7/11/98 West Bromwich Albion v Blues, Stepping Off The Treadmill.

I’d still been trudging along my rut at the alarmingly, electrifying pace of a snail. I was drinking far too much, or up until the first week in October I had anyway. John had started school and Trelayne had a job that had led to her being on the opposite shift to mine. On the face of it, things were chugging along quite nicely. The reason my drinking had increased was because I was hopelessly depressed. The situation I was in was mentally killing me, it was squeezing the very life out of me. Bits of my mind was shutting down one by one. I was married yet I was lonely, desperately lonely. I was unable to talk to Trelayne, couldn’t share my inner feelings. At first I tried, but as I shared those thoughts I had, I could sense the shutters slowly coming down before I’d had chance to even proverbially clear my throat. Very very few people have the capacity to even understand true empathy, let alone be able to administer it. It’s an art form. Trelayne hadn’t even got a roller and a paint tray, she was never going to produce a masterpiece of fine art you could’ve displayed in the Louvre. I stopped trying, and as a consequence, I grew further and further away from her and just emotionally shut down. I’d become a shell, or more to the point, I’d put a shell around myself. The company I worked at was one of complete equality, people of the opposite sex could and would find themselves working together. Eight hours a day, five days a week is a long time. Factory work is monotonous, your brain slips into automation, it causes a void that needs filling. To stop the stagnation of the thoughts you keep going back to, you reach out to fill that void. You spark up a conversation with the person you’re working with. You’ve got a captive audience, sometimes you find those shutters wedged open. Friendships materialise, extra marital affairs are started, and at that factory, there were loads. Enough to fill a steamy book series that would’ve had Mills & Boon beating a path to the automatic double doors of the place. I had been cherry picked in the second draft for a brand new, fully automated production line. I’d showed enough intelligence to be deemed useful. It was still in its embryonic stage. To cut a long story short, (I could hear you stifling a yawn from here) I found myself in the company of a woman who I found out was in a very similar domestic situation to mine. Me and Bryanné clicked from the start. First of all, I couldn’t understand why she was interested in me, by that, she wanted to know about me. Started chipping away at the shell I’d put around myself. She had a great sense of humour and we seemed to dovetail. Considering the job we’d been given to fill the down time with, that time sped by. We got to the stage where, when there was down time, (And there was an awful lot of it at that particular time) we always volunteered to work together. We started to share our breaks together. We became close friends, we were on each other’s wavelength. The friendship between us got stronger and stronger, but I didn’t think it could be anything more. There really wasn’t any flirting but after one particular incident at a break time, the resulting fallout caused us to decide to take the next step. It seemed only logical. We’d become best friends, we were both miserable domestically, we both wanted a bit of fun. It was only natural. Bryanné was married, her husband, like Trelayne worked on the opposite shift. Only difference, was that her husband worked at the same place as we did. Her kids were older than John so were all at school. In fact, Bryanné was older than me by 5 years. Still is I should imagine. It meant that we had the opportunity to meet up away from work, so we did. What transpired was not in the remit, but it was only inevitable really, in the month following meeting up outside work for the first time, we fell in love. We had bonded on so many different levels. We’d relaxed enough in each others company to metaphorically brush the cobwebs and dust off the boxes of our personalities that we hadn’t needed, and gave each other the confidence to reveal parts of ourselves that had lay dormant. Not wanting to sound soppy, but not only had we awoken, but we flourished. For the first time in an extremely long time, I was happy. I unsurprisingly looked forward to going to work, me and Bryanné met up in the mornings we were on late shift, and once the kids were all in bed, it was straight on the house phone to each other in the evening when we were on earlies at work. Sunday was the worst day of the week, on a Saturday, I’d got Blues to focus on, but Sunday usually meant traipsing down to Trelayne’s parents for dinner. I got on with her Mother, didn’t really have much to do with her Father, he was almost always at work, but it was still monotonous. Subconsciously, Trelayne has to have the structure of routine to feel mentally safe. Whereas routine eats at me like an unwelcome parasitic disease. I honestly wish I’d have been able to work that out before I’d fallen for her 6 years previously. I’d certainly fallen out of love with her in the 6 years since. Well that’s what was happening with me, Blues were starting to be moulded into a team very much of Francis’s character. Full of early promise and panache, but ultimately fizzles out and disappoints. Steve Bruce had moved on to cut his teeth in management, Barry Horne had moved on along with Mike Newell, Gary Ablett was on his last legs, it was only Paul Furlong that had really made a mark, just as long as we could stop him from being injured. There had been some good additions, players that were hungry for success, you could see the quality coursing through the side. It was consistency we lacked, we needed a sprinkling of some kind of magic dust that would push us over the line to the promised land of the Premier League. The culture of supply and demand that all seater grounds cause, coupled with moving dates and kickoff times in line with Sky television schedules and stricter policing, meant that the game had been moved to a lunchtime kickoff on a Saturday and I missed out on a ticket. The lesser known and now completely ignored eleventh commandment, the one that states ‘All matches are to be played at 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon’ was to be a thing of the past. So was being able to just turn up with enough time to queue and pay to get in a ground. Now you had to be one step ahead all the time, mindsets needed to be changed, well mine did anyway. Still does if I’m being honest, I still long for the terracing days and the subculture that went with it. The match day experience of today’s football is sterile compared. So after only having a couple of cans on the train over, I went in search of a ticket. I walked up from Rolfe Street station with the intention of getting a ticket in the home end. As I walked up I noticed a trio of Sikh Blues fans who were trying to get rid of a spare ticket for the away end. They were asking for more than face value, but I wasn’t bothered, as it was in the Blues end. We walked passed the ticket office which at the time was only really a portacabin. Blues fans were being turned away because they didn’t meet the criteria, you needed to hold Albion membership. I counted myself as lucky just to pay extra.

