The Diary

22 November 2008: Have Our Finest Been Well Potty-Trained? Today's Stoke Game Will Reveal All!

What a crazy climatic world we live in these days. Over the course of the four days since I last applied thorny finger to keyboard, the outside temperature plummeted somewhat precipitously: i.e. from a comparatively balmy 55 degrees-plus Fahrenheit, to a value that just about keeps its pecker on the side of climatic respectability. Walking to the shops yesterday morning proved a bit of a frigid eye-opener for me, what with everything definable as ?nasty? coming from the north as fast as its dinky little icicles would let it.

Definitely thermals-woollie-coms-and-two-thick-pairs-of-socks-weather, this ? which, by some remarkable coincidence, is precisely what I?ll be wearing at every Baggies supporter?s favourite Saturday afternoon rendezvous, the Britannia Stadium. The plum fixture of our current Premier League season, in other words, the one that gets just about every Baggie worthy of the name drooling with anticipation at the very thought of the action to come ? and it takes place this very afternoon.

If some of you thought you?d detected the heavy hand of sarcasm whacking like a reinforced concrete block dropped right on top of my previous paragraph, you?d be dead right. Let me put it like this: if anyone were to ask me to list my personal ?Top Ten Grounds I?d Avoid Like An Afternoon With Margaret Thatcher, Given The Choice?, then City?s den of footballing iniquity would surely stand way, way above the rest.

As far as the casual reader is concerned, my ?Potty? choice would surely seem a strange one indeed ? but hold hard, ye doubters and disbelievers out there, because therein lieth a multiplicity of contributing factors influencing my reasoning, some of which I?ll commit to the electronic void for you. The rest are best kept to themselves.

By far and away, the best reason is that we haven?t managed to win a single game at their place since the end of season 1981-82, when we managed to successfully administer a triple dose of the old destruction medicine to our ?potty? chums. Think about it: that?s 26 long years ago, a time when we were immersed in the Falklands War, right up to our tabbing and yomping little necks.

Other, lesser-known delights? Margaret Thatcher was PM, Prince Charles and Princess Di happily married (well, to all outward appearances they were, just about, although the lad was, even then, obtaining serial sexual satisfaction with the delectable Camilla - so who?s a naughty Prince Of Wales, then, eh?) On a more serious note, both the US and USSR continued playing a Cold War version of ?handbags at ten paces? over various contentious issues, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan being but one of around half a dozen, at that time. (Therein lies the roots of the current conflict, too, but that?s another story altogether??.)

So that?s the basic backdrop to today?s game done, then. OK, we haven?t managed to clock up three points there since the very last time granny was able to get to the shops without needing a motorised buggy to get her there - so what else? Their ghastly brand of football will do very nicely for starters, but what latter-day Albion supporters may not readily appreciate, right now, is the plain fact that ugly, intimidating tactics, allied with the ridiculous ease with which they can turn the humble matchball into a close approximation of Stoke?s first earth-orbital satellite, have always been a prominent feature of City?s normal game.

It really comes to something when even their own supporters will freely admit that what they?ve been watching, these past few seasons, has been complete and utter garbage. Get to grab a glimpse at the letters page of their local rag, The Sentinel sometime, and you?ll see precisely what I mean within seconds. Just as we Baggies now bill and coo ecstatically over what a previous Albion (and short-term Stoke!) gaffer once so tartly dismissed as ?tippy-tappy football?, so do Stoke?s clay-head followers, over a playing culture that would surely see even the most seasoned horror-flick aficionados turn a quite delectable shade of pale, before making straight for the exits like so many bats out of hell, all on a promise for a good ?erm ? ?necking session?.

In another, completely different, genre, Stoke would be the snuff movie from hell. Just ask Sky TV pundit Chris Kamara. The lad?s a reformed character, these days, a ?Potty? alumnus now completely enveloped in the strong whiff of respectability conveyed by national TV celebrity-status, of course, but in a quite different incarnation, revelling in the notoriety encapsulated within that wonderful euphemism, ?a certain style of play?. He should know more than most about their traditional predilection for semi-legalised GBH, being a past-master of the sordid art himself, not too many campaigns ago.

I?ll pause at this very moment to bring you a (quite genuine, but highly apposite!) Times headline, hot off the press, and begging for airtime. ?TONY PULIS DEFENDS STOKE CITY?S REPUTATION,? it says. Now hang on a minute; doesn?t that read a little like ?KING HEROD DEFENDS JERUSALEM CHILD-CARE POLICY? to my untutored little brain? The point is this: that City invariably play it ?ugly?, always have done, always will. Judging by their recent performances against some of the nation?s allegedly top sides, most of the top six have still to evolve suitably-crushing strategies to employ against them.

