Ending Up On The Wrong End Of A Yoyo.

As he went about dismantling Smith’s team after he’d been appointed, so Saunders did the same with the team that had been relegated. Or maybe that’s how it could’ve looked. In truth, it was an excuse to break up the circle of friends that had been causing off field mischief. Blake was sold to Portsmouth for £150,000, replaced by Ken Armstrong for £90,000. Howard Gayle was sold to Blackburn. Within a week of each other, Pat Van Den Hauwe was sold to Everton for £100,000 and Tony Coton was sold to Watford for £320,000. Saunders then shelled out £100,000 on an unknown David Seaman from Peterborough United and £10,000 on Mark Prudhoe from Sunderland in the hope of replacing Tony Coton. Coton had been impressing with his performances in goal. On the day Seaman was signed, he was named in the England under 21 squad. Surely they’d got it wrong. After watching his debut versus Blackburn, we all thought they’d got it wrong. Look at me, I’m getting ahead of myself. Rewind back to the start of the season. An own goal gave us a 1:0 victory away at Oldham. I didn’t go, I was in a field somewhere outside Bishops Castle in deepest, darkest Shropshire, at a steam festival involving loads of traction engines. I was there for the first home game versus Wimbledon. Although only a crowd of 10,445 bothered turning up, they were treated to an end to end game that Blues easily won 4:2. This Second Division lark was going to be a breeze. By the time Carlisle came to St Andrews, we were 4 wins from 4. After dispatching the Cumbrians 2:0, it was 5 from 5. This was going to be easy. I was now at college. Though looking back retrospectively, I’m not entirely sure why I bothered. I suppose the only alternative was the new YTS schemes that the government had put in place to keep the unemployment figures down. Not being at school anymore meant that Mom eased up with her restrictions on me. I was allowed to go to night games now and Portsmouth was a night game. It also brought back both Kevin Dillon and of course, Noel Blake. It also brought a mob of Portsmouth who had a go with the Zulus. Our winning start came to an end. We lost 1:0. Perhaps it wasn’t going to be all plain sailing after all. 4 days later, and we were up and running again. The short visit to Molyneux brought a 2:0 victory. Made all the more sweeter after what happened to me and Les. I was getting taller, well, taller than your average traffic bollard (i said bollard, not what you were thinking.) We went up the back of the South Bank away end. At the time, Les had the habit of chewing gum. Not something I’ve really ever been in to. To be honest, I’m too lazy and too tight to bother with the stuff. It’s far too much effort for too little reward and you don’t even eat the stuff but throw it away. That brings me nicely round to what happened. Once the chewing gum had turned to the consistency and flavour of rubber, Les used to throw the stuff over the crowd in front. In retrospect, it wasn’t the nicest of things to do really. Try getting the stuff out of your hair. Anyway, I digress. Les was spotted by Ol Bill. The next thing I know, Les was grabbed, arm up the back, and he was being frog marched out. He was being ejected at the least. My protests that he was my brother was met with the stark choice, I could go with him but I wouldn’t be let back in (I hadn’t the money anyway.) or stay and watch the game. Les assured me he’d be fine, so I stayed but moved away from where we were stood. I was a bit disoriented. If truth be told. I felt a bit paranoid that I was now a marked man. I kept moving round the terrace. Blues were doing the business on the pitch, and the second half brought 2 goals. That obviously upset the Wolves fans and some of them then proceeded to sneak round the back of the away end to a patch of waste ground. They then grabbed bits of rubble, lobbing it over the wall and on to us. I know, because a piece of masonry broke up when it hit the back of my head. Several more of us were hit and obviously we all moved away from where it was landing. Some grabbed the missiles and chucked them back, most were just trying to take cover. A couple of Blues fans even pretended to act like Space Invaders from the arcade game. (It was the mid 80s after all.) Blues fans will find fun in absolutely anything. We won 2:0. As we were coming out of the ground, the Ol Bill decided that they really did need to do their job properly, and chased after the missile throwers. I didn’t actually know what to do. Les had got the train tickets and I hadn’t a clue where he was. I walked back to the station with my eyes scanning for my brother. When I got to the station, I spotted him. He was casually leant up against a post outside the entrance. Turned out the Ol Bill that had grabbed him, thought Les had thrown a cigarette. They’d searched him and had even checked his fingers for nicotine stains. After he’d been released outside the ground, he’d walked round for a