I was moving in a different circle and making new friends. Friends from all different backgrounds and situations. The common denominator, real ale and Blues. I had finally found like minded people outside of the family. I quickly discovered that amongst real ale drinkers is a higher level of intelligence that I hadn’t been used to. I didn’t so much need to up my game, but stop hiding my own. Without wishing to be disparaging, except for when I was with my family, I hadn’t been using, or needed to use mine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no intellectual, but my level of intelligence is noted. Although I use self deprecating humour an awful lot, possibly even too much, I’m not as thick as I make out. All that said, I don’t like being treated as thick. Woe betide anyone who treats me as such. They either are made to realise their mistake, or if they persist, then I find a way of destroying them. That of course, sounds harsh, but life is far too short to put up with things that really annoy you. I have never been, and never will be, one to take fools gladly. The self deprecating humour is used not as a defense as most do, but as a means to put my prey exactly where I want them. I’m a lot more wiser and wiley than people realise and perceive. I’m no genius, I’m not sociopathic, I’m just me. Nobody special, just unique in my own right. No doubt a professional psychologist would be able to rip me apart but I haven’t met one and nobody that isn’t, has ever got close. Most aren’t even able to make a scratch to the surface. So what about Blues. I’ll start at boardroom level. Carson Yeung was still incarcerated and his dodgy number two had been ousted. Peter Pannu was replaced by Panos Pavlakis. His remit was to save money. Austerity could have been his middle name. Lee Clark is a proud Geordie. He was back then. Maybe had he not been, he would’ve had the sense to drop the mic and walk off stage, straight after the final whistle up in Horwich. He was given a wage budget of £5,000 per week, per player. Now that is an awful lot of money in reality. I’m lucky if I manage to take home more than £1,200 a month. In football wage terms, 5 grand a week is less than the national minimum wage. How on earth we managed to con any player to sign for us, I don’t know, let alone the players we did. Clark was allowed to break the budget once. No idea how he convinced Clayton Donaldson to sign for £8 grand a week, when it was reported that Sheffield Wednesday had offered £12,000. I can only assume that Donaldson’s family were kidnapped and held at gunpoint, until after he had signed. Looking back now, the stress had got to Clark, the signs were there that he was drinking heavily. His decision making was bewildering at times, other times, outlandish. At the time, I wanted him out. I, like the rest, had had enough of losing. We were dropping faster than an anvil thrown from the top of the Rotunda. In truth, Blues broke Clark. For whatever reason, he looks back fondly on the time he was at Blues. He certainly worked harder in his position than most would’ve. His legacy was that the next bloke in charge was to benefit immensely from what he did, what he’d had to put up with. In between Clark being sacked and Rowett being appointed, Blues played two games. The second of which was an 8:0 defeat at St Andrews at the hands of a pre Premier League Bournemouth. We felt rock bottom even though we weren’t. In the week before this game, Rowett managed to rescue Michael Morrison from Charlton’s reserves. He drilled the players to be disciplined, to be defensive. Sky had previously pencilled this in for coverage. Our humiliation would be broadcast nationwide. The one thing that the lunchtime kickoff would enable, was the chance to get to the Birmingham Beer Festival earlier. My mate who had told me about the flat I now lived in, had split up with his wife. In reality, she had waited for him to go to work one day and left him. Unsurprisingly, and not to put too fine a point on it, it cracked him up. By the time this game came along, he’d got himself back on his feet. She’d fleeced him financially, left him in debt. Something he’d had to cope with. She’d been cold and calculated. His step Dad (A real nice bloke) was in the last stages of alzheimer’s. Trev used to take him to Blues home games as his carer. He’d got himself on his feet enough to drive to the odd away game. This particular one, he was able to do by train. It was only a short trip after all. Trev drank. Probably still does, (We’ve lost touch, wrong circles) like a fish. Not entirely sure how a fish actually drinks, but that’s the metaphor. He drinks for the effect, drinks because he never got over the murder of his biological Dad. I digress as usual. If I was to describe him in the nicest possible way. He reminded me of a puppy who was always pleased to see you, but in his excitement, would make a mess on the floor. He didn’t drink the good stuff. (I won’t say obviously, but it won’t surprise you given his level of intelligence) He drank the fizzy rubbish. We caught the bus into town and went to the Briar Rose Wetherspoons. We got there early. I spotted Steph and the gang who were having breakfast. Of course, they went ridiculously early. Not because of Trev being Trev, but because, as always, Justin was worried about getting to the game. It wasn’t because of any history of crowd violence between the two clubs, (Which there’s loads with no doubt more in the future to be added) but because he’s riddled with anxiety issues when it comes to Blues and would get to games before the ground staff had had chance to open up, if it wasn’t for Steph. As football fans, we are stuck in a time warp. One that always takes us back to a certain time and feeling. His is a childlike excitement to not miss a thing. His world revolves around the trials and tribulations of Birmingham City more than mine ever does. Sure, I’m addicted, but my addiction is different to his. His is about the game only, mine is about the whole day. I digress again (Just for a change) It got to the time we needed to get the train, and we came out passed the Ol Bill that were stationed outside to keep an eye on the Blues mob that was using the pub and travelling to Wolverhampton. Being so close, there’s many ways to get to Wolverhampton. Me and Trev managed to get a packed intercity. The songs were sung, Trev gleefully joining in. It’s definitely a little harsh to say, but he was straining at the leash. The Wolves ground is ideally located for any supporter who travels by public transport and likes a drink. For the local constabulary, it proves to be a nightmare. We touched down and were funneled back on ourselves to use the underpass. Officers were strategically positioned to monitor the Blues fans progress to the ground. Something that was easier given the kickoff time.
