10/3/84 Blues v Watford, F.A.Cup 6th round, Mind The Gap.

Following Blues is never predictable, every season lurches between chaos and catastrophe, even the more successful ones struggle to stay on the rails, at times, not even using the things. Most seasons are a rollercoaster of a ride, and this was one of the most spectacular ones. It coincided with my last year at school, and we all know how that feels, unless you’re reading this and have yet to endure your last year, in which case, go and do your homework. The previous year, we’d spent almost the entire season in the relegation positions, right up until a miraculous run of 5 victories and 1 draw, from our last 6 games, had kept us up. This season, we’d started well, and hovered nearer the top than the middle of the league, before our form dropped off, we got Christmas over and done with, and dived into the F.A.Cup. The oldest football competition in the world, captivated us all back then. It had at least equal billing with the First Division Championship, (It’s what the Premier League was) if not the top billing. The country pretty much stopped on Cup final day, it was like no other, in 1984 there was only 4 channels on the TV, and 2 of them covered the cup final from 9 o’clock in the morning (Every programme was dedicated to it) to 6 o’clock in the evening. It was Heaven for a day. Oi, are you still here? Yes you, go and do your homework. You’ll thank me in years to come. It may have been Heaven, but you still watched on with a certain degree of jealousy, watched footage of fans making their way up Wembley Way, bedecked in their club colours, wishing it was you, hoped, dreamed, it would happen one year. We drew Sheffield United away in the 3rd round, and drew away too, bringing them back to St Andrews 3 days later, beating them 2:0. It seemed to galvanise Blues, because between the game at Bramall Lane, and Watford in the quarter final, we didn’t lose. I’ve been blessed with natural knowledge retention, which unfortunately, has the detrimental effect of making me lazy, I love watching general knowledge Quiz programmes, and can bore people into coma’s when I start going into detail on subjects I enjoy, but it means I don’t apply myself with things I find mundane, I have absolutely no patience with them, or just ignore them altogether, choosing to switch focus on to something I enjoy. So instead of revising and revising and revising for my exams, something that would set me up for a much better life, I allowed myself to start drifting, using football, and ultimately Blues, as an emotional, spiritual and mental crutch, an anchor, for the rest of my life. A last minute winner, put paid to Sunderland at the old Roker Park, (We’d been losing 1:0, with less than 5 minutes left) it came between away victories in the league at Ipswich and Leicester, school had not only taken a back seat, it wasn’t even getting a seat at all. We were given our first home draw in the 5th round, West Ham. We’d beaten them at home in the league 3:0, in an period of dwindling crowds, due to high unemployment and increasing violence at football, the attendance had only been 10,334, but the F.A.Cup was still attracting numbers, West Ham brought loads too, the Kop was a lot fuller than it had been all season. 29,570, the atmosphere was electric. With Blues 2:0 up, and the game slipping away, West Ham invaded the pitch, they were met by hoards of Zulus who battled them, whilst both sets tried to evade the police. When the game commenced, Blues added a third, the I.C.F. invaded again, to be met by more Zulus, until the police managed to restore order, and the game was able to finish. We were in the quarter final, one game away from the drama of a tie at a neutral ground. I spent most of my lessons at school, day dreaming about open topped bus tours, and seeing the glistening trophy sat in front of the team group at the pre season photo call, whilst the F.A. deliberated sanctions due to the violence at St Andrews. We’d been drawn at home to Watford, a club that were definitely on the up, but we could win it, we were at home, we should win it, Watford were only a small family club. It was around this time that the realisation that Blues were in financial strife, started to kick in. Notts County had had Glen Roeder on loan from QPR, County were in similar financial circumstances to ourselves, Roeder impressed but County just couldn’t afford the money for his transfer, so the fans set up a fund to try and buy him, ultimately, it failed, but it inspired a bunch of fans to set up a ‘Buy a Player’ fund of our own, they even dangled the carrot of a guaranteed Semifinal ticket for a £10 donation, something Les couldn’t afford at the time, and my pocket money definitely wouldn’t have stretched to, but had it, I would have eagerly parted with a tenner to secure a golden ticket for wherever it would’ve been played. I didn’t sleep the Friday night before the game, such was my mental state, I was a heady mix of anticipation, anxiety, and sheer excitement. I can’t remember the train journey to Brum, or back to Telford, but I remember the game.