Derby games tend to be notoriously angst ridden, torrid affairs. Games between Blues and the Baggies though, are never turgid like games versus them from B6 can be. I’d got a great view of what would unfold. Blues were the Rolls Royce to Albion’s Nissan Micro (Other models are available from all good car showrooms sold by dodgy salesmen in equally dodgy suits) We were playing smooth, eye catching football (That’s made you spit your drink out hasn’t it?) A lot is made of (Amongst Blues fans that were fortunate to have got to watch them anyway) the forward line of Francis, Burns and Hatton. How their styles complemented each other. When they were fit, and that was always the problem, Furlong, Adebola and Ndlovu would have superseded that forward line. On the all too rare occasions they did appear in the same side together, they were unplayable. They were a joy to watch as a Blues fan, I should imagine, a nightmare for any opposition supporter. My own particular favourite was Peter Ndlovu. There were times when his legs looked like rubber as he slalomed through defences. Coupled with Adebola’s strength and Furlong’s guile, they were formidable. Like I said, the problem was keeping them all fit, especially Paul Furlong. Of course they were playing together in this one. I wouldn’t have bored you to sleep talking them up, if they weren’t. The first Blues goal (And yes, the word ‘first’ does indicate there was to be more) was a determined bullet header at the far post from a cross from the underrated Jon McCarthy. The scorer wasn’t either Adebola, Furlong or maybe even a centre half, it was none other than rubber legs. He wasn’t known for his heading ability, he wasn’t actually known for having any jumping ability either, but this was straight out of the instruction book ‘Heading for Dummies’. The second goal was from a quick passing move in the midfield that caught the Albion defence still arguing about why Ndlovu had been allowed to score the first. Once Adebola had raced into the Baggies penalty area, there was only going to be one outcome, 0:2, but it was to get better. Ndlovu mesmerised the beleaguered Albion defence on the edge of the area, before unleashing a slide rule of a shot into the bottom corner of the net. The Baggies defence were still running back and forth on the edge of the area wondering where he’d gone, when the rest of the team were kicking off for the third time. There was still over ten minutes until halftime at this point. Francis admonished his team at halftime for being disrespectful to the home side and instructed them to take it easy on them in the second half. I don’t suppose he did that for one millisecond, but we definitely dropped down to ‘cruise’ control. Although Albion did manage to get one back, it was 10 minutes from the end and really didn’t matter as it would’ve taken them at least another couple of hours to score a second, and an equaliser would’ve taken them until well after midnight to find. The Rolls Royce purred smoothly off down the road, as the Nissan Micro was put on a inspection ramp so it could have extensive welding done to the damage.