As I’ve stated, we came into this game off an 8:0 home defeat. Wolves were flying quite high in the division. We were not hopeful to say the least. Rowett had set us up not to lose. We defended rigidly. Marshalled impressively by Morrison. The mantra was definitely, ‘Thall shalt not pass’. After the previous weeks disaster, we were more than happy with the negativity. At one point, we even went close to scoring. A win, however recieved with open arms, would’ve been a travesty if I’m being honest. A point was all we deserved but a point was the least we deserved. We celebrated the final whistle and a 0:0 draw, like we’d won. Not quite like we’d celebrated the point that staved off relegation, but there was plenty of smiling faces in the away end. Eyes full of hope.
Me and Trev had stood together in the ground. Somehow we got split up exiting it. The inhabitants of Wolverhampton and Birmingham have never really seen eye to eye. It’s fair to say, that animosity can manifest itself in violence between supporters of the football clubs that bare their cities name. The game itself was preceded by a minutes silence of remembrance to commemorate Armistice day. The minute was badly disrupted. Fingers were pointed by both sides as to who the culprits were. The stalemate frustrated the home support far more than the happily contented away support, but coming out of the ground, it was evident that a number of the Wolves more ferocious fans were intent on exerting physical violence on us Blues supporters. We have, of course, more than enough of our own support who are more than happy to go toe to toe with anyone. That guttural roar that always signals an imminent clash, sounded. It’s like a natural air raid siren. A call to arms. It’s exhilarating. Adrenaline levels are pumped sky high. I can certainly understand why people (And it’s not just limited to the male population) find it extremely attractive and highly addictive. I was pulled like a magnet towards it. There was a no man’s land in between us and the Wolves. Batons were drawn by the police who were man fully trying to keep the two baying sides apart. The batons were swung and connections were made with flesh and bones. I saw a heavy metal barrier to my right, picked up and launched at an officer, like it was a frisbee. The shocked officer was lucky to swerve out of the way. I know it would’ve been similar scenes on the Wolves side, as a police riot helmet was thrown towards us. I’d like to say here and now, that I never threw a punch (Or a missile) and I never received one. I probably could have avoided it all, made my way away from the melee as fast as possible, but for whatever reasons, I got caught up. I enjoyed it and I probably shouldn’t have done. The intensity passed. It had only been a matter of 5 minutes, 10 at the most, but it felt a lot longer. I knew that reinforcements would have been called for, and I pulled away just before they arrived. I was wired. It had been a draw on and off the pitch. We’d announced to the world that we weren’t going to be ‘pushovers’. I was to find out off Trev later, that he too had been involved, though I hadn’t seen him, I recognised plenty who were. I know that someone I know very well and see quite often at away games, recieved a broken finger from a police baton. I got a train back to Brum and then got a bus to the Bingley Hall. It was my first beer festival of any kind. The first to be held at the Bingley Hall. I didn’t know what to expect and I was a bit of a kid in a sweet shop. These days, I will get a half pint glass, so I can try lots more different beers. Back then, I was still in the macho ‘only drink pints’ mindset. The talk amongst the ale trailers who had been to the game was about the performance and the result. I stayed quiet about what happened outside the ground afterwards.