The Diary

02 November 2008: Two Robertsons, Two Olssens - And Two Vital Points Dropped!

Is this to be our lot? A state of perpetual oscillation ?twixt Prem and Championship? That?s what atomic particles do, isn?t it ? oscillate? Since the latter part of the 20th century, the probing searchlight of science has managed to uncover a positive plethora of the blasted things. Leptons, bosons, photons, gravitons, gluons, plus many, many more ?ons, some ?charmed?, some with ?spin?, some as naked as the day they were born: physicists please note, it would now appear, after today, that there?s yet another peculiar name to add to your growing list ? ?Albions?.

My latest tale of Baggie woe in a series of many (typed in a conservatory now awash with heat, courtesy an oil-filled radiator and a long, long extension lead!) began, as per usual, in the Hawthorns pub, berthed alongside the Lewis clan. Speculation about Blackburn included their resident enigma, aka Jason Roberts (who really showed himself to be the quality striker he should have been when with us, today), and what happened when Rovers met local rivals Bolton, managed by former Baggie Gary Megson, recently.

For the benefit of those new to the saga, I?ll simply put it this way: such was the sheer volume of antipathy and rancour that accreted between both Jason and Meggo when both were at our club, had our former manager ever been found in an alley with his throat cut, I reckon you wouldn?t have had to go very far to suss out the culprit.

Now fast forward to the other week: there was Our Jase, with the ball, clear on goal, and the Bolton defenders completely banjaxed. The keeper nowhere in sight, too, so momentarily, at least, an empty net revealed itself to the former Baggie. A God-given opportunity to metaphorically stick two raised fingers in the general direction of the Bolton dugout, you might think, and normally, you?d be right, but Roberts being Roberts, he fired ? and completely missed the target!

But back to today. His Nibs found trying to work out what that week?s beer prices etc. were in the Hawthorns pub a little problematic, yet again. It really is guesswork, sometimes depends upon which particular bar crew they decide to employ for matchdays. Our pet theory: had that place not had the football trade to fall back upon, it would have closed ages ago.

It was while we were thirstily dispatching our first drinks that The Noise had a confession to make: shock, horror ? neither he nor the rest will be coming to Wigan with us! How come? Christmas shopping, apparently ? but in NOTTINGHAM, rather than Stoke?

Once again, I can only marvel at the mentality of those females who positively revel in getting on a coach, heading off for another big town, travelling for several hours on some motorway or other, then hitting the mall at the other end, and not re-emerging for several hours. Or days, in some extreme cases. No matter where you go in this country, all those bloody malls look exactly the same! What pleasure people can possibly derive from that is way beyond my ken, not to mention a waste of good cash ? but that?s just me.

?Yow onny want ter get closer ter me!? That was the greeting I got from the old chap at the end of our row, when I went to join ?Im Indoors in our normal Halfords Lane Stand seats, then had to grip him to regain my balance.

?Damn and bugger,? said I, ?My darkest secret, outed, finally?.?

At least the recent changes to the seating in the Halfords have left most of the normal matchday crew there more or less intact. Our main fear, close-season, had been having to re-adjust to the various idiosyncrasies of a job-lot of newcomers, but The Homers still lurk in the seats in front, thanks goodness, with other familiar faces still nearby. I can?t say the same about what had been the Ladies, pre-alterations, though. It?s now a ?Scouts Room?, apparently ? well, that?s what the huge sign on the door says! $p ?Sophisticated-looking, for a hut?? sniffed a bemused ?Im Indoors, on spotting said resting-place. Now I wonder, had I gone inside, would I have chanced upon a bevy of aspirant Baden-Powells, all dibbing and dobbing like crazy? Just a thought.

Having marvelled hugely at the pretzel-like contortions of the four people trying to fold up the enormous circular Premier League logo they have in the middle of the park before games, into a vaguely sausage-shaped form (which, at various points, included said four all stamping on the thing like crazy, as if to administer the coup de grace to something creepy-crawly dwelling inside, or tread large quantities of grapes hidden within for wine), it was back to the cheesy grind of the Prem.

This particular game hadn?t sold out, and it was easy to figure out why: three defeats on the bounce, plus sundry pre-Christmas belt-tightening, had taken its toll on the attendance. And the away end showed gaps, too. But no time to dwell upon such matters; out came both sets of players, after which came all the hand-shaking nonsense I particularly despise.

