The Diary

17 January 2009: Baggies Versus Smog Monsters: Can Footballing Artistry Beat Complex Organic Chemistry?

Having finally broken our away hoodoo, at long last, may I say that our win at London Road in midweek was simply spiffing ? not to mention totally unexpected! Well, for me, it was; no doubt there?s Baggies out there already, telling everyone (or boring people to death, more like) that they?d always known we?d triumph, in the end. And lying through their back teeth as they do it, no doubt! Come on, admit it; how many of you wrote off that game before it even kicked off?

We certainly did; in fact my other half, attending a two-day work conference, rang me that very same evening from some pub he was having post-session jollifications in with all the other delegates, to ask me the latest score: at that time, we were one up, so I duly passed the unexpected message on ? and he promptly refused to believe me!

All in all, it?s been quite a week for this column, hasn?t it, what with yet another OU assessment needing to be done; their latest wheeze being to conduct tests online, that?s precisely what I was doing yesterday morning! Then there was sick brother-in-law, whom we saw last night. The good news is ? he?s out of hospital! YIPPEEEEE! After we?d seen my stepmother ? now pushing 90: is she another one who?s gone and signed a pact with Old Nick, I wonder? ? we duly made the short distance down the hill by car, parked up, and rang their door bell. Or tried to: typical for our bunch, the thing?s a tad knackered, so we resorted to banging on the door instead.

Inside, we found three generations worth of our family there, no less. Not the whole shebang by any means, mind; were we to do that, we?d need to hire the bloody Town Hall, I reckon, but age-ranges varying from mid-70?s to 7 years of age ain?t too bad, is it? Typical brother-in-law; there he was, sat in stately repose, in an armchair, and watching the ?classic Albion games? DVD we?d given him for Christmas ? ?Ee?s bin moanin? loike cowin?ell ever since we cum down ?ere?? reported my middle sis, which was a bit rich, considering SHE was moaning about HIM moaning!

And there was young Ethan, sitting in front of the box, totally mesmerised, enraptured, even, by what he was seeing. Quite a little Baggie, he is these days, and simply can?t get enough information about the lads from we elder family statespersons. Much more of this, and he?ll turn into a real Baggies statto ? and to the best of my knowledge and belief, medical science has yet to come up with a cure for this somewhat distressing condition, so Steve The Miser and his obscure Albion-fact-spouting chums might well have a worthy successor to their fact-and-figure-spewing throne, 20 or so years further down the line!

When we told the lad that most of the older members of our family were actually spectators at the 1969 Cup game he happened to be watching ? the infamous one versus Chelsea away, where Ossie, having an immediate custodial crisis on his hands in the pain-inflicting form of Chopper Harris, about to descend upon his lanky body with malice aforethought, and with the sure certainty of many more of their players about to follow in his bruise-making wake, solved the immediate problem quite neatly by sitting on the ball! ? his lower jaw then descended at a rate of knots that was quite impressive, to say the least.

?But how could the ref let that nasty man (Chopper Harris again, I believe!) kick him like that?? asked our wonderfully-innocent family member, steeped totally in modern-day notions of what was ?fair? in football, and what wasn?t, so couldn?t quite come to grips with the mayhem he was seeing on the small screen.

?Er ? well, it was like this: in the old days, most refs let players get away with things like that, rather than stop the game and annoy the people watching it. Getting booked or sent off was a bit of a disgrace, back then. And every top side had ?dirty? players, even we did. See Duggie Fraser, there? He was one of the toughest in the business; when he tackled someone, went in hard, they certainly knew he was there!? Oh dear, Rapidly realising this discourse was about to wander into morally-dubious ground, we somehow managed to change the subject!

About par for the course for our thoracic-impaired brother-in-law, that; not that anyone cared, mind, at least we still had John on Terra Firma, and not aiming criticism of current Albion players in the direction of Baggies long since departed the playing area of this world (hey, Jeff, Ossie, and all the rest, you had a bloody narrow escape there, let me tell you!), even if the old goat was having to rapidly acquire the knack of getting upstairs with the aid of a walking stick; needless to say, my offer to race him up there (I, too, am a walking-stick user) fell upon stony ground, alas.

So Makalula?s NOT coming after all, then. Bolton got there first, apparently. Ditto Cairo Ferreria, who finally opted for the sybaritic delights of Tyneside ? what on earth will he make of the completely sozzled and scantily-clad crowd congregating in Newcastle?s Bigg Market area, on a frosty Saturday night, I wonder? - rather than tough it out at the bottom of the table with us. Here we go again!??.. But what we DO have is Nancy striker Marc-Antoine Fortune, who signed on loan yesterday, with a view to a permanent deal in the summer.

Enthused Mogga: ?When I talk to our scouts about players, I tell them I like really good footballers?..basically, he?s a good footballer who plays centre-forward, and hopefully, those are the qualities you will see?.. He has good appreciation of the ball, good movement, can hold it in for his team (ooer ? is our manager referring to the lad?s sexual life, I wonder? You know what they say about French blokes?.) and hopefully, threaten the goal (Why? What?s it done to the guy?).?

And, in another revealing ?ooh la-la moment?: ?These days we want to play one underneath one (I do hope Mogga?s referring to ideal tactical formations, and not what French blokes are allegedly most famous for!), he is a natural forward, and if you want him to play up front on his own, as he has done for Nancy, he can do that as well.? But one snag might be getting international clearance, apparently, given Mogga?s passing reference to the subject during yesterday?s press conference.

As for our newcomer, he?s currently spouting all the usual guff one hears from newly-signed players, i.e.: ?Once West Brom said they really wanted me, I wasn?t interested in any other club?. (Blimey, how many times have we heard THAT old chestnut, over the years?)?.. I agree with the way Tony Mowbray plays football?..(Nothing quite like a quick brown-nose job to get things moving on the right lines from the start, is there?)??I came here because as a striker I can see I will get chances to score?..? (Well, ANYTHING?S got to be an improvement, compared with what?s gone before, this season, hasn?t it?)

Apparently, Mogga?s still sniffing around for a defensive midfielder, and currently has tabs upon Udinese defender Christian Obodo to that end. But despite the aforementioned players rejecting our advances very much wanting their 30 pieces of silver to move here, the search for another striker isn?t over yet, apparently.

Now for today?s business: keeping faint hopes of staying up alive by grabbing all three points from The Smog-Monsters, aka Boro. Do that, and a fair number of those around us crash and burn - and we might just be in with a glimmer of a fighting chance. Despite everything, we are on a decent run of form at home, with two wins and two draws in our last five; by contrast, Middlesbrough?s current form is quite ghastly, the worst in the league in fact, with no wins at all in their last ten games. Hell, even one of their own websites forecasts a 2-1 triumph for us!

The bad news is that we?ll be without the still-poorly James Morrison, and the suspended Roman Bednar ? but the good news is that we might get Tex back, finally. Probably be on the bench for this one, but might get a short run out towards the end, if only for the match practice. Apparently, he got an hour at Peterborough midweek, but the Prem, being a completely different kettle of fish to the Cup, has vastly different demands on players. Also benched, probably, will be our new arrival, Mister Fortune.

Middlesbrough? They describe captain Emanuel Pogatetz as ?struggling?.Their international defender has been on the treatment table all week after ending up with a hamstring in their derby against Sunderland last week. And they?ll be without young midfield player Josh Walker, too. The lad?s sidelined for four to six weeks with an ankle ligament injury, apparently.

However key midfielder Didier Digard, who was taken off against the Black Cats with a wonderfully large lump on his temple, has fully recovered and will definitely play. Gary O'Neil, who failed to make last week's squad with a bronchial infection, also returns. And hey ? our relative by marriage, defender Chris Riggott, will be in the Boro starting line-up also!

Referee for today?s important bun-fight? Mark Halsey, who despite sharing surnames with famous US Navy admiral, ?Bull? Halsey, is far from ?bullish? when it comes to making important decisions. I had hoped for better in the way of whistlers for this one, given its importance to both sides, but as we?re stuck with him, we?ve got to just like it or lump it, I guess.

Being ex-Boro himself, Jonathan Greening might well be up for this one in a big way. When he was at the club, Gareth Southgate, their current manager, was captain ? and Greening still rates the lad very highly indeed. And there?s our very own Mogga, natch; former Boro player himself, and very highly regarded back upon Teeside, still.

As for the rest of the lame and halt, central defender Meite won?t be coming out to play, still, because of a previous injury, while right-back Zuiverloon remains a doubt: the jury?s still out on the knee injury that has kept him in dry dock for a fortnight, apparently.

Said Mogga, in yesterday?s Express and Dingle (all the edits mine): ?We have to take points from the teams around us to give ourselves a really good chance to suck other teams in. If we can get a victory??it will give our cause a great push, and it will damage them a bit. We need to keep as many teams as possible in and around us and give ourselves the best opportunity. To win three home Premier League games on the bounce would give us the psychological boost going into the next one, against Manchester United at home. We have got to believe we can win football matches in the league. We saw what it did to Wigan recently. They were second from bottom when we played them, and then they won five out of six at home, and found themselves seventh in the table. If we go on a run at home where we believe we can win every game then it will give us a really good chance.? Sums it up in a nutshell, really, but given we?re now some two weeks into the transfer window already, and despite the addition of a couple of loan players to the ranks, still lacking the proper tools with which to do the job, just how realistic are those admirable sentiments from our gaffer, I wonder? Just one vague thought crosses my mind, and a pretty disturbing one, at that: what with expectation levels being so high up there, should they dip today and get dragged deeper into the almighty scramble for the lifeboats at the bottom of the heap, might their board want to change the face at the helm pretty soon, I wonder?

