No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, that really is last Saturday’s date. I haven’t stopped with dusting off the memories completely, but the government has decreed that fans can now watch Non-League games in the flesh. It’s the seventh level and below, but at least it’s proper football. Not some convoluted effort, with staid commentary and irritating ‘expert’ comments from an uneducated ex-professional, with social distancing presenter’s and guests, all topped off by empty stadiums, gigantic advertising, cardboard cutout ‘crowdies’ and crudely piped crowd noises. There’s talk of allowing limited attendances in the top leagues, but from what I’ve seen in footage from other countries, I’m just not interested. I don’t suppose it helps that Blues have appointed a manager I can not stand and I know that the football he will have us playing will be as dull as a wet November Sunday morning trawling round a DIY store. On the plus side, (Restrictions allowing) it gives me the opportunity to ground hop round the Non-League circuit. No doubt as I write this account of Saturday, I will veer towards more ‘anti restrictions’ ranting, but I will try and tone it down a bit. I walked into town, it was quite a nice day and I knew the fresh air and exercise would do me good. In reality, I’m put off catching the bus. Not because I don’t like being in close proximity to people or am scared I’m going to catch the virus off one of them, it’s because it’s compulsory to wear something that doesn’t work over your mouth and nose. Wearing face masks doesn’t work. If it did, people wouldn’t still be getting infected. That goes for social distancing and repeatingly washing your hands until they’re red raw. This strain of Coronavirus that has been so devastating, is finally weakening. It’s weakened inspite of the restrictions we have to put up with. What broke the back of it was Lockdown. We’re now in that situation that the Health advisers wanted so desperately to avoid yet seem to be intent on using to drag their own importance out. We’ve fallen in to the ‘whack-a-mole’ scenario. On a personal level, ‘Lockdown’ is the only thing I’ve enjoyed about this virus. Being paid to stay in for three straight months was total bliss. In all honesty, I could’ve quite easily have coped with another three months at least. Everything else has been and is and will be rubbish. We’re in a living Hell. Sorry for the ranting. It’s difficult to write without going into one. Anyway, I walked into town at a time when town would’ve been normally heaving with a throng of Saturday shoppers. It felt like a Sunday used to. I got my ticket for the train to Whitlock’s End so I didn’t need to later and bought a couple of lottery tickets from a couple of different places. I’ve got this quirky idea that it increases my chances of winning if I buy from multiple places. I might as well make sure I’ve my ‘lucky’ socks on when I buy a ticket, for all the good the idea does. (I haven’t got lucky socks, but you get the stupid quirk) I haven’t been in the Welly since the week after it reopened. Again, not because of fear of contracting the virus, but because the restrictions take the joy out of the experience. Covid 19 is the only thing people talk about now. You can not have a conversation about anything else without the dark spectre of it casting a shadow over things. It’s worse than Brexit ever was. The restrictions have been lifted slightly, but a once busy pub has been decimated. Jinksy came in and it was a relief just to talk to a like minded person. Although the polar opposite of me in his view of politics, we’re completely in agreement over restrictions. Wearing masks, social distancing and repeatingly washing your hands doesn’t work, if it did, infection wouldn’t happen. It does. We’re told that there’s been an increase in infections, though admittances to hospitals hasn’t increased, it’s still decreasing. If the virus was still as violent as it was at its highest, surely the hospitals would not only be inundated again, but the capacities of the ICUs would be at bursting point. They’re not. There’s an ulterior motive to the pressure that Health advisors are exerting on the government to enforce restrictions that don’t work. It’s to save face because they’ve been badly inept. They’ve been next to useless through the whole of this virus, and they know it. I’m not even entirely unconvinced that there isn’t a hidden political agenda to undermine the government in all this. Ian came in for a pint before going off to meet workmates on union business, but not until Taffy had joined us. Ian maintains a hatred of Taffy, but the longer time goes on, the origins of that hatred dissipates. Everyone knows Ian doesn’t actually hate Taffy anymore, but Ian’s personality is such, that he won’t back down. It’s a quality or fault that serves him so well in his union work. After another pint, we decided to try the newly reopened Old Joint Stock. I wish we hadn’t. The measures in place, were so restrictive that it didn’t make for an enjoyable pint. If you enjoy a relaxing pint then I fully recommend that you don’t go to the O.J.S. until the Health advisors have been revealed to be the charlatans they are, and both they and the restrictions have been removed. We quickly moved on to Good Intentions. I hadn’t been in the place since well before the Lockdown. In fact, I’d only actually been in there once, and although I’d been impressed with the set-up, I’d been disappointed with the beer at the time. First of all, the atmosphere wasn’t half as oppressive as the O.J.S., and the beer was so much better than it had been the last time I’d been in there. We got the train from Snow Hill to Whitlock’s End and walked the short distance to Highgate’s ground.
