The Diary

10 January 2009: A Tale Of Family Woe: Any Chance Of A Miracle To Cheer Us All Up, Albion?

My goodness, what a fraught week it?s been ? and not for any pleasant reasons, either. On Monday, my brother-in-law, who?d been quite ill for some days ? ?flu, I think it was ? had to go into hospital. As he had asthma anyway, the ?flu didn?t do him any good whatsoever, but whatever the root cause, he collapsed, saying he couldn?t breathe properly, and the next thing we heard, he was in Sandwell Hospital with pneumonia.

With the advent of antibiotics in the mid-Forties, the disease lost most of its deadly connotations (because of a well-earned reputation as a killer of the frail and debilitated aged, before penicillin, it was known to all and sundry as ?the old man?s friend?), so most cases are now treated at home, but with John, the problem was too severe, by far. Anyway, to cut to the chase, when we went to see him the following evening (when he?d been moved to a ward, after a short stay on the A and E assessment unit), what I found there was all the younger members of our pretty large clan in floods of tears: no, he hadn?t breathed his last, as I?d first feared, but his condition had deteriorated alarmingly, to the point where they were going to move him to the Critical Care Unit, which they did not long after we arrived.

Once down there, all we could see were a mass of tubes, and my rellie stuck somewhere in the middle ? but worse was to come. The next day, as his condition wasn?t improving any ? the basic problem was his breathing; putting so much effort into that, plus the huge amount of fluid building up on his chest, meant the poor sod was just plain knackered ? they sedated him, then put him on a ventilator. And that?s how he was until last night; by then, the stronger antibiotics had cut in, his condition had improved considerably, so they started to bring him round.

When we went to see him, he was much more compos mentis, comparatively speaking, and making vague moaning sounds (not as alarming as you might expect; he does the same thing around five to five every Saturday, on the frequent occasions when we lose), and thrashing around a bit. At one point, I almost got to see his willy, which is far more than I?ve ever done in over 40 years of knowing our full-time family Albion-depressive!

The episode does have its amusing side; apparently, the staff there reckon he bears a pretty close resemblance to the bloke that starred in the last James Bond movie (can?t ever remember seeing Bond womanising and saving the world from a CCU bed, mind, but there you go; the man?s talents are boundless!). Others reckon he looks a bit like Tony Mowbray ? and that?s where I have to feel sorry for both my brother-in-law, not to mention Tony himself!

What might turn out to be quite hilarious, once he gets over this, is the diary we?ve been asked to keep by the CCU staff. Basically, it?s much the same as this one, but with everyone in the family chucking in various comments and tales about the time he?s spending down there. We?ve both pitched in with our own contributions to this little tome, and have both tried to lighten the mood somewhat. Apparently, the lad will be given this when he attends for his follow-up visit, around 8 weeks after he?s finally discharged from their care. I?m dying to see his face when he does. At least I?ll get a fair idea of the extent of his improved lung function, when he tries to chase me around the street with a blunt weapon in his hot little mitt!

A quick word, too, about the staff down there: absolutely wonderful, the whole lot of them. So communicative and friendly, with it, which isn?t always the case with medical people, some of the more arrogant and unfriendly of the species seeing their role primarily as ?Keeper Of The World?s Medical Secrets?, I reckon. Getting any sense out of some of these people is like trying to get an intelligent conversation out of a Dingle, believe you me.

But no problems on that score with the lovely chaps (and chapesses) looking after the moaning old git (we don?t call him ?Victor Meldrew? for nothing). Every single one the family have spoken to have been helpful and courteous in the extreme, and at a very stressful time for everyone, too, so if any of you are reading this, a big, big ?thank you? for all the efforts you?ve made on the lad?s behalf. Even if you have made some pretty unflattering comments about our favourite football team, you rotten lot.

Incidentally, you might care to know that in this green and pleasant land of ours, it costs between 1000-2000 quid a night to keep someone in a CCU, which adds up to between 7 and 14K a week; that compared to about 200 quid a night on a normal hospital ward. How the hell the uninsured manage to find the ackers for this sort of thing in the private-medicine-oriented States, I have absolutely no idea. When I was there in the 70?s, there used to be some kind of ?safety net? in existence for those not in employment (medical insurance usually comes with the job, out there), but I don?t believe it?s there any more. If any US-based Baggies are reading this, any chance of clueing me in accordingly?

