The Diary

08 December 2008: I Set Our Chicken Aflame, But The Miller Injury Cooks Our Premier League Goose

I?ll start with the following hypothetical 64,000 dollar question. Can someone please tell me precisely what Mogga has done to land himself in the complete and utter Horlicks that currently goes by the name of West Bromwich Albion? Kicked a whole family of black cats? Crashed his car into a lorry loaded to the gunnels with mirrors?

If it?s karma you want to blame, then it?s come both uncommon early and uncommon cruel. How else can you interpret today?s latest development in what is rapidly assuming all the dimensions of a Whitehall farce, but one totally bereft of people being found, sans clothes, in what an earlier age would have termed ?sexually-compromising positions?. And, in any case, our manager looks nothing like the late Brian Rix, so rumour has it. But I?m sure you?re getting my gist.

OK, so we ended up with a 1-1 draw that we should have won in a walk. Slight call for rejoicing, I suppose, but what most certainly isn?t is the post-match news from Planet Hawthorns: Ish Miller, who had one of his better games, albeit without reward in the shape of ball crossing goal line, will be out for around six weeks. You might as well relegate us now, and spare us all the agony of having to watch our club painfully writhing in its Premier League death throes, for the next five months or so remaining of Season 2007-08.

The first I knew about the Miller thing was late last night, when I started typing up this piece; but finding ?Im Indoors still pounding away on the keyboard at some unearthly hour, or something. I then expressed some surprise, as my other half is most certainly one not given to burning the midnight oil, and that?s when he told me. Not being sure about all the anatomical stuff involved, he couldn?t give me precise details, but that was quickly rectified with but a few swift taps on the keyboard.

It appears that our man damaged his medial knee ligament after a 75th minute collision with David James (and there was me, watching our physio repeatedly raising, then stretching the affected limb, thereby making me come to the totally erroneous conclusion that poor old Ish had no more than a slight dose of cramp to contend with. Oops!), so the lad will be out until well into the New Year. He also needed stitches and a stretcher, but when seen in the glaring light of the main problem, that?s chicken-feed by comparison.

Let?s hope that when the experts do take a closer look at what?s happened, courtesy X-ray, or other scanning methods with better image resolution, some of the initial swelling etc. will have subsided, and the problem proven to be not quite as severe as anticipated. Yes, I know ? clutching at straws again, but as they say in the movies; ?If you have straws, now is the time to clutch them?.?

?Tis true that we can take small comfort that it wasn?t a cruciate injury, i.e. the ligaments situated right inside the knee joint, as opposed to outside, and shaped like a cross, hence the term ?cruciate?, which is football shorthand for ?an absolute sod to clear up?. If you then go on to think ?cross cut into bottom of Xmas sprouts to make them cook quicker?, with the sprout bottom representing underneath the upper joint, and the cut cross-shape the bit where the cruciate ligaments that connect the joint with the two lower leg bones hang out, you?ve got it.

But even so, our loss means that barring the out-of form Bednar, we?ll be without even a half-decent striker until the wretched transfer window opens again. (Luke Moore? If he?s a striker, then I?m Edwina Curry!) By then, it?ll be all over, bar the shouting ? and, believe you me, there?ll be plenty of shouting done by angry, frustrated supporters, after today?s sickening news.

Once more, you have to lay the finger of blame fairly and squarely upon those who made the twin fatal decisions, a) Not to offer Kev Phillips an extended contract after we won promotion, and b) Not to draft in more (and better) striking power during the summer break. Had this been our first promotion ever, then I might have shown a little more tolerance of our board?s tardy behaviour, but it isn?t, is it?

Third time of asking, and we still can?t get the basics right. Truly, our throstles are coming back to haunt us with the speed of a guided missile strike, but of one thing I?m sure: whoever you choose to vilify for getting us into this awful mess, the very last person to deserve such treatment, right now, is Mogga himself. Today, the guy must be tearing his hair out with the sheer frustration of it all, so give him a break, eh?

Going into the pub before the game was a bit of a shock to the old system; there was The Noise, seated in his usual pre-match socket, but where was Carly? Staying with her mate, just up from Plymouth, that?s where. When her Stokie dad, a long-time chum of Albion?s champion motormouth, moved back to Plymouth to seek work, both families still kept in touch, hence all the reciprocals. But just you wait until I next see that young madam; ?Part Timer? won?t be the half of it!

