First of all, Trev had moved out of the flat he lived in. It meant that I was now having to catch the bus to and from work. Everyone splits down into 2 groups when it comes to living preferences. There’s the ones who are more than happy to live on their own regardless of whether they’re a loner or co-habitate, and there’s the ones that are much happier living with people regardless of whether they don’t go out and socialise or it’s just family they live with. I’m happier living alone, Trev is someone who gets lonely living on his own. He’d got himself hooked up with a woman called Dee, or Dee had got herself hooked up with Trev. Either way, he’d moved out to live with her and had given his flat up. On the one hand, I had even less to do with him, but on the other hand I had to find the money for the bus. I had been giving Trev money for petrol, but it really was only a token gesture. He was brilliant in that respect. He’d bend over backwards to help you. The owner of the place we worked at, had sold it to a consortium that went into debt to buy it. To save money, they abolished the bonus scheme and yearly wage increases vanished. We are taught as kids that there’s 7 days in a week and 4 weeks in a month. That’s fine if you are paid weekly, but not if you’re paid monthly. Shouldn’t make any difference should it? But it does. There’s 52 weeks in a year, 52 pay days with weekly pay. Now divide 52 by 4. That’s 13. There’s 12 months in a year. 12 pay days if you’re monthly paid. You should now be looking at that thinking ‘Where’s the extra month gone?’ That’s the point. We live and work from week to week, Monday to Friday. Relaxation and recuperation at the weekend. Football and beer on a Saturday for us addicts. As time goes by, the money becomes more and more squeezed until you’re living on fresh air for 10 days at the end of the month. Everyone can last 2 days at the end of the 7 days before getting paid each week. But don’t forget, there’s more than 4 weeks in a month, you’ve now got 4 x 2 + those extra couple of days at the end of the month. If only we had 12 February’s. You’re now on a downward spiral because you start to ‘borrow’ off the next month. Wrongly believing you’ll be able to get back to parity the next pay day. Budgeting on a weekly basis is fine when you’re on the lower end of the pay scale, but impossible on monthly pay. If you’re incredulous about this, then try being monthly paid on minimum wage and still have some kind of social life. It’s impossible. In my opinion, monthly pay should be abolished for anyone who earns less than twice the minimum wage. Anyway, other than finances becoming stretched, there really wasn’t anything different in my life. It was ground hopping, ale trailing and nothing else. It was the ground hopping ale trailing that was keeping me sane, still is what keeps me sane. I love cricket, and do go to games, but the close season is when I try and stock up for the next assault on a season. That should have brought me neatly round to this game. It was the last game of the season and it was ‘do or die’ we had to win. The Zola ‘experiment’ had crashed and burned. 2 wins in 24 games had put us in a perilous position. In fact, it had left us in a perilous position as Zola fell on his sword. Least it could’ve been his, towards the end, there had been many strategically placed swords and the number was growing with each failure to win. I suppose you could actually say it had been a ‘no win situation’ from the start for poor Gianfranco. The way Rowett had been sacked and Zola appointed in the same day was unprecedented in this country and frankly, discourteous. It had caused civil war between us Blues fans and so the support from the stands wasn’t exactly forthcoming. Maybe had Blues been able to hold on for a draw in his first game in charge, instead of suffering the sucker punch of losing in the last minute at home to a high flying Brighton from what was a winning position only 10 minutes earlier, things would’ve progressed and grown. I didn’t watch the Blues v Brighton game, I had already got train tickets and the match ticket to go up and watch Hearts. I was texting Steph for updates on how we were playing and doing. She like me, had grown tired of ‘Rowett football’, home games had been spent with me and her talking about anything and everything just to keep entertained. Zola had taken the criticism to heart, tried to change formations, tried to be more defensive. He’d tried everything. His tenure did spew out a surprising and extremely welcome victory at the Yam yam custard bowl in front of the Sky cameras, but with Blues needing two victories out of the last three games of the season, he sliced himself apart and was dragged off stage into a waiting ambulance. The blood was still being mopped up when a regal fanfare announced possibly the biggest appointment in Blues history. It was definitely the most high profile, and smacked of an unbelievable amount of desperation. ‘I’m a Celebrity, get me in’ Harry Redknapp entered. The overnight ‘rumour’ turned