bit, before going in the North Bank as soon as they’d opened the exit gates. So he’d seen a bit of the game. I don’t remember anything from the home win against Huddersfield, but Blackburn I did. Blackburn, along with us, were in the promotion mix that had developed at the top of the table. It was to be David Seaman’s first game. We lost 2:0 and both goals were down to his mistakes. Little did I know then, but he was to make a habit of making mistakes on his debut. Once he’d got his debut out of the way, he’d then go on to be a brilliant keeper, but I don’t suppose I’ve been the only one to have looked at him on his debut and wondered why the Hell he was playing. I then embarked on a sequence of four 0:0 draws with Blues. Unsurprisingly, I don’t remember anything about them other than it was sunny versus Oxford and the 0:0 versus the Baggies was in League Cup and it was a night game. At least I had the respite of watching Telford beat Lincoln 2:1 in the F.A.Cup 1st round replay between the 3rd and 4th 0:0. At least we scored against Fulham. Scored twice in fact, but we looked frail as a side. Not a team that had got the strength to get promoted. Fulham were a side we should’ve been beating, not drawing 2:2. January brought our entrance to the F.A.Cup. it also brought our exit, but not before a Titanic battle with Norwich. It took 4 games to part us. In fact, the fourth round was played on the same day as our 2nd replay. Telford hadn’t had the same problems as us, Lincoln, Preston away and now Bradford had been despatched. While Steve Bruce was scoring the winner in the 3rd round 3rd replay, Telford were playing Darlington at home in the 4th round replay. Their reward would be a trip to Goodison Park if they won. Telford’s 3:0 victory was probably the closest I would ever come to feeling what it would be like if things ever did take off at the Bucks Head and they managed to get in the League. Well over 8,000 packed into the old Bucks Head and the result was never in doubt. Darlington were promoted that season but you would’ve thought Telford were the League team. Bizarrely, they’re in the same league now, but I’ve watched Blues play Darlington in the League. Both Eddie Hogan and John Alcock’s goals that night need to be viewed on YouTube to fully understand and appreciate how good they actually were. I certainly can’t do either justice on here. If I’m being totally honest, I really wanted to go to Goodison Park to watch Telford’s 5th round game, but it was scheduled on the same day as Blues versus Manchester City. Manchester City were also in the promotion mix with us. Unfortunately, the weather put paid to our game, and it was postponed. I’d left it too late for a ticket for the Everton game and so missed out, as what felt like, half the population of Telford travelled up to Merseyside. The galling thing is that I didn’t even get to the rearranged game versus City. Telford lost 3:0 at the soon to be champions, and I can safely say, ‘I wasn’t there!’ I made do with an away game, albeit Shrewsbury, at the end of the month. Nothing actually stands out from the game other than we played in red and we lost 1:0. March 2nd brought a much needed 3:0 victory away at Oxford. I didn’t go, but much was reported of the off the field violence that the Zulus indulged in. The violence the Leeds firm carried out at the Manor Ground during their defeat to Oxford was televised by the BBC, and drew wrath from all corners of the media. It’s all history now, but the shocking scenes at the Leeds game weren’t a patch on what happened when the Zulus went there according to the national press that covered both games. The nastiest firms around the country were competing against each other for top billing. Games were running out in the push for promotion. Results were far more important than style. It was a good job, as our team had no style. Notts County was a squeaky 2:1 win, Brighton was a 1:1 draw in front of only 8,983. We needed some kind of injection to get us over the line. It came in the shape of a young kid from north of the border. Andy Kennedy was deemed surplus to Rangers requirements. Along with David Geddis and Wayne Clarke, we now had players who knew where the goal was. We didn’t travel down to Pompey in April, but plenty of Zulus did, and Portsmouth was taken over by them. Me and Les went to watch Telford play at home. I’ve absolutely no idea who they played, let alone the score. Les had decided to take his transistor radio with him in the hope we’d be able to follow the Blues game. Tuning into Radio WM used to prove a bit of a lottery in Telford. Trying to tune into BRMB was impossible unless you had an aerial at least 50 foot long. I haven’t tuned into WM since I was married, so I couldn’t tell you if they still do it, but at the time, WM used play a jingle to signal a goal had been scored just before they reported on the actual goal itself. The jingle sounded like one of those customised car horns that were big in the 70s and 