The Diary

26 October 2008: Brown's Men Go To Town On The Baggies

I stand disappointed, gutted, even, after yesterday?s unexpected (not to mention most unwelcome) home defeat at the hands of a side who, just a few years back, were snuffling and scratching, wild pig-like, around the lower reaches of the Football League hierarchy?

Go on, admit it: we?re all grown-ups, here, and if you won?t tell, then I won?t either. Remember the implied term of the unspoken contract with our football club we, as supporters, accepted the very first time we walked through those Hawthorns turnstiles all those many years ago? It goes something like this: ?A supporting lifetime of heartbreak, pain, and disappointment, squared and cubed more often than not, will be your lot from this day forth??

Some people never learn, do they? Especially we foot-soldiers. Many a season of low-level angst having rendered us almost immune to the emotional consequences of a heavy home defeat, reaction while the game ground its gritty way towards a less-than-delightful conclusion was primarily one of stunned and shocked silence. By the 80th minute, even John Homer had ceased hurling his trademark Black Country catalogue of abuse at both opposition and match officials: his silence proved far, far more unnerving than his previous volubility had ever been.

And I wasn?t really prepared for our reaction once the game was over, either. Because we normally park up on the dual carriageway adjacent to the M5 junction, it?s quite a hike to reach our car these days (well, for me it is). It?s no word of a lie that for the whole length of our trek towards the ?West Bromwich? end of the Brummie Road, the number of words that passed between us were very few indeed. Oh dear.

And even when we finally reached home, that uncanny silence persisted for hours and hours afterwards. And before you ask ? no, we didn?t watch Match Of The Day, just played some CDs instead. Being the seasoned, cynical Baggie campaigners we normally are, home defeats rarely get to us these days ? but this one sure as hell did.

Was it the unspoken thought among our supporters, pre-kick-off, that, of all the Premier League sides opposing Hull, we stood a better chance than most of knocking them off their early-season pedestal, that led to the beating of our breasts, not to mention a mutually-horrible wailing and gnashing of teeth from both of us, come the close of play? Maybe the precipitating cause was the three recent wins giving us genuine cause to believe we?d do far better at this level than we had in any of our previous top-flight incarnations?

But, for my money, what did the damage was the simple fact we?d gone at them almost continually from the ?off?, had forced their excellent keeper, Myhill, into some fine saves, hit the woodwork, earned corner after unproductive corner, that opening 45. And there was more: Ishmael Miller, reverting to his normal selfish, carthorse self, thereby negating the brief glimmer of talent I?d witnessed at Old Trafford, should be one of those closely examining their conscience, today. We should have left the pitch at least three goals in front, come the break: small wonder, then, we both left the ground so angry and frustrated come the game?s ignominious end.

Of gloom and doom there was plenty, that mournful evening, but you couldn?t say that was the case in the two or thee hours preceding the game under discussion. It?s always a great feeling when we former Dick ?Eds meet up: as The Noise lives some 40 miles away, and given the fact none of us travels to many away games these days, opportunities to update our knowledge of the small change of Lewis family life are somewhat limited.

But even I was astonished, the very first time I clapped eyes upon our Potteries-based Baggie chum, yesterday. Gone was the battered old jacket he normally wears when watching football, and in its place was an Albion bench coat, a pressie from young Carly, apparently ? but that wasn?t the reason why I almost choked on my Coke. Banished forever were the bum-fluff wisps that normally grace Martin?s chin, and in its place something that owed its origins more to ?ZZ Top? or Rasputin than anything else. Hell, I knew that autumn was the optimum time of year for fungal growth ? mushrooms, toadstools and all that sort of thing ? but never before had I seen a specimen with such a clear predilection for the human chin. ?Come on, Mart,? I said, ?What?s the crack with that thing on your face, then??

Wearily plonking his posterior upon one of the seats we?d saved for the Lewis clan, The Noise quickly explained: ?It?s about the only control I have over my working life, these days,? replied the Bearded One, ?They ordain what clothes I wear at work, what I do there, what I say, just about everything, really ? and this is my way of saying ?stuff you?!?