out to be more than just a rumour. It’s reported that he was on a bonus of £250,000 to keep us in the Championship. Whether he was or he wasn’t, he got his address book out, and contacted Steve Cotterill and Paul Groves to assist him in the mission impossible. The first game of the three had been away at the Vile. The unwashed twelve toed celebrated their 1:0 win with songs pointing at our impending doom. The last home game versus Huddersfield brought a nervous victory and much relief. It was to Ashton Gate and an ‘all or nothing’ game. Sky had decided to move all the last day Championship fixtures to a Sunday lunchtime kickoff. I know it’s all about viewing figures but just give me 5 minutes in a room with the person who does the schedules. Football is the spectacle it is, because of attendance. Fans are just as much a part of it as the players themselves. Atmosphere adds to nerves. It can lift a players spirits. Fans are, to the most part, totally ignored by the authorities, the faceless bureaucrats in their grey suits, sat drinking tea and scoffing biscuits in their ivory towers. They don’t care about the significant sacrifice fans make. To them, we are little more than a minor irritation. We’re just cash cows to be milked until completely dry. It did however, mean that I could take in a final ground hop of the season. I had been in touch with my Niece to ask if she could get me a ticket for Swansea v Everton and could she manage to not only put up with me, but put me up. Bizarrely, she was more than happy to and I’d made my way to South Wales to meet up with her and Dave her hubby in waiting. We even dropped in on the Borough Arms in Neath to pick up some of their ale, so I had a couple of bottles for the train over to Bristol on the Sunday morning. It was the first time I’d visited their new house, Liberty Stadium or had a ticket that had been printed at home. I’m not a fan of new fangled technology, in fact, I absolutely hate it, but it was a first. The day before had been a good one. They’d given me a tour of all the real ale pubs in Swansea, and the game turned out well for the Swans. As the game was also being covered by Sky, me and Dave (Sarah actually didn’t go to the game itself) were able to watch the scorelines come through. They went in Swansea’s favour. They just needed to win to put themselves in a better position in the league. They won 1:0. Maybe it was because the previous day had been a cracker, but I woke up in an absolutely brilliant mood. I had never been so confident that Blues would win in my life. Because of the situation Blues had found themselves in, it was unexpected for me and unnerving for every other Blues fan I encountered. After Sarah dropped me off at the station, I popped open the first bottle of ale and relaxed into the day. I had to change at Bristol Parkway and get on a rail replacement bus to Temple Meads. That was probably the only thing of the whole day that was truly irritating. I don’t mind getting buses, but not if it should actually be a train. Finally touching down at Temple Meads, I took in the Knights Templar Wetherspoons. Early Sunday kickoffs are all well and good, but not if it disrupts and effects your enjoyment. I’m a traditionalist, I like to go to the pub or pubs before a game. It’s part and parcel of football watching. Early kickoffs mean either less time for a beer or two, or you’re having to start earlier. Thanks to Sarah, I’d been able to get the bottles of ale from the Borough Arms to drink on the train. Sean had been texting me, he’d been able to get himself a ticket. When it comes to managing to get a ticket for a game he’s got no right to, he’s extremely lucky and resourceful. I don’t mind, he is a season ticket holder after all, but he goes to less than half of the away games. He’s been doing it for years now, probably has all the techniques to get a ticket, but it still seems to surprise me. He’s always there at the big and important games. Jinksy and Nat had stayed over in Bristol, they came in. Well Jinksy came in and warned what to expect from Nat. Nat was in fancy dress, complete with blond wig. He looked horrific. I didn’t take a photo, I’m not even sure that my phone wouldn’t have exploded anyway. It would definitely have caught fire. We got a taxi to the ground with several other Blues fans. Except for the driver, I was the only one who wasn’t nervous. I just sat there grinning or trying not to. We had got to the ground early. I went in search of a pub I could get in. It’s always easier when you’re on your own trying to get in a football pub. Easier still if you pretend that you’re a regular. The bouncers of the Rising Sun sneaked passed, it was only after I was well into the process of being served, (The barmaid had poured my pint) that a barman overheard my accent. He admonished the one who served me, but as I pointed out, I was on my own and hardly a threat. Realising I was right, he reluctantly allowed me to carry on. It’s always a sweet feeling, having a pint in a pub you’re actually not supposed to be in.