80s. It had the effect of everything stopping coupled with a mad dash towards the radio to see who had scored. Until it was announced which ground the goal had been scored at, silence was imperative. Standing there (You always stood rigid.) with baited breath, it was with a sigh of relief and even a hint of disappointment, when it was revealed that it wasn’t a game you were bothered about. WM covered ‘The Big Six’. The big six consisted of us, Vile, Baggies, Wolves, Coventry and Walsall. A goal horn for Highfield Road or Fellows Park, was almost always a relief and a disappointment. It was from these goal horns that I started to learn the names of other clubs home grounds. These days, they have ridiculous advertising names, but back then, names of grounds became as common to me as the name of the club that played at them. In fact, I probably had more trouble remembering names of pupils in the same form as me, than I did with who played where. I remember it being a nice day weather wise (Even if I can’t actually remember who Telford were playing.) I have no idea what goal brought the first goal horn, but it brought plenty of quizzical looks as me and Les stopped watching the game we were at to hear who had scored. If the first first goal horn brought quizzical looks, imagine the looks we got when a goal horn signalled Blues had taken the lead and caused me and Les to jump around like loons. Another goal horn, cue more jumping up and down, cue more quizzical looks. Three times we jumped up and down like loons before Fratton Park saw a late goal for the home team. Blues had beaten one of their promotion rivals on their own patch 3:1, and Geddis had scored a hattrick. I know you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time, but even if you measured the distance from the goalline of each goal and then added those distances together, you probably still wouldn’t make the penalty spot, but to us, they were screamers. It was the shot in the arm we needed. Two home games in four days versus south London opposition, brought 2 victories, though I remember thinking that we struggled against Charlton. We certainly didn’t blow teams away at St Andrews. It was definitely just workmanlike. We had been better on our travels. As I didn’t get the opportunity to watch many away games, I missed out. We’d engineered ourselves into the position of needing just a win against Cardiff at home to rubber stamp promotion with games still to play. The crowd that assembled for a game that would see us seal promotion was indicative of how bad things had got in terms of style of football, violence and domestic finances. Only 15,868 turned up to watch us secure the win that would see us promoted just a year after being relegated. We were to miss out on the championship trophy, but nobody cared. The last game of the season brought events that would shock the country. 24,871 people were at St Andrews for the visit of Leeds. That attendance was two people short of what it should’ve been. Me and Les were due to go to the game. We even turned up at the station to catch the train over to Brum. What transpired, was we got stuck behind someone who was travelling from one end of the country to the other and wanted to know all the connections they needed. As they were being dealt with, one train came and went. Once their inquiries had been dealt with, they moved. The person in front of us in the queue just happened to be someone else who needed help with their travel. Time was going faster than the enquiry was. The next train to Brum came and went. The next train was then cancelled. It meant we weren’t going to make kickoff. We gave up, but went down to the bus station in the vain hope that we’d be able to get a bus. We could’ve got one, but we wouldn’t have got to Brum before the match ended. We were stranded. We went back home. We turned the radio into WM and sat back, relaxed in the knowledge that at least we were already promoted. I’ve watched footage of what happened at St Andrews and read pretty much all there is to read on events of that day. The death of a young Leeds fan from Northampton crushed due to a wall being pushed over, ironically by Leeds fans, was overshadowed by the disaster at Valley Parade in Bradford. The hold up at Blues by what was a pitched (Operative word.) battle between Zulus and the Leeds crew, was nothing compared to the horrendous loss of life that perished in a fire that had started and taken hold in the main stand. The hooliganism at Blues and in Brum would be the worst seen in this country. Not that I was there to see any of it. It was probably the darkest day in British football. It wouldn’t be the only event of hooliganism that season, it certainly wasn’t the first but it also wouldn’t be the last. 39 people were to die at Heysel stadium in Brussels, Belgium on 29th May at the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool. I’m not going to point fingers at anyone but none of the dead were from England.

