I used to love Derby day. Town would be buzzing. Every pub would be packed from 11 o’clock onwards. Always a 3 o’clock kick off on a Saturday. No need to get tickets, whether you were at home or away. You turned up at 2 o’clock, usually earlier, and queued to get in. Thousands of you. Not a couple of thousand lucky enough to have the criteria to get a ticket for the away game. At least 10,000 for an away game. 20,000 in the 70s. Now it’s a 12 o’clock kick off on a Sunday. The hype that surrounds the game now borders on hysteria for a lot. Especially the youngsters. To me and most of us older lot, it’s more an inconvenience. Our Sundays messed up, pre match routine rushed or completely changed. Usual travel a lot harder. Then there’s the heavy police presence making you feel subversive, even when you’re not. To me, the game is just another game. This one was my 22nd of the season. Some people don’t even do that in a season. Like I’ve said, I really need to get a life.
Town is eerily quiet on Derby day. A no go area for a lot of normal folk. I had to smile at a young woman doing the walk of shame, still in her little black party dress, shoes in hand. money out of the bank, I took a slow walk passed the Cathedral, bells making a right racket. I got down to the Indian Brewery Tap to find that it wasn’t opening till 10. I was faced with hoping that one of the Wetherspoons was serving alcohol or trying to get in what would be a packed White Swan. A quick scan round what the clientele of The Square Peg were drinking gave me a nice surprise. They were serving alcohol. The only problem, only two guest ales. Better than nothing but for a city centre Wetherspoons, appalling. I let both Darrell and Steve know where I was. Darrell was first to land. After two days of heavy drinking and with an early start at work the next day, he was on the coffee. Steve landed, he’d been up to The Figure Of Eight. We moved on to the Wellington. Russell was already in there. He’d been to an all you can eat breakfast buffet place round the corner. I can’t say I’m not intrigued by the idea. A good feed in there would do me for the week. L.J. finally landed barking like a dog at a door knock. He’d had the cough for a couple of weeks or so. I’d say he’d perfected it now. As we walked through town, he told me about his promotion at work. He was happy at the increase in his money but wasn’t happy at being in the same department. The poor kid’s like me, gets stir crazy. The eye in the sky was hovering above St Martin’s. A little girl was walking with her head back, fascinated by the presence of it. If I had a tenner for every time I hear that familiar sound at a game, I’d be able to retire. We walked passed the Anchor, a backdoor knock place on Derby day. It was closed. Run by a bloke unaware of the potential. We walked passed The White Swan, a backdoor knock place that was heaving inside. Run by people who know what they’re doing. We carried on up to The Spotted Dog. Last season, backdoor knock. This year, walk in as normal. There was only Nick in there, well, the garden. We came out of The Dog, and with fans drinking from cans, bottles and even pint glasses, making their way to the ground, went passed an all nighter still going on in The Rainbow. A surreal parallel universe going on. There was fluorescent jackets, sirens and flashing blue lights coming up from the Garrison island. Only 50 of them this year according to an old lad in the Spotted Dog after the game. We carried on up to the reception party round the away end. The usual suspects were there waiting. I saw Shane. Always up for a bit of violence voyeurism. Davo of the diary fame. L.J. winced as he saw his queue to get in. A few once a season fans there mate. Baz Paterson was outside the club shop. Shopping for the latest replica shirt? I think not. How we hate this lot. We are very much, polar opposites. Not as people but as fans. What we hold dear, they hate and vice versa. That’s how it is.
We did ok first half but I was expecting more from Villa. They didn’t impress me at all. I wasn’t impressed with Vassell getting injured either. Chester and Terry were struggling to cope with him. Just our luck. N’Doye was having his best game and should’ve scored with a free header. He was all over them in midfield. If he was all over them in the middle, we were all over them when they came anywhere near us. The clapperboards that the owners naively thought would help create an atmosphere, were used as missiles, chucked at any Villa player who found themselves in range. Unless they could’ve been dipped in quick drying cement first, they were never going to do any damage to anything they hit and it just kept slowing the play down as they cleared them off the pitch.
You know you’re playing them lot at home when this lot are in the ground.
The toilets were flooded so a better idea than clapperboards would’ve been free wellies. Second half was very much like the first, few chances but a good game. Then the Jota chance. He did the hard part easily, all he had to do was pass it round the keeper into the net but he contrived to blast it over the bar. We didn’t get a better chance to score and although they hit the woodwork twice, they never really looked like scoring either. The clapperboards kept raining down at every opportunity till it became farcical and that was that. 0:0. I’d watched three hours of football in the flesh in two days and not a goal to show for it. More importantly, we hadn’t lost to them lot though.
Back to the Dog and everyone was in there. Full crew, even Jacob and Christophe. Jude was in attendance too. Poo Pants to his mates, Andy Paterson (No relation) to everyone else, was there. Resplendent in his 91/92 home shirt. Hard to think that that promotion season was 26 years ago. Someone started a rendition of “Keep Right On”. The inhabitants of the whole garden except one person joined in, Jude stuck her fingers in her ears. L.J. still hadn’t turned up, I text him to see where he was, he’d hung back to see what happened. I decided to drink up and join him. After three fruitless attempts to get through to him, looking a bit suspect as I walked over the road away from the large crowd of Blues outside the Irish centre, I finally got through to him. I met up with him. There was huge pockets of Blues everywhere. They were picking out anyone who looked remotely Villa. I’ll leave it to your imagination but it wasn’t good. The Ol Bill managed to get most of them safely into town. They were quiet though. No bravado. A wise move on their part. Me and L.J. headed for the P.O.V. I was expecting a few Villa to come in. It was still early. Nothing. I fancied giving L.j. a bit of wow factor, so I took him to the Old Joint Stock. For some unknown reason, I’d forgotten this place was a Fuller’s pub. A rarity north of Watford. It’s a spectacular place. (Not Watford) Still no Villa. My Son ain’t himself at the moment so it was good having the opportunity to talk with him. It’s not a bloke thing to talk openly about what’s truly bothering us and it should be. We don’t do ourselves any favours. I’m pretty rubbish at being a person let alone a Dad and unlucky for L.J. he’s got me as a Dad. I said goodbye to him at New Street and took in a pub that I’d never been in before. The Bacchus. I always thought that it was the hotel bar for the Burlington but once I’d found out it was a Nicholsons pub, it was on my wish list. It’s another subterranean bar and like a lot of Nicholsons pubs, it’s very impressive. Unfortunately it’s as expensive as The Old Joint Stock, so won’t be going in there on a regular basis. If, highly unlikely, I find myself out on a date, then it’s a place I’d take them. Least the surroundings will deflect from the fact that I’m as ugly as sin. So first Derby day over and done, I headed home.