?s currently heaping media attention upon him in spadefuls. But, as Hughsie found to his cost just a few fraught years ago, fame can also bring attention from less-desirable elements in its wake. He?s never been the brightest spark in the welding-kit, so can he keep the leeches at arm?s length this time round? Should the Boundary Park club?s current bid to make it back to the Big Time have a happy ending, I guess we?ll find out.

As for the remainder of the week, that was spent around good old Zoider Country, of course. But not before we endured quite a marathon trek into regions hitherto unexplored by civilised Man ? well, parts of Cheshire and Shropshire, which is pretty close, in my book ? and skirting lovely Ludlow along the way. Satnavs do peculiar things like this, sometimes, don?t they?

As you probably know already, they are a direct development of guided missile technology: what currently gets you around the country with such consummate ease once had a pretty murky ?previous? involving dropping something nasty (not to mention highly radioactive) on Moscow. I wonder if US bomber pilots had the same soft feminine voice wittering in their lugholes as they practiced for The Big One? (??At the next country, take the second exit, then, after 800 miles, take the first exit?..Go 300 miles, and you will have reached your destination?.Now go bomb the place to hell, boys. MAKE THEM TRUCKIN? MOTHERHUMPIN? COMMIE ASSES FRY!....?)

Must be a similar malady to the one that?s got our laptop firmly in its electronic clutches right now. How I?m remaining so patient with the thing right now, I just don?t know. One minute it works perfectly, the next, the sodding cursor?s jumped to a completely different part of the page I?m working on and I?m left typing into that sentence in blissful ignorance: if not spotted in time, that means my words then become complete and utter rollocks. Hopefully, I?ve edited out all the nonsensical stuff (some say that about the entire contents of this blog, but what the hell?.), leaving the remainder grammatically pristine. The problem is that we can?t figure out how to stop this happening (and, more appropriately, yours truly from ?going nuclear? every doggone time it does!), so if anyone Out There with a head for IT can come up with some sensible suggestions, I?d be more than grateful to have ?em. Seriously. HEEEELLLLPPP!

But on with the show. Today sees me and The Fart shifting our venerable carcasses in the direction of Old Trafford, in what will be (hopefully!) our first win there since That Boxing Day In 1978, when we whupped the Mancs 5-3. You might even want to call it The Cyrille, Bomber and Robson Show. As it was December, well-frosty, trying to snow, in fact, there are some who swear, even to this day, that their circulatory systems have never quite recovered from the massive physiological insult it received. Mine certainly didn?t. (But despite the sub-zero temperature, it wasn?t even half as uncomfortable as the infamously rain-swept, not to mention hypothermic, Swindon Town caper of around ten years ago!)

Coincidentally, our trip to Old Trafford also marks the second anniversary of Mogga?s arrival at our humble Black Country abode. Much water has passed under the bridge since then ? and quite a lot of it down the Gents toilet in the Halfords, if the gargantuan half-time queues I saw last time around were anything to go by! ? but, on the whole, I?m pretty satisfied with the direction Mogga is taking both the club and its playing staff. Despite popular opinion asserting we?ll return from whence we came, come the end of term, more like than not, at least we?re still trying to entertain: as long as Mogga can keep the faith, and play Albion football as it should be played, I?m perfectly willing to forgive an awful lot, up to and including our eventual return to The Nether Darkness.

The inference from Albion?s website seems to be that a goodly number of United?s glitterati will be somewhat weary as a result of their double-header of international games, and might ? just might! - fall some way short of their usual standards because of their gallivanting midweek antics across Europe. There?s certainly quite a number of their people who might fall into that category: what?s more, there are three of their best performers out completely through injury this afternoon, i.e. Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, and Owen Hargreaves. Not that I?d want to wish ill on anyone, mind, BUT?? So, if anyone at Old Trafford should by pure chance discover voodoo dolls of Fergie?s finest, complete with multitudinous pins piercing and transfixing some pretty tender anatomical features, it?s nothing whatsoever to do with me, OK?

Having already checked out one panel view on the internet, those sons of fun were depressingly unanimous in their assessment of tomorrow evening?s doings: a mere lark in the park for the home side, a bagatelle, even - end of. Which, given the relative Premiership positions of both outfits ? ?a yawning gap the size of the Grand Canyon? is sufficiently descriptive - is pretty much what you?d expect, I suppose.

Prior to Middlesbrough, and Hull City?s shock Highbury win, I would have readily concurred ? but since then, there?s been that still, small voice within me that keeps insisting our game might not necessarily end in a turkey-shoot for the Mancs. Mind you, early Christians about to face the wrath of Roman gladiators were probably saying the same thing, immediately prior to taking a different sort of pasting in front of thousands, so if nothing else, at least history will be on our side.

Team news is that Chris Brunt will be well and truly back in harness for this one. As for the second of our injured triumvirate, it was a big ask for Tex, so I?m not at all surprised to hear he won?t be back from long-term injury for this one. He has an injured calf, apparently. Blimey, I didn?t know he kept farm animals, let alone poorly ones. Has anyone told his local vet? Also out will be the lad Meite, who needed the services of our physio at the back end of August, when we journeyed to Bolton. Oh ? one other thing. A very naughty Roman Bednar has been winding up the press for the greater part of last week, apparently. Fancy telling all those hacks he?s comparable to a certain Christiano Ronaldo. And more fools the press corps for taking said utterances in like a dustbin, and printing it!

HOT-SHOT BET OF THE DAY? Don?t even think of nominating any game involving either Norwich or Derby, right now (unless your ?budgie? gets stimulation beyond compare at the mere thought of a vanload of hunky coppers descending upon your house at dawn, and you stood there stark rotten naked as they bust down the door??. Stop that disgusting behaviour immediately, you hear?), but Ladbrokes? special offer of 20-1 for Albion to secure the draw tomorrow made me sit up with a bit of a start, I?ll say. Wonder if there?ll be many takers?

MORE LAPTOP STUFF?? Because we are badly in need of adequate heating in our conservatory, right now, until it?s fixed, I?m stuck with our errant laptop. Which means, of course, that progress is somewhat frustrating - very, VERY SLOOOOOOW, in fact. To save my sanity (and, by inference, yours!) I?ve had to make a reluctant (but on a temporary basis only) executive decision to file my pieces the morning after the event instead. This is Friday night?s effort reaching you on Saturday morning! Ditto tomorrow night?s.

The always-irrepressible Norm has promised to sort it for me as and when he can, but as he?s tied up with the British Legion around this time (he organises most of the Remembrance Day ceremonial parades you?ll see going on in the Cradley Heath area, around the 11th. Of November), we won?t get much joy until the very last poppy?s been sold, and our hero sunk his very last pint in the Legion bar!

ACADEMIC NEWS.... When I received dates for my OU tutorials recently,I was prety miffed to find they mostly clashed with Baggies fixtures, both home and away. That's the problem with the OU: the nature of the beast is such as to assume that all their students have full-time jobs, and can't be accessed at any other time. Knowing that most university courses put enormous stock upon students attending such things, I thought I might hit problems. Not so, it would appear: when I spoke to my tutor during last Saturday's thrash, it turned out that she was a Baggie as well - and, what's more, understood my dilemma perfectly! More proof - if ever any was needed - that Albion are well-blessed with a much better class of follower than our local rivals!

 - Glynis Wright

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