The season after wasn’t a great one in terms of getting to games, in fact I only went to seven games. Like I’ve said before, I was 100% subsidised. The first game I went to came when I was on holiday at Val and John’s. I’d travelled down on the same day as Blues played at Watford. John hadn’t been aware of it, otherwise we would’ve gone, as Watford was close to where they were now living. I hadn’t been aware of how close it was and didn’t think that John would want to go, so hadn’t bothered saying anything. We had Chelsea away during the week, but unfortunately, he was at work. I was more than happy with setting for Arsenal versus Leicester on the following Saturday though, as I was desperate to get to any game. My first visit to Highbury wasn’t as good as I was hoping. Arsenal won a drab game 1:0. My first Blues game was to be another drab affair. Blues and Vile playing out a 0:0 draw. I didn’t get to another game until Chelsea at home. All I remember from the 2:1 defeat was that the pitch was a mud bath. The next game was to be a bit special though. Not because we won, because we didn’t, but because it was an away game. Val and John were up visiting over the Christmas holidays and they’d decided to drive up to Manchester for United’s game versus us lot on the first day of 1986. John’s brother Martin fancied doing the game too, so on the way from Bridgnorth, they picked me and Les up in Wellington and we headed north. The attendances at Blues had been getting worse but attendances at Ol Trafford were holding up. As we hit the edge of Manchester, all the bus stops were full of United fans, by the time we’d parked up, my mouth was permanently open such was the amount of United fans there were. Walking to the ground, we split up, Val stayed with me and Les, Martin stopped with John. We joined the meagre queue of Blues gaining entry. There was roughly a thousand Blues fans there in an attendance of 43,095. It was another world compared to Blues. I don’t know how they managed it, but John and Martin were in the section of United fans to our right. It was definitely so John could keep his eye on Val. Once or twice, we waved to each other as we watched the game. I say watched the game, what I mean is, we watched United completely dominate the match. There was a few bright spots for Blues though. We managed to hold it to just a 1:0 defeat, no disgrace. David Seaman was brilliant and not only was the extremely young Julian Dicks showing great potential, but he was to be the first player I watched, that was younger than me. These days, even the managers are much younger than me, but at the time, I remember feeling kind of strange that a player could actually be younger than me. He may have been just a month younger, but he was younger. Things had been going bad for Blues on the pitch but they were to get worse. The original game had been postponed due to the mud bath turning into a bog. By the time the game was played,, any enthusiasm we had for going to the game had vanished. I didn’t even bother to stay in to follow events. With Altrincham being only Non-League and the game being at Blues, I took it for granted that we’d easily win. I got home from my evening out and the first thing I did was ask Les how we’d got on. His reply is was something that has stayed with me till this day and will be something I’ll never forget even if I was to become immortal. “Hoppy scored twice” I was expecting an inevitable landslide of a score, “And we lost 2:1” It wouldn’t be the only time that season i would feel like I’d been run over by a fully loaded articulated lorry. I was stunned, I thought he was winding me up. He even had to show me on teletext just to prove he wasn’t lying. The only good thing that came out of it, was at least Saunders resigned. The bizarre thing though, was that the Baggies offered him a job to take over as their manager. John Bond was to take over us. Even with plenty of games to go, the rot was so bad that he would be powerless to rectify the slide. He did try to make us much more attacking, but in all honesty, that wasn’t hard. Not only had there been a change of management, but a change of ownership. Keith Coombs hadn’t been prudent with the family money, and lack of finance had forced him to seek a buyer. That buyer came in the shape of local scrap dealer and Walsall owner, Ken Weldon. Things were to go from bad to worse. Initially, we sparked into life. Not much life admittedly, but a little. More than the corpse we’d been imitating anyway. March 1st would be the next game I got to and the only win I would see from Blues that season. You’d think that I’d actually remember it, but I don’t. I do actually remember the 1:1 draw against Manchester United though. I don’t remember our goal, but I do remember an effort from Ray Ranson that was ruled out. Ranson hit a terrific shot from outside the area. It flew in the net. It was ruled out because Ian Handysides was stood two yards away from him. Unfortunately, he was stood in an offside position. It was harsh on Blues, but I’ve found over the years that referees favour teams at the top of the league with decisions they make. It’s not something that is exclusive of Blues. I’ve seen it happen in games not involving Blues and in all leagues. It’s almost like it’s unwritten referee’s code. The last game that season brought Arsenal to St Andrews. As I’ve already written about that in the post headed ‘Highlighted In Pink’, I won’t go back over it again, but I wanted to be in Dundee. For the record, we lost every one of our last 7 games. Relegated 12 months after getting promoted. We were on the wrong end of a…….. you get it.

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