Crack In The Cup.

Stories of what the team were getting up to have since become legendary. The nucleus was and in no particular order, local lads and Blues fans Robert Hopkins, who from now on, I’m just going to refer to as Hoppy simply because that’s what he prefers to be called, Noel Blake and Tony Coton, who attracted Howard Gayle, Mick Harford and Pat Van Den Hawe into their circle. I’m not going to relate any of the shenanigans that they got up to for wont of getting any of the details wrong. I only wish one of them would put pen to paper and write a book about their experiences at Blues. If they were to, I would book the night off from work and camp outside whichever shop would be the first to sell it, in the hope I would get my grateful mits on a copy. Anything I do relay, will always be started by a disclaimer of sorts. It was however, a period of time that players and fans alike marauded round Brum, and the rest of the country. Those lot in B6 might have been the bigger, more successful club, but it was the players and fans of the club that took the cities name, that were going to make sure they ruled the city, and make sure the rest of the country were left with no doubt who did too. In terms of matches attended, I was to embark on my most prolific season to date. First up was a game that wasn’t even in England. I was up in Scotland visiting Val and John. Or more to the point, they were having to put up with me. No doubt, Mom and Les would’ve popped the champagne corks once they’d got home from making sure I was safely on the train up from Wolverhampton to Edinburgh. Dunfermline had drawn Dundee United in the Scottish League Cup. In those days, the first round was a two legged affair. The away leg was first, and was played in the week preceding this game. Dundee United were a very good team at the time. As I’ve stated before, they and Aberdeen were the top dogs north of the border, not the Old Firm. I had been hoping the result was close in the first leg at Tannadice. United blew Dunfermline away, 6:0. So when me and Val turned up at East End Park on the Saturday, the tie was well and truly over. A fair number had travelled down from Dundee to watch their side win 2:1. Other than the bright orange kit that United wore and their support, I don’t remember much from what was basically, a pre season friendly. We walked back to where Val and John were living through a housing estate. I don’t know if they thought we were United fans, or they’d heard our English accents, but a group of kids started throwing stones at us. Well they did until Val had had enough and rounded on them. Val could be quite fearless and fierce some when she wanted to be. I don’t remember exactly what she ranted at them, but whatever it was, it had the desired effect, and they ran off. Holiday over, both mine and of course, Les and Mom’s, it was back to Blues. The services of Billy Wright had been secured on a free transfer, but not a lot else had happened in the close season. The first game of the season brought a new wave of football violence, over 200 fans had been arrested at our opening game at West Ham, mostly Blues and most of them were arrested as they got off the train at Euston. We lost 4:0. It wasn’t a good start. By the time I got to a game, Blues had lost 2, won 2. In that order. The short trip to Molineux was my first Blues game that season. I don’t remember anything other than enviously watching the Blues fans heading back to Brum as we caught the train back the other way. I even had to look up who scored our goal. According to ‘Birmingham City, a complete record’ it was a 1:1 draw and Billy Wright scored from the penalty spot. Even as I’m writing this I’m desperately trying to remember anything from it…….nope, absolutely nothing. Strangely, I do actually remember Howard Gayle’s winner against Ipswich, which was my next game, but I don’t remember anything from the 2:1 win against Leicester. I do remember thinking that we were doing well, that the previous season was just a distant memory and if we could just carry on the way we were, we could even make Europe. With the escalating violence around games, and an economic depression digging into people’s pockets, attendances were shrinking. It didn’t help that ‘long ball’ seemed to be the tactic of the day. Many more sides relied on it than try and play through teams. It meant an awful lot of games consisted of both goalkeepers punting the ball to each other, over the 20 players huddled in the centre circle. The first second city derby of the season was overflowing with incident. A heavy downpour of rain only added to it. We caught the bus from town, if nothing else, we could all try and dry out. One lad even helped his mate out, by holding a lighter next to the other ones soaking wet jeans. However, the recipient of the service was unaware as he was preoccupied with chatting to another mate. Eventually, the recipient jumped up with a yelp, rubbing the now dry, but hot, back of his leg. We got off the bus and negotiated the lake that had formed round the traffic