Stepping Into The Unknown.

As I’m not putting my memory dregs in years, with my last post, you’ll have ascertained that I’m attempting to recollect them in seasons. Arsenals last gasp winner at Anfield had not only rekindled my enthusiasm for football, but the Crystal Palace fancy dress party had ignited a desire to explore, and attend more Blues away games. The Kumar’s had got the check book out and had allowed Mackay to go on a spending spree ahead of the new season. It wasn’t the huge amounts you see clubs spend now, but considering how little money had been available in the previous 5 years, it felt like millions. The players that were bought in weren’t anyone I’d ever heard of, but just that there was money being spent on players at all, was a start. The first game of the season was Crewe Alexandra at home. I wasn’t the only one to have their enthusiasm rekindled. The last Blues game I’d attended, only 4,579 had braved the deteriorating situation. 10,447 turned up for that first game of the season and there’s no way that 5,000 of them were Crewe fans. It did actually feel like a fresh start. The new regime had even paid for one of those strange lorries that you see with plate glass attached to the side, to do circuits of the area with the legend ‘Rebirth Of The Blues’ on the side. Even the football was fresher. A 3:0 victory easily secured. I don’t remember anything from Chesterfield at home in the League Cup, but we won. I hadn’t the money to travel down to Bristol for our game against City, or so I thought. I was in my first week at a new job and I wasn’t expecting a last dole check. It came as a nice surprise when Mom brought it up to me in bed along with a cup of tea. Wow, how I miss that woman. She was one of those ‘old skool’ women that looked after their men folk. Yes, I understand that sounds extremely sexist, but it was just the way it was. Not that I’m down crying the women of today, it’s just the way it is now. Anyway, I’d left it too late to get down to Ashton Gate, but I still had time to get to a game somewhere and I fancied going somewhere a little bit further than the usual fall back on options. Leicester City were at home to Newcastle United. Remembering what the Geordies had been like at Shrewsbury a few years earlier, I settled for Filbert Street. Weather wise, I didn’t get my timing right whatsoever. After finding out how to get to the ground and heading off for it, the clouds opened up and dumped their collective contents. Spotting a pub, I made for its shelter. I was soaked through to the skin. Looking round, I wasn’t the only one who were having to dry out. Once I had dried out, and with the sun now out, I ventured forth to the ground. Just as it was too far to go back to the pub, but not close enough to the ground, the next lot of heavily water laden clouds burst open. For the second time, I was soaked. No doubt, if the lady was alive today, she’d still be imploring me to wear a coat. ‘Looks like rain’ she would say. Invariably, she’d be right. Back then, I never listened to her advice. I was young and had that ignorance of invincibility. Unlike the Shrewsbury game, I went in the Newcastle end. A great game ended 2.2. The Ol Bill gave us an escort back to the station. At one point, they held us in a side street. it was lined with old style factory buildings. The type that have long ceased to be fit for purpose and have been knocked down. Someone threw a coin to break a window. It quickly led to a barrage of coins and even one of those plastic traffic cones. The metal mesh over the windows and small thick opaque glass panes were always going to repel the barrage. It was more out of mischievous boredom than sinister intent. More funny than worrying. As we moved, I noted the value of the coinage. None had been heavy enough to break an eggshell, not less a window. The Kumar’s were still discovering bits of the ground that had been locked up and out of use since the 70s. They even opened up the Tilton end for the first time in seasons. It was a novelty to stand there. Something me, Ham and Daz did for the win against Swansea. My first away game of the season wasn’t anywhere new. Although it wasn’t the first defeat of the season for Blues, it was the first I saw. It had to come at Shrewsbury though. 