Hopping Over Broken Glass.

The first game I went to of Pendrey’s reign, I’ve already written about, so you’ll be extremely glad to know that I won’t be boring you by repeating any of that day. Or what was going on in my life. We’d started well. Very well in fact. Not only had we won our first 2 games, but they were away games. It was just a shame we couldn’t have just stopped the season there and then. From then, it was down hill at full speed. After beating the Vile at the cesspit, we had Mansfield at home in the League Cup. We lost 1:0. Nobody cared because we’d beaten ‘them lot’. After going 1:0 up against Bournemouth, I remember bouncing up and down with a perfect stranger before singing “We are top of the league” with him. Bournemouth of course, equalised and the dream of promotion died there and then. As I’d joined a football team that played in a Saturday league, I was only going to night games and the odd Saturday afternoon game. I don’t remember anything from the 1:0 win home game versus Blackburn or the 0:0 game against Shrewsbury at St Andrews. The away game at the Hawthorns wasn’t full of memories, but I do remember catching sight of a girl packing up a market stall and lusting over her. Right up until she opened up her mouth and said something in a Yam yam accent you could’ve hacked at with a chainsaw, it was that thick. An accent like that must’ve proven an excellent contraceptive. As I’ve already stated, I was into collecting programmes. Although it actually devalues the item, autographs tend to be collected on either the back or the front of them. I liked the novelty of buying back issues that had them on. I wasn’t one for hanging around in the hope of collecting autographs off players, but I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture a couple of Blues players signatures as they got off the team coach outside the ground. We lost the game 3:1. Because of scrambling around in the mud on a Saturday afternoon, I didn’t get to another game until November. Whenever the team did get a free Saturday, I took a game in. November brought a 2:2 home draw versus Leicester which I don’t remember. I must’ve felt like I’d been missing something because 3 days later, I got the train over to Shrewsbury and along with about 150 Sheffield United fans, went in the away end for their 2:0 defeat. I was starting to lose the enthusiasm for playing football. It was either that or it was getting in the way of what I truly enjoyed, and that was watching it instead. The trouble was that when I did miss playing a match, I was getting grief from my team mates. They couldn’t understand why I would prefer to watch professional football as opposed to playing in a meaningless game (Well it was to me anyway). Maybe had I been able to kick a ball consistently straight and thus actually enjoy playing much more, then maybe my enthusiasm would’ve been a lot higher. For me, I was only ever Polyfilla. So as my mates played whoever wherever, I watched Blues get beaten by the Vile. Losing made me focus on playing a bit more but it wasn’t to last. The Christmas period brought my first ever double game day. Something I wasn’t able to repeat until a couple of seasons ago. Val, John, John’s brother Martin and me drove over to Shrewsbury. By that, I mean John drove. It wasn’t like we either took turns or collectively held the steering wheel and fought to control the pedals. That would have been stupid, dangerous and there just wasn’t enough room to attempt it anyway. First on the agenda, was an extremely boring 0:0 draw between Shrewsbury Town and Birmingham City. It was though, a fantastic achievement by Blues. It was to be the first time I’d seen anything better than a 1:0 defeat from us. A point at the Gay Meadow? It was unheard of. The early kickoff wasn’t quite early enough to make kickoff at the second game, but for me even with the 0:0 draw, it was second billing anyway. Wolves were on the way up. Bull was making a mockery of Saunders view that he wasn’t good enough by scoring and scoring. They beat Leyton Orient 2:0. Martin didn’t shut up in the car on the journey home. A typical Wolves fan, world beaters if they win, relegation certainties if they lose. The fact that it can be after consecutive games is irrelevant. He was and still is, naturally funny and although he was relentless in his praise for the tatty yellow and black. His grasp of humour meant that my sides ached from so much laughing as I got out of the car. It was back to night games and also I was working now. I say working, it was just a government scheme that massaged the unemployment figures. A three day a week job gave me twice my dole money. The job was in Coalbrookdale as part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. I digress, I’d decided that I could and would go to Blues versus Millwall from work. I got the bus from Ironbrige to Telford Town Centre as the wind got worse. I was drinking by now and on the walk to the ground from the city centre, decided to wander down the back streets. I spotted a pub that looked viable for after the game. The game itself was hampered by the wind that was really a storm in all but rain. Blues scored the goal that won it, but it wasn’t the best of games due to it resembling a huge game of blow football. If the ball had been blown off the pitch to be trodden on and flattened by an unsuspecting relative, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I went back to Billy’s Bar. As I was getting served, a bloke asked me about the game. He was with two others, all wearing suits. I stated that although we’d won the game, the wind made the ball look like it was a ping pong ball. One of the blokes in an extremely cheap looking, too shiny suit laughed at my description. It was then I recognised who it was. I was used to him appearing on telly in a terrible soap opera in overalls and a woollen hat. Paul Henry in the flesh. Well, cheap looking shiny suit. Blues had managed to get through to the 5th round of the F.A.Cup. They were drawn at home against First Division Nottingham Forest. There was no way I was going to miss this one. The game was made all ticket and tickets went on sale on a Saturday morning. At one point, I did wonder if I was going to make it back to play in the afternoon, but had I not, I wouldn’t have been too bothered. I was more intrigued as to whether I could physically manage traipsing over to Brum and then making it back in time for kickoff than I was with actually playing. The attendance for Millwall had been 5,819. For Forrest, it was 34,494. Little did I know at the time, but it would be the last time I would be ‘officially’ be in a crowd of over 30,000 at St Andrews. The Forrest hooligan firm travelled over in numbers and made their presence felt by walking unopposed to the ground. After the game would be different. Crosby scored what was the only goal of the game. Forrest kept us out easily at arms length. In all honesty, Clough’s team were much better than us and didn’t really need to, and didn’t have to get out of first gear. Coming out of the ground, it was apparent that something was kicking off. I was to have a front row seat to what went on. The other side of the railway track at the time was the beginnings of a building site. The Zulus had congregated in numbers and were calling the Forrest firm on. Forrest were backed off before the mounted Ol Bill split the waring factions. The building site made for a good supply of weapons and missiles. As the Zulus tried to get at their Forrest counterparts, one participant ran towards a mounted copper before unleashing what appeared to be a house brick. It hit the horse full on the side of its head. The horse stumbled, startled and fell sidewards before managing to scramble back to it’s feet. It appeared to be none the worse for wear though its rider must’ve felt the animals weight as he’d been powerless to escape from underneath the animal. In amongst the chaos, the rider was able to clamber back on as more and more flashing blue light backup chased both sets away. All I needed was some popcorn to enhance what I was watching. It was strange being so close to what was some really nasty violence, content in the knowledge that I and everyone else that was watching it unfold, were perfectly safe. Not only was there a railway track between us and what happened, but It lay at the bottom of a cutting. That’s without the fencing. I don’t think I bothered playing football on a Saturday after that game. How on earth could it ever compare with going and watching football? I wasn’t to go to another Blues game that season, but I was to venture into some proper ground hopping.