Meanwhile, there?s a football team to write about! Because of the situation on the domestic front, we haven?t been paying the proper amount of attention we should be to the Villa game, which takes place today, of course. And this particular encounter is one where you won?t be seeing either of us: for the first time in I don?t know how many years, I?ll not be going (the last time has to be when I was working down Bristol, back in the eighties, I think), and neither will my other half, who has faithfully attended every single Seal Park encounter since 1978. The reason? The ridiculous amount of money Villa are charging supporters to watch what will, no doubt, be a master-class from Martin O? Neill?s lot in how to stomp all over the Premier League?s bottom side: should we get away with only conceding two or three, I?ll count it as a bonus. What?s the point of paying nigh-on forty quid for that?

There is another issue involved, too ? and that?s the awful cold. What with the mercury barely leaving freezing-point by night or day, this past week or so ? both my sister and her hubby had one hell of a shock when they landed at Birmingham Airport from the Canaries, the other day, what with the temperature here being six below freezing - I?m not all that inclined to expose myself to gurt great icy blasts at Villa Park; given the fact it?s being televised anyway, at least I can endure the resultant trauma in the warmth (not to mention privacy!) of our living-room. And, in any case, you wouldn?t want to see me gushing forth torrents of tears of sheer anguish and frustration in public, would you?

Trolling through the websites preparatory to churning out tonight?s offering, I was particularly amused to see the Express And Dingle?s claim that none other than LUKE MOORE represented our chief danger to the Seals? ambitions of consolidating their claims to a top-six placing, at our expense. Even making generous allowances for the fact it?s a publication produced deep in the very heart of Dingle territory, I really do wonder what manner of hallucinogenic drugs those journos consume in the course of their daily labours! Mind you, should he still be peeved at having to leave Villa Park, I can?t think of a better way of heaping ample revenge upon his erstwhile tormentors! That also seems to be the line taken by the far more staid and sedate Guardian. Will he surprise us all, or won?t he? That?s my sole pre-match question.

And talking of people taking strange substances, what about Mogga himself? I?m sure he couldn?t have been serious with the Sky reporter who spoke to him yesterday, when he said: ?Villa are on a good run of form, but they are not invincible at home. Middlesbrough won there recently, and they have draw a few games at home. I know Albion haven?t won there for quite a while, but many members of the current side haven?t played there yet, so that can change?.? Can I have some of what you?ve been smoking, Mogga? Being a mere supporter, reeling from multiple propaganda blows recently inflicted by the high-riding pests a dozen miles up the road, my need is surely greater than yours!

Our only doubts appear to be Guiani Zuiverloon and James Morrison; both are reported to have trained after missing last Saturday?s Cup game versus Peterborough. Mogga also mentioned the fact that Tex was in training, too. At the time of writing, I?m not aware as to how they fared during a fitness-test, but assuming they?re both OK, they?ll be slotted in to feature in today?s Seal Park caper, no doubt.

One Baggie who won?t is the lad Meite, who didn?t train, according to our manager. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the preparation work for the game has been done on indoor pitches, these past few days, so a lot will depend on how all the lame and halt fared on what you might call a ?proper? surface. Mind you, today?s Mirror had me wondering about our lad Jonas Olsson?s dubious taste in music. Unusually for a footballer, he?s a head-banger, preferring the likes of Metallica to the R and B and hip-hop stuff normally played in dressing-rooms, pre match!

As for our claret and blue piscine chums, being the arrogant shower of detritus they are, it won?t surprise you to know that one of their number, Steve Sidwell, shifting his blubbery attention from the vexing problem of balancing beach balls on olfactory organs, for a change, blatantly told one journo: ?The table doesn?t lie. We are fourth. We are there because of our results, whether we have deserved them or not?..we couldn?t have asked a better position to be in, coming out of Christmas and into January, to try and finish fourth? Oh yeah?