Blimey, this was the first act of rebellion I?d ever seen that involved scaring small children to death ? well, it certainly scared me, the first moment I clapped eyes upon Mart?s hirsute masterpiece ? but what?s good enough for both the Sikh religion and the Greek Orthodox Church is good enough for me, I reckon. But not for Catherine The Great, the famous Russian ruler, who actually taxed beards in order to finance a war (whatever you do, don?t let Gordon Brown know, there?s a love?)

As for young Bethany, she?s been busily presenting her family with a series of what my generation used to call ?burnt offerings?, i.e. food prepared and cooked at school. They give it the tarty title ?Food Technology? these days, a cop-out term for a subject where most schools teach kids how food firms plan marketing, advertising and packaging their product, but do very little in the way of actually teaching their charges how to cook stuff. (With the 14 year-old Sat tests now abolished, what an opportune moment to slip something of far more practical use into the curriculum once more?.)

At least you can?t accuse Bethany?s alma mater of neglecting something that has clear potential for practical use: they genuinely try to go the ?extra mile? of hands-on cookery. One of Bethany?s best efforts was a health snack-bar type of thing that lasted only seconds before getting completely devoured by ravenous Big Sis, plus equally-ravenous mum and dad, so I?m informed.

Not that we could discuss much more: in an instant, every single attempt at serious conversation was completely blasted out by the Sunderland-Newcastle game being shown on the big screen. The match entering a particularly exciting phase, then? Nope ? the volume button on the pub?s TV remote had chosen that time to give up the ghost. Even worse, said remote finally conked out, then stuck fast, right at Warp Factor Nine. Going by the sheer number of anguished expressions on the faces of those watching, it?s more than likely there?ll be massed claims for industrial deafness winging their merry way through the post, very shortly!

The next visitor to our table, bearing a charity collection tin, then rattling it somewhat pointedly under our noses, was a familiar face. The lady from Wednesbury Branch who was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer a few years back, it was: as she told us, the op to remove said problem having been a success, she was now trying to put something back by collecting money to further augment Sandwell Hospital?s cancer facilities.

But that wasn?t the reason why I?m mentioning this: as we rootled among the darker regions of our trousers for the necessary dosh, the good lady revealed that she?d come straight into the pub from a pitch outside the players? entrance, where she?d accosted Hull gaffer Phil Brown as he exited their team coach. Amazingly enough, she hadn?t proffered said bucket, merely said, ?Good morning, Mister Brown,? and was genuinely flabbergasted when he immediately reached into his wallet, pulled out a twenty pound note, then swiftly thrust it straight into the slot of the bucket. Good on him, even though that was about the only charitable act we were to see from him the entire afternoon.

Leaving The Fart, relatively late this week, happily purchasing yet more fridge magnets from Deano, we all headed off into the sunset ? or the rapidly-gathering murk, more like - and into our respective matchday perches. Nattering to Jean, John Homer?s beloved, I discovered she?d found herself rather busy over the course of the preceding seven days. She?s a teaching assistant, currently involved with an after-school club ? one of the government?s Big Ideas, that ? and the theme she?d adopted for the forthcoming weeks was that of a German Christmas. All the trappings you?d find in a market over there, decorations, candles, festive comestibles such as the delicious Stollen Cake. Mulled wine? Streng verboten, for obvious reasons. Shame!

So, there was Jean, then - so where was John? Doing his ?social? thing, in the East Stand apparently, what with the Supporters? Club sponsoring the game, and everything. I was also told that of late, local radio had been soliciting mobile phone post-match opinions from him, but strangely enough, they never rang him directly after the Old Trafford bash! Can?t think why for a minute. Mind you, John?s belated arrival in his seat, shortly before kick-off, did prompt a chorus of ?Who Are Yer?? from those in the immediate vicinity, with the principal singer being his good lady wife.

For once, Mogga had gone for 4-4-2: Ish Miller up front with Roman Bednar, with Chris Brunt benched to make way for the tactical change. That was about it for the home side: as for the opposition, their gaffer had no changes whatsoever to make. One familiar face in their ranks was former Baggie Paul McShane, ditched by Sunderland ? his horrendously short fuse may have been the deciding factor for Roy Keane to get rid, ironically enough ? but at least the lad did get his quota of applause from the Smethwick End, albeit not nearly as much as Zoltan Gera, just a few weeks back.

