Changes At The Top And The Bottom With Stodge In The Middle.

We shouldn’t have been surprised by how the season would end really. Things had been boiling for several years and they hadn’t been looked after properly. I know that’s a bit vague, a bit obtuse, so given this blog post, I’ll shed light on it. First of all, Ken Weldon, to bring in money to keep a dying club alive, had sold our training ground up at Elmdon. It was under sold but with the written clause that a percentage of profit from the sale of unbuilt houses would also come Blues’ way. It would never materialise. We were now having to train on municipal facilities. It was a bit of a come down from being promoted at the start of the decade. Crowds had diminished badly. St Andrews was still a substantial ground in terms of capacity, but 95% of games there, were well under a quarter full. Even after a season where we’ve all watched games on the telly in front of empty grounds, it’s still hard to actually remember how bad it had got. I’m not going to go into why, because most clubs were suffering, but it was felt more acutely at Blues. When Weldon took over, he’d announced that Blues needed major surgery and he was the surgeon to do it. What we didn’t realise, was he was going to conduct the operation using a knife and fork. When someone commented to our captain Vince Overson, that we were a ‘sleeping giant’, he retorted, saying that we were comatose. Violence at games, the surrounding streets, town centres and train stations was a lot to blame. It wasn’t so much the violence itself, but the stigma that became attached to football fans. On job application forms, you deliberately left your passion for your football club off the hobbies and pastimes section. You never ever mentioned it when meeting a girl’s parents for the first time. In fact, unless they already knew, you kept it from a new girlfriend for as long as you could. It got to a stage, where you just stopped going to games. Money and lack of it didn’t help, but there’s many reasons for that. The world was changing. Well, this country was. So my first game was Wolves away in the League Cup. It was a good game in fairness. Even Les made a welcome appearance to accompany me. Wolves were still on the way back up. 11,007 saw a 3:2 win for newly promoted Wolves and their tatty yellow and black hordes. Not only had I seen us lose, but I put my newly bought uneaten pie on a ledge behind me to celebrate one of our goals. I didn’t feel like eating it afterwards for some unknown reason. By my first game at St. Andrews, Blues had managed to sneak past the Yam yams on away goals. Another high scoring game saw us win 3:2 versus Sunderland. I can’t actually remember anything about it. Given that victories were going to be at a premium that season, I probably should remember it, but I don’t. After beating Wolves, we’d been drawn against the Vile. A two legged affair, the first leg was at Blues. It was shortly after licensing laws had been relaxed and pubs didn’t need to shut in the afternoon anymore. I booked the day off work and touched down at New Street just gone midday for what was an evening kickoff. That bit I remember. I don’t remember getting in the ground. Not surprisingly given that’s it over 30 years ago, but I couldn’t remember the day after, let alone 30 years later. I was well and truly inebriated. I remember how I left the ground though. I didn’t even make halftime. A chain of expletives had been pouring out from me, far too loudly for the West Midlands constabularies likening. Like I’ve said, I don’t remember getting in, but I do remember being grabbed, frog marched and ejected out of the ground quite clearly. After getting chucked out, I checked to see if I had enough money to get back in, I hadn’t. I waited until they opened the exit gates and sneaked back in. I don’t know why I bothered to be honest, we lost 2:0. The next home game, I moved away from where I had taken to standing, and got talking to the bloke next to me. He was joined by a younger lad who I found I got on with too. It was actually a great game of football. Unfortunately, Barnsley beat us 5:3. It wasn’t the first time I’d watch Blues score 3 at home and lose, it wouldn’t be the last time either. It was the first time I’d actually made a friend at Blues though. Hameds parting shot was to arrange to meet in exactly the same spot the next home game. So was born a friendship that lasts to this day. That game was a 1:0 defeat to Plymouth. I remember waiting for him, not expecting him to actually turn up. He did. I often wonder if I hadn’t met Hamed, whether I would still be going down Blues. See at the time, I was excruciatingly shy. I’ve since learned that shyness gets you absolutely nowhere in life. October the 15th brought The Buggies to St Andrews. It was to be the debut of one Carroll Lloyd Richards. He was Gary Pendrey’s most expensive signing. In fact he was the most expensive signing Blues had made since Saunders took us to promotion in 84/85. £120,000 had secured him from Bournemouth. His most telling contribution on his debut was to pass the ball back from the halfway line straight into the path of a Buggies player who buried it. We lost 4:1. I’m not going to say it had all been Carl Richards fault, but he was going to go on to prove that it should’ve been Bournemouth giving us at least £120,000, just to take him off their hands. I’m sure Mr Richards was and is, a thoroughly likeable chap, but a footballer he wasn’t and a striker he definitely wasn’t. I’ve seen many strikers down the seasons that should’ve been charged under the trades description act, Carroll Lloyd Richards makes them all look as prolific as (Insert name of someone with a fantastic goals to games ratio) He was hopeless. I very often wonder if even now, Gary Pendrey wakes himself by screaming ‘SHOOT CARL’, before sobbing uncontrollably. Although spending the game time laughing and joking with Hamed and Daz, was good, the football on the pitch wasn’t. Games versus Stoke, Portsmouth, Ipswich Crystal Palace and Chelsea passed me by. Even the Boxing Day game away at Shrewsbury did and we even managed to get another point there. It was 0:0 though. 