Haircuts And Leyland Daf Cups.

I spent the last game of the season with the same bloke as I did the first game of the season, it was only the venue that was different. Now I know what you’re thinking (Well some of it, anyway.) Every season the last and first games are always played at different venues. The last game was my first ever visit to Wembley, the first game was spent huddled round the radio in my brother’s kitchen. We managed a 1.0 win away at Cambridge United in that first game. In fact, we won our first 4 league games of the season. We then went and drew 8 consecutive games. That frustrating sequence was broken with my first game. I’m not going to go into too much detail, as It doesn’t really make for pleasant reading. Domestic bliss it was not. I had somehow managed to negotiate with Mandie so I could go to the game, something happened and the plans I had went out of the window. The ensuing dispute led to me walking to my Mom’s to give her that weeks payment for stuff we’d had out of her catalogue. As I neared Wellington, I could hear what I thought was the choir at Wrekin college. As I got closer, I could make out the strains of ‘Keep Right On’ filling the air. It suddenly dawned on me that it wasn’t the choir at Wrekin college at all, but Blues fans singing on the station platform. The distance had distorted the singing, so instead of a mob of inebriated blokes belting it out, it sounded like a bunch of public school kids practicing for some musical event. I decided there and then that I wasn’t going to go to my Moms but with money in my pocket for a change, I was going to grab the last possible train to go and watch Blues at Shrewsbury. I got to watch our first goal at the Gay Meadow, but the on loan Wayne Clarke scored a hattrick and Shrewsbury won 4.1. As he was being substituted, he gestured to the travelling support that he still believed we were going up. We weren’t to be, but it still showed he still had a soft spot for us. I caught the train back to Wellington, not really wanting to go back and face Mandie. I went back to my old local the Barley Mow. After a couple of drinks, and with it getting late, I had the idea of sleeping rough. It started raining. Rather than getting soaked, I knocked on my Mom’s door. We obviously talked, it was then that she gave me a ‘get out clause, I could move back in. Pride made me go back to Mandie the day after, but her violence towards me escalated and was almost daily. 11 days later, I found the resolve to leave her. On that 12th day, I did. After that first away defeat of the season, so the first home defeat immediately followed. I won’t go back over the trip up to Macclesfield as I’m pretty sure I’ve covered it well enough. It felt like years since I’d been to a home game and stood with Hamed and Daz, in reality, I’d only seen Hamed the week before but you get the gist. Then Non-League Cheltenham were the visitors in the F.A.Cup. we struggled to win 1.0, but it was just so good to be back with people who weren’t intent on trying to cave my head in. For the first time in what felt like forever, I felt free. In between the Cheltenham game and Bournemouth at home 7 days later, we signed a striker from out of Wimbledon reserves. We’d shelled out £175,000 for John Gayle. A substantial amount in 1990 for a club in the 3rd Division. A gigantic amount for Blues. Coupled with a similar amount given over for the signing of Nigel Gleghorn just before the Shrewsbury away game, it was clear Dave Mackay was definitely getting the backing he needed from the board. Did John Gayle seal his debut with the winning goal, a heroic last gasp equaliser or even just a consolation goal? Nope. 0.0, things didn’t seem to be changing. I was on my travels the following Saturday. I dug my passport out, made sure my jabs were up-to-date and headed over the border into Wales. Before I left Brum, and with the club shop out of stock of home shirts, I headed for the now, long gone, Harry Parkes sports shop to wait for it to open. Shirt bought, I put it on before I left the shop. I’d like to say that Swansea was a warm, hospitable place that day, but I’d be lying to you. In the pub I went in, they were showing some sort of game where the participants were chuckling a large egg between themselves. This strange game had the customers captivated. My English accent however, seemed to have a detrimental effect on the ability of the barman, who displayed a distinct reluctance to serve me. I finally got served but it was obvious I wasn’t welcome. The game itself ended in a 2.0 defeat for Blues, the highlight being the cornish pasties that they were selling from a tiny refreshment booth at the side, but towards the bottom of the terracing. It’s bizarre how much of an impression little things can make on a person’s memory, yet much bigger events appear to get lost in the labyrinth of the internal workings of the mind. These cornish pasties were amazing. So much so that as soon as I’d finished my first, I requeued and got another. Looking back now, it makes me wonder if they smuggled them over the Bristol Channel by coracle under the cover of darkness from Cornwall itself. Seeing as they were serving it to us, and given the warm hospitality I didn’t receive, it’s just possible the ingredients were against hygiene regulations. I don’t care, I’m still here and those pasties were gorgeous. The Vetch Field was an old ground wedged in between a sprawl of terraced houses. As I was walking away from the ground with a Blues lad I knew from Shrewsbury and with that unmistakable sound of fighting going on somewhere behind us, a group of lads the other side of the street were staring at us. I