I can’t lie, I felt exited. It was the first game I could get to watch this season. (Watching games on television doesn’t count) Jinksy picked the tickets up from the small club bar, and we gained entry. It was good to see a familiar fellow football addict too. Martin a lad that watches Blues and Solihull Moors.
The ground might not have been the biggest, and the level might not have been the highest, but I honestly didn’t care and nor did Jinksy or Taffy. Whilst our civil liberties are taken away from us for no good reason other than for an act of sheer snide face saving from government Health advisers, it’s the best we’ve got. The football wasn’t bad. Look, at least it was football. Highgate took the lead. There was no instant replay, no series of replays from different angles, no ‘expert’ analysis from an ex has been who doesn’t understand the concept of self deprecating humour, no caption to indicate who scored complete with a grinning image of the goalscorer, no change of score indicator in the top corner of the screen. If you missed it, you missed it. Well I only went and missed Wulfrunians first goal didn’t I? I was out of practice, the beer had been weighing heavy on my bladder and I had had to make use of the clubhouse facilities. The half finished 1:1, we went back in the clubhouse. I had something that I have never had. A can of Guinness. Albeit decades ago, I’ve only ever had Guinness once and at the time, I couldn’t get my tastebuds round it. Drinking it now, I can’t actually understand why I hadn’t been able to. Oh and by the way, Cambridge had taken the lead versus Blues at St Andrews. I wasn’t bothered when I heard, and it had had made such an impression on me, that it only gets a cursory halftime mention. The second half had kicked off by the time we returned. Considering the level, there was some decent stuff played in that second half. The away team made the advantage of kicking down hill count and took a lead that they were to keep.
We left just before the final whistle to get the train. It was another hour to the next one, so we had to put a jog on. It almost put paid to Taffy and it had him reaching for his inhalers. I could say something stereotypical and joke that it was because he was Welsh and had spent too many years down the pit, but I won’t. After all, he’s from Wrexham and they’re more renowned for sheep round there. I’ll leave it to you to join the dots up unnaturally. We got off at Snow Hill and ducked into the Old Contemptibles. This place was a good little place to use if getting the train to or back from the Hawthorns. I wouldn’t bother now. I won’t again until the Covid Gestapo have retired. We only had a pint, before Taffy bailed. A shame really as the best place was to be the last place. Maybe it’s because of it’s just off centre position, but in the Bull, I felt like I was finally able to relax in there, the restrictions were definitely more relaxed and it felt much more normal. Me and Jinksy shared a table with Alan’s Jean and one of Paul Mason’s Baggies mates. The conversation was more a happy one. The virus shadow wasn’t blocking out the sun, though I felt very much like a fugitive, like we were in some kind of prohibition ‘speakeasy’. I decided to get a takeaway curry from the restaurant near to me on the way home. Except for the removal of chairs used for waiting, you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference from before the Lockdown. It seemed like a surreal parallel universe. If Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten from the programme Red Dwarf had entered through the door, I wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow.