The Diary

07 December 2008: What We Did On Our Albion-Free Saturday!

Well, here I am again, after yet another fun-packed week, but one where His Nibs managed to wangle a two-day visit to Durham at government expense, which left our house with just this column and the cats for company, last Monday. He didn?t land up in the prison there, sadly ? just the university campus, to meet up with a load of egg-heads, to talk about government statistics on the current recession. Yeah, right ? just my kind of short break, that; as far as I was concerned, he was welcome to it, and with twiddly brass knobs on, too.

At least his temporary absence meant that I could sally forth with completing the spadework for my forthcoming OU assessment, due in by this Friday coming (and, no doubt, accompanied by a whole lot of foul language while I?m putting the finishing touches to the thing). Hopefully, I?ll have it in the post by Wednesday, after which I can relax/crumple up into a quivering lump of protoplasm, or something. Oh, and do the Crimbo shopping in sunny Merry Hill ? my dutiful other half has the week off, so pieces of written work apart, we?ve both got quite a busy schedule lined up.

Look out for us at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, later on this week; they have an exhibition about the First World War on the go until Christmas, so now seemed to be the ideal time to go ? and being situated just a mile from Old Trafford, on the dock waterfront (or what used to be the dock waterfront, in happier and more prosperous times) it?s dead easy to find, too.

And, while we?re on the subject of ?easy to find?, so was Colchester United?s new place, yesterday afternoon. Yep, in lieu of any serious football being played at the Hawthorns (or the mildly hilarious sort, come to think about it), that?s where we sought for ? and dutifully got ? our football fix. Yes, Hereford United were the main attraction. My other half went expecting to see them get hammered, as per usual, but English football being the delightfully-unpredictable affair it can be, at times, it just didn?t work out that way. But of that, more later.

And not just ?Im Indoors and myself, either; also burning up the motorway miles in our good company were Steve The Miser, and son David who, incidentally, is now a 14 year-old broth of a boy, and when not indulging in extracurricular sport of various kinds, is seemingly destined to make a career out of chartered accountancy, or something. Well, how else do you interpret the mindset of a lad with the chronological age just mentioned, yet simultaneously possessive of a remarkably mature gravitas quite beyond his tender years?

When in the presence of mature adults, most teenagers have the infuriating ability to behave like they?re ?sixteen going on five?; it speaks volumes for the power of human genetics, however, that David turns the whole thing completely about face, by routinely acting ?fourteen going on around fifty?. With most lads that age, you make conversational small talk by asking about girlfriends, musical tastes, etc. Not so with Steve?s little shaver; whenever I find myself in his company, I get a strangely overwhelming urge to ask him for financial advice, instead.

It might have been horribly cold out there, but once on the road, and snug in the fastness of our current jalopy, it didn?t seem to matter all that much. At least Mother Nature did us the favour of providing all four of us with lashings of brilliant sunshine, with nary a cloud of any description to blight the baby-blue perfection of the sky, overhead. Oh, yes ? and at least one substantial improvement on other trips we?ve made to Colchester; this time we were assisted by our trusty satnav. Just as well, really; previous visits to the former Roman garrison town have seen us inadvertently wandering off the beaten track, and exchanging much in the way of unparliamentary language in our endeavours to find the straight and narrow, once more.

Even better, it took us by a route that actually saved us a respectable number of miles, so here?s a toast to good old-fashioned guided missile technology; ?tis true we never got to bomb Moscow, but at least we knew our geographical position with pin-point accuracy. And we even got to see the outskirts of Stansted Airport, too; going by the sheer number of dwellings right in line with the main runway, and consequently saddled with the dubious delights of large aircraft right over their heads for much of the time, no wonder the locals are all up in arms at the proposed runway extensions, etc. From there, a quite delightful run through the gold-tinged Sussex countryside took us straight to the former Roman town, reaching dry land around one in the afternoon. Even better, close to our chosen town centre parking-spot was a handy pub. What more in the way of sybaritic delights could the average travelling Baggie want, I ask myself?

Even better still for both His Nibs and Mister Carr Senior, the place was a real-ale buff?s Nirvana, with the bar boasting a goodly selection on tap. My other half?s choice, as ?dark, mystic, wonderful? as you?ll ever find this side of Camelot, certainly didn?t seem to qualify for the title ?bitter?, but I was assured it most certainly was. Meanwhile, as both male adults occupied themselves in the selection of said beverages, a short conversation I had with young David was certainly proving an explosive one.

