19/2/06 Stoke City v Blues, F.A.Cup 5th Round. Dancing Along Blurred Lines.

The finances had carried on easing so much that both me and Les had been able to buy season tickets. I was even able to buy John one. As there was still the odd weekend he went to his grandparents, it was an adult one, that way it could get used by someone else. I say odd weekend, in all honesty, there’s nothing odd about kids spending so called ‘quality time’ with their grandparents. There’s far more reasons why they should than there is for why they shouldn’t. At the time, although I did miss him, it meant I could relax and be myself at a weekend. I still had a healthy head of hair in those days and I could let it down. (Metaphorically of course, it wasn’t a lions mane complete with clips, alice bands and all that kind of thing.) All in all, life wasn’t bad. I was still working nights and even my love life was on the upturn. I was having fun. Now I don’t want to sound arrogant, unfeeling and generally full of myself with how I’m going to describe what happened, life experiences happen for various reasons at various times and as people we can only play it how we see it at the time. If I could hire a time machine for a couple of hours or so, I would definitely go back and change different things, but it would only cause a whole new chain of events that would probably need tweaking or completely wiping out and end up with me needing to buy my own time machine as it would become a full time hobby. As I’m nowhere near as intelligent as I need to be, I know I’d get something wrong that I couldn’t get out of, so I’ll just live with things I’ve done. I was learning a lot about myself, growing as a person. I’d discovered that self deprecating humour is a great way of breaking the ice, puts people at ease, and they can immediately warm to you. I found that I was liked. When you start to realise and address things about yourself, you become much more aware of other people and their personalities. You notice the hidden things about people and are able to use it to your advantage. The trick I was yet to learn, was how to do it properly. Every single person alive is psychologically damaged in one way, shape or form. We are damaged by our parents who in turn, were damaged by their parents. We of course, damage our kids. None of it is intentional. It’s just that by the time we’ve been able to fully understand ourselves and by extension, other people, we’ve become parents ourselves. In fact, I’m going to be totally self indulgent right now and take the opportunity to (If he actually gets round to reading this particular post) apologise to my son for all the rubbish I’ve genetically passed on to him and for being such an awful father because I wasn’t psychologically fully functioning as a person. I have already told him of course, but the guilt isn’t going to dissipate anytime soon and I still feel compelled to apologise when every opportunity arises. Enough of the profound, heavy stuff. Me and Bryanné were still in a lull period, I was on the lookout for someone new. Me and a woman on my line at work had been flirting like crazy, but she was having an identity crisis of her own, had design’s of hooking up with an ex of hers in Hull, and she left the company. I decided to ask a woman who I’d previously worked with, out on a date. She agreed. The very next day, I had a phone call off the woman who I had been flirting with. Turned out, things in Hull weren’t what she wanted, and she was phoning to ask me on a date. I was already committed. I went out on the date with the other woman, but there wasn’t any mental connection. Now this is where things took a surprising turn. The best advertising is word of mouth, Bryanné had inadvertently been singing my praises in the bedroom department and Sue had not only overheard it, but her interest had been stymied. We became ‘friends with benefits’. Sue would text me, I would finish my night shift and go round to hers for a bit of fun. Coupled with the revelation of learning I was not too shabby in bed and being asked out by Marie, my ego had been well and boosted. The fun with Sue eventually ran its course. Just as that did, I took a chance on getting in touch with Bryanné. The planet’s must have been fully inline or some other phenomenon, because it worked. We met up fully intending to just have fun. For me and my psychological state at the time, that’s all it was too be. I was still very much on the lookout. I was emotionally anesthetised. The place where I worked (I should really give the companies name, but that would be affording them free advertising) had an ever revolving, evolving workforce aided, abetted and sometimes hindered by a bulking out by a lucid number of temps. In the eleven years I was there, there must have been in the region of 2,500+, permanent staff that at various times, worked there. Easily double that amount if you were to include temporary staff. One temp caught my eye, she was young, cute and extremely sexy. If you’re thinking “Oh here we go, he’s going to tell us he’s fallen in love again”, you’re wrong, very wrong. I worked her psychological profile out straight away, and in my mind, I wanted to confirm whether I was right. What I wasn’t expecting, was what happened next. Her upbringing had been dysfunctional to say the least and it had made her feisty. She’d put up a wall around herself. She’d thought she’d built it high enough and impenetrable enough. To most, it was. To me, I only needed to step over it. I psychologically dismantled her to her utter disbelief. Having done that, I was in, the groundwork was done. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not realising how vulnerable she actually was. I’d misread it slightly. I was 38, she was 21. I was just out for fun, thought that was all she was after. Given my heightened ego, I attempted a bit of flirting, it was reciprocated. We took it the next step. Now this is where I discovered my mistake, and if I could just lend that time machine, I’d go back and play things so much differently. It’s a tired old cliche, old bloke falls for young girl. Midlife crisis sort of thing. It was the other way around, she’d fallen for me. I was actually in the pub with Les before a home game when Tabby text me and dropped that bombshell. I felt a total cad. I gently let her down of course. I had to. It has to be said, she was far too good for me. She certainly hadn’t at the time, and probably/possibly hasn’t now, but she hadn’t fulfilled her potential, and she’d got several articulated lorries worth of it, she just didn’t realise it. Hampered by her domestic situation and her blind sense of loyalty she had for her Mom. Throughout life, you can find yourself meeting the wrong people at the wrong time, but Tabby (She wasn’t a cat, she just hated her name of Tabitha) was a right person at the wrong time. An undeniable, unappreciated class act, was Tabby. So to Blues then, the place where some skip to, or skip through. To stand still in football is to go backwards. Blues had stood still in terms of player recruitment during the summer, and were now hurtling backwards towards the oblivion of relegation. We hadn’t strengthened, our attack was immobile and team spirit had evaporated. I’d chosen a great season to return to watching Blues home and away every game. (Tongue firmly jammed into cheek) We’d become very adapt at pointing fingers and arguing whilst others just dropped their heads after a conveyor belt of lost goals and almost compulsory defeats. The only thing that wasn’t consistent, was the different ways I watched those games. The home games were the same. Train, St Andrews Tavern, (Black Horse for those that know) game, St Andrews Tavern, train. The away games were a combination of various ways. St Andrews Tavern coach, train, stopping at Val’s, I even stopped in hotels for a couple of night fixtures. In contrast to the crash happening in the league, we had somehow got through the F.A.Cup. We were drawn away at Stoke. I hadn’t been to the new ground. I hadn’t the money at the time, so missed our 7:0 victory there under Francis. Me, John and several thousand other Blues fans traipsed over to the Potteries for the Sunday kickoff. Les didn’t bother for some unknown reason. We got the first train out of Telford to Wolverhampton and changed for Stoke on Trent. This was when not wearing colours and having a 12 yr old in tow, came in extremely useful. The local constabulary were waiting for the train, anyone wearing anything Blues related, or were in groups of more than one, were being stopped and shepherded to the Roebuck pub across the carpark from the entrance. It was obvious the police were intent on keeping the Blues fans in one place. It’s tantamount to imprisonment but a practice that is used on quite a regular basis, up and down the country by different police forces on different clubs fans. It’s an assault on civil liberties but one that largely goes unreported. The argument has always been that it’s the minority that causes problems at games and it’s the majority that suffers. I feel that it can be a vicious circle. Oppressive police tactics can add to the problem. Indignation can boil over into anger and ultimately into violence. That infamous minority seizes the opportunity as vindication for their antics and thus police have vindication for their tactics. Generally, it’s a put up and shut up situation. The wise ones in the majority (And the minority come to that) use their vast knowledge and experience to keep one step ahead, out of reach of the ‘long arm of the law’. Knowing roughly where I was going, it was head down and walk. We caught a bus into Hanley town centre. Anyone who knows Stoke, knows that Hanley is the ‘city centre’, the shopping centre. We got off and looked for a pub that looked friendly. John was still at the age where he needed occupying. We walked into a pub just off centre, to my relief, not only did it have a pool table, it did food. I could complete my parental duty. Beer drunk (In my case), food eaten, pool played, we got a taxi to the ground. The taxi driver had obviously done a fair few fares to the ground and not so obviously, had taken a shine to us, as he dropped us where it was convenient for us.