island. I felt sorry for the bevy of skimpily dressed girls who had been lumbered with the job of running across a now sodden pitch, lobbing free papers into various parts of the crowd. Me and Les decided to spilt up. Well, more to the point, he’d got fed up of me whinging that I couldn’t see. He wasn’t going to budge, so I moved to somewhere I could see better. The conditions only made the animosity between the two sides even tastier. The ‘tackles’ were flying in. Hoppy was racing around kicking anyone in claret and blue he could see. Steve McMahon was doing the same for them lot. It wasn’t a game for purists, but a game for people who love blood and thunder derby games. A back pass held up in a puddle, Withe put them lot 1;0 up. Broadhurst was stretchered off. It would be his last contribution for a good many months. We were awarded a penalty in the second half. Noel Blake took responsibility, but his weak effort was easily saved. We lost, though the Zulus had won on the Holte and in the Witton Lane stand. At the end, I made to a place I could spot Les. I missed what happened on the final whistle, but can easily believe it happened still. McMahon held his fingers up to indicate the score, he aimed it at Blake, who promptly head butted the Scouse idiot. I’ve since heard stories of what Noel Blake got up to at school. He’s not someone you should mess with. If the attendance for Shrewsbury in the League Cup had been bad, the one for Derby at home at the same stage of the same competition was even worse. Not much worse, but still worse and so Mick Harford’s hattrick was only seen by 7,786. The missing fans also missed someone setting off a firework on the running track at the bottom of the Tilton. I missed Spurs at home and the set to that the Zulus had with their mob on the pitch. It was back on the road, albeit the short one to the Hawthorns. Not only did Blues win 2:1, but it was the first time I’d seen Blues win away after 7 previous attempts. Two things stood out other than the win secured with goals from Harford and Gayle, one of them was watching Blues play in blue shorts. I still find it a little strange watching Blues in anything deviating from their preferred colours. I don’t know why that is, seeing that I’m fast approaching 300 away games. (Or was before fans were banned.) The other was meeting 2 Arsenal fans in the Buffet at Wolverhampton. I actually can’t remember where they were heading, other than they weren’t related to one another and didn’t live in London. Why should meeting them stand out? Arsenal had thrashed them lot at Vile Park 6:2. It had been a Tony Woodcock masterclass. A good day all round. Coventry City at home was a disaster. We had been leading 1:0 when Harford went up for a header with Sam Allardyce. Yeah yeah, THAT Sam Allardyce. Allardyce unleashed an elbow that laid Mick out cold. If it had have happened today, Allardyce would have been sent off, banned and possibly hung, drawn and quartered. He’d have definitely have been burnt at the stake. Harford was whisked off to hospital to have 80 stitches inserted both inside and outside of his mouth by one of the seamstresses employed by the NHS. What happened to Allardyce? Didn’t even get a talking to. I still find myself wanting to kick the television screen in if I see the bloke on it. It completely disrupted our shape, Coventry equalising and going in front. The game finished with Blakey trying to bolster our attack while trying to do his defensive job. It was to leave a huge gap as Harford had been pushing for an England place, such was his good form. it was back on the road for the next one. Well, it was actually on the ‘Football Special’. No idea why, other than it was a vain attempt to monitor travelling support more closely and to try and keep them together, but British Rail briefly laid on special trains. Luton and Kenilworth Road was one of the fixtures they decided on. It was to be one of those quirky events that no end of planning can legislate for. Had it been just one day earlier, it would have read 11th of November, 1:1 draw, away goal scored by a player with 11 on his shirt, with the attendance 11,111. Saturday was the 12th, but everything else happened. Telford had made the 1st round of the F.A.Cup again. I know I went, but don’t remember anything about it. They beat Stockport 3:0. Doesn’t sound much now, but Stockport were in the League. There would be more to come though. It was back to Blues and Sunderland at home. Me and Les met a Sunderland fan on the way to the ground, he asked us for directions, we admitted that we were going to the game, and he asked if he could join us. He didn’t even want to go in the away end, he just wanted to see the game. I found it strange, but he was happy, Sunderland won 1:0. I hadn’t seen any of the 4 games of the League Cup tie marathon against Notts County because they fell on school nights. Liverpool in the 4th round, was scheduled for after I had broken up for Christmas. Other than we drew 1:1 after equalising, I don’t remember anything else. We lost the replay 2 days later.

