The Diary

15 November 2008: Sutton Branch, Cyrille, Walter, The Beast, And Bethany - Not Forgetting Her Maj, Of Course!

Well done, Sutton Branch, yet again, with their excellent choice of guest speaker at last night?s meet; Cyrille Regis, no less. Although he?s now working as an agent, with lots of young players on his books, his attitude towards the job bears no comparison whatsoever to the time, about ten years ago, when the infamous Eric Hall appeared as the guest of Wednesbury Branch.

Cyrille, being in all respects modest and tactful in both speech and demeanour, was everything that Hall wasn?t, i.e.: loud, brash, and quite clearly very much in love with the nice crunkly sound that great wodges of wonga make when made into a nice big fan shape, then ruffled by eager fingers.

Is it really true that one of the tracks on Queen?s ?Night At The Opera? album ? once heard, never forgotten, believe you me; a cascade of insults, from beginning to end - was written specifically with the sainted Eric very much in mind? That was the rumour, but the writer of the track?s been dead nearly twenty years, now, so he?s not going to say, is he? Nasty, nasty man ? and during that meeting, it showed. It?s those of Hall?s ilk that have given football agents their current status of almost universal opprobrium, on a similar par with that of estate agents, City types, multinational banking concerns, and, of course, politicians.

Diplomatic? Did I mention that? Well our former player certainly was, when the ticklish subject of Luke Moore came up for discussion: Cyrille more or less said that the lad had ?lost his mojo? after his move from Villa Park to our place, but I?m not alone in thinking he?d erred greatly on the side of politeness, there.

Our current elongated transfer negotiations, a seemingly huge sticking point for us, it would seem. But Cyrille did point out that in these discussions, all parties, the buying club, the selling club, and the player himself, all employed agents, and each side had various vested interests to cater for.

A common stumbling block to such talks was what Cyrille termed ?Moving the goalposts? i.e. everything would be agreed verbally, but when it actually came to putting pen to paper, one or more of the participants would say ?Er ? hang on a minute, there?s just one tiny detail needs looking at again?..? and yet another hastily-erected obstacle had to be overcome. Quite common in football, apparently: it?s just that we seem to get more than our fair share, when it comes to trying to attract half-decent players to the place ? but that?s my opinion, not Cyrille?s!

He had lots to say about 1978, and all that, most of which is already in the public domain, and therefore quite well-known. Example? The infamous Wembley trip that preceded the 1978 FA Cup Semi-final: when the players saw it on TV, they instantly knew we?d presented Ipswich with all the motivation they?d possibly want to make it to the final. Aw, you know, the ?sod ?em? factor that makes players both steely in response, and resolute in deed: the disastrous Highbury sequel, when the second division outfit came at us with all guns firing, you know already, of course.

Incidentally, that was the way ?yer man? dealt with the absolute plethora of terrace racism directed towards black players, back then, which came in the form of thrown bananas and monkey-noises. By rolling up his (mental) sleeves, and saying ?Right, you wotsits, try THIS for size?.? End result? Matchday commentators innumerable crying, yet again: ?IT?S REGIS! WEST BROMWICH ALBION ONE, (insert opposition name required; that of Chelsea if you?re feeling that vindictive, their followers weren?t exactly a bastion of racial tolerance, back in those far-off days) NIL?..!?

Cyrille also had quite a lot to say about 1978-9, of course, not forgetting that ghastly Highbury semi versus QPR in 1982, and most certainly not forgetting the subsequent break up, and First Division decline of what had been a cracking side when on top form. The precipitating factor was the loss of many key players eg. Laurie Cunningham, Remi Moses, Bryan Robson, coupled with the purchase of top-price replacements, who, for a variety of reasons, completely failed to cut the Hawthorns mustard, eg. Peter Barnes, Steve McKenzie, David Mills, et. al.