Mind you, the subject of ?part time? is a pretty sore one in the Lewis family, right now. With characteristic tact and diplomacy ? or, to be more accurate, the distinct lack of any such refinements ? those working for The Noise?s firm have been told that like it or not, they?ll all be sitting twiddling their thumbs at home over the Yuletide period. Four whole weeks of it, in fact, bringing with it a substantial wage reduction. Just the news a family man needs at what?s supposed to be a time of good cheer, isn?t it? For ?Ebenezer Scrooge?, read a certain well-known pottery firm in Stoke.

And, as if that wasn?t enough, only the other day, The Noise got ?flashed? by one of those rotten Gatso cameras. Result? His first traffic violation in six years, with a Hobson?s choice-style sting in the tail: either take the three penalty points, and substantial fine, or attend one of their so-called ?driver education? courses. Complete that, and the points get waived, but with a characteristically cunning catch; the cost just happens to work out to about the same as a fine.

When we left the pub, our hero was still muttering vaguely about disputing the evidence (it was on a dual carriageway, very late at night, hardly any traffic, and our embryonic Lewis Hamilton reckons he wasn?t exceeding the going rate by a huge amount anyway). If he does, may that poor sod of an adjudicator?s God go with him: just a few minutes with Mart giving him grief, and he?ll completely lose the will to live.

As for poor Bethany, it hasn?t been the best of weeks for her, either. Last Monday, still in plaster, she tried to return to school, but guess what? She somehow managed to fall over again. No real damage done this time, but the school have now tactfully advised our garrulous chum that perhaps it would be better if Number Two Child stay away until beyond the New Year, after all.

Yet another litigation-conscious head teacher covering his or her back, I guess; in my day, you had to be half-dead before your absence could be officially regarded as legitimate. Not that Bethany?s getting out of doing any school work, oh dearie me, no. Her teachers are going to keep her supplied with stuff she can do at home, then all she has to do is pass it on to a chum to hand in for her.

As we made the short walk in the brilliant afternoon sunshine, from pub to turnstile, ?Im Indoors came out with a particularly telling comment. ?I really can?t get enthused about this club any more,? was his surprising admission, ?It?s been completely taken out of the hands of the supporters?.?

Damning words indeed, but as I pointed out there and then, although the Baggies hierarchy are rapidly proving to be somewhat dubious custodians of well over 125 years of rich footballing heritage, the sole remaining factor that still makes matchdays a real pleasure ? well, for me, at any rate - is the truly stoical outlook of our own supporters. Whatever the crisis, whatever the tidal magnitude of heartbreak and disappointment flowing against us, we still retain the happy ability to extract bundles of laughs in quantity from the experience, when in the company of our own people. Were it any club other than ours suffering such a crisis, then I don?t think their board would have been given the comparatively easy ride ours have had, of late. Well, we?re used to it, aren?t we?

That?s certainly true of those who sit in close proximity to ourselves, but for one poor sod called ?Barry?, who occupied the seat behind ours, our last home game proved to be his supporting swan-song. No sooner had we arrived at our seats, our chums hit us with the sad news that during the earlier part of the week, he?d succumbed to a stroke.

On a more cheerful note, in the bit underneath the stand, I?d run into one of the Sutton Baggies, chap we know as ?H?, conspicuous in his ?Las Vegas? baseball cap, and propping up one of the pillars there. Seeing the quizzical look on my face, he then muttered in true old codger fashion, ?It?s bloody cold up there, so I?m staying here until the very last minute?.? As things were to turn out, staying the entire length of the game would have been a far more profitable experience, I suspect.

At least the change of company from pub to seat meant that we were spared the usual matchday exchange of opinions regarding the sheer necessity of getting something from the game. My other half had certainly had a bellyful of it: ?We?ve been over this ground loads of times for the last 6 weeks, and we always end up moaning about either not signing a replacement for Phillips, or banging on about letting him go in the first place?..? How very true.

And the game itself did little to assuage those frustrations, either. As I mentioned previously, by rights, this one, played against top-end?of-table opponents still knackered from their midweek European adventures, we should have won in a walk. A somewhat fortuitous strike from Pompey lightning-conductor Peter Crouch (as per usual in this division, until that moment, practically the only one the opposition had on target the entire second half) midway through the 45, denied us our rightful reward in the form of maximum points.

As expected, Mogga plumped for the same side that dipped so disappointingly at Wigan, last week, Uncle Tom Cobbley, subs? bench, and all. Well, let?s be honest about this; as far as some positions were concerned, what we had out there on the pitch at that game represented the sum-total of our currently-depleted team-sheet options. Given the degree of unbridled optimism harboured by even normally-cynical ?Im Indoors, was it just me that had faint tinges of doubt lurking around all those cute little brain cells of mine?