I was to take a break from watching Blues, not because I wanted to as such, but because I was relying on being completely subsidised. Although Blues, I was happy just attending as many games as I was able to and with anyone who would put up with me. With Christmas and New Year over and done with, the first game on my Blues holiday was Shrewsbury v Portsmouth on the second day of the year. I went with Val and John. Shrewsbury won 2:0 but the thing I remember the most about the game was going in the pub before the game and there being loads of Pompey fans in there. Telford had smashed Rochdale 4:1 away in the 3rd round of the F.A.Cup, Blues had managed to scrape past Walsall in a replay. Blues had been drawn away at Sunderland, Telford had been drawn away at Derby in the 4th round. Sunderland wasn’t on the agenda, but with ‘cup fever’ gripping the town of Telford for the second season in a row, all and sundry were commissioning coaches for the game. A friend of mine whose Dad worked at a factory that was organising coach travel, asked if I fancied it. As kids do, I jumped at the chance without asking if it was ok with the power brokers. Knowing that it was an organised trip, my Mom released some of her hard earned cash. The Baseball ground was a notorious mud heap between the middle of September until the start of April. We met up in the pub opposite the gates of the factory my mates Dad worked at. As we messed around on the pool table, news arrived that the game had been called off. Shrewsbury were playing Ipswich at home. Hasty arrangements were made to travel over for the game. Instead of asking to be dropped off home, I of course, tagged along. We weren’t the only Telford followers to travel over to Shrewsbury and fighting broke out during the game on the riverside terracing between Shrewsbury and Telford. We had gone in the seats. (I did say that I was just tagging along.) Shrewsbury, who had by now, become a well respected team in the Second Division, beat First Division Ipswich, who were on the slide down, 2:0. Ipswich were never going to be the same once the invitation to become the England national side supremo, had proved too much of an attraction for the great Bobby Robson. The game had been televised by the BBC for Match of the Day. I was sat in line with Gary Hackett’s superb curling effort for one of the goals. Grandstand used it for their opening credits. The eagle eyed will easily spot me watching on. Amazingly, it never eschewed the raft of complaints from viewers who had either become instantly nauseous or their televisions had melted in protest, as it probably should’ve. This is where I thank my now deceased, long suffering Mom for finding money that she really couldn’t afford, for the rescheduled Derby versus Telford game. Kids really are oblivious to the trials and tribulations that parents go through, I was no different. I knew things were financially difficult, I wasn’t that unaware, but I was lucky to be blessed with a mother who was truly a domestic economic genius. The game was just 4 days after the Shrewsbury v Ipswich game. It was also on a school night, not only did she find the money, but she allowed me to go. The game itself was full of drama. Ultimately, Telford succumbed to a 3:2 defeat to their Second Division opponents, but it took a Bobby Davison hattrick to see them off. Miraculously, Blues came away from their trip to Roker Park with a 2:1 victory. Blues were then paired with West Ham at home in the 5th round. No idea who was drawn out with Shrewsbury.