I met up with my eldest nephew Andrew, who went by Hanksy (Surname Hanks, no, no, absolutely no relation to THAT one) Steve Hall and a pair of brothers, Sean and Mark, one I’ve mentioned in a previous post and the other I don’t see anymore, but at the time, met up with whenever I met up with Hanksy and Steve, and that was quite often. Instead of heading back into Brum, they fancied the delights of Wolverhampton, I was meeting up with a couple of colleagues from work there. Hanksy couldn’t get over how ridiculously happy I was, he was used to me being miserable. Through the now permanent grin, I told him about Bryanné. He instantly referred to her as Brian to try and wind me up, it didn’t work. I was,……well,……happy. There was no other way of describing it. We went in O’Neill’s, he even told me to stop smiling as it was starting to unnerve him. It just caused me to giggle. I left the four in there to go and meet the two lads from work. I grabbed a taxi to the pub the one had suggested to meet at. The reason we were meeting up, was that they were coming over to Telford for another colleagues retirement party. The retirement party had been brought forward. Barry was old school. A huge personality on the shift we worked on. He had a massive rebellious streak and the company we all worked for was all about compliance. There wasn’t any point of arguing that what they wanted you to do hadn’t got any worth to it, you were supposed to just do it. Like I’ve said, the firm was run on a militaristic approach. It was at odds with most of the people that worked there, including myself. If you had ambitions of promotion and enjoyed following orders, it didn’t matter that you were actually unintelligent, you’d go far there. Where he worked, he had a wall that he was marking the days off that he had left before he retired. He was never to complete it. Barry was taken ill, at first, he was sure the heavy indulgence in cigarette smoking hadn’t done for him, that was before the diagnosis. He’d contracted cancer and it had got too much of a hold of him. The retirement party was to turn out to be a living wake. I met up with Roge and Mac, filling in a retirement card for Barry. It seemed appropriate. Mac drove us over to Sutton Hill in Telford, to the community hall there. A few others were there from work, but none of the management were invited. It was just for us workers. His workmates, people he was able to trust. You were encouraged to tell tales on your fellow workmates there. Not something us rebels would ever even contemplate doing, let alone do. Barry managed to stay for a bit before he got too tired. I danced with his youngest daughter who was struggling with what was happening to her Dad. She actually came on to me. Something I hadn’t a clue how to handle and in all honesty, I made a right mess of. There was a lot of alcohol involved, I don’t think for a minute she would’ve come on to me had she been sober, and I certainly would’ve played it differently. As arranged, Trelayne came to pick me up and I bid farewell to everyone. RIP Barry, even if you were a Wolves fan.

FOOTNOTE:- Me and Bryanné carried on seeing each other and falling deeper and deeper in love. Things were on the verge of changing in my life again.

Blues made the playoffs for the first time that season. Taking Watford to penalties after winning 1:0 in the second leg, even going a man down in the process. That elusive second goal that would’ve been enough to win the tie, never arrived. I couldn’t watch the shootout, I was too racked with nerves, I spent it walking up and down the concourse at the top of the Tilton, like an expectant father who’s not allowed in to see the birth. I wasn’t the only one who was doing the same thing and we passed each other, briefly stopping to hear the crowds reaction with every penalty. We lost.

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