6/2/18 Blues v Huddersfield Town, F.A.Cup 4th Round replay. One cup and over thirteen thousand mugs.

Trust me, if I hadn’t decided to attempt to do every single Blues game this season, I would not have been doing this one. It was cold and would be getting colder and when I left my flat, it was trying it’s best to snow. These are the games where you question your sanity. The powers that control the Premier league are contemplating a winter break. The way the temperature was plummeting, if they were to mention switching to the summer, I’d gladly vote for it. I’ve no doubt that the mooted break is so the Champions league competing clubs can hawk themselves somewhere exotic and lucrative on a short tour “To keep fit”. Apparently, it wouldn’t be over the festive period, as not to mess with tradition. So never mind that there’s no trains on a Boxing day but extra buses are put on. Fans are always the last to be considered and consulted but they’re supposed to adjust and adapt. I got a text off Darrell to say that he was out for a beer but too ill to go to the game. Sitting next to a polar bear was not for him. I walked into The Woodman and Jinksy, Steve, Paul, J.K. and Darrell were already in there. Jinksy joined me up at the bar. I handed him a suspicious looking package with his name and address on. Inside was potentially damaging to his mental health. It was his Villa ticket. With our return match against our nearest neighbours looming Godzilla like, our attention was drawn to more that game, and not the game we were actually attending that night. Darrell and me live closest to the ground. Much as I like the idea of leaving my flat with ten minutes to go till kick off, strolling down the road and still getting in the ground with five minutes to go, it just wouldn’t feel right. I like a drink or two before the game, any game. The ones against them lot, I need a drink. I arranged where and what time to meet up with Steve, Darrell is going straight from home and then heading into town afterwards. We talked about our best and worst memories of derby games gone by. The three o’clock Saturday games, when it was pay on the gate. Twelve thousand plus Blues landing on Villa park and vice versa when they ventured south of the city centre. Games, goals and the players. How we celebrated or tried to keep a low profile. Beating your nearest and dearest is the sweetest of victories, defeats the bitterest of pills. We dropped in on Dig Brew as the snow came down. Sue and John, Anchor regulars of old were in there, along with a fair few more Blues fans. It’s really starting to take off. Darrell was a bit worse for wear. So much so that he ordered a cider by mistake. To be fair to him, the pump clip did have the look of a ale clip but it clearly stated it was a cider. A weston’s rhubarb laced cider. Definitely one for the summer. Imagine dipping raw rhubarb in sugar and chomping on it. You got that initial sweetness with a sharp tang to finish. You wouldn’t want more than three but the first wouldn’t touch the sides. Darrell bailed and we moved on to Clink. There wasn’t anything on the menu with a reasonable A.B.V., that I hadn’t had, so I told the rest, I’d meet them in the Dog. Spoons was already in there, along with a fellow U2/ Blues mate. I’d sent Jude a photo of something I’d seen in a shop in Shrewsbury the previous Sunday. It was a figurine in the shape of a minion but dressed as Darth Maul. I asked him if he’d seen it. The look on his face, told me, he had. As soon as I’d seen it, I knew they’d both love it. Unashamedly big kids when it comes to the minions. Someone mentioned the death of Sally Lavender at the weekend. Sally was the chairwoman of Birmingham Camra. She’d had a stroke and it had killed her. She was 47. To say it was a shock, is an understatement. Like Squid, I didn’t so much know her personally, but knew, same as Squid, she was a big personality, and big personalities are always missed more. The others landed and John came and joined us, he’d managed it up from London for the game. Carol and Jeff were giving it a miss. I really didn’t blame them. I headed for the game, bumping into Shane on the way. It gave me chance to ask him about The Derry Girls. He’d been growing up in Ireland around the same time. Was it as close as I thought? Stereotypical but pretty much. A lot to relate to. We went through the same turnstile. The girl manning it, (Is that really the right terminology anymore?) had a flirty nature that we both noticed. That was definitely a first. Warmed this old man up on a cold night, that’s for sure. It was still teaming it down with snow.

I had managed to get my season ticket seat. Initially, the club had took it upon themselves to sell any available seat before it was quickly pointed out to them that they might actually be upsetting season ticket holders who would actually like to buy their own seat for the game. It had definitely upset Seeley whose face lit up when he saw me. He hadn’t been happy with all the strangers round him. With both managers making changes, the first half was pretty flat. Neither team wanted to win it. There were a few half chances but they were met by half hearted attempts. Steph told me some news that really pleased me but certainly didn’t surprise me, like it had surprised everyone else. Seeley was walking. Let me tell you about this kid. He was born with problems to his feet. Problems that required surgery and leg braces. He was also born with a spirit, a stealy determination. I saw this in him very early on. I knew he’d be walking way before he was supposed to. Sometimes it’s nice to be right, sometimes not. On this occasion, it was great feeling smug because of why I was feeling smug. The little lad is a fighter. He won’t look for excuses for why he can’t do things, he’ll look for reasons why he should do something. Half time and the cold had got through the four pairs of socks I was wearing and my toes were one kick away from breaking off. I got just passed half time when the conditions got the best of me and the scarf came out. Adams turned and shot passed the keeper. It was a good goal. It also seemed to anger Huddersfield. The lead didn’t last long before they’d equalised with a scrappy own goal from Roberts. They then preceded to batter us without finding the back of the net. A lot of it was down to the heroics of Stockdale. He was brilliant. I was wearing a t-shirt, roll neck long sleeved t-shirt over top, a thick sweatshirt over that, I had my woolen hat pulled down over my ears, I had my scarf wrapped around my face and neck, had a quilted coat on, with the hood up and I was cursing myself that I hadn’t had the sense to wear every piece of clothing I possess. I was also cursing myself for wanting to do every game. I was already cursing both teams for not finding a winning goal. Gardner went close with a shot. Had it gone in, we wouldn’t have deserved it. Had it gone in, we wouldn’t have had to suffer an extra thirty minutes. I had started talking penguin. Four minutes into extra time and Huddersfield scored. Three minutes later and they scored again. Most saw this as their chance to escape. No Manchester United ticket, after all. Oddly, the masochist in me, believed it to be too early to leave. There was still a chance. Maybe, I was just frozen to seat and I was having trouble extracting myself from it, maybe the cold was making me delirious. I did see double history. (No, I wasn’t hallucinating that I was still at school) Charlie Larkin came on as the fourth substitution. A first for Blues. It was Charlie Larkin’s debut. A first for him. He looked bright from what little I saw of him. I’m expecting it to be a lot warmer when I see him in a Blues shirt again. After the switch round, Tom Ince scored to make it 4:1. I could leave now.

Coming out of the ground, I spotted Rob and Leo. I caught up with them and tapped Leo on the shoulder. After saying hello to him, he looked blankly back at me. I pulled my scarf down to reveal who I was and quickly put it back up before my nose went black through frostbite. After a quick chat, I headed back home to sleep next to the radiator. Hoping I’d thaw out by morning.

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