As for the overall noise level coming from the Smethwick, all I can say by way of comment is: ?I?m mighty glad I?m not in there with a stinking hangover, right now!? Talk about overkill: to the right of the Smethwick lurked our people, plus phantom drummer trying to shove enthusiasm into yet another, higher, dimension. To the left were the Pompey crowd, possessing alleged musical encouragement in the dubious form of both drum AND bugle, seemingly had our lot completely at their mercy.

I reckon the final insult came when the Pompey faction, bugler included, tried to ?perform? the theme from ?Aida?, a well-known Verdi opera, and his work getting a totally predictable mauling at the hands of said ?performers? as a result. What an almighty racket! Which reminds me: I really must find out how well the long-dead composer?s subterranean quest for Australia is progressing.

Mind you, such cultural refinements were seemingly lost on our finest, who continued to plug away at the Pompey goalmouth, but to little avail. Come the midway point of the half, the consensus of supporter opinion in the Halfords was seemingly of the opinion that the game was fast plummeting downwards at a rate of knots. Same old story; good, decent chances lovingly crafted from raw material that was hardly inspiring, with each and every attacking move on our part then collapsing in ruins the very moment the ball entered the Pompey box.

Cried the Bloke In Front Of Me, in sheer frustration, ?This pretty football ay no good?.?

?Im Indoors: ?Well, it?s not even pretty, is it??

By now, the BIFOM, getting progressively rumbustious through sheer angst, started to shove everyone around, in an allegedly jovial manner.

?What on Earth have you been feeding him on?? I enquired of his bespectacled Baggie chum.

?Oh, doe yow worry about ?im,? said John, ??Ee?s onny doin? it ter keep warm?.?

Well, such negativity was hardly surprising, considering that just seconds before, Chris Brunt, put through on goal courtesy some pretty nifty ball-work from his colleagues, somehow contrived to miss the target with the one shot that surely would have had old Calamity beaten hands down, had a little more accuracy been in evidence.

In another dimension, simultaneously far away, yet not far distant at all, there must have been a bunch of old-time Baggies players, long since quit their mortal coil, watching events unfold, then groaning mightily at the abortive effort coming off the boots of this particular inheritor of the great Albion tradition.

But hope always springs eternal, and in our case, it did around five minutes before the break, when Pompey conceded a foul right on the edge of the box. Time for the previously-thwarted Brunt to take a hand in the proceedings, which he did in superb style, his effort hitting the crossbar with one almighty THWACK, rebounding back into the box again, giving ample time for Greening to put it away. And all that done with just four minutes of the half remaining, too!

When the whistle finally sounded for the break, I suddenly realised that my stick had completely disappeared from the row of seats where we currently dwell. Distinct shades of West Ham, the season we managed to stick four in the back of the net, after being down 3-0 for a fair proportion of the first half. Clearly, the thing had gone ?sailing? the precise moment Greening put us ahead ? so now to find it! As luck would have it, I didn?t have to wait all that long to find the thing. A swift glance to my right would have seen the lady sitting there with face absolutely glow with thunder because of a walking-stick that mysteriously landed perilously close, when we scored!

After the half-time break (where I muttered to my other half that if Albion didn?t stop using that advert about the little boy being left unable to see at some unspecified game or other, I?d take a stick of dynamite and blow up the blasted thing myself). And, come the start of the second, when Robbo yet again failed to stop his opponent advancing at speed along the line, I really could have done with a second lot of said explosive to donate as a token of my esteem.

Sad to say, I suspect that the vastly increased pace of the Prem is finally taking its toll of our man, who is no spring chicken, by any means. My other half remembers him from yonks ago, when he played for various lower league clubs, so goodness knows what his precise age really is. Perhaps he goes all Kanu-esque, in the precise figure being largely dependant upon the source where you found it in the first place?

But that was a relatively minor quibble; as far as we were concerned, our chaps seemed to have the situation completely under control, but having said that, we should have known better, shouldn?t we? Come the 60th minute, come complete and utter disaster, when Pompey somehow managed to nick an equaliser. Mr. Mobile Lamp Post was the Pompey player responsible for the subsequent angst we were to witness. Latching onto a speculative ball from a fairly long range, he let fly, an act that wouldn?t have mattered diddly squat under normal circumstances ? but this is Albion we?re talking about, remember!