Team changes? Significantly, Shergar ceded his place on the bench to Kim, now back from injury (though sooner than I?d thought), and Chris Brunt benched, to make way for Ish Miller, now invigorated after his midweek strike at St. James?s Park. Blackburn? They had Stephen Warnock back from dry-dock: considering he had concussion just a few days before, I found this surprising, to say the least.

As per my comment about the referee, a certain Mr. Jones, this morning, I didn?t quite know what we would be getting: without doubt, his was a name I was not too familiar with, which can cut either way, of course. And, during those opening minutes, everything proceeded in fairly low-key manner. Scrappy, messy, even, but of real controversy, not a whisper, even. Until the 11th minute, that is. What happened at the time was that with Jason Roberts on the ball in our box, and Donk squaring up to stop him, play stopped dead, all of a sudden.

A pregnant pause, the ground fell momentarily silent?.then, inexplicably, or so it seemed, at that time, the man with the whistle pointed straight to the spot! Not for the first time this season did the words ?Doo wot?? escape from my well-pursed lips. The Brummie howled like wildebeest on heat, while Mogga was, most uncharacteristically, giving the poor fourth official heavy-duty earache. $p But no protests whatsoever from the Blackburn camp, despite them being the allegedly-wronged party ? which speaks volumes, as far as I?m concerned. In The Halfords, travel rugs and vacuum flasks galore practically disappeared into earth orbit, propelled there by furious Albion supporters ? ?Yow shite, referee!? was one of John Homer?s more printable comments - but our man still wasn?t having any of it.

Now I?ve since seen the MOTD replay, which DOES show that Donk did grab hold of Jason Roberts?s shirt, all right, but it being only the slightest of tugs, for a mere fraction of a second, didn?t destabilise him one little bit. Now come on, how many times have we seen the same thing happen, especially at set-pieces like corners, both sides pulling hell out of each other?s shirts, and nothing get given?

Think back to The Championship: had sides at that level been awarded a penalty for every single instance of shirt-pulling going on in the box, the final table would have looked very different indeed from the one we saw at the end of the season, wouldn?t it? I really do despair sometimes. For what it?s worth, today?s game was only Jones?s third at this level! He sure has a lot to learn.

Oh ? and another thought, Had the same thing happened to any of the top four clubs, you wouldn?t have heard the last of it from Ferguson, say, or Wenger, for the entire week. As things stand, given the incident happened during a game involving two clubs not likely to puncture the ?charmed circle? in a million years, there?ll be a bitsy mention in tomorrow?s rags, and that will be that. As both the Brummie and Smethwick so rightly commented in song, as the ball beat Carson, ?One-Nil To The Referee?.?

The unexpected body-blow seemed to stun our lot into a nervy, jittery footballing equivalent of stunned silence. Confidence had been shattered completely; even on the infrequent occasions we got near their box, we were busting a gut so much, in order to make doubly sure, we were holding on to the thing for far longer than necessary, giving the defenders more than ample time and space to regroup, not to mention dispossess us.

The BIFOM had it sussed. ?It?s no good!? he wailed, ?Everything this bloke does, he applies the letter of the law. Penalties, handballs, everything...? And, as it turned out, that last caustic comment of his came to look decidedly prophetic.

Why? In the 36th minute, poetic justice asserted itself, in the form of the sending?off for a second bookable offence of Blackburn?s McCarthy. Now it was the turn of the Rovers persuasion to indulge in angry touchline remonstrations ? with not-so-sotto-voce comments emanating from the capacious mouth of Mister Homer as well - but I would perhaps argue that in this particular instance, both the situation and circumstances were much more clear-cut.

McCarthy had already been booked for a late tackle: watching the MOTD replay earlier tonight, it simply served to confirm my original thought that McCarthy?s second illegal tackle came from behind ? so the ref had no option but to make him walk.

With Blackburn now down to ten men, the situation looked much more hopeful than it had directly after they?d put away the penalty. We tried to make use of the extra space, but lack of confidence was landing us with the same end result as before: approach work good, but the moment it reached the box, everyone seemed frozen, as if in a state of advanced catatonia. Yes ? and Miller was by far the worst offender; confident one minute, then looking like a cart-horse the next. All that, and compounded by the fact that nobody out there in a striped shirt wanted to take any meaningful responsibility.

