The Diary

23 November 2008: Remenbrance Of Things Past: The Perfect Antidote For Post-Potty Blues!

?We?ll win again, don?t know where, don?t know when/But I know we?ll win again some sunny day?..?

Recognise the lyrics above, anyone? No, not YOU, Dame Vera ? although I will concede you do have a certain priority claim to those sugar-sweet wartime sentimentalities, as fractured by us - but under slightly less-fraught conditions, it must be said.

Right now, I can?t think of a better refrain by which to illustrate our current predicament; certainly, the last time I ever heard it given a public airing by Albion supporters, our League plight was in similar jeopardy. Anyone else out there committed to memory that particular FA Cup tie? Okay, if not, try Gresty Road, Crewe, early January, 1996.

Needless to say, that game also ended with our finest conceding further progress in the competition to the Railwaymen; even more predictably, once Dario Gradi?s shock troops had run through our defence like diarrhoea through the human lower intestinal tract, our peripatetic die-hards fast became about as resigned to eventualities as we are now, hence the aforementioned closing 15-minutes rendition of the fractured wartime lyrics quoted above.

And surprisingly moving it was, too, all those massed bass voices chorusing the words in similarly doleful fashion to that of their wartime predecessors, as Alex ran rampant, ran us ragged, and caused blind panic to constitute the sum-total of the Albion defensive response. Must have evoked memories galore of air-raid shelters, Spam fritters (surprisingly tasty, actually!), Woolton Pie, stirring Churchill speeches, ITMA, the black-out, and all the rest of it, among the numerous old farts present that day!

Alan Buckley was in charge, back then, so hitting the mother and father of all points-famines, come the New Year was basically down to his managerial deficiencies. Had Bob Geldof watched that game, and become even half as appalled by what he?d seen as we were, he?d have organised a globally-massive fund-raising event for us straight away, no worries, minimal bother.

To cut to the chase, then, we?re now in one hell of a mess, and Christmas will probably see us stuck immovably to the Premier League?s basement. Just like the wreck of the Titanic, in fact. Much as I admire and respect Mogga, and what he believes in, I can?t see any substantial improvement in our position for quite some time, if any.

Is mine the perfect definition for ANY Albion/Stoke encounter, I wonder? ?You go into the game wanting to stick your head into a gas oven, but you come out at the end wanting to slit your throat with a rusty tin can lid??

Running that one through the labyrinthine maze His Nibs is oft pleased to call his brain, this lunchtime, I immediately took the almighty snort of amusement I received in return to mean I?d managed to score a bullseye, and right on his funny-bone, too. It?s fair to say that this little quip of mine represents the entire sum-total of any amusement I?ve managed to derive from the weekend just gone, just about. Laugh? Me? Until I almost cried, fellow-sufferers.

To be perfectly honest, rather than relive the perennial agony of seeing Stoke make us look like a bunch of mentally-retarded mugwumps yet again, I?d much rather discuss the relative merits of something else we both saw post-match, last night ? and it wasn?t MOTD, either. Come ten yesterday evening, we were both gloomily considering whether or not to contact the Samaritans, hence my depressive comment of a couple of paragraphs before, but we then discovered a hitherto unknown modicum of sterner resolve lurking in the cupboard under the stairs, and in the measurably reassuring form of a new Albion DVD, too.

We?d originally purchased it as a Christmas present for one of my brothers-in-law, only just the other week, then temporarily placed it in the ?For Wrapping? pile, for safe keeping until nearer the Great Day. So, in the interests of morale-boosting, we swiftly liberated it from its solitary repose in durance vile, set up our TV for DVD, then both sat back for a lengthy reminder of what it really meant to be a Baggie, back in those coruscating, swinging, glitter-ball sixties, and seventies.

It really didn?t need too much in the way of grey matter to work out that this latest Baggie offering was very much tailored towards the Yuletide presents market. But that didn?t affect our overall enjoyment of what we saw in the slightest. As I intimated earlier, this offering spanned some forty years of memorable Baggies performances ? and not necessarily winning ones, either, which is what really lends this DVD a certain charm, I suppose.

Aha! The perfect remedy for Post-Potty-Blues! The sixties? Yes, there was ample footage of both our FA Cup win, and the High Street jollifications afterwards, but what WAS unusual about it was a rerun of the Beeb?s Match Of The Day coverage of our sixth round trip to Chelsea, the year after our Wembley triumph.

All the usual suspects ? bumpy, muddy Stamford Bridge pitch, seemingly gone over with a tractor plough just days before the game, a not-so-small coterie of home supporters, comprising a preponderance of GBH artists operating under the spurious guise of respectability automatically conferred upon those holding down minor jobs in the City, and no doubt hell-bent upon plotting varieties of post match evil aplenty for the more vulnerable followers of the visiting side. About par for the course, in those days, really.

