26/1/11 Blues v West Ham United, League Cup Semi-Final Second Leg. Climbing Out Of The Hole.

After 3 weeks, I was finally able to talk about my time with Trudi without breaking down. I’d been determined to ‘fix’ myself and carry on with the rest of my life. Somehow, I’d allowed myself to get heavily into debt, I’d no job, I was living at my eldest sister’s house, and my head was a mess. I enrolled on a government led course to bump up my disgraceful computer skills, (They’re still rubbish, but so much better than they were) applied to the local council for accommodation, and bought a sports holdall to live out of. The last bit was because the idea was to live as minimalistic as possible. I secured an agency job at a printing factory and started to work on a friends fledgling market stall, selling baby things and football souvenirs. I ditched the agency job after a fortnight to increase the hours on the market stall. I quite enjoyed being out in the fresh air and got to talk all day about football. Thing is, I wasn’t a salesman. I hadn’t that type of mindset. After about four months, my mate decided to take a unit in Tamworth’s tiny indoor market, and I was jettisoned. It was back to what I knew best, manufacturing. Back to agency. I was back in touch with Bryanné and I’ve got to admit here, she was instrumental in helping me psychologically. She was brilliant. As I sit here writing this, I would probably say, she is the one person after myself, that knows me the best. If you’re wondering why on earth we haven’t got it together properly, the ever changing situation, was never truly right, and as I think back, if I’m being totally honest, had we managed to live with each other, we’d have ended up falling out anyway. We were just not quite right for each other, too set in our ways. After a month at one factory, (The job was only ever temporary) I got a Temp to Perm job, though it meant a little bit of a commute. The bus service in Telford is slightly better than abysmal. I was lucky to get a lift off a fellow temp. All in all, I spent 18 months in my sister’s box room before finally getting a maisonette style flat off the council. it was within price range, close enough to Telford Town Centre and its train station, and most of all, walking distance to work. I had been taken on permanently at the company I was at and been upgraded, I’d been making inroads into the debt, thanks to a heavy amount of overtime, things were going in the right direction. My Mom’s health was going in the wrong direction due to her kidneys refusal to function properly anymore though. Although my family is extremely close mentally, we’re not physically. I made for me, what was a conscious decision to visit her weekly and to keep an eye on her. I wasn’t the only one of course, but for me it was important. Finally to step up as a son and not continue as the black sheep. The thing is, family black sheep tend to be unwitting pyromaniacs, they burn a lot of bridges. I needed to build the trust up. That I wasn’t going to be so stupid again. The trouble is with me, is that the self destruct button can be extremely inviting and enticing, those nearest to me have had to put up with a lot down the years, and I can actually, totally understand why they’re just waiting for the next time I mess up. Age begets wisdom though, even in an idiot like me. That self destruct button just isn’t as attractive as it was. I could say anymore, but it’s me. I know myself best, and even I wouldn’t trust me not to mess up again. So what about Blues then? We’d finally been taken over amongst a fanfare of financial promises. We’d also got that immediate promotion, we may not have been taking the Premier League by storm, but we were establishing ourselves as a mid to top level side. Points were regularly picked up. The second season, was a little bit harder, but we’d advanced to within touching distance of a trophy. Back to me. (Yeah, yeah, boring) I wasn’t ever going to watch Blues again after leaving Trudi. (No, your device hasn’t broken, you have read that correctly) I wanted to move on, rebuild. I saw Giving Blues up as a part of that rebuild. It obviously helped that I was trying to pay the debt off as quickly as possible. I had dipped my toe the previous season, by going to a game. I didn’t get any of the old addictive cravings. Thought I was safe to take in another game a bit later on in the season. Wrong move. I realised I was still addicted and there was no hope, no fighting it. The second season, I tried to get to more, though still paying off the debt, bills, rent, food and trying to furnish a flat, stood in the way of getting to too many. I’m not a fan of the League Cup. It’s been, and is continually being devalued to such an extent that there really isn’t any point carrying on with it anymore. I love the F.A.Cup, and even that’s being badly devalued now. I digress. I pay little interest in the competition, the quarter final had pitched us against the Vile. At the time of the draw, I was apathetic at best. By the time the game arrived, all the Blues fans at work, and there actually was some, were pumped up about it. I was jealous to say the least, and gutted that I hadn’t been bothered to get a ticket. I watched that game in a pub on my own, I couldn’t afford Sky. I was never going to be able to get a ticket for the away leg at Upton Park, but in all honesty, I hadn’t done the hard yards to be entitled to one. Between the quarter final and the semi final first leg, I’d been able to afford Sky to be installed. We lost 2:1, it set up the second leg. I’d already got myself a ticket, as soon as I’d been able to. I wasn’t going to miss it. I was well and truly hooked again. The day of the game and I was so charged up, so wired, I was on early shift, and virtually ran home. (No mean feat after an 8 hour shift with a 40 minute walk home) a quick shower and I bounced off to get the train (Again, no mean feat, blah blah blah, 30 minute walk) I bumped into a couple of Telford based, Blues lads from my distant past. I left them at New Street, so they could get a taxi to The Forge. I wanted to get a Birmingham Mail (I did in those days) I still beat them to the Forge. The looks of astonishment when they got to the pub and saw me standing there, pint in hand, made me smile. (It wouldn’t have been as fast as what Daryl could probably do it in, but it was fast.) After a quick pint, I wanted to get up to one of the pubs close to the ground, sample the atmosphere. The St Andrews Tavern was absolutely rammed. You only had the space you were standing in. it may have been January still, but the pub didn’t require heating of any sort. Air-conditioning set to cool wouldn’t have gone amiss though. One of the regulars came in and announced that West Ham were outside. A few made their way outside, I was more intent on drinking my pint. Besides, he had a penchant for being over dramatic. One of the young glass collectors got caught up in the middle of it though, and came in nursing the start of a bruise. A few more went out, but the West Ham mob had moved on.