I had no idea why, still don’t if I’m being honest, but as stated, I was ridiculously confident of victory. I was totally convinced we were going to win 2:0. I spotted Steph and the gang, and stood with them. Well actually Dave (No, not Sarah’s Dave) spotted me as I was wearing a bright yellow Adidas Originals hoodie. As you would expect, they were all a bundle of nerves. I on the other hand, was perfectly calm. Of course, I wasn’t surprised when Che Adams opened the scoring on 16. The unbridled joy it brought to everyone else, was kind of lost on me. It was more just confirming what I’d been saying. Blues were allowing Bristol City to have more possession, but Blues were doing more with what they had. The whistle to signal the end of the first half was met with a cheer. We were Halfway there. I was halfway to my prediction. I was still nerveless as the second half grew to a finish, I was only surprised that the second goal hadn’t arrived. The added minutes were flashed up. We had 6 minutes to hang on to victory and survival. It was like someone had discovered the switch on me. I went instantly from one of cool, collective, calmness, to angst ridden panic. That second goal that I had been expecting, hadn’t materialised. Instead, our slender 1:0 lead was looking extremely vulnerable. When they’d discovered the switch, they also decided to stop time. Those 6 minutes were longer than the rest of the game put together. Finally though, the man in charge brought an end to the game and a start to the celebrations. We’d done it. Not quite as dramatic as the Bolton game, but it would still have its place in Blues folklore.
I didn’t stay to applaud the players. Not because I was disgusted that we’d got in that position in the first place, but because it had been one Hell of a season, and I wanted to process it all a bit more quietly. I hadn’t been to Ashton Gate for getting on 35 years, and not only that but it had only been the once. Having jumped in on the taxi share to the ground, I had no real idea where I was going. I was just ambling aimlessly. At one point I looked back at the ground, I was at least 250 yards away from it by now and yet as another pitch perfect rendition of ‘Keep Right On’ filled the air, I was nothing less than content. I didn’t care that I hadn’t got a clue where I was actually going. Stick a fork in me, I was done. My phone going off brought me to my senses. It was Les. We often call one another after an important game. Emotionally and mentally aligned, we instinctively know how the other is feeling and sharing that moment is exclusive. It’s always been like that, always will be. Somehow, as we chatted, I’d faced the right direction and found the city centre. Finishing our phone call, I went in search of the first on my itinerary. I couldn’t find it. I gave up and headed for the next. I spotted what was the full crew of the away game ale trailers making use of a bench and the early summer sun outside a pub. Now I’m sure you can understand and appreciate how the memory of this is a little hazy to say the least. Bristol is on old city that retains a lot of its traditional culture. Much the same as the old part of Hull. King Street is renowned for its large number of pubs. As I was just on the cusp of starting up this blog for the very first time, I hadn’t yet started putting bullet points in my notes of the day to aid with writing my account of it. Needless to say, I don’t remember how many pubs we went in or their names. The atmosphere was very much one of everything and anything didn’t matter as the Blues had won, stayed up and there was ale, lots of it. It was either 4 or 5 we went in. I know they were all in the same street and it certainly wasn’t the longest street in the world. It finished with me and Mikey ending up on our own and we headed back towards the station but not before we’d dropped in on The Seven Stars. We were both quite ‘merry’ by now. Seeing the jukebox and pool table quiet, we seized the opportunity to have a game or three and being utterly amazed, discovered the original version of ‘Keep Right On’, on the jukebox. The inspirational anthem by Harry Lauder was played more times that late afternoon than it had probably been played since it had been added to the machines playlist. We didn’t just play that track of course, there’s other songs associated with Blues, but it was definitely the one we put on most. We finally carried on to Temple Meads and before we got the train, Mikey stocked up on food. Well it was Mikey after all.
FOOTNOTE:- If you’re still wondering what Nat was dressed up as, he had on some kind of girl guide uniform, the blond wig was platted pigtails. Now that shouldn’t actually sound that hideous, but Nat is rather portly (Some would be unkind and say obese) he was also sporting a fair amount of facial hair, dark facial hair. He seriously looked the stuff of nightmares. The type you’d implore your parents to look under the bed for when you were a little kid.