To date, the only decent Premier League side to have given them a jolly good seeing-to is Man United, at Old Trafford, just the other week. As for all the rest, there?s been a ghastly inevitability about those final whistle scenes, really. Opposition players galore looking vaguely irritated, and clearly wondering just how the hell a side as good as theirs managed to get trashed by an outfit possessing all the sophistication of a bunch of pub brawlers on a ?50% off spirits? night, punching like prize-fighters, with considerable courtesy some half-crazed maniac lobbing beer and wine bottles galore into the fracas from a position quite some distance away. The beautiful game it ain?t.

The frustrating part for most Baggies? Try as we might - change tactics, change key personnel, change the colour of our underwear, even ? City always end up getting one over us, and, more often than not, courtesy a multiplicity of misdeeds fast approaching the ?distinctly dodgy? end of the spectrum.

Even though they?ve changed managers far more often than a Dingle does bed-sheets, these last few years, no matter what their previous reputation, no matter how sophisticated their previous tactical ideas, they all seem to revert to the Stoke City ?default setting?, eventually. A bit like timid domestic felines reverting to furry killers after a few generations breeding in the wild, if you like.

That accounts for around 95% of the disappointment swilling around their away end in heaps, come the conclusion of every Stoke-Baggies encounter, then, so what about the rest? This is where it gets personal, so how does their sodding ?signature tune? ? Tom Jones?s ?Delilah? - grab YOU, then?

When South Wales?s crooning answer to Casanova appeared on the Graham Norton Show just the other night, had you left your windows open just a smidgen, you might well have picked up faint echoes of the almighty screech emanating from my already-overloaded tonsils, the very first moment those opening lyrics hit my poor eardrums.

It may not be medically measurable, but trust me on this one: I have an antipathy towards that song (and those who sing it on matchdays) that easily transcends any other kind to which I might confess in an unguarded moment, Dingles included. My one and only pleasurable episode associated with the ditty, to date, was back in the days of Talbot, when we somehow managed to knock the Potties for six at our place, not long before Christmas, if I remember correctly.

Tony Ford, very much a Stoke player back then, was red-carded. Suddenly finding themselves a man light, and seeing our players reacting to the red carding like terriers spotting a bunch of randy rabbits emerging from a newly-unearthed den, our clay-head chums simply blew up with the rapidity of a pop bottle left for far too long in the summer midday sun. The trouble is, though, we?ve been paying for it ever since! That Yuletide six-goal humiliation, I mean, not the pop bottle.

So what sort of a side can we look forward to seeing, this chilly afternoon? The cynical among you might say ?one resigned to getting a bloody good tanking, as per usual?, which, on current form, would be justifiable, to say the least. But as I?m not wearing my ?sarcastic? hat right now, I guess I?ll just have to come up with something a smidgen more positive than that instead.

One massive blow for our chances of getting at least a point from what promises to be, at the very least, a pretty bruising encounter, is that of James Morrison?s absence from today?s line up. He?s been left with damaged medial ligaments after the Chelsea encounter, apparently, so should be out for a fair few weeks. Chris Lepowski of the Evening Mail is clearly of the opinion that the newly-forged defensive partnership between Jonas Olsson and Adboulaye Meite will turn out to be a fruitful one. Well, given the fact that in a pathetic attempt to stop our rearguard leaking goals like granddad?s string vest leaks air, we?ve already gone through most of the available options, I suppose anything else will be seen as an improvement, by comparison.

Another vagrant thought? At least Ricardo Fuller won?t be giving us the dubious pleasure of his company, tomorrow afternoon. Suspended, apparently, but not by his gonads, which is a bit of a shame. Perhaps the FA don?t share my bellicose sensibilities, when it comes to Stoke, and all matters appertaining. Strange to think that Fuller could so easily have signed for us instead: back in the days of The Ginger One, he spent a short trial period at our place, grabbed a fistful of goals playing for the reserves ? but despite all that, the Dear Leader still didn?t rate him, so off he went, into the sunset.

Didn?t you just know that blind Fate would cheekily ordain his eventual return, but leading some other side?s attack instead of ours, and chasing after goals like bees chase after a small child, mouth all sticky with excess jam, and full to the brim with screaming hysterics, the very first moment one of the stripy so-and-sos tries to make landfall? Just our sodding luck the outfit in question happened to be bloody Stoke, wasn?t it?

Normally, in similarly despairing fashion to last Friday?s missive, I would have written the whole damn thing off well before the start, but there?s such a horrible fascination hanging around this one, I?m somewhat loath to do it. Let?s face it, the percentages must surely have to swing our way, sooner or later ? and this column positively aches to be there when they finally do. Hell, we?ve already exorcised one long-standing, but similar, hoodoo at Middlesbrough, so it isn?t completely beyond the bounds of reason we could do the same today.