And at the other end, we were lucky to get away with an injury-time attempt upon our goal that was the result of defensive laxity caused by Valero completely losing his grip on the surface (it was raining cats and dogs by that stage of the game), which gave Blackburn?s Emerson a chance of a poke at the prize. Fortunately, the shot didn?t register on target: not long after that, the ref blew his whistle for the break. Disappointingly, there was nary a trace of steam to be seen emanating from our dressing-room, even though Mogga?s end-of-45-minute pep-talk must have hit home hard in some quarters.

Time also for some sweets, courtesy Mr. Homer. Normally I refuse, having been caught with a humbug in my mouth and almost choked when we scored on several occasions before, and that?s what I told John, too.

?An? me, ? said John, trying to be sympathetic, for once ? and not succeeding! ?Trouble was, I was trying to get a Mars bar in as well at the time!? Another little gem regarding the aforementioned Homer family?s future travels ? to Cologne, this Christmas, would you believe?

It?s all about the Christmas market they have out there, which is so beautifully nostalgic, it makes you want to buy up absolutely everything on sale, there and then. ?The proper one,? was her summation of the Cologne version. Much to my surprise, Jean then admitted that she?d spent around 11 years in Germany and knew the place really well, hence the wild enthusiasm for German markets at Christmas. $p But there was better to come: Jean, it would seem, is a closet Conference supporter: absolutely loves the ones based down London, and retains her interest to an astonishing degree. It was all something to do with the vastly more friendly ambience one finds at that level, in things such as ?proper? supporters clubs, the more laid-back atmosphere at that level, not to mention the fact that players don?t try to put themselves upon some lofty pedestal or other, situated way, way out of the reach of the normal football fan. Post-match, you?ll like as not find your favourites propping up the bar in the supporters? club. Good on yer, gel.

And that, dear reader, brings me to the next instalment of our little tale. With justice having finally asserted itself courtesy the dismissal, hopes naturally abounded of an equaliser, but what a frustrating time we had getting it! But first, a small change in personnel: off went the errant Donk, and on came Hoefkens, with Looney moving to make way for the lad.

First off, Miller headed wide from a corner, then around five minutes after that, Bednar was put through beautifully, but couldn?t finish ? but around ten minutes into the half came an amazing let-off for Rovers. It all started when Miller was put through, and looked a dead cert to score. The lad then tried to apply the finishing touch by lobbing the keeper ? only to see his masterpiece hit the post. One of the Rovers players tried to clear, but get this. As he did so, the ball then took a guided tour around at least two of the other posts, before finally leaving the field of play. Amazing stuff, and once more, you had to ask the question: just what did we have to do to score? Er ? wait just a couple of minutes longer?

Yup, ten minutes into the half, and after an awful lot of pressure from the home side, we finally got what we thoroughly deserved, and all courtesy Mr. Bednar, after Rovers failed to clear the danger from the box. And believe you me, that equaliser seemed to lift a whole weight of worry from the broad shoulders of our finest. That goalscoring demon had been conquered, if only on a temporary basis. Now, it was very much a case of ?game on?.

Six minutes or so later, Albion took the lead with one of the best goals I?ve ever seen from Miller, somewhat reminiscent of Cyrille Regis at his smokin? best. Put through brilliantly courtesy Greening, he then turned on the ball, then fired in, from around 15 or so yards out, and all in one smooth-flowing movement, or so it seemed. The place completely erupted; that?s why the compelling urge to shake him roughly and shout: ?Why can?t you do that all the time?? is very hard to resist, sometimes.

Two goals up, Rovers with one man short: you?d think that would have been the perfect recipe for three home points, wouldn?t you? But a couple of factors contrived to frustrate us: not long after the Miller strike, I saw distinct signs of action on our bench.

Said ?Im Indoors, ?I wonder whether we?ll have to endure Luke Moore again??

Me: ?Please God, NOOOOO!?