Nothing to do with the lad himself, I hasten to add, just his school?s seeming discouraging attitude towards science teaching. It all started when I asked him what subjects he liked most ? and much to my astonishment, he told me he didn?t like science very much. Blimey ? all that chemistry stuff, bangs and the such-like, and didn?t like it?

?It?s all book work,? lamented the little shaver, clearly feeling distinctly aggrieved about the matter. ?We don?t do many practicals.?

What? Science without practical work? What sort of daft idea was that? When pressed, David inadvertently revealed what must have been the real reason for the school?s distinct lack of enthusiasm, ?Our teacher says it?s too dangerous?..?

Dangerous? Science practicals, and all of it run-of-the-mill spectacular stuff that?s been tried and tested upon spotty adolescents ever since the time Barnes Wallis was a lad? Now I truly know the health and safety lobby have gone right off their trolleys. How on earth can you learn the rudiments of science without practical work? The conclusions are obvious; if you suddenly find, around ten years further down the line, that this country becomes desperate enough to import people from abroad to do significant medical research etc., at least you?ll know the real reason why we can?t ?grow our own?.

Young people no longer inspired to take up science as a career, purely and simply because a few litigation-conscious Nervous Nellies in the teaching profession, trying to cover their own backs in case of accident, ordain that the little darlings can?t be trusted with even the most basic lab equipment and chemicals with which to create spectacular bangs, sparks and stinks for themselves.

Even worse, Steve then told me that because universities now find this lack of practical experience among their students so limiting, in terms of what the syllabus has to cover in the time available, they?re now being forced into laying on extra lab-oriented lectures and tutorials for freshers, purely and simply to get everyone right up to speed before the really serious lab stuff starts. Which, of course, eats right into the course content proper, so other things have to give, to some extent. It?s enough to make me want to chuck myself onto the nearest railway track, were it not for the fact that the health and safety lobby would probably completely overreact by banning all rail travel in the area afterwards!

But back to the matter in hand. As you no doubt know already, Colchester have quit the dubious delights of their ramshackle old place for a much better ?ole, situated across the city from the old one. Going by the name of the Weston Homes Community Stadium, the whole thing was made possible by a partnership between the football club and the local authority; part of the deal being that a ?park and ride? scheme would be instituted ? and that?s precisely how it works.

If you?ve got any sense, that is; the reality is a massive area right next to the ground itself where cars can be bunged, pre-match, but for arcane reasons known only unto themselves, the club charge a colossal tenner on matchdays (reduced to a fiver, for this one, but still a gigantic rip-off, just the same), and all for temporary residence on a piece of land that bears a distinct resemblance to the Somme battlefield, just after the awful winter of 1916-17 set in.

That, plus practicalities involving the strange revelation that nobody was let out of the car-park by the station until the last bus from the ground deposited its post-match load, had led us to a parking spot in a street about 200 yards from where the buses picked up. And, to be fair, the free service (note that magic word, folkies. Steve likes anything with ?free? emblazoned upon it very much indeed!) did us proud, with a waiting vehicle on tap the precise moment we poured ourselves out of the pub, and into the open air. Even better, the journey to the ground ? usual modern architectural deal for clubs on a budget, seemingly stuck right in the middle of nowhere - was a remarkably brief one.

As is normal at these places, purchase of tickets was by means of the box office. Yep, even tiny Colchester now have a ?stilecard? system, which must have represented a quantum leap in technological terms for their puzzled-looking stewarding staff. Just stick your ticket in the slot, and away you go, easy peasy. Inside, there was a half-decent snack bar, boasting all the usual matchday gourmet fare, pies, pasties, and the like, with copious quantities of Bovril etc. to wash it down with, plus ? wow, what a difference from the ramshackle (unsanitary?) facilities provided at the old Layer Road place ? half-decent toilets, even in the Ladies!

And the humble loo, fair sex for the use of, dear reader, was to provide my travelling companions with their biggest laugh of the day. Seeing a sign for the Ladies at the far end of the concourse, adjacent to the one for the gents, I took that to be the entrance, and happily marched in. Ooops! WRONG! The clearest indication of my error was the wonderful sight of my other half happily relieving himself, courtesy the capacious urinal provided for that precise purpose; that, plus a few sundry Herefordians, definitely non-female, and all quite bemused by my sudden presence in their urinary Sanctum Sanctorum, gave me my strongest hint, thus far, that I?d got my doors hopelessly mixed up!