6 games I’d seen Blues play at The Gay Meadow, and I hadn’t even seen us score. Yes, I know I’d seen us score in a friendly there, but friendlies don’t count. I don’t remember Tranmere at home, or even West Ham in the League Cup. I do remember my first proper away trip with Blues though. Brentford at Griffin Park. I did my research and headed down. I walked down from the tube station towards the ground. The nearest pub to the away end at the time, had Ol Bill stationed outside. Not in itself a surprise, but one of them was filming us. Our reputation preceded us and it was one of a penchant for violence. A Simon Sturridge goal won it for Blues. News spread round that away terracing that not only had Manchester City beaten their near neighbour’s 5.1, but a 37 year old Trevor Francis had scored a brilliant hattrick in front of the Holte End for Queens Park Rangers. That game at Brentford was to be the first of 3 consecutive Saturday away games. Before Blackpool away, which I’ve written about, was Walsall at home. I remember Blues making a late substitution. We had a throw in towards the Railway End on the Kop side of the pitch. The kid coming on (I’d never heard of him before) came racing over to the Blues player taking the throw in, demanding it be thrown to him. His manner surprised me. Who on earth did this kid think he was? The new player chested it away from goal, beating his marker who had picked his run on to the field up. He veered to his left, before dummying the Walsall right back. He then swept the ball from outside the penalty area, over the Walsall keeper and into the top right hand corner of the goal. 2:0. Paul Tait had indirectly introduced himself to me. I never did know what happened to him after that. (I say that of course, with tongue wedged firmly in cheek.) Like I’ve said, Blackpool blah blah blah. Rotherham United at Millmoor was the last of the trilogy. Not many Blues went up to South Yorkshire. The Ol Bill outnumbering the away support. Because of the shenanigans on the Lancashire coast the previous week, I remember trying to put on a Yorkshire accent to try and get served. I needn’t have worried or bothered. Plenty of Blues went in there that day, not hooligans but proud of being Blues and Brummie. I was young and not a little naive. I’d learn. The game itself, or at least the second half, was a nightmare. Rotherham put an extra 4 past us. It had only been 1.1 at halftime. As September changed to October, so my sister Chris gave me a request. Her eldest wanted to go to a football match. I remember asking him who he wanted to watch, fully prepared to take him anywhere. Imagine my surprise when he chose Blues. I was even more surprised when after we’d lost to Huddersfield Town in that first match, him saying that he wanted to go again. Not everyone sees Blues lose in their first game, but it seems that there’s more than see us win. Before the end of October and with sanctions put on Blues due to what happened in Blackpool, away games had been made ‘all ticket’. I had somehow managed to manoeuvre myself onto a day trip to Paris. A deaf club that used to meet at the YMCA where us lads used to hang out, needed, by law, to have several people to accompany them that could hear clearly for the trip that they’d organised. We didn’t need to stay with them when we got to Paris and were free to go and do what we wanted. Me and two other lads were attracted to the idea. To cut a long story shorter (Don’t worry, I could sense the impatience. I’m not stupid……ok, maybe just a little bit…….ok ok, I’m stupid. There, happy now? Anyway……..) The coach got all the way down to Dover, only for us to discover that because of the rough weather conditions, that the ferries had been suspended for the day. We weren’t going to Paris after all. It was the closest I would ever get to going abroad……..as of yet. The idea of spending the day in London was mooted and a vote was taken. The London option lost out to the majority who just wanted to be boring and go home. (No prizes for guessing what I wanted to do.) Travelling back to Wellington and with one of the lads being a Manchester United fan, I suggested catching the train up to go and watch them versus Southampton. So that’s what we did. I still had my Blues emblem badge on, and it was spotted by the bloke who sold me a copy of the Red Issue fanzine outside Old Trafford. I explained why I wasn’t at Gigg Lane. I hadn’t got a ticket. Had I known what was going to happen, I’d have watched Blues draw 0.0 with Bury. As it was, I watched United beat Southampton 2.1 instead. It ended up being a good but rather strange day. I don’t remember anything from a 1.1 draw at home with Cardiff, but according to my records, it must’ve been an evening kickoff. It was only 4 days before my next away trip. Our Val and John had to put up with me because I went from their’s to Elm Park Reading for our 2.0 victory. I don’t remember the 0:0 draw at home against Orient, but that’s not really surprising. Then it was back on the road. Same club faced, a solitary goal by Sturridge was enough to see us through to the second round of the F.A.Cup. one of the older characters from away games, boomed out the ‘Wembley song’ that everyone has sung at some point, whether it’s tongue in cheek, genuine hope or expectancy. Very few joined in. It was the first round, the chances of getting to Wembley for the final were zilch. I don’t remember anything from the 1:0 home win against Bolton Wanderers. In fact, I’m more surprised with what I do remember than with what I don’t. I’m only really surprised I remember anything at all, if I’m being totally honest. That’s not because any of it was particularly boring, but more that I’ve squeezed quite a bit in life as