It was a normal home game. Of course it wasn’t, it was Stoke, it was Judus coming back with the Snake. It was going to be their last supper. Well that’s what we wanted and hoped for. We were up for it. I wasn’t expecting what actually happened though. I caught the usual time train with Chris, and without seeing any Stoke fans, and especially none of the so called Naughty Forty, caught the bus up from town to the Wrexham. It was busier than usual, but then that was to be expected. The atmosphere in there was loud but more defiant than menacing. We headed for the ground pumped up but anxious, this was a big game, easily the biggest of the division, possibly even the biggest of the entire days fixture list. This wasn’t just 6th v 1st, there was pride at stake, and of course, reputation. Our form had dipped badly since Christmas, hence why we’d dropped to 6th, Stoke had steam rolled their way to the top of the division. A win would be a welcome shot in the arm.
“Someone else who eventually found his way to Stoke, but we weren’t so bothered by then”
A game of this magnitude deserved a first class referee. What we got in their place was someone who after personally watching well over a thousand games in over 40 years at various levels of the game, is by far the worst referee I have ever seen. Roger Wiseman was not one. His surname should’ve been changed, by law, to imbecile. How on earth this clown ever passed the referee’s examination I just don’t know, how his performances were deemed adequate by the referee’s assessor every game, again, I don’t know that either. I have seen other appalling referees down the years, but this anomaly of a person has the entire top 10 worst referees of all time, to himself. I’m guessing you’re are thinking, yeah yeah, gave everything to Stoke and nothing to Blues. He’s seeing this through Blues tinted glasses, but I’m not. He got every single decision wrong. Now when I say he gave every single decision wrong, I mean he awarded free kicks to Blues, when it was blatantly obvious they should’ve gone to Stoke. Yes, you have read that correctly. I shouldn’t be moaning, right? Wrong, there were free kicks he should’ve given to Blues, that he gave to Stoke. His handling of the game was baffling bizarre. His decisions continued to mirror image so much so that me and my mate Rob Kincaid, who I stood by, came to the same conclusion at exactly the same time, it was a shared light bulb moment, to be able to watch the game properly, you had to expect the opposite decision to be made, regardless of what common sense dictated. For instance, a Blues player could’ve jumped up and caught the ball in the centre circle for no reason at all, and he would’ve been given a free kick for it. Just for balance, swap Blues for Stoke and you should get an idea of what it was like. It was like a storyline for the science fiction sitcom ‘Red Drawf’, only it wasn’t funny. Once we’d stumbled on this parallel opposite set of rules, me and Rob were able to watch the game without questioning each decision. We grinned at each other every time yet another decision was met by howls of derision or expressions of delighted astonishment. In amongst this novel approach to officialdom and original adaptation of the rules, he awarded us a penalty. Stoke in a show of gamesmanship, delayed the taking of it, by sending on their physio to tend to a badly strained boot lace. The huge Kop roof was propped up by four massive stanchions. This was post Hillsborough, all terracing capacities had been massively reduced, it meant that you could move about more, not get stuck behind one of these view obscurers. As the Stoke physio got the ironing board out to give the new boot lace a once, twice, thrice over, so people moved to get a better view of the penalty. The gap grew. Not least because you didn’t want to get trampled underneath the manic celebrations that follow a goal being scored. As the players on the pitch amused themselves, a couple erected a swingball, another couple threw a frisbee between each other. One got a deckchair out and went to sleep with a knotted handkerchief on his head, one player tried teaching a teammate how to ride a bicycle….. all the time, the gap grew and grew and grew. The gap grew so large, it was visible from the moon. Eventually, the penalty was taken. The gamesmanship hadn’t worked, and the gap vanished, John Frain smashed the ball into the back of the net, we went barmy. Singing on terracing then, was better and easier than what it is in the seats now. New songs were taken up quicker, if you heard a new one, you’d move closer, so you could learn the words. They were more sporadic and original. When Judus was winning our hearts over at Blues, someone had altered the ditty ‘Skip to the Lou my darling’ to Lou Macari. Simple, but it worked extremely well. When he defected to the Potteries, the word ‘skip’ was replaced with the slang word for a brown sticky, smelly bodily substance that I will leave to your imagination to work out. Although it wasn’t the first time the newest version had been sung since the start of the season, it was to be the loudest and longest. I sometimes wonder how a person feels when a derogatory song is directed at them like that, what they must think. Let’s put it like this, there was absolutely no way he could ignore it, three sides of the ground was gleefully singing it at the tops of their voices. This particular rendition had been started by a certain Rob Kincaid and yours truly. I very rarely take pride in anything I’ve done, and although it could well be seen as immature and banal, the satisfaction I felt that day was immense. The chaotic decision making carried on for the rest of the first half, but the score managed to stay the same. You may be thinking that the bloke in black might have been ambushed, tranquilized, strapped down to a gurney and transported back to the mental institution he’d escaped from, but no, he returned for the second half, and so did the bizarre decision making. As the game wore on, we continued to make Judas perfectly aware of how we felt about him. His lieutenant on the pitch was subjected to the kind of abuse only a snake of a person should receive. We made sure that their day out