Later still, and unforgivably so, in the lad?s eyes, the board then undertook what was essentially a massive cost-cutting exercise. Result? One manager acquired on the cheap, ditto a whole lot of players brought in to replace the ones who?d either ?departed to a better place? or simply jumped ship. There could only be one end to that sort of exercise, and it came to pass in season 1985-86: as far as Cyrille was concerned, the club never really recovered from the initial break-up of the side of the late seventies, and is still feeling the backwash now. And yet it could all have been so different?? Perhaps it is, in another dimension, or something. Who knows?

Best moment of the lad?s career? Reaching the FA Cup Final with Coventry, then collecting the winner?s medal afterwards. Worst moment? Again involving Coventry; the time Sutton United unceremoniously dumped them out of the Cup: oh, whoops. Every time Third Round day rolls around, you can guarantee anything you like that some TV channel, somewhere, will be showing one of two clips: Ronnie Radford sticking it up Newcastle United at Edgar Street for Hereford, or Sutton doing a demolition job on City.

Sometimes, just to be different ? or sadistic, even? - they opt for our own Hawthorns embarrassment, starring Woking instead, but not nearly so often as the first two, thank goodness! It?s all a bit like the Beeb always showing ?The Great Escape? over the course of festive holidays, if you like. (Watch out for it on this year?s schedules: my money?s on Boxing Day!) It?s one of football?s ? and life?s ? little traditions.

Incidentally, in case it passed you by at the time, Cyrille?s now an MBE, for services to football ? and quite right too. Recently, the whole family, proud as Punch, they were, made the long journey to the Palace to pick up said gong from Her Maj. herself. Having never been personally involved in such fol-de-rol myself, I had not the slightest clue what form the actual ceremony took, but according to Cyrille, it sure involves a lot of what one might term ?pomp and circumstance?, with the recipient being led one way, on arrival at the Palace, and the proud relatives another.

Much in the way of trumpeted fanfares when Her Maj enters, then the business gets properly underway, each recipient mounting the stage in turn to get their gong. Her Maj always asks a question, apparently ? trust me not to catch what Cyrille said at that point! Oh ? one other thing. The lad was in good company, apparently. Another Palace recipient that very same day (no, not the Sarf London side!) was the lady who plays Dot Cotton, on Eastenders!

Finally, before I turn to the next topic on my busy agenda for tonight, guess who won one of the raffle prizes on offer, courtesy Amanda and her little chums. Yep, we did ? and the prize, a 2009 Albion calendar, will go quite nicely in the conservatory where one of our PCs sits in solitary repose. It?ll make a great replacement for the OU calendar that met a particularly nasty end, just two months previously. A SLUG ate it ? and no, I?ve absolutely no idea how it came to be there in the first place. I must admit to great surprise on noticing Robbo?s conspicuous absence from any of the monthly snaps, mind. Should we infer something of any importance from that, I wonder?

During last night?s meeting, much regret from me that the proceedings had prevented me from watching a documentary on Beeb Four telling the amazing story of Walter Tull: regular readers of my tome will probably remember the extensive coverage I gave Walter some years ago, but for the benefit of those who aren?t, I?ll explain further.

Walter?s name deserves to resonate through generations as yet unborn for two quite simple, yet groundbreaking, reasons. The first? He was that rare bird indeed, a late 19th and early 20th century footballer who just happened to be black. Much of his playing career was spent at Spurs, where he was the victim of some pretty nasty racial abuse from spectators: even more shameful, some of it came from Spurs supporters themselves. ?Everything changes, yet nothing changes? indeed.

That was a major factor in Spurs? decision to transfer Walter to another club, Northampton Town being the beneficiary of the move. And yes, as per a certain very famous TV comedy show, he genuinely was ?the only black person in the - erm ? ?village? ?! And there amidst the Cobblers he would have stayed, no doubt, had a much more serious event, involving the 1914 assassination of Grand Archduke Ferdinand (no relation to the well-known Man U chappie whatsoever, by the way) and his missus not impinged upon the national peace of mind.