I’ve bounced along the bottom of it. Don’t worry, I’m not going to put pen to paper. Far too many skeletons that deserve to be kept hidden. Some still encased in concrete. (See, that’s got you wondering, hasn’t it?) Colchester United were paired at home with us in the second round. This really was one that chucked up some memories. First one was meeting a Blues fan from Woking on the train to Colchester from London. I’ve never been to Woking as of yet, so don’t know what the accent of the people who live there sounds like, but I would expect it to sound like his. His influence, or more to the point, indoctrination, had been his Dad. We agreed to pair up when we touched down in Colchester. Neither of us knew the place. We holed up in a pub on the way to the ground. We were joined by a pair of hunt saboteurs. They were Blues, but travelled round the Midlands disrupting meetings of strangely dressed horse riders and their pack of blood thirsty dogs, who were in search and pursuit of a smaller dog like creature that every now and again would get in a chicken coop, but not to make acquaintance with the tenants, and thus considered vermin. None of us had been to Colchester before, and we all would’ve struggled with fighting our way out of a wet paper bag, let alone try to defend ourselves against any locals intent on making a name for themselves. It was decided that it would be better if we stuck together, ‘safety in numbers’ and all that. We met another bunch of Blues on the way to the ground. We joined them, somehow not realising that the locals were actually intent on making a name for themselves and a group of them ran up behind us. The group of Blues were obviously seasoned veterans of following Birmingham City away, and weren’t concerned with this mob of young locals. It seemed to have the desired effect, because the locals were taken aback that we weren’t running. Even if me, the lad from Woking and the pair of hunt saboteurs wanted to run as fast as our legs would carry us. The local mob backed off, preferring to try and intimidate us by throwing stones from across the road at us. A couple of the seasoned Blues lads made to confront this mob of locals, and they ran off. Perhaps it was really safety in numbers, but more likely just experience coming to the forefront. I was to grow to learn that the older Blues referred to themselves as The Minstrel Wanderers slob crew and were regulars at the Fox and Grapes. It would be another couple of years before I learned that though. Preston North End at home was to be my eldest Nephew’s first time that he got to see Blues win. Dillon’s in town had a book signing with the great Tom Finney, we queued up so I could get Andy his autograph. Even if Andy hadn’t got a clue who Tom Finney was, or that I’d never actually seen the bloke play. Things were about to change in my personal life. Something that I’m more than happy to talk about again, but as I’ve already covered it, I won’t bother repeating. Several times I’d bumped into a Blues lad that lived in Gobowen on the train travelling to and from home games. He did away games too, though I never saw him. We were due to play Bristol Rovers at Twerton Park Bath, on Boxing Day. He was driving down for the game and offered me a lift. We arranged a pick up point. I got there ridiculously early and made the mistake of moving to somewhere nearby that would’ve been easier for him. Because of it, he missed me and I never got to see the game. It would’ve been my twentieth Blues game of the season. After that Preston game, I was to go to only another 3 games. Like my season, so Blues fizzled out too, but I did manage 3 games in March. 3 successive Saturday’s in fact. It was mainly due to getting a huge tax rebate than it was anything else. I took the girl I was now living with to the first. Blues won 4:1 versus Mansfield Town and she seemed to enjoy herself. The week after and Blues were at Walsall. This time, her mother accompanied us over to Brum, the idea had been for them to both come to Walsall and they’d go shopping. I sensed the same atmosphere and attitude around New Street amongst Blues fans, that I’d noticed away at Blackpool. With that, I advised them both to stay round Brum and I’d nip over to Walsall for the game, meeting up with them when I touched back down in Brum. I needn’t have bothered worrying. Walsall turned out to be uneventful, but I did meet up with Hamed and Blues won 1.0. Losing 5.1 away at Rotherham had been a particularly low point to watching Blues. Total revenge was almost completed in the return game at St Andrews. Mandie once again, came with me. Was she a lucky mascot? Although we won the game 4.1, I wasn’t to test the theory. It wasn’t just her last game, but it would be my last for well over 7 months. I won’t bore you with any of the messy details again. It reads like a horror story and not the the type of subject that makes for a book at bedtime. it would truly give you nightmares.

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