Albion found themselves more or less under the cosh, right from the word ?go?, but having scored twice, it then became the devil of a game to prevent the home side getting back into the game again. A difficult one, that, especially after the opposition reduced the deficit to the one solitary goal. That was when we were REALLY in for it; Chelsea, clearly feeling the pressure with just five to go to the end, blasted a free-kick straight at poor Ossie?s legs.

In charged the Chelsea heavy mob, Chopper Harris, and all, and before you knew it, there was poor Ossie having seven bells lamped out of him, and some of the blows falling in some excruciatingly painful regions, too. So what did Ossie do to preserve his sorely-troubled manhood? He simply SAT on the thing; once there, it would have taken a well-aimed stick of dynamite to turf him off it again, believe you me. Ah ? happy days!

That must be the first time that match has seen daylight since the day I attended the game, so well done Albion. After that came Man City versus Albion, Wembley League Cup Final, 1970 ? nowhere near rarity value, that one ? but the game after that may not be quite as familiar to Albion supporters, especially those newer to the game.

The time now shifts to 1971, when a string of miserable Albion away performances (sounds horribly familiar, doesn?t it?) meant we hadn?t won on the road for around 18 months. Next up was Leeds United, who in stark contrast to our lot, were carrying all before them in their bruising and battering quest to grab the League Title for themselves. On paper, a foregone conclusion. In reality? Highly controversial, with Ray Tinkler playing the (incompetent) lawman, Don Revie Billy The Kid, his first-teamers the outlaw?s side-kicks, and Albion the fall-guys who just wouldn?t stick to the script.

But the real star of the show wasn?t to be those playing in their designated roles; try the offside law for size, instead. And yes, Bomber Brown was a mile off when he received the ball in the Leeds half, completely flat-footing the opposition, playing to the whistle. Result? Bomber haring towards goal, more or less unopposed; once in the business end, all the lad then had to do was square the ball to a colleague, and that was the Baggies two up, amidst scenes that would become very familiar indeed to Leeds followers, at various future times.

Moving forward rapidly, my next choice pick?s one I include out of sheer Schadenfreude; newly-promoted Albion?s Hawthorns demolition job on Manchester United. Now think about it; this next footage speaks volumes about the Grand Canyon-size chasm that?s since opened up between newly-promoted clubs, and the Greed League?s fat cats. Don?t believe me? OK ? when was the last time you saw United tatered by four goals, with nothing to show from them by way of reply? Watch and enjoy.

Now for a pretty surprising inclusion on the list. Fast forward now to 2002, and our first successful Premier League promotion. The venue? Bramall Lane, and a ?back of the sofa, with eyes half-covered, Doctor Who-style? reprise for what could pass quite successfully as The Warnock and Megson Rocky Horror Show.

Even now, some six years after that bloodcurdling event ? sponsored by the Blood Transfusion Service, I kid you not! ? I still can?t quite believe the sheer amount of downright nastiness that took place that day. After watching what transpired, I can only conclude that Neil Warnock must have been under the influence of crack cocaine, or something. Put it this way, prior to that day, I?d never before seen a professional footballer ? our Andy Johnson was the victim ? take to the air, courtesy propulsion provided gratis by his United nemesis.

One outbreak of gratuitous violence later, incurring United three red cards, it seemed to us at the time that Warnock, realization rapidly dawning that his side, now reduced to seven, would probably finish the game on the wrong end of a cricket score, arbitrarily decided to take matters into his own hands, and in typically unique fashion, too.

Realising that if just one more United player left the scene of the crime, the whole shebang would have to be abandoned anyway, he seemed to engineer that precise ending. How? A brace of strange ?injuries? manifesting themselves, all of a sudden. Were they going off, or weren?t they? As I recall, it was all extremely confusing: the first we knew about the game being abandoned was the PA announcement! Anyway, if you haven?t seen it before, then get someone to buy you the DVD as a Crimbo pressie. Just press that ?PLAY? button ? and watch jour jaw go crashing straight to the floor!

There?s lots more to behold on that DVD, of course; some good, some bad, and some downright excruciating, even by Albion standards. At least it served as something of an antidote for all the trauma we?d witnessed earlier that very day. As for the event in question, here?s some of the more pleasant aspects of our day served up for your delectation.

First off, while we were in the club, a tame Stokie let on the Big Secret of that almighty throw-in weapon of theirs, Rory Delap. Hey, Mogga, guys ? THEY NARROWED THEIR PITCH! That?s why it doesn?t work on away grounds! So now you know.

Then we discovered why The Noise had so much difficulty grabbing car park tickets for the Britannia beforehand. The football club have been telling everyone that they can get them from selected newsagents throughout the city. ?Oh no you can?t!? chorussed the newsagents. Then he was told that the ?Power League? car parking facility was ?pay on the day?, but when he got there, some time before we did ? yes, you?ve guessed it?..