It was back to Blues, though as you will read if you’ve the stomach to drag yourself through the rest of this rubbish, there was still a couple of other games. (Put the knife down, it’s not sharp enough to slash your wrists with.) The home game with Wolves is best forgotten. It must be, I’ve forgotten absolutely everything about the 0:0 draw. If I hadn’t kept a record of all the league and cup games I’ve been to, I wouldn’t even know I’d watched it. The 5th round game with West Ham was to make much more of an impression on me and my memory bank. This is going to sound strange after writing so much about the F.A.Cup, but up until now, I hadn’t realised how important the competition was in supporters psyche. Blues average crowd had been around 15,000, for the visit of West Ham, it was 29,570. The attendance included at least 8,000 Cockneys. My honest opinion, the figure was closer to 10,000. Either way, there was more of us than usual. Saunders and Blues did a job on high flying West Ham and we beat them 3:0. That wasn’t the half of it though. Where I was in the Kop, I had a fantastic view of hundreds of ICF (West Ham’s firm.) Trying to get the game abandoned by invading the pitch. They were, of course, met with staunch resistance from the Zulus. After much disruption, the game finished, Blues were in the quarter finals………or were we. As the dust settled, there were calls for us to be expunged. It wasn’t to be, we were to play Watford in the 6th round. On the way back home, we got talking to a couple of West Ham fans on the platform at New Street station. They’d left with 5 minutes to go. In another dimension, it could’ve been me sat on that bench. Except for the colours our clubs played in, they were kindred spirits. I’ve documented what happened between the two cup games. Luckily for anyone who’s got the fortitude to still be ploughing through this garbage, I’m not going to go over it again. All I will say is that I should’ve concentrated on my school work and not just spent the time daydreaming about semifinals and Wembley. So Watford beat us, and the season was all but over. Blues took a back seat again. Next up was a game between Shrewsbury and Newcastle. Newcastle were on their way up, they’d managed to secure the service’s of Kevin Keegan. Although his first season hadn’t gone the way it was planned, his second season was humming along quite nicely. I don’t want to sound disparaging towards Shrewsbury fans, (How can I? I’ve family who are Shrewsbury fans.) but they’re not quite as boisterous as some clubs fans. Me and Les went in the home end and both wished we’d gone in the away end. We may have not been able to see as the away end was packed with Geordies, but the atmosphere was one of party. We moved to the end of the Riverside terracing nearest the Newcastle fans. We climbed on the concrete block supporting the floodlight pylon and preceded to watch a thoroughly entertaining 2:2 draw. We spent most of the game joining in with the travelling support. The short journey back to Wellington was spent stood up on a packed train. I particularly remember a Geordie wearing glasses just making the train. He’d been running round Shrewsbury trying to find some beer for the train. He got on with a four pack of Newcastle Brown Ale. (What else?…….) By the time we’d arrived at Wellington, a mere 10 minutes later, he’d drunk 3 cans. I also spotted a girl i knew from school, and her friend, who were trying to board the train, they were too far away and in all honesty, there wasn’t enough room for them where we were. I was far too naive to suggest squeezing up. Where’s that Tardis? The next Friday, Les gave me the option of going over to Shrewsbury to the cinema, or watch Shrewsbury versus Blackburn. I think he would’ve preferred to watch a film in the warm. For me, there wasn’t an option, and I dragged him to the game. It rained all evening and Shrewsbury won a fairly boring game 1:0. Given the same choice now, I’d still do the same. That’s the trouble with addiction. The last day of March was to bring the last Blues victory of the season. In fact, it was to prove the only victory between getting beaten by Watford in the quarter final and the end of the season. It was to be my first victory in the Second City Derby though. The attendance was a hugely disappointing but entirely understandable 23,993. The missing fans missed Howard Gayle scoring the winner early in the second half, before running towards the Kop to climb to the top of the perimeter fencing and acclaim his success. I missed all the games in April but went to the home game versus Liverpool on May 8th. We desperately needed a win, but a 0:0 draw was still a point. Liverpool were on their way to winning yet more trophies so a point against them was a good one. The last game of the season brought Southampton to St Andrews. We needed to win to stay up. It had been a rollercoaster of a season and we were heading full pelt towards the Second Division. The story had broken in the tabloids that Peter Shilton had been ‘playing away’ and he hadn’t been wearing his kit at the time. The girl in question was named as Tina. During the game, the whole of the Kop aimed a song at Shilts, claiming that we’d all had elicit relations with the poor girl. The ball was at the end Blues were defending, England’s custodian stood on his penalty spot with his hands on his hips, staring daggers at the Kop. (Can’t put that in your canned crowd effects.) The closest we came to scoring was a Billy Wright screamer of a free kick that hit the post. 0:0 signalled relegation. It had been one Hell of a season, one that had promised so much but had ended in disappointment and dismay.

FOOTNOTE:- For those wondering why I didn’t post anything last week, I just hit a patch of ‘can’t be bothered’. Apathy is quite a big player in depression circles. I’d like to say it won’t happen again, but it probably will at some point.

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