Although the crowd was bigger than for the West Ham game the previous round, 40,220, it seemed to be better organised, maybe it was that we were more organised, we got to the ground very early to get in, there seemed to be waves of fans getting in, going up the steps at the back of the Kop, in groups, there wasn’t any police, but it was like they were getting marshalled, through the turnstiles, and the reason for the staggered entrance came apparent, everyone wanted a programme, and there was more programme seller’s catering for that need. Up the top of the steps, I looked over to see how many fans Watford had brought with them. They’d been given all three pens on the Tilton, but even had they only been given two pens, like West Ham had been squeezed in to, they wouldn’t have filled them. We’d got in the ground a full hour before the game, and the Kop was packed. Recently, I read a blog by a Watford fan who was there that day, claimed that he couldn’t get a ticket for the away end, the match wasn’t all ticket, it was pay on the day, so why he decided to go in the Blues end, instead of having as much space as he wanted in the Watford end, I don’t know, but mate, you’re lying about not being able to get a ticket. We moved as best we could to somewhere we could see, we got stuck up in the corner between the Kop and the Tilton. The occasion got the better of us, and we performed like rabbits caught in the headlights, players who had been playing out of their skins, froze. Watford’s first goal has been described as brilliant, and gets trotted out on a regular basis, what really happened, was after fortuitously breaking into the box, Barnes shinned an effort that looped over Tony Coton and into the net, had he connected properly it would’ve gone either past the post, or at best, Coton would’ve needed to push it round for a corner, but it meant that the small family clubs embarrassingly poor following were able to celebrate. It was the start of my heart being broken. There was no more goals in the first half, but Blues were in total disarray, at one point, Noel Blake berated Pat Van Den Hauwe, who squared up to him, the whole ground went deathly quiet. At the time, Ron Saunders had assembled a team of wall to wall nutters, from Coton in goal, all the way through to Howard Gayle and Mick Harford up front, their exploits off the pitch have become legendary around Brum. If there’s ever a book that’s written about the shenanigans that bunch got up to, then I’ll be camping out all night, to get my hands on one. They both must have come to their senses at the same time, as nothing happened, but for a minute or two, we all thought it was going to explode, and it wouldn’t have been pretty. As the players went off at halftime, I hoped we could somehow, regroup, pull it back, and go on to win the game. We didn’t, we equalised, but it was a scrappy goal, an own goal, I didn’t see it go in, I got caught up in the surge just before we scored, we’d laboured to get back on level terms, and we were still chasing shadows. Our well organized team, was falling to bits in front of our eyes, in a game that meant so much. Watford took the lead again, we were done, equalizing had took it out of us, we’d got nothing left. Barnes scored his second from close range, stoking the hype that was surrounding him even more. 1:3 and my heart had been smashed in to smithereens for the first time, something that Blues would go on to do, on a regular basis.

It ripped the stuffing out of the team, and they won only one game between the Watford game and the last game of the season, but at least it was against them lot from B6, we just needed to win that last game, to stay up. We couldn’t even score, let alone win. The best we could do, was hit the post with a Billy Wright (No, not that one) free kick. We were relegated. The rollercoaster had not only come off the track, but had crashed. Very much like my schooling. At one point, I blamed that F.A.Cup run for not doing better at school, but in truth, I couldn’t be bothered to find the application I needed at the time. Now have you done that homework?

APOLOGIES 

In my post for Leamington v Kidderminster, I pointed out that there had been 4,000 deaths from smog in the winter of 1952. That was when there had only been 11 deaths from something called Coronavirus, at the time i was apoplectic with the way our country was reacting to it, at the time, I thought we were going way ‘over the top’ with it. I posted that on the 15th of March, 21 days later, the death toll stands at 4,934 due to Covid 19, with that horrific figure expected to double. Adhering to government instructions, and myself furloughed, (A word I’d not heard of let alone known the definition of, a fortnight ago) I’ve stayed  in, but I have been to the supermarket, they don’t sell humble pie.

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