Let's face it, if Mogga is genuine about his desire to see his side finish the season with a side looking forward to playing in the same League come next August, this is the sort of game we really do have to win. Forget the last three or four, virtually all played against sides threatening to either finish in the top six, or end the current campaign lifting silverware of some sort aloft in triumph. This is PERSONAL.

We really do need to start taking points off those around us, and soon. Luckily, the tight feel to the current table means that a win ? sorry, but I AM writing this in a state of complete sobriety, honest! ? could launch us right up there like a sling-shot. Only a measly THREE points separate us from tomorrow?s opponents, who currently occupy 13th place in the Premier League pecking order, so there?s little to be lost by simply going for it. Come five pm. we may well have half the side crocked, but at least the long-awaited victory would be sweet!

Now the air has turned distinctly Arctic in this conservatory ? I do have an oil-filled radiator going like the clappers in here, but it?s about as much use as a chocolate teapot in this sort of cold - by the time you get this, Saturday morning will have dawned good and proper. Apologies in advance for any anachronisms that managed to sneak underneath my scrutinising radar dome on the sly - any errors are mine only. Ditto the appearance of Saturday evening?s normal offering: should the temperature not improve sufficiently tonight, the Sabbath it shall be!

Anyone else spotted reserve team coach Michael Appleton?s name in lights last night? He?s allegedly on the shortlist for the vacant Huddersfield Town post, which wouldn?t surprise me one little bit, considering that since hanging up his boots for good ? the end-result of a nasty training-ground accident he sustained about 8 seasons ago - the vibes I?ve been getting about his coaching abilities have been, without exception, incredibly positive.

Went through all his coaching badges like a stiffish dose of salts, apparently, an achievement that isn?t very often seen in the football world, apparently. To be perfectly honest, not so many months back, and during a conversation with my other half, I actually suggested Appy as a distant-future possibility for our own managerial post, should it fall vacant at the right time. If what today?s reports say are on the level, then we could see the guy taking his very first steps along that road, very soon indeed.

And if he does land the job, he?ll probably be, by far and away, one of the richest gaffers ever encountered at that level. Thanks to the settlement of a negligence case against one of the consultant medics treating him for the injury that finished him in the game, he?s currently worth around 1.5 million. Probably far more than Mogga?s entire monetary worth, come to think about it.

He?ll be luckier than the greater majority of managerial aspirants by far; with so many, the fear factor, that awful, numbing dread of having to find a ?proper job?, should their first stumbling attempts at leadership turn horribly pear-shaped, must always be uppermost in their mind. At least Appy can take on the job knowing that he does have a reliable ?insurance policy? to fall back upon, should the worst come to the worst. Those who take post with the fear-factor effectively nullified can afford to take some risks.

News items of the week? Scientists propose to tour Britain?s towns and cities in search of brains for Alzheimer?s disease research. So I guess that?s Wolverhampton pretty much ruled out, then?.

According to the Mirror, there are millions of pieces of space junk merrily orbiting our planet, right now ? and only 12,500 items, big, small, indifferent, whatever, considered easy to keep track of by NASA.

What?s up there? Just about everything you can think of, really - yes, and including the obvious: in the early days of space flight, those guys didn?t half spend a long time up there, and toilet/stowage space on those primitive ?tin cans? was pretty limited, so I guess you?ve anticipated my (liquid, nitrogenous) drift already ? ranging from long-obsolete satellites, through rocket parts, plastic sacks containing domestic astronaut rubbish (but I?m sure the bin-men will come and take it all away, eventually), to tools used to put the International Space Station together, and even a golf ball, apparently.

There?s also quite a bit of copper wire floating around as well, the legacy of an early experiment to improve radio reception gone wrong. That, plus all the aforementioned unwanted metallic items, must have already got a certain section of the population drooling like that nice Mr. Pavlov?s canines at the thought of actually getting their hands on it.

If we should hear of a rogue space launch taking place in some obscure country or other, followed by reports that the people in the rocket are not only wearing football shirts of a certain colour combination, but trying their darndest to wreck the cabin interior as well, we?ll know full well who?s following a time-honoured (but only vaguely legal, if that) occupation beloved of people born but a few miles up the A41, won?t we?

Oh ? yet another vagrant thought I?ve just had about all that non-gravitational detritus we?ve left up there. Chances are they?ll also find enough orbiting footballs up there to keep the entire top four Leagues going for a season. Dead easy to trace ownership though: remember former Baggie Paul Holmes, and those awful wayward corners of his, around a decade ago?

 - Glynis Wright

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