had my new Blues top over top of my sweatshirt. The lad from Shrewsbury was visibly nervous, the group consisted of blokes who had the physical attributes of people who indulged in that strange egg chasing game. One of the blokes wandered over the road to us, with the rest onlooking, he advised me to take my shirt off as there was several of the locals out to cause a bit of damage to us Brummies. He also said that none of the group were after any aggravation, but didn’t want to see any harm come to us. The sigh of relief from the Shrewsbury lad, was like the air being let out of a Zeppelin. (Well, like I think it would sound anyway.) I was full of bravado and I refused to take his advice. My reply caused intense anxiety to the Shrewsbury lad, who started trying to relieve me of my Blues shirt. Stopping him, and still full of bravado, I told him so they could hear, “For you, I’ll take it off. Not for these Muppets.” They turned the corner at the next crossroads and we carried on. Not that we really knew where we were going. We asked a lone member of the Ol Bill who informed us to “Fuck off, serves you right for coming here.” That really is what he said. I can’t prove it of course, but it honestly is what he said. The look of shock on the lad from Shrewsbury’s face was funny. We made it to the station though, and made it back safely to England and civilisation. Having freedom once more and money in my pocket, meant I could ground hop again. I visited the Gay Meadow for the second time of the season, it wasn’t to be my last, and it wasn’t even to be my last F.A.Cup game. In fact, not even the only Cup game that week. Non-League Chorley were the visitors. I wasn’t to know at the time how much a big a part the small Lancashire town would play later on in life. I’ve always loved the F.A.Cup. Well ever since I’d been seduced by the game of football, I have. Coupled with that, I almost always root for the underdogs. This one was no different. I stood with the small band of Chorley followers on the away end. A group of around 8 lads started singing. I stood close enough to join in, and watch the proceedings. The home team managed to take the lead but they were by no means having it all their own way. Several others of the travelling support joined in with the singing. Every now and again, they’d sing songs that included expletives. Having had enough experience of how the Ol Bill policed games and football fans, I was appalled but not surprised with what happened. These 8 lads had been singing songs all game, many with expletives in. One lad who was on his own, joined in just once. It was a song that included an expletive. The Ol Bill swooped on him. He was of course, low hanging fruit. A phrase I was to learn that meant basically, lazy work. Given that the group of lads had been singing all game, it was grossly unfair on the lad who got lifted. The very next night, I was off to St Andrews to see if Blues could get past Brentford. Both of the games had been postponed on the Saturday due to heavy snow. It was one of those games where one side score with all their chances, the other wouldn’t score if they played forever. We did manage to put one of our many many chances away, but crossing over the halfway line only 4 times, Brentford scored 3 times. We would get our revenge, and it would be all the more important and sweeter. I was back to watching Blues or going to a different game if Blues weren’t playing, every week. Doing a day shift, meant that I could do night games too. Just as long as I could make the last train back to Wellington. The dissension towards Dave Mackay was growing. We’d dropped off the pace. It was becoming abundantly clear that he wasn’t the Bloke to lead us back to the 2nd Division. Rotherham were dispatched back up to South Yorkshire with a 2.1 defeat, but the win was papering over the cracks. I broke up for the Christmas holiday on the last Friday before, travelling down on the Saturday morning to Val and John’s. Touching down, I caught the tube to Wimbledon. It was a Saturday after all, and that meant football. Nursing a hangover, I went in the more genteel home end, but immediately regretted my decision. Watching the Manchester United fans in the away end, I wished I was in there with them. I’m no United fan, but the Wimbledon support were much more reserved. I’m a Blues fan, being reserved is not something that can ever be leveled at us. Boisterous, barmy, mischievous, yes, but not reserved. I remember watching one Wimbledon fan swearing, and then alarmed by his own behaviour, looking round, hoping that nobody had been too disgusted by it. Anyone who remembers Wimbledon of that period of time, can attest to the team being the exact opposite. The ‘Crazy Gang’ bruised their way towards a 3.1 victory against Manchester United that day, no mean feat. Imagine a tugboat going up against a ocean liner and winning. Whilst at my sister’s for Christmas, me and John went to Selhurst Park on Boxing Day, for Crystal Palace’ early kickoff versus Sunderland. The away terracing was uncovered. It rained, and it rained, and it rained. We went back to a pub after the game just to dry out a little. Getting soaked definitely diluted my enjoyment of a 2.1 victory for Palace. I suppose you could say I wanted Sunderland to win anyway, but I wasn’t really bothered about who won, just as long as it was a good game. It wasn’t. Before I went back to work, Bolton Wanderers turned us over 3.1 at St Andrews it would be the first of 3 consecutive home games, where I joined in with a growing sit down protest at the end of the match. We were determined to make our opinion that Mackay should be sacked, heard.