But on with the show?. One thing I did notice was that Hull?s end was completely packed with bodies: no problem flogging tickets there, then. Still a complete novelty for their lot, I suppose. Shame about the yellow-and-black attire, though. Mind you, if this had been our first ever season in the big-time, and we?d been getting results like theirs, I knew only too well where I?d have liked to be come the weekend. Unsurprisingly, the start took place to an almighty bellow of encouragement from their travelling faithful. ?Where were they when they were complete and utter s***e??, I asked myself, not for the first time in recent years

Now for the really crazy aspect of the entire game - from an Albion viewpoint, that is. Within a very short space of time, we were right in Hull?s face, Or rather Roman Bednar was; with Greeening tearing down the flank like a bat out of hell, and our lad positioned to do significant damage, it was a real shame that Myhill managed to cut out the cross.

After both sides had tested the water with a couple of speculative efforts, the next opportunity to draw blood fell to our lot around the 20th minute. The architect of the subsequent penalty box chaos was Miller, who let fly with an almighty ICMB of a shot that gave Myhill a nasty time of it trying to negate the danger. Now this is where it starts to get frenetic: someone in blue and white stripes, hidden amidst a packed conglomeration of bodies, tried to put away the shot that Myhill only partially repulsed, but didn?t. Enter into the fray the omnipresent Bednar, who must have had three shots at the coconut, but only succeeded in hitting the post. Personally, I?d have thought it far easier to put in the back of the net, but that?s football for you. But this was Ishmael Miller, remember? In his haste to get on the score-sheet, our hero hadn?t noticed the presence in the box of another Baggie, completely unmarked. So what did Miller do? Let fly himself ? and not once, but twice. I swear upon anything you care to name that should someone ever find him in an alley with his throat cut, the plods will surely be straight over to my place.

For their part, Hull were engaging in monumental efforts to break up the pattern of our play, a ploy made much easier by the idiot referee we had wielding the whistle, this week. Such people are like a red rag to a bull to Mister Homer: when the otherwise excellent Myhill decided to take far more time with a goal kick than John thought strictly necessary, an almighty cry of ? ?Urry up, the chip-shop?ll be shut!? swiftly arose from the seat in front.

Then, when the Hull persuasion reacted in somewhat animated fashion to a decision they collectively deemed wrong: ?Garn, gerrof yer bridge?.?

But the middle of that first 45 saw several attempts on goal from Hull, that were of somewhat ominous portent. Their first was well wide of the target, the second somewhat fortuitously ended up in the grateful arms of Carson, but the third was far more dangerous. A ghastly defensive lapse gifted Hull an absolutely perfect scoring chance, and we looked well and truly stuffed ? but when Hull lad Marney let fly, the ball ended up pinging off a brace of Baggies on its way to goal instead. Result? One almighty let-off for us.

Ten minutes to go, and still we dominated, overall. Enter into the occasion that man Miller, once more. And yup ? this was yet another one of the times I?ve positively longed to apply my fingers to his throat, then squeeze, very hard indeed. I can?t rightly remember who put him through, but put through he was, clear, on the right, beating the remaining defender in his way, and bearing down upon Myhill?s wooden rectangle like one of the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse. The visitors seemed dead and buried, finally ? but somehow, our lad?s effort ended up turned around the post by Myhill, yet again. You had to admit, he was having the game of his life, that lad. But why did he choose The Hawthorns to demonstrate his custodial skills?

With the half now entering its dying stages, Miller came to everyone?s notice, once more, but for an entirely different reason. Going into a challenge with Hull?s Ricketts, the opposition player?s boot somehow managed to make contact with Ish?s skull. Result? One half-stunned striker, and a hasty retreat to the dressing room for some medical needlework.

He did re-emerge, a few minutes later, but this time, evoking strong memories of John Kaye at Maine Road 1968, versus Liverpool in the Cup, courtesy the enormous bandage now encircling his skull. Perhaps I was being a bit unkind by suggesting the mammoth-sized dressing had been put there to keep what was left of his brain in place, but he really does exasperate me at times ? and for obvious reasons, yesterday was no exception by any means.