Because of a quite complicated cascade of treaty obligations triggered by this event, some involving the major powers, this proved the catalyst for war. Mind you, a fair number of European countries had been spoiling for such a scrap for a very long while, so a genuine excuse was scarcely needed. Britain?s fate was sealed the moment the Kaiser?s troops invaded neutral Belgium: we had an existing treaty obligation with that nation, and clearly felt the need to stick by it, no matter what. That led to the madness now called the First World War: once declared, millions of teenage lads on all sides either volunteered (or, in the case of France, Germany and Austria, were simply conscripted) for the army. Being nice fit lads, footballers were put under considerable pressure to voluntarily take the King?s Shilling, so that was Walter Tull in the army pretty sharpish, then. Just like our very own Great War Baggies hero, Harold Bache, in fact. But with one small difference: being black, the Army didn?t want him, but as he met all the physical criteria superbly (in sharp contrast to a lot of white youths, who, malnourished by reason of extreme poverty in childhood, failed to reach the standard required), the Army were duty-bound to take him as a volunteer.

Now for the second remarkable thing about Walter: being one of the very few black blokes living in this country at the time ? I have encountered black faces among the domestic regimental ranks in some contemporary literature, but to use one former Albion gaffer?s memorable phraseology in a quite different context, they were ?as rare as rocking-horse s**t? - he must have stuck out like a sore khaki-clad thumb, but that didn?t prove too much of a problem. Sheer personality, plus an overabundance of what the services like to call ?power of command?, can take you a pretty long way. Before too long, Walter was not only in the trenches, but had three stripes on his arm as well.

So good was he at his job, his CO eventually recommended him for a commission ? but there was a potentially-huge snag. King?s Regulations back then quite clearly stated that a black officer couldn?t give orders to white soldiers, so in the normal course of events, Walter couldn?t have become an officer. Well, not in the British army. Completely unacceptable now, but very much the way the world was, back then, of course. But such was the carnage on the Western Front at that time ? a newly-joined officer?s average life-span in the front line was reckoned to be only around 3 weeks ? the Army needed all the natural leaders it could muster to lead infantry platoons in the trenches.

That, plus a glowing report from his battalion colonel, got Walter his commission. It probably caused more than a few old regimental buffers to splutter a fair bit over their post-prandial brandies and cigars, but the inescapable fact was that Walter was bloody good at what he did ? motivating people to kill Germans, end of. And it was precisely that that brought about his end, very late on in the war, around August 1918, if my memory serves me right.

Anyway, when his death in action was finally confirmed ? not as easy as it sounds, as people could be left, wounded, in no man?s land, for several days before rescue, and still survive, if lucky ? his CO was moved to say that in Walter, he had lost the best friend (and officer) he?d ever had. Fulsome praise indeed, for a time when soldiers coming from ethnic minorities were usually regarded as ?lesser breeds? and very often relegated to labour battalions, or similar. Or completely segregated, on considerably less pay than white troops doing the same job, as black US soldiers were to discover, on joining up. We?ve come a mighty long way since then ? or have we?

Tomorrow?s Chelsea game? Oh, dear ? written it off already, I?m afraid. It?s not even worth going through what names are likely to be in what frames, etc. Sorry. What else can you do in respect of a side that?s won all their last nine on the road, and only shipped one solitary goal in the process? Coming just three days after they got tipped out of the League Cup by Burnley, too ? and no, they didn?t have their usual stellar constellation on view, but they didn?t put out a side consisting largely of kids and underachievers, either ? you can bet whatever you like that we?ll get the backlash, in heaps.

Quite a few well-known names in their line-up versus The Clarets, in fact, including the infamous Drogba, which made news of them crashing out of the competition on their own muck-heap even more delicious, as far as I was concerned. Oh, well, ?laugh while ye may? is my philosophy, because I most certainly won?t, come half-seven, or so tomorrow evening.