Team news from their pebbled beach is that midfielder Gareth Barry and defender Luke Young could be back for this one, which would be a nuisance, to say the least. As for others currently languishing in the Seal Sanctuary, the news isn?t so good; defenders Martin Laursen and Carlos Cuellar still have flipper-mobility problems ? not catching fish from the bucket at all well, we hear ? so they?ll be out of it, probably.

Ironic, isn?t it? Were it any other Prem side placed in such a good position to break into what has very much assumed the mantle of a Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool cartel, these last ten seasons, or so, I would have heartily wished them luck in their endeavours. But VILLA? We?d never hear the last of it, would we? There?s only so much arrogant self-aggrandising hype any right-minded Baggie can take, isn?t there?

Another bit of news, and good for John Homer, at least ? Shergar?s moved to Belgian side Roesalare on loan for the rest of the season, so that bet both Jean and I had with him about making him streak around Lower Gornal if he scored, is now null and void. The news is also a disappointment for the Hereford United persuasion; given he wasn?t likely to earn a proper first-team place with us, and his previously successful spell at Edgar Street on loan, last season, I think they harboured vague hopes of getting him on some sort of permanent deal, but that?s not going to happen, now, of course. Shame, really, as the cider-slurpers would have been thrilled to see him back in a Bulls shirt again.

Now for a wonderful little gem given to ?Im Indoors by one of his work colleagues. It?s called ?The Topical Times Football Book, 1965-66?. No Baggies featured in its pages, curiously enough, given the fact we were a pretty respectable (old) First Division side at the time, but what it DOES have is a wonderfully refreshing and innocent contrast with the mercenary goings-on current among today?s Premiership players and clubs.

Examples? The one that really leaped out from its pages, and hit me with the force of a half-end brick, was the following title, so typical of a vastly more innocent age: the banner headline ?HOW GAY CAN YOU GET?? Turned out to be a feature on Scottish strips and the more colourful examples of the genre, as it happened, but the title certainly had my imagination working overtime when I first spotted it!

My next will probably get modern-day health and safety people frothing at the mouth! Written well before the current 1974 legislation came into being (not to mention a somewhat over-litigious modern mindset!) this particular article featured the work done by those concerned with floodlight maintenance, which involved going up some very high ladders, of course. Said the gaffer of one particular outfit: ?Our firm issues safety-belts and helmets, but the men find them an encumbrance. They prefer to do without?..? I wonder what this chap would have to say on the subject these days?

An innocent age, certainly ? and that even applied to the few examples of football violence to be seen, back then. In my final extract, there featured a wonderful picture of a Norwich supporter ? no young lad, mind, someone well into adulthood and family responsibilities, I would say ? caught in the despicable act of kicking a metal bucket right from out of the hands of one of the Ipswich ground-staff.

The problem? Norwich, playing Ipswich at Portman Road, were already two behind by half-time, the reason being the awful weather; just like last week, most grounds were enveloped in severe frost, but with no undersoil heating whatsoever in existence, back then, games had to be played, no matter what. As I recall it, postponements were only granted when grounds were covered in several feet of freezing snow, and the playing surface still rock-solid, even after said snow had been removed by willing volunteers drawn from the ranks of the Supporters Club, usually.

And the rock-solid playing surface was the prime cause of Norwich?s downfall; during the course of the first half, the Canaries defended a goalmouth blessed with about the same friction coefficient as the local ice-rink. For some reason or other, the goal defended by the home side luxuriated in the normal midwinter mud, with not a bit of frost to be seen anywhere.

No surprise, then, that a villainous home side capitalised greatly on the visiting keeper being completely unable to stay upright on the treacherous surface. But, come the break, out came one of their groundsmen, bearing a huge galvanised bucket filled with sand ? but instead of chucking the stuff around both six-yard boxes and goal-lines, he only treated what had now become the goal defended by IPSWICH, a fact that wasn?t entirely lost upon the visiting support. And that, dear readers, was the reason for our pictured Canary-fancier?s somewhat extreme reaction to events!

More intriguing stuff from this publication in my next posting, including ground rules for Portuguese international players, 1965-style, Ian St. John, Harry Redknapp, and the astonishing reason why then-lowly Walsall manager Ray Shaw was about 40 years ahead of his time!

 - Glynis Wright

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