I was in row 40 in block 11 for this one. I was actually in Toddy’s usual season ticket seat. It didn’t matter, we squeezed up. Some things like friendship are much more important than a plastic tip up seat that nobody was ever going to sit on anyway. The first half didn’t go the way I would’ve liked. On the half hour, disaster struck. Carlton Cole hit a brilliant shot. (I can say it now, knowing what happened afterwards) It put West Ham 3:1 up on aggregate. I was so deflated at half time that I text my team leader to ‘advise’ her to warn the ‘loud mouth’ Vile fan that worked on the same section as me, not to come anywhere near…….for at least a week. So convinced I was that we’d blown it. McLeish swapped the ineffectual Derbyshire for Zigic. I could say now, that the rest is history, but I won’t, because that second half and extra time was to prove the most exciting, exhilarating, enthralling periods of football I’ve ever seen down at St Andrews. Playing towards us in the Tilton end, it was like they’d tilted the pitch towards us too. West Ham couldn’t handle ‘Big Zig’, and he was causing havoc. We started creating chances, but it took to almost the hour mark before we got the equaliser on the night. A corner from Larson was weakly headed away. Lee Bowyer caught it with a sweet volley. We were in the ascendancy. You could sense the anxiety emanating from the away end. Fully 20 minutes later, the scores were equal on aggregate. Another Larson corner was met with a bullet header from Roger Johnson. We went absolutely ballistic. Could we, just could we? In the dying moments, Gardner took a shot, it hit the post. I honestly thought that was it, that was our chance. Almost immediately, the ref blew for time. 30 minutes of extra time it was then. 4 minutes into the first period, we were in dreamland. Gardner was actually further out than when he’d hit the post. I thought my head was going to explode, I felt short of breath, the endorphins were in overdrive. The ref blew to end the first period. Just another quarter of an hour, fifteen minutes, 900 long long seconds. I was expecting some kind of West Ham rally, we all were. Time checks were given out by different people. 10 minutes, 9 minutes, 8 minutes. They were like hours. The ground was jumping, the ‘Wem-ber-ley’ song was in danger of taking the roof off. I couldn’t join in, Rav couldn’t join in, we were gripped with the fear of a West Ham goal. The ball went out for a throw in down towards the away end. I turned to Rav, and told him we’d done it. “No,no, not yet” he protested, still gripped with the irrational fear that only comes from sport. Seconds later, the ref blew for time, we had done it. Relieved and excited, we hugged each other, jumping up and down as we hugged. I did the same with Toddy.

I was on such a natural high. They let West Ham out at exactly the same time as the Blues support. I don’t know why, but just out of respect and sympathy for a clubs support that is similar to our own, and had gone through similar strife to us, I stopped singing the Wembley song, until I’d gone passed them. Had it been a club like Watford or Reading, I’d have sung it even louder, ‘rubbed it in’ more. Not West Ham. Even if I can’t stand the colours or the accent. There’s a few similar clubs to us. Working class, passionate, and with a strong sense of camaraderie and mischief. Not every club, just a few. We’re certainly not ‘Identikit’ like many are. The Watford’s and Reading’s of the world are 10 a penny. I could name loads of them. I went back to the Forge. Birdy was in there. After a pint and just after he had very generously, bought me another, I realised what the time was, I had the last train to catch. I had to leave it, apologising, I quickly walked back to the station, breaking into a run several times. Time had rushed by, I hadn’t taken into consideration the extra time. The station was surrounded by the blue flashing light brigade, they’d just escorted West Ham back for their last train. I spent most of the walk back home to my flat in Dawley, announcing to the inhabitants of Telford, that the “Famous Birmingham City, were going to Wem-ber-ley”, at the top of my voice.

FOOTNOTE:- I didn’t go to Wembley, I couldn’t afford it. I went round to my brother’s to watch us beat Arsenal in the final with his three lads. it was the next best thing. It went pear shaped for Blues after that cup win, and they were relegated. The first club to win a major domestic trophy and get relegated in the same season. Only Blues could do that. Wigan have since won the F.A.Cup and been relegated, but nobody remembers who comes second, right? Things were on the verge of going pear shaped with the owners of Blues too.

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