Not immediately, of course, but should Boro finish the current season badly, fall from grace, even, might their chairman then want to cast his managerial net in the direction of The Hawthorns? Being regarded as an object of veneration by The Smog Monsters, even now, their board wouldn?t have to expend too much energy conducting a pro-Mogga ?hearts and minds? campaign among their faithful.

And as we all know by now, he does now have something of a track record for getting clubs promotion, and, more importantly, by playing attractive football along the way, something previously not considered feasible for Championship sides wanting to aim higher.

Now here?s some parting thoughts to chuck at you lot?. On Midlands Today, around three days ago, they went very large indeed about the Dingles holding a huge bash at their place to commemorate the induction of former gaffer Stan Cullis and Jack ?Jackey? Jones (described as ?a no-nonsense full-back, i.e. Kevin Muscat?s evolutionary predecessor or, translated into words they?ll easily understand, ?thug?) into their Hall Of Fame.

What ? no Major Buckley, the Dingles chairman made famous for giving the world at large, not to mention their bemused players, so-called ?monkey-gland treatment?, allegedly the efficacious stuff that made their pre-war successes possible? You do have to wonder how many of their players actually knew the substance they took so eagerly was, in fact, extract of simian testicles?

And although the stuff probably couldn?t even enhance the performance of an adipose gnat (my personal jury?s still out on red-bummed, bonk-seeking baboons!), let alone a human male, what the FA?s drug squad would say about it these days, doesn?t even bear thinking about.

Were the same thing to happen today, would our near-neighbours lay themselves open to charges of taking ?performance-enhancing substances?, I wonder? Given the fact that taken by mouth, the stuff couldn?t possibly work ? stomach and small-intestinal digestive secretions would do for any hormonal properties still remaining ? perhaps not.

In any case, even when taken by injection, and in the rough state of purity available back in the thirties, when knowledge of hormones was still in its infancy, I severely doubt whether the stuff would have made any material difference, but there would certainly be grounds for further action, as technically, the stuff would meet the definition of a drug.

And there is a recent precedent. Remember the hoo-ha in the press, a few years back, when it came out Arsenal were giving their players creatine, a perfectly street-legal protein-derived substance body-builders and suchlike use as a nutritional aid? There had been vague mutterings and protestations, even then, but as the stuff is a harmless protein food supplement, and nothing more, I can?t really see how anyone could complain.

But I digress? On their induction, the former Dingles I mentioned joined current Hall Of Fame members Steve Bull, Derek Parkin, Billy Wright and Ron Flowers, apparently ? and by doing so, created a more villainous collection than you?d ever find adorning the docks of most Crown Courts on a heavy sentencing day, I shouldn?t wonder. I don?t suppose you?d find pictures of all these people in Dingle Land ? just police mug-shots!

No plastic tablecloths or cheap and nasty cutlery for this one, mind: snooty waiters, silver service and proper linen napkins was very much the order of the day, as shown by those probing, questing cameras. But while I was out watching the world go by, yet another thought popped into my eager little brain: what function, I wondered, would be worse for very low-paid caterers and cleaners, in terms of overall reputation for awful, boorish behaviour of the participants?

Were you in the catering business, would your prime choice of ?orrible diners be: a) a Young Conservatives/Young Farmers? function, the speciality of both groups being practical experiments on the ballistic and aerodynamic properties of such things as bread rolls: b) a (late-night and very, VERY bibulous!) meeting of the Bullingdon Club - Oxford University?s exclusive dining society, and former student haunt of luminaries like the then-heir to the throne, Edward VII, current Tory leader David Cameron, and Boris Johnson, the idiot-boy successor to Ken Livingstone, or: c) a crowd of Dingles paying (presumably!) drunken homage to two of their own? Not such an easy one to call, is it? And if you should ever seek my company at a formal function where someone?s been daft enough to invite all three at once ? er, don?t bother!

Recently spotted: headline in one tabloid proclaiming the existence of methane on Mars. My immediate thought? Not whether its presence was genuinely due to living organisms inhabiting The Red Planet, more like: ?How the hell did Brooksie (aka astonishingly flatulent Baggies supporter Steve Brookes) get there before anyone else did??

 - Glynis Wright

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