Didn?t you just know that in mid-flight, it would mysteriously encounter an outstretched Albion leg, thereby instantaneously turning a shot that was always destined to go wide, into one that sailed right over poor Scott Carson?s head, then struck the bar at a rate of knots. And again, given there wasn?t a single Pompey player anywhere near when the incident occurred, 99 times out of a hundred, the blasted thing would have simply caroomed away into Row Z - but not this time. Dame Fortune was absolutely intent upon grabbing maximum laughs at our expense, of that I?m sure, because all we could do was watch impotently as the ball completed its descent, then bounced right over the wrong side of the goal line. How unlucky can you get, I ask myself?

Given that this nasty little piece of daylight robbery represented Pompey?s only serious goal attempt thus far, that half, it?s not too surprising to report that from that moment on, Albion heads drooped alarmingly. Pompey, finding themselves in possession of their footballing mojo once more, rapidly turned up the wick, which meant that from that point on, there was an instantaneous overload of pressure placed upon our hard-pressed defenders. Player confidence is a psychological phenomenon as capricious as the wind that dried your washing last week; one minute it?s there, the next it isn?t.

The enforced removal of Ish Miller from the fray represented but yet another blow to our hopes of retrieving the situation. And as for Ish?s replacement, Luke Moore, you might just as well have grabbed the club cat from its cosy den, then told the poor mog to get on with it. No, belay my last - the club cat would have probably done far better up front than the Villa cast-off who is rapidly assuming the proportions of white-elephant status within our ranks!

No wonder Baggie hearts were stuck firmly in mouth when Crouch, sensing the distinct possibility of grabbing the winner, let fly once more, but somehow contrived to shoot high over the bar from an approximate range of a dozen yards instead. And even Carson almost achieved notoriety, just before the end, when he nearly let another Pompey effort slip between desperately grasping fingers.

But the spark of attacking creativity that had served us so well before the equaliser had long since sputtered out, never to return. That was why the final whistle came as something of a relief to the vast majority of those Baggies still in the ground, by that time.

So that?s it. With Miller out, and no other player looking likely to assume his striking mantle, it?s going to be a pretty rough series of festive fixtures we?ll be facing, very soon. By the time the transfer window re-opens for business, chances are we?ll be as good as relegated. Assuming there?s a chance of Peace actually coming up with some serious cash, of course, which I doubt.

And in any case, what player in their right mind would want to come to our place, right now? Getting to participate in a club?s Premier league funeral rites isn?t exactly career-enhancing, is it? Oh, soddit ? there?s probably far more mileage gained by picking up my current OU work and getting that into shape for handing in, instead. Appropriately enough, the module I?m currently engaged in is one all about the human nervous system!

Now for a truly warming tale to cheer you all up in your hour of mutual misery. And I really do mean ?warming?, in its literal sense. Ever heard of a song called ?I Don?t Want To Set The World On Fire?? Well, should anyone have real need to sing it, then I?m that person, because it?s not every day you get to see your kitchen nearly go up in flames, is it?

The cause of such a wondrous pyromaniac delight? The humble chicken, what else? Wanting something easy to dish up after our anticipated eventide return from yesterday?s game, I found something called Lemon Chicken in our recipe folder. It?s something we?ve cooked before, but this time round, and for no apparent reason, browning our pieces of prime clucker, prior to chucking ?em in our slow cooker, proved to be an undertaking of somewhat hazardous proportions.

This I have learned, then: Rule One. Having browned said joints in a butter, coriander and garlic combo, and removed ?em, when the recipe then calls for the addition of a goodly ?glug? of red wine to the pan, to shift all the scrummy chicken bits remaining at the bottom (?deglazing? is the technical term), what you DON?T do is perform this operation while the gas is still alight under the thing.

That much I now know, courtesy one enormous eyebrow-singeing ?whoosh!?, great gouts of blue-yellow flame ascending towards our kitchen ceiling at a rate of knots, both smoke alarms instantly triggered, and all three cats fleeing in complete and utter panic amidst the chaos! Oh ? and all that coming courtesy of a tidal wave of hard-core cuss-words from me that even serial Tourette?s sufferer Gordon Ramsay would have envied!

Well, you have to hand it to the Sunday Mercury for keeping well up to speed on football-related matters. Or is what follows merely a wish-fulfilment fantasy on the part of some disgruntled Albionite in their newsroom, or something? Yesterday?s Mercury sports pages came with the surprising news that come the start of November, our very own Luke Moore had netted no less than SIX Premier League goals for the Baggies. And, even better, as of the 23rd of last month, he?d amassed a cool EIGHT to his credit! Has anyone told our manager, I ask myself.

The Noise: ?Bethany says she?s worried about me going to the game on my own. I wouldn?t mind, but I?ve been doing it for nearly 20 years!?

 - Glynis Wright

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