0:0 games tend to feel like a damp squib anyway. F.A.Cup 3rd round paired us at home to Wimbledon. Wimbledon were First Division. They were actually the Cup holders. It should’ve been a bit of a crowd puller. 10,431 turned up. In the morning, I had gone to the barber’s. Nothing special about that, but at the time, I was a fan of Simply Red. I had been inspired by their video for ‘Holding Back The Years’. In it, Mick Hucknall is wearing a cloth cap at an angle, his curly hair bursting out from underneath to the other side. It looked to me, really really cool. On that Saturday, I had my hair permed on one side. I balanced a Half Blues, half England bobble hat with the bobble ripped off, on the un-permed side to complete the image. Yeah you’re right, it did look stupid. Not to me though. Blues? Lost 1:0. Oh, and I can’t stand Mick Hucknall now. The job scheme thing that I’d been on came to an end. It was only ever for 12 months anyway. With money tight again and football rubbish, I only went to 3 Blues games after the Wimbledon game. None stick out. I did indulge in a bit of ground hopping. That’s if you can class a single game as ‘a bit of’. I’m not sure why primarily, but I was down at Val and John’s for the weekend. I decided to take in a game somewhere in London. With the usual amount of choice there is on a Saturday, I could’ve gone anywhere but I took the tube down to Wimbledon. It was the 5th round of the F.A.Cup and they were playing Grimsby. At the time, there was a fad of taking inflatable objects to games. It was started at Manchester City with inflatable bananas in reference to Imre Varadi. Basically, someone ‘acquired’ an advertising prop from a shop and took it to a game. Every time they sang Varadi’s name, the thing was waved. Bizarrely, the practice grew. It spread to other clubs and other kinds of inflatables. Along with a lot of terrace fashions and habits, as soon as the clubs get in on the act, the habit quickly stops. The Grimsby fans had adopted inflatable Haddocks as their mascots. I got off the tube, walked up to the ground, saw nothing but inflatable fish everywhere. Plough Lane was a small ground, I lost my nerve with regards to getting in as there was a big crowd. I got back on the tube and getting off at Putney Bridge, went to watch Fulham versus Bristol City instead.

Semifinal day, and Blues had to beat Barnsley away to starve off the threat of relegation for at least another game. Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough and Everton were playing Norwich City at Vile Park. Telford United were also playing at home in the F.A.Trophy semifinal. I don’t remember who they played, but I know they won easily and they were through to the final at Wembley. I went with several of the lads I was knocking around with at the time. We heard that the Hillsborough semifinal had been abandoned. We didn’t really take much notice. We just thought it was aggro. We went back to the Dun Cow, our local at the time. News came through that there’d been fatalities. Fatalities wasn’t a word that was in our vocabulary at the time. It was an official word that nobody used. Certainly not in my circle of mates anyway. Seems such a basic mistake to make now, but at the time, it got confused with casualties, another word we’d heard of but didn’t really understand. It was only when I got home and my Mom pointed at the telly and advised me that I’d better watch it, that I focused on it and what had happened. The screen showed a dark block of seats in contrast to the surrounding blue ones. The camera zoomed slowly in till it revealed that the dark block of seats were actually police officers. A lot were staring into space, some up at the roof, some down at their feet, a lot were doing their best to either stop crying or just trying to hide their tears. The air of despondency was palpable. The screen changed to images that had been filmed earlier that afternoon, the commentary explained what had happened. Right, that’s that bit out of the way. A lot has been made of the events that happened at Hillsborough but the underlying reason has never been addressed. That particular elephant in the room keeps being ignored. I said at the start of this post that things had been boiling for several years. There’s a two tiered system within the Liverpool support. A system that started in the late 70s, early 80s. I stated that things in this country were changing. Politically, Thatcher had gone about dismantling heavy industry in this country. She understood that it simply wasn’t sustainable anymore. It actually took me decades to come to that realisation. Huge swathes of the countries communities were demolished. In a nutshell, it separated the wheat from the chaff. The cream rose to the top. What I’m getting at is that whilst the majority looked around at each other, not knowing what to do and how to cope, a few grabbed the opportunity to change, to seek something different, to survive and prosper. Like Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, and Birmingham, Liverpool was hit and hit hard by what Thatcher did. Liverpool kept winning trophies. Scousers were finding the money to watch games harder and harder to come by. Winning trophies attracts. Humanity is drawn to success, especially when much of their personal life is psychologically fragile. As people, we like to fit in, feel a part of something. It’s that tribal thing. As the media and its resources got better, so social outcasts became more and more attracted to the success that Liverpool were having. Social outcasts are outcasts because of many reasons, but several from around the country, especially where the local football club was rubbish or there wasn’t one, were academically aware enough to work hard at school, gain qualifications and secure