Said the attendant in question: ?We?re sick and tired of them telling people that every week?.? And so were we: just as well The Noise then discovered that a genuine ?pay on the day? facility lurked just down the road, and not too far from the ground, either, then relayed the info to me when we spoke via Eldest Daughter?s trusty mobile.

As for Carly, her 18th party certainly went with a surfeit of ?pazzaz?. So much so, she ended up needing medical attention! Oh, whoops?. As she?s pretty embarrassed about it already, I won?t embarrass her further by delving into the sordid details. Let?s just say I?ve offered her the lend of one of my OU textbooks, which deals with the next module on the syllabus. Its title? ?Alcohol? ?Nuff said.

?Im Indoors, tactful as ever, on hearing news of Carly?s eventide potations? ?Well ? that was you AND Bethany plastered on Tuesday night, then?.?

Also heard in the Power League bar?. His Nibs, down to his (abnormally-bright) sartorial standards, once more: ?My jumper seems to be attracting a lot of attention??

Me (desperately shading my eyes from the glare): ?They probably want to know where you nicked it from?.?

Now for one of the highlights?.. Much to our amazement, we then came across someone we hadn?t seen for ages. A former Civil Service workmate of my other half?s acquaintance, he surprised us by suddenly becoming a psychiatric nurse ? and a pretty good one, it would appear, from what he?s told me.

Tale Number One (no names, no pack-drill)?. Apparently, whenever he has to interview someone coming into A and E suspected of having mental health problems (or merely pretending to have problems in order to evade prosecution for some crime or other etc.) our chum then has to fill in a proforma consisting of no less than 27 pages! It takes around 2 hours to interview the patient for proper completion, apparently. Said patients being either drunk, drugged, genuinely mentally ill, faking, or merely resentful about being asked a load of daft questions, can turn nasty very quickly, so it?s not really a good idea.

The trouble is, having been devised by people with little or no experience of being on the sharp end, and all about ticking managerial boxes, pure and simple, you can probably guess what I?m about to tell you. Yup, that?s right ? just about every kind of garbage you can think of goes on those forms, much of which isn?t relevant to the patient concerned, which must leave the next nurse along the line scratching their heads a bit, to say the least. Who was it said: ?It?s a crazy world we?re living in??

But our chum?s next tale was far funnier by half. Press the ?rewind? button that takes you to the late eighties, then press ?stop? when you get to Villa v Albion, and the goalless draw that ensued that day. I suppose ?Im Indoors and myself should feel some degree of guilt at this one, because what made this game stand out from the others was the sheer amount of FISH brought in by our travelling faithful that day.

All to do with the gag we had running in the ?zine about the Trinity Road Stand occupants clapping and stamping, thereby rendering them very seal-like in both habit and appearance, so we then suggested supporters provide themselves with suitable food for the occupants ? and the idea really took off!

The moment the home side emerged from the tunnel, vast quantities of Neptune?s bounty flew through the air (never guessed you could see flying fish in these climes, did you?), and landed on the running track around the pitch.

And not just any old variety of ?poisson? either. Cod, haddock, hake, plaice, skate ? our chum had his very own haddock stuffed right inside his jacket throughout the bus journey from the city centre, something he was to regret bitterly afterwards, as it stunk said garment out something awful ? with one eccentric managing to chuck a tin of SARDINES the same way. Thankfully, it didn?t hit anyone along the way.

Before too long, the running track was festooned with what appeared to be the entire weekly catch of the average Grimsby trawler! Bet the stewards had fun shifting that lot afterwards. Or maybe ? just maybe?.. Did it all end up in the Villa dressing room, after all?

Peripatetic Jim Reeves?s solution to the Delap long-throw conundrum? (No, shooting someone in public isn?t legal!) ?Put Shergar on, who?s useless. Get him tangling with Delap in the first minute. Result? Both sent off! Whoopee!?

The Noise, just after the game started: ?Can?t wait to see their end of season DVD. ?100 Great Throw-Ins?!?

Bloke sat behind me: ?Come on, Albion ? we can beat these?. (doubtfully) Er ? PLEASE beat these?.??

Heard during a sartorial discussion among a nearby group of Warwick Baggies: ?I wear the shirt, lose OR lose?.!?

THE LAST WORD ON ?THAT GAME??.. Mind-numbingly awful, dross (the last description Mogga?s, not mine ? and he should know!); a poor Championship game transplanted to the Premiership, and - typical Albion, this ? just when we thought we?d get at least a point out of the game for our trouble, they go and nick one, ten minutes from the end! Just like the sea, Albion is a cruel mistress. Of one thing I?m certain, small consolation though it may be. BOTH sides will be playing in next season?s Championship, of that I?m sure!

 - Glynis Wright

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