Up until then I’d only done a rather pathetic 12 grounds. By that, I don’t mean that the grounds themselves were pathetic, just my personal total. I don’t believe any ground is pathetic……ok, maybe Salford City’s present one and Forest Green’s proposed one’s are, but none of the rest. I know for the majority of my life I’d been subsidised, but still, I wasn’t really proud of myself. Given my age now, I’m still not proud of my total of grounds, but it’s better than it was. Makes me wonder how many I would’ve done had it not been for this pandemic, but I wistfully, forlornly digress. So what got me started on ground hopping? Well as I’ve stated before, my brother-in-law John. He would, and still does, go to a game just for the Hell of it. He and Val had a spare Saturday. Saturday is made for watching football. It’s the 11th commandment. “Thou shalt watch football on a Saturday.” I’m being flippant of course, but you can get the picture. I don’t know why he was so taken with the idea of watching Port Vale versus Preston North End in particular, but it pricked my enthusiasm. I remember it being a really good game, and a few of the locals dancing aggressively with some Lancastrians. It made for a brilliant atmosphere, albeit not a huge crowd. Something inspired me that I could do this sort of thing on my own. The week after, I took my first steps. Walsall versus Southend United. I got the train over to Walsall and went in a pub I liked the look of. I started chatting to a couple of Walsall fans who gave me a lift to and from the ground. Seven days later, and I was off to Hereford versus Stockport. They’re both Non-League clubs now, but at the time, it was a League game. A League game that the away team won 1:0. Stockport were to even make the playoffs that had they been successful in, would’ve led to them playing in the Premier League. That was in their future though. Coventry against Oxford was the next game, 4 different grounds in 4 weeks. I was starting to do research on grounds and how to get to them. I had learned that Highfield Road was a bus ride, two bus rides. In truth, it wasn’t, but I wasn’t to know that until I did the game. A game that was in the top division at the time. In this week of European Super League drama and indignation, i still look on in wonderment at how football clubs fortune’s can change and change so quickly. Although the game itself was boring, before the match, I’d walked up a road in search of a pub. Nothing out of the ordinary in that, but only one pint later, I retraced my steps back along the same road. In the meantime, there’d been a car accident. Had I had a mobile phone with a camera on it, or even access to a navy blue police box type time travelling spaceship……and a mobile phone with a camera on it, I would’ve taken a photo. In fact, given the opportunity, I would’ve filmed it happen. Ok, now I’ve built it up, I’ve got to attempt to describe it (Sidwell, you can’t half be a muppet at times.) A car had obviously been going too fast and had lost control as it went round the bend in the road, it shunted a parked car so hard that, the car in front of that one had somehow been flipped up into the air and had landed precariously on the boot of the one in front and the bonnet of the car behind. It was as though a crane had deliberately and delicately placed it there. It was that impressive, it would’ve made a really cool piece of modern urban art. As you’re no doubt looking at your device and trying to picture what I’m failing badly to describe, I’ll just say this. You really needed to see it. Thankfully, there wasn’t an ambulance in sight. Amazingly as there was a number of fans milling around and the road was fairly busy. It really is strange how things stick in your memory and believe me, that crash was strange. Mind you, you’ll have to take my badly descriptive words for it. The last of what was to be 5 different grounds on 5 consecutive Saturdays, was Gresty Road. Crewe Alexandra against Darlington. it was just before the Dario Gradi years. Crewe still won 3.1 though. What I remember the most was the train back. I got chatting to a fellow passenger who turned out to be a talent scout for Wolves. Obviously I was a little sceptical, so he showed me his official pass. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the bloke sat opposite to us just happened to be one of the linesman (None of your referees assistant rubbish back then.) from the game we’d just watched. I was in awe to be honest. It was great listening to them break the game down we’d all been at. I’m not too proud to admit that some of it went over my head. Ok, most of it did. I did contribute at times but I don’t suppose anything I uttered was actually useful. I was and still am, just a fan of a game that he thinks he knows more about than he actually does. Every now and again I get something spot on, but more than likely it’s just luck and not judgement. Infinite number of monkeys, infinite number of typewriters, eventually one of them will come up with the entire works of Shakespeare. No idea who came up with that, but it’s pure brilliance. I’m only thankful that I’m able to remember it. I don’t know why, but according to my records, I didn’t go to a game for a fortnight, but when I did go back on the road, or more to the point, tracks. It was to The Victoria Ground for Stoke City’s game versus Swindon Town. Other than a bit of platform dancing at the station afterwards. (It really was dancing too. One lad threw a kick so far away from it’s target that it looked like a badly choreographed stage production of West Side Story.) nothing else stands out from the day. I went back to Fellows Park for my last ground hop of the season. A 0.0 versus Gillingham. Why go back? Walsall were close to being promoted to the Second Division, it was a big game. The 0.0 meant that they had to settle for the new playoffs. The season was at an end.

FOOTNOTE:- The reason for the title is that in his first programme notes, Gary Pendrey wrote that he would’ve walked barefoot over broken glass to take the position as manager of Birmingham City. I wonder how he felt after his first season of just escaping relegation.

ALSO :- Sorry for not posting anything last week, another attack of the ‘can’t be bothered’ I’m afraid.

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