And, no ? it wasn?t just me. I?d turned androgynous, all of a sudden, because the club had neglected to place signs in their proper places. Mind you, looking at their wretched ?Ladies? symbol, for confirmation I?d finally got it right, was a giggle. A female, certainly ? but with only one leg?

?Perhaps it?s Heather Mills?? was my unhelpful suggestion. But then again, no; even she wouldn?t have tried to rip Colchester off for some obscene amount of blood-money or other. Er ? would she? Mind you, even better was my post-match discovery of precisely the same floor, but completely awash with water, by then. My conclusion? Either some Herefordian female or other had a bladder capacity way beyond the ken of physiologists (and then discovered, come the final whistle, she simply couldn?t wait a moment longer?), or one of the pipes had burst ? it was certainly cold enough for it.

Having sunk a warming cup of hot chocolate in no time flat ? it really was that sort of day ? time to head on out for our seats. Given Hereford?s current parlous League position, it won?t come as any surprise at all to learn that only the diehard few bothered to travel to this one; understandably, most of their followers probably thought they?d be far better off doing their Christmas shopping instead. Which only goes to show just how wrong you can be ? and delightfully so, in this instance.

So bad was morale in that away end, most of their travelling faithful had their traumatised side down as being only fit for the dead-cart, pre-match. When you?re conditioned by frequent weekend trauma into assuming there?s little to be had by way of positive expectations for a game like this, you won?t end up disappointed, come the final whistle. Defence mechanism, in other words.

That was their gloomy outlook on First Division life, and completely understandable, too; if ever a bunch of supporters could come up with football?s equivalent of the infamous ?thousand yard stare? beloved of Vietnam veterans, Bulls followers have to be the best practitioners of that gloomy art, by a country mile. And it showed: when both sides made their entry upon the pitch, the best the (normally vocal) visiting support could muster was but a few half-hearted chants.

But all that was to change very rapidly. 15th placed Colchester (who had a substitute boasting the wonderful name Gerken as their secret weapon - gets them out of pickles, with just a little help from vinegary chum White, perhaps?) got off to a predictably-good start, giving the visitors more than enough food for thought in those opening minutes.

They also boasted the presence of an annoying lad with the whitest mop of hair I?ve ever seen in my life ? my other half has ample reason to hate him, too, being the Ronaldo-imitation-diver whose totally-unjustified penalty helped Dagenham and Redbridge dump The Bulls out of the Conference play-offs, the season before they finally succeeded ? buzzing like a vindictive albino wasp around the Bulls box.

An anxious moment, also for Hereford?s FIFTH keeper, thus far this season, when he sustained an early knock. Let me put it this way, right now, keeping goal for the Bulls is an occupation about as hazardous as being part of a Star Trek security team; no sooner they start going about their planetary business, you know only too well that no matter what, they?ll be the first to get zapped by the baddie aliens!

As far as the bovine lot were concerned, things looked distinctly hairy for quite some time. Then, something ? I know not what ? suddenly transformed both the Hereford side, and the travelling faithful that journeyed so far to see them (lose?). No more were they cast in the role of perpetual victims; in the space of but a few magical minutes, the worm finally turned, and it was Colchester suddenly looking worried, as wave after wave of Herefordian attacks came rippling down both flanks, and only poor crossing preventing their enterprise getting its just reward, in the form of goals.

Turning to my other half, I casually remarked that his ?other lot? had started in an unexpectedly positive way. ?Im Indoors, embittered by numerous false dawns in the past, was having none of it, but I was quickly proven right. Around the 30 minute mark, and following what turned out to be their first strike away from home in three months, Steve Guinan, a much-loved figure for the Edgar Street faithful, managed to pot the black from quite close range, following a corner.

Cries of exultation and triumph aplenty from the goal-starved travelling faithful, of course, and closely followed by anxious murmurings regarding the vexed question of whether or not the visitors could hold on to that unexpected lead of theirs. No worries, Blue: amazingly enough, just ten minutes later, they managed to double it, courtesy returned prodigal striker Lionel Ainsworth, also a much loved favourite during his earlier incarnation at the club, now seemingly lacking, this time round. Until yesterday, that was; no sooner had his well-placed shot crossed the line, the small ?band of brothers? (and sisters!) gathered in that away end went absolutely barmy.