Drogba? Infamous? That much-publicised coin-throwing incident apart, from a Baggies point of view, yes, he is. Well in my book, for what it?s worth. How many reading this remember the last time we played them at the Hawthorns? I most certainly do ? my one abiding memory is of the moment Drogba gave spectators a pretty convincing master-class in the thespian arts in a vain attempt to get Robbo red-carded; it sticks in my mind because I was sitting about 20 yards away from where the incident occurred, at the time. In short, a nasty little man, in all respects, and no doubt we?ll be having the dubious pleasure of his company at our place, this coming Saturday evening.

But there was a pretty heartwarming flip-side to the seedier aspects of Chelsea?s frankly hilarious midweek home defeat, and provided by the visitors, no less. By that, I mean former Baggie custodian Bryan Jensen?s (aka The Beast) superb display that night in saving spectacularly spot-kicks from both Wayne Bridge and John Obi Mikel, during the course of the shoot-out. When I learned of his brilliant goalkeeping form that night, I was pretty pleased for him, not least because Terry and I interviewed him for the fanzine, a few years ago, and found our subject to be quite a character, genial and modest with it, and very much down to earth, too, not a prominent personality trait to be found in most players these days, believe you me.

The clinching factor, though, was his car (the lad very kindly gave us both a lift up Halfords Lane), a very modest number indeed, compared with the sheer profusion of BMW?s and Mercs owned by other players parked in close proximity to our lad?s comparatively unpretentious jalopy. It?s universally recognised that today?s footballers tend to regard their vehicles ? always flash, always gas-guzzlers, seldom ?reasonably priced? - as some kind of ?penis extension?, so The Beast?s bijou number certainly went against the prevailing wind.

Yep ? the lad?s attitude to life is without doubt focused on reality, rather than some idealised, hypertrophied image of his own self-worth, boosted considerably more by a plethora of sycophantic hangers-on. In my experience, a fair number of Danes are like that anyway, which is just one reason why, on hearing the good news of The Beast?s starring role in the Burnley win, I experienced a similar kind of prideful reaction to that of, say, a secondary-level science teacher, on learning that one of his/her former students has gone on to win a Nobel prize, or a proud working-class parent, on hearing the news that that a gifted son or daughter has been accepted by Oxford or Cambridge.

The Baggies? family tree?s one with many far-ranging branches, so it?s always good to hear that a former clansman has, in his own unique way, brought at least some small measure of reflected glory back to our favourite football club, albeit indirectly. And that happy thought is what really brings a warm, pleasurable glow to my little heart, this damp and miserable Friday night. ?Nuff said?


Let me explain?? We had planned to entertain the Lewis clan tomorrow lunchtime, in preparation for the evening?s ritual bloodletting versus our filthy-rich visitors ? but now it won?t be happening. How come? Courtesy a phone call from The Noise, late this very afternoon, telling of Number Two daughter?s unfortunate accident, sustained while chasing a fleeing netball across some kind of bumpy ground, apparently.

And strictly as per my title, too ? poor Beth has acquired a nasty fracture to the bit of the fibula (the thinner bone that backs onto the tibia, situated in the lower leg, just beneath the kneecap) nearest her ankle. The sort of thing footballers get after a spiteful whack just above the back of the ankle, in fact. As the break was an awkward one, it turned out to be a job for an orthopaedic surgeon, who very nicely inserted a pin to keep the whole thing splendiferously steady, meaning a lengthy stay in hospital for poor Madamoiselle while everything settled down, of course.

Now she?s finally been released from NHS durance vile, the upshot of all this is that yes ? she IS coming to the game on crutches (good on yer, gel, we?ll need all the (sympathetic!) support we can muster tomorrow night), but doesn?t quite feel up to going to our place beforehand. Still feeling the after-effects, both physical and psychological, apparently. One other note ? because we?d already prepared a savoury dish and pud beforehand, before the weekend?s through, we?ll both have significant quantities of Mexican Casserole and Tiramisu oozing through our lugholes! Not that I?m trying to make you feel guilty, or anything, Bethany?.

 - Glynis Wright

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