at St Andrews was as uncomfortable as we could. It also looked like we were going to have some sort of vengeance with a positive result. Although started by acts of disloyalty, what transpired next can not be truly understood by any football expert, psychologist or even psychiatrist. It was a hopeful/hopeless ball forlornly fed through in desperation. Alan Miller easily went down to collect it, and pull it into his body, like any goalkeeper would in the same situation. Wayne Biggins out of pure frustration launched himself, feet first, at Miller’s chest, the ball broke free from the arms of the now injured keeper, and was stroked into the unguarded net by Barnes, who had been following up. It was not only a cast iron free kick, but Biggins should’ve been immediately arrested, there and then and charged with grievous bodily assault. Nope, the goal was given. Every single referee, any level, from local under 12s to international, would’ve disallowed it, even referee’s who had big brown envelopes stuffed with high denomination wads of cash, waiting for them in their dressing rooms, would’ve disallowed it, even referee’s who had been informed that their families were being held at gunpoint, would’ve disallowed it, but Roger Wiseman, in his infinite and solitary wisdom, gave it. To this day, and certainly not before, I have never witnessed such a ridiculous decision. I’ve not even seen anything on TV that comes remotely close to what I saw. We went from a state of catatonic disbelief to one of incandescent rage. They had to delay the kickoff, so Alan Miller could have surgery to remove Wayne Biggins’ boot……..sock……….shin pad, from his chest. The shin pad was wedged between the third and second ribs of his ribcage. Straight from the restart, we thought we’d managed to force the ball over the line, from a goal mouth scramble. The Blues players nearest, claimed for a goal, their protests were waved away, from the bottom corner of the Kop nearest the Tilton, there was a pitch invasion. I have since been told, that the reason why it was there, was that a police officer had pushed over a child in the melee on the terrace, at the same time as the goaline melee had occurred, the officer was ‘delt with’, with a punch, and it was the que for the invasion. I don’t know, I wasn’t close enough to see, was the push inadvertent? Probably. All I do know, was tempers had boiled over.
Fans, or more to the point, Zulus invaded from everywhere, as the players quickly made their exit, they advanced towards the Stoke support, who retreated as far away as they could up the terracing. The Naughty Forty were invited to join on the pitch, show their mettle, put up or shut up (Incert your own particular favourite street slang for calling on a mass brawl. ‘Did you spill my pint? What you looking at? Chest pushed out, eye contact stare down kind of thing, but with a bigger cast) slowly, they summoned up enough courage to at least defend the away end, but weren’t brave enough to meet toe to toe on the pitch. At one point, an advertisement board was used as a projectile into the away end, it was returned. An announcement was made over the PA system to say that the game had been abandoned and to evacuate the stadium. So I did.
I’d got into the post match habit of meeting up with Walshy, Pughey etc for a beer and post mortem, but I’d been invited to a 18th birthday party back in Wellington, so I caught the train back with Chris, parting company, I decided to go to The Queens and have a chat with Gary, the Blues fan that owned it, but before, I wanted to get a Sports Argus from the nearby petrol station. Unusually, in the lay by next to the pub was a parked up coach. Glancing at the front, there was a sign saying ‘Manchester United supporters, Oldham Branch’, I didn’t think anything of it, once I’d got my paper, worked out, it was on its way back from Coventry. I strolled into the pub, I was up the bar, before I glanced to my left, where the pool table was. It had only been a home game, I’d got my Blues shirt on. The contents of the coach, was around the pool table, and the shirt was instantly noticed. I was out numbered by around 35 to 1. I’m not the biggest of people, luckily for me, none of them were interested in violence other than to talk about what had happened. I moved to a table and spread my paper out to read. Several came up to me but only to find out where to get the paper. I had a really good conversation with one of the party. Finishing it, I showed him to the Raven, where the rest had decamped to, and I went off to the 18th birthday bash. Everyone wanted to chat about what had happened at Blues. Blues hadn’t got a game the following week, and I arranged to go to Everton with an Everton supporting mate of mine that had never been before.
FOOTNOTE:- First of all,
once they’d got everyone out of the ground, they dragged the players back out on the pitch to finish the last couple of minutes. All they were able to do, was pass amongst themselves. The real protagonist of the days events had got away with it. The match should’ve been replayed and with a proper referee.
Secondly, I met up with my mate the following week, went up to Everton, went in a pub before the game. Just as we bought the first pint, a group of Oldham fans came in, one of them just happened to be the United fan I’d chatted to the week before. I didn’t know that United hadn’t got a game, he didn’t know Blues hadn’t. We were never to meet up again in any circumstances. But what are the chances of that happening? Neither of us had arrangements for watching Everton v Oldham seven days earlier, and even the first occasion had been a chance meeting. We could’ve chosen any pub around Goodison park, we just happened to choose the same one.
Thirdly, it was reported that Roger Wiseman had been struck before he’d been able to escape from the pitch invasion. The trauma stopped him from refereeing another game that season. I heard that he attempted to referee a game the following season, but that he was still too traumatised, and retired. I have no idea what had caused him to referee the Blues v Stoke game in the manor he did, as I can only assume that it was a total one off, but Roger the referee? Someone needed to.