A fitting moment for Ainsworth, in my opinion; by far and away, he was the best player on the pitch, and why Graham Turner chose to sub him ten minutes before the end is a complete and utter mystery to this column. Once he was out of the reckoning, and left totally bereft of any meaningful attacking presence whatsoever, Hereford?s visibly knackered players almost buckled irretrievably under the defensive strain. In the dying minutes, Colchester managed to get one back. That was when things looked pretty sweaty for the visitors, but despite the referee somehow coming up with an unbelievable FOUR minutes stoppage time ? er, precisely what were the stoppages, pray? - they managed to ride out the storm, and nick a well-deserved three points for themselves.

At least I was treated to the incongruous sight of my beloved jumping into the frosty night air, clicking his heels as he did so, while shouting ?WHOOPEE!? to anyone who happened to be around at that time. Thanks to our careful choice of parking spot, we were away in no time flat; shame about the satnav, though. So traumatised was it by Hereford?s unexpected away win, it promptly chose to give up the ghost the very moment we set of for home! Not that we needed it, by then; so elated was His Nibs, he could have navigated by the stars, had he chosen to do so, but made do with a reverse journey up the M11 instead, and with both Steve and David providing us with ?in-car entertainment? on the long journey home. Their recent trip to Sri Lanka to watch the cricket certainly sounded a great experience.

Given that the dual fortunes of Hereford and Albion matched pretty closely over the course of the preceding season (unlike our lot, Hereford failed to win their divisional championship), it can only be hoped that their remarkable feat will prove something of an inspiration to our beleaguered lot when we face Pompey, today. Right now, we need all the help we can muster, bovine or otherwise!

As the Sunday kick-off comes courtesy Pompey playing in Europe earlier this week, and not because the thorny hand of TV has ordained otherwise, we don?t have to contend with a daft start-time, which is a bit of a bonus, I suppose. Pompey are fancied to win this one 2-1, apparently, but then again, what do the bookies know about football, eh?

Interesting to note Paul Robinson?s comments about former colleague Kanu, by the way. Reckons the guy has ?oars on his feet? in lieu of proper boots, which are size 15, apparently. No comment, adverse or otherwise, about the size of his wedding tackle in the shower, fortunately. Still, if he can come up with a miss as monumental as the shocker he registered against Middlesbrough, two or three seasons back, I won?t have any cause for complaint!

Team news? Scuttlebutt is that after their European jaunt to Wolfsburg ? what a truly horrid name for a town - Pompey?s Armand Traore is a doubt for this one, a damaged hamstring being the problem, apparently. Jermain Defoe, previously poorly himself, will be fit to play, unfortunately, but not so midfielder Lassa Diarra. A knackered ankle has ruled him out, and the prospects of Younes Kaboul and John Utaka don?t look brilliant either.

As far as we?re concerned, Mogga will have his full squad at his disposal. No injuries, whatsoever. It?s perceived that our leader will stick to his guns and keep the faith with one striker up front ? yes, that?s YOU, Miller ? rather than go with a brace. To be perfectly honest, I can see at least some of his logic; Roman Bednar isn?t exactly enjoying the best of form right now, and to commit him to the fray might well mean introducing a potential liability into our playing ranks. As for young Ish, just the simple act of scoring last time out must have meant so much to the lad. Now he?s ?broken his duck?, so to speak, let?s hope he?s developed the taste for ending up on the scoresheet. He?d better: right now, he?s about the only meaningful scoring option on offer for us.

One parting thought: someone in that Hereford crowd today must have been a bit of a student of military history, hence their startling chant of ?SAS, SAS, SAS?.? Nothing whatsoever to do with the famous Scandinavian airline of that name, just the fact that Colchester is the current home of the Parachute Regiment, a mob that seemingly likes to play it just as macho as their Hereford-based ?rivals?. It?s also the home of what?s known as the Military Corrective Training Centre, which old sweats will instantly recognise as the infamous ?glasshouse? (so called because the original, in Aldershot, had a glass roof), but being such - erm ? ?frequent flyers?, I don?t suppose the Paras will want to talk about that bit, too much!

 - Glynis Wright

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