So much for the opening 45, then. Now for the real horror-show ? and it didn?t come courtesy of the visitors, either. I?m not going to say much about what happened; to do so would probably raise my blood pressure to dangerously high levels, which wouldn?t go down a bundle with my other half, I?m sure. (Having said all that, I don?t think he?s fully recovered from what happened, not yet.) Bednar did get a chance to put us ahead during the opening minute of the second sitting: had it gone in, the game might have ended on a much brighter note for our lot ? but it didn?t.

And that?s when it all unravelled: from the near-miss previously mentioned, Hull broke from defence, tore straight up the field, and let fly. The shot, from Geovanni, was deflected, so fair do?s to Carson for getting the corner; seconds later, he was left to wonder why he?d bothered, when Zayatte ? left in so much space, you wondered whether he had a major personal hygiene problem ? stuck the bladder past our hard-worked keeper.

OK, so we?d gone one down. Against the overall run of play, but not irretrievable, and we?d already shown we could get into scoring positions without too much trouble, so no sweat, really. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. A couple of efforts from Valero and Donk raised hopes of a comeback, but the final nails were hammered into the Albion coffin by Geovanni, just ten or so minutes after his colleague had broken Baggie hearts, then, just five minutes later, King finished off the job for City.

Sure, we did have a few more chances, one of which rattled the woodwork yet again, but the driving-force had gone completely. Ten minutes from time, Mogga made a triple subbing, bringing on Brunt, Shergar and Moore for Morrison, Koren and Miller. Oh dear. We?ve already established Shergar?s shortcomings, of which there are many; as for Luke Moore, it was while I watched his labouring efforts to look like a Premier League striker that an awful thought suddenly gripped my mind.

Think back to the circumstances that surrounded his arrival from Seal Park: a straight swap for Curtis Davis, the deal being in order to bolster our striker quota. Now think on about his complete and utter lack of talent as a striker, thus far into his Hawthorns career, and my observation of yesterday that Villa saw us coming with Moore. Now suppose this: that the Moore deal had taken place against Mogga?s wishes? Hmmmm, I wonder?.? It?s a thought.

Needless to say, once the final whistle went, we couldn?t get out of that ground quick enough. As for the Hull contingent, judging by their exuberant manner in the Smethwick, they must be on a bigger high than Keith Richards in his heroin heydays. Amazing, top of the heap that night, albeit on goal difference. Mind you, as they have to play two of the big boys, Chelsea and Man U, over the course of the next few days, they might well end up shot down in flames. But I wouldn?t like to bet on it. These guys sorted Arsenal on their own turf, didn?t they?

As for Mogga and his Merry Men, one thing only was responsible for that defeat: our current reliance upon strikers who can?t hit a barn door at ten paces, even. Miller, playing in a kind of Cyrille Regis role today, did look a tad more convincing, at times, but he still has that fundamental flaw in his nature, namely a complete and utter lack of awareness of colleagues better-placed to score than he. Not to mention a selfish streak that stretches the entire width of the Grand Canyon.

I had hoped we?d be travelling to St. James?s Park happily riding on the back of a decent home win ? but it?s not to be. But Tuesday?s game does give us the possibility of getting back to winning ways, once more, Newcastle seemingly a club in complete and utter meltdown, right now. That?s going to be the real acid test of our current exalted status, the completely ruthless approach that victory will require. Can we grab those three points while they?re smoking hot, or will we blow it completely? The next few days should prove instructive, to say the least.

OOOH ? I THINK I GOT IT WRONG, BETTY! More from The Noise (who swears blind this isn?t a wind-up!)?. Apparently, a Turkish workmate asked our chum if it was right that PC World, the well-known computer retailers, were OK as employers, because their firm?s policy was to employ an equal proportion of native Brits, Afro-Caribbeans, Hispanics, Asians, East Europeans, etc. The clue?s in the name of the firm ? and, yes, according to The Noise, the guy really was dead serious!

NOW FOR THE 64,000 DOLLAR QUESTION?.. From John Homer, during a lull in play in the first half: ?Are people from Goole called ?Goolies???

 - Glynis Wright

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