I’ve really got to find the time and enthusiasm from somewhere to have a play around with this new format. Although the ground wasn’t all that new anymore, it was new to me. You may have already learned from the preceding whinge, I’m not a huge fan of new. If anything, I view it with a foreboding suspicion that it’s going to be rubbish. I suppose then, I set myself up to be pleasantly surprised. The new ground seemed yet to be finished. The money must’ve run out or the hand over date must’ve arrived before completion, either way, it was basic. Talking about basic, that was the game. It wasn’t a rip roaring cup tie, and certainly wasn’t one that was going to live long in the memory. It hasn’t with me anyway. Even the goal itself was scrappy. it wasn’t one of Mikael Forssell’s most spectacular of efforts to say the least. it was a goal and it was one more than Stoke were able to muster. We were through to our first F.A.Cup quarter final since 1984. it had been a long time coming.

We came out the back of the ground and into the designated away carpark. The police in their infinite wisdom, had decided to hold us back. The Stoke mob that had been trying to goad us all game, congregated outside, behind fencing at a top of a grassed bank. They carried on with their goading. A group of Blues congregated behind the fence at the bottom, to have a go back. It was pretty harmless until the Blues fans became more and more agitated and ferocious. the fence was getting a good work out. The Stoke mob at the top made like they were doing the same with the intention of meeting the Blues. The fence at the bottom gave way, and the Blues poured up the bank towards the now retreating mob of Stoke. With the fence at the bottom collapsed, the police took action. The rest of us wandered round friend spotting or stood waiting to be released. Eventually they allowed us out. We walked back to the station where the police kept us outside. As they weren’t letting us into the station to use the facilities, and with several requiring the toilet, we grabbed the opportunity to use the toilets in the hotel over the road from the entrance to the station. At least the hotel staff were sympathetic to our plight. There was a ‘special’ train laid on to transport Blues fans back to Brum. As I was taking John back home to his Mom’s, we needed to wait for a scheduled service to Wolverhampton so we could change for a service to Tipton. Due to indoctrination and prebubesent energy, John was in the habit of constantly kicking things as if they were a ball. It could be extremely annoying but it was in all honesty, my fault as I’d wanted him to follow me with my love of football. As fans waited on the ‘special’ for it to depart, and we waited for the scheduled train that was coming in on the same platform afterwards, John found an empty plastic pop bottle to keep himself occupied. Instead of just playing rebound against the nearest wall, he preceded to try playing keepie up with it. Considering the shape of the bottle, he managed to skillfully keep it in the air without it touching the ground quite well. Much better than I’d have managed anyway. Whilst I watched him and his efforts, I noticed that he’d acquired an audience of captive Blues fans and that they too were impressed. Not wishing to put any pressure on him to perform, but wanting him to know that he’d been impressing, I waited for the train to pull out before telling him. It’s something that we remember quite often when we reminisce about Blues away trips. I dropped him back at his Mom’s.

FOOTNOTE:- Blues lost a 7 goal thriller at home to Liverpool in the quarter finals, although it was Liverpool that scored all the 7 goals. We did indeed get relegated that season. The magical mystery tour would be over for at least a season.

Ben, Les’ eldest had turned 17, was working and was mobile. He had his own mind and had decided to get in touch with Les. Things had gone well, he moved in with us in the flat. The problem was that he was having to sleep on the sofa. We stretched the finances as much as we could, with the proviso that Ben would share the rent, and we moved into a bigger place in Malinslee, Telford. Even with Tabby, I had carried on seeing Bryanné, that was to carry on, but would receive a twist, Gayle was going to come back on the scene.

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