And, in the 80th minute, that?s precisely what happened, with Miller the sacrificial pawn. That was when the first intimations of doubt began to crowd in, dear reader. Around six minutes later, with an uncharacteristic Carson stuff-up thrown in for good measure, the reason why became abundantly clear: enter Blackburn, pushing up and taking full advantage of the second Albion bout of jitters that afternoon. Into the box went the ball, up jumped Jason Roberts, with proper Baggie marking in attendance ? but the ball eluded them both, then ran a little further away towards the periphery of the 18-yard area, where Blackburn?s Andrews (no jokes about ?liver salts?, please) was lurking,

One nasty grass-skimming strike later, and the ball was well and truly in the back of the net. Watching on MOTD, I couldn?t help but feel Carson might have got closer with his fingers than he actually did, but that?s me. Suppositions don?t count. Goals do. And that one cost us two precious points, which may give us just cause for bitter regret come the end of term. And that?s not all.

Let me finish by going back to the ?oscillation? theory I mentioned at the start of this piece. Now, think on a tad more i.e. to the fact that this term saw us embark upon our third stab at the honey-pot within the space of six years, and still we seem to be falling victim to the very same mistakes that beset us last time at this level ? and the time before that, come to think of it.

It?s all about not flashing the cash sufficiently to deliver a pretty good guarantee that we wouldn?t end up depleted in numbers through injury, illness, suspension etc. before the next transfer window kicked in. But despite all that, here we go again, ?Groundhog Day?, Albion style: come Christmas, we?ll be either sweating buckets to keep off the bottom (optimistic forecast), or putting a brave face on the fact we already are (pessimistic, maybe, but sadly foreseeable).

With most of the bottom outfits winning today, you don?t need a crystal ball to work it out. But Jeremy Peace, remember, has been down this road twice already. He, above all, should know the dire consequences of not only prevarication on signings, but also trying to run an outfit like ours firing on three financial cylinders. We should have strengthened in the summer, especially once we knew Phillips wasn?t going to make the big kick-off as an Albion player.

But it?s not just about that; today?s knocks, bumps and scrapes may see us suffering another defensive crisis, possibly one in midfield, too. It?s what did for us the last time we were here, remember? For a businessman allegedly so astute in the City, it?s not exactly something to put on one?s CV with pride, is it?

And here comes something else to chew upon: suppose we do end up shuttling between one and the other on a regular basis? Get promoted before the parachute money finishes, then return to the darkness from which we came the very next season after that, and you should still come out with your coffers strengthened, overall.

Not as greatly as if you?d stayed a few seasons longer, true, but you?ll still show an increased profit overall: the fact you don?t spend an awful lot while in the top flight is a bonus, when seen through the eyes of people whose interests lie more in the state of a balance-sheet, rather than that of a football team. As the Yanks might say, ?time to go figure??

CLUB SHOP SHENANIGANS, TAKE ONE?.. This tale concerns our old mate Dee, recently recalled to the Club Shop ?first team squad? by popular demand (well that?s how she describes it!)

Gone are the two pubs she owned in Shrewsbury, so say a big ?hello? to her new place, The Londonderry, which isn?t situated in the Northern Ireland city of the same name, but right in the heart of Smethwick, instead. Confusing, isn?t it? And just to curdle the custard further, she isn?t in-situ, as it were, but has a manager running the show.

Mind you, Dee did say, before we both took our leave, that she does feel morally obliged to make regular personal visits to her new gin-palace, in order to ensure the Bacardi stocks fully meet Government standards, with especial emphasis upon both strength and taste!

CLUB SHOP SHENANIGANS, TAKE TWO?? This one?s about Carly, who was (very inconveniently for us, given the close proximity of her forthcoming 18th birthday) on the premises buying up most of the stock (or so it seemed to us!). Accompanied by her long-suffering dad, and young Bethany, as per usual, she finally settled on her purchases, then headed for the till to pay.

This she did with the minimum of fuss, then again, as per usual, went to head off through the exit doors. No sooner had she done so, then all hell broke loose, most of it connected with a VERY loud security alarm.

Enter at light-speed one of the sales people, to either nick a thief with about as much brain-power as a Dingle, or encounter a total innocent somehow caught up in the warp and weft of Albion?s own error. Yup, my second was correct ? Madam Moneybags had set it off, courtesy a tag inadvertently left behind upon one or other of her purchases by some dozy till person.

Time for a bit of fun, then: grinning like A Cheshire Cat, I quickly announced, in tones that must have been heard the entire length of the place: ?Haven?t you learned how to shoplift properly yet??

Then: ?You didn?t listen to what I told you, did you??

Yup ? one almighty ?cherry? from Madam, and what?s more, personally guaranteed every single time, now I know precisely what psychological buttons to press!

 - Glynis Wright

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