jobs. Liverpool supporting Scousers noticed that there was more and more outsiders cramming in along side them on the terracing. Society’s outcasts obviously make awkward integraters. Animosity grew for these new fans of Liverpool from the traditional support. Unlike the sympathy that the Munich Air Disaster had attracted fans to Manchester United, what attracted fans to Liverpool was different. Scousers were finding the lack of money in their pockets difficult. They were in the same position as everyone else they’d grown up with and now there were these weird awkward people who didn’t didn’t live in Liverpool, weren’t having the same hardships and they had money in their pocket. Woollyback’s was a nickname coined for people from Birkenhead, it was expanded to anyone outside of Liverpool, including their own, fellow supporters. So where am I going with this? The season before, the same two clubs, had made the same stage, in the same competition, at the same ground. There were no problems. So what had changed? Liverpool hadn’t been doing so well. It’s hard to imagine being a Birmingham City supporter, but monotonous winning becomes boring. Hope becomes expectant. Because Liverpool were coming out of a bad patch, it became interesting again. Could they catch leaders Arsenal? could they make it another double winning season? There are ticket touts at all the big games. It’s illegal, but it still goes on. Back then, it wasn’t or at least, the Ol Bill turned a blind eye. Back in 89, the tram system in Sheffield was nonexistent. Early comers looking for a ticket, were joined by late comers that had been drinking in town. The previous year hadn’t been a problem, but this is where it starts boiling over. That two tier thing that was going on, came to a head. Crowds at football look after each other. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you do, you are as one and you look after each other, even a perfect stranger. Not Liverpool, not at Hillsborough that day. It was a free for all, every man, woman, and child for themselves. I don’t like that 96 people lost their lives, I don’t like that many more have had their lives completely changed because of what happened, but what happened, happened and happened because of a lack of togetherness. You can all point fingers at different things if you want to, whether it’s government policy, inept policing, societal issues, alcohol consumption, or absolutely anything else you can think of, but that underlying two tier system that had developed at Liverpool is the true cause. I only wish it wasn’t so.

Blues drew 0:0 at Barnsley and so were relegated to the Third Division for the first time in their history. Weldon sold out to a family of Manchester businessmen in the shape of the Kumar’s, who had made their money on the market. No, not the Stock Market, selling clothes on a stall. They’d expanded into brick built premises and had now got their own national chain and even a sportswear company. Queens Park Rangers had their influence. No, no, Influence was the name of the sportswear company. Nothing to do with picking the team or anything like that. Crowds at Blues were that poor that only 4,026 turned up for the next home game after Barnsley. As with how we are as a fanbase, many more than that travelled down to Selhurst Park for the last game of the season, the vast majority in fancy dress. Although it happened to be also the first incident of football violence since Hillsborough, so began the tradition around the country of doing fancy dress for the last away game of season. I’m not even entirely sure if there isn’t a clubs fanbase that doesn’t do it these days. I will say this though, I don’t do it. I do keep one item of clothing that I only wear at football at tha last away game mind. Football was strange after what happened at Hillsborough. it took a fortnight off to recover. Perimeter fencing was pulled down at every single ground. We had to find other things to hang flags on and Liverpool were almost waved through to the title. The semifinal rematch was held at Old Trafford and Nottingham Forest must’ve been on instructions to hand Liverpool the game. I don’t even think Everton really tried that hard in the final. Liverpool won 3:2. It was down to Arsenal to restore my faith in football, that competitive spirit was still allowed to exist. Because of their three weeks off, Liverpool’s home game against Arsenal turned out to be the last game of the season. It was even held after the F.A.Cup final at the time, unprecedented. ITV got to show it live on a Friday night. I was a fully paid up member of the Friday night pub circuit at the time. As per usual, I met up with the rest in The Haygate before we moved on to The Queen’s. The Queens were showing the game. It was 0:0 at halftime. We saw Arsenal score their controversial first goal. I so wanted Arsenal to win, my mate Will did too. We moved on to The White Lion and The Charlton Hotel. I must’ve been a quick walker, quick drinker or Wellington is a lot smaller than I remember, but we were in The Barley Mow for the final minutes of the game. There was of course, like there always is now, a gaggle of Liverpool fans in their scarves sat nearest the telly, glued to proceedings. Winterburn pumped the ball forward, Alan Smith controlled and played the ball on, Michael Thomas found himself with Grobbelaar to beat. “It’s up for grabs now” screamed Brian Moore. It wasn’t, the title was Arsenals. The gaggle of Liverpool fans still sat watching, their mouths open, as me and Will bounced up and down in celebration round the pool table. During the summer, I went down to Val’s, for a visit, having a wander around London, I went into Sports Pages, a shop I frequented every time I went down to London, to stock up on fanzines, I picked up a copy of the Gooner. Life was good. It wasn’t good for Gary Pendrey, he’d been relieved of his duties, replaced by Dave Mackay at the end of April.

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