Now I usually put this sort of add on at the end of a blog post, but as it’s been several weeks ago since I got to here, I thought it best to explain before I go on to finish this particular season. As I’ve stated far too many times, I get depression. It’s undiagnosed and un-medicated, but trust me, I get it. Getting to where I’ve got now with coping with it, I’ve learned a lot about myself, why I get depression, when I get it, and what to do when I do slip down into a bout of it. Firstly, with depression, you have a ‘trigger point’. Regardless of whether you know it or that you even know what it is. Mine is being in a state of limbo. As you quite possibly will have already known, all final restrictions and measures were going to be lifted on the 21st of June. As that date got closer, so the state of mind got worse. Apathy is a symptom of depression. It’s close to another symptom, procrastination. Us depressives can be seen as lazy. Hell, we even wallow in it at times. The difference between apathy and procrastination is that with one, you can’t see the point, and the other, you’ll create a point. With Coronavirus, I’ve had the state of limbo thrust upon me. Being on furlough was fine because I needed a rest from work anyway. After the initial novelty of going back to work, I had a few Non-League games to go and watch. Then the country was nailed down again and all it’s been is work, eat, sleep, repeat. People started getting vaccinated, deaths and hospital admissions were going down quite nicely, pub gardens reopened and then the pubs themselves, but it’s all table service. Masks, social distancing, constant hand sanitizing, queues and perspex still in place. Even that has dragged me down, but 21st of June was to be ‘freedom day.’ June is when the new season’s football fixtures come out. If you hadn’t already guessed, I love ground hopping and ale trailing. Part of my enjoyment is in the planning. Planning for absolutely everything and anything has been ridiculously impossible during this pandemic. Since April, this country had been gradually moving out of lockdown again. Everything was going along quite smoothly. It’s extremely difficult to completely ignore coverage of Coronavirus. Especially when as a football addict, you’re forever scouring for news on the game. There’s an awful lot of doom mongers in the media. People who thrive on bad news, and there are those in positions of influence. With the numbers of deaths and infections going down, and the vaccinations going up, I was so confident of freedom day, that I’d been able to book advance train tickets up to Scotland and book hotels too. Days went past, and the procrastination took hold. The doom mongering got louder as a new variant found its way into the country. I’m not going to comment and reveal my theories as to how and why the new variant took hold, but what I will say, as far as I’m concerned, freedom day should’ve happened. I’ve renewed my season ticket, though I’m actually passed caring whether I’ll get to use it, I’m going to lose out on another season of Scottish ground hopping as I’ve cancelled my hotel bookings. It also means that I’ve lost money on the train tickets. As for freedom day? Whatever!!

Now then, where was I? Bradford City at home was a 1.1 draw. The protest against Mackay was growing, getting louder and going on for longer. It was taking the Ol Bill longer to eject us from the ground. They understood our protest, but still had a job to do. Orient away was a momentous occasion, well it was for my Nephew Andy. Although I don’t remember stopping at Val and John’s, I’m quietly confident that we must’ve, and we must’ve with my Mom. The reason I have for this is I remember taking Andy sight seeing around London both before and after the game. We started with Wembley, and that’s on the way from Uxbridge into the centre of London on the Metropolitan line. I remember joking that we might even get to visit Wembley at the end of the season. I didn’t think for even a nanosecond that we would be. Cambridge United at home was to be the last game for Dave Mackay. We’d been truly awful in a 3.0 defeat. The after match protest was to be the longest, biggest and loudest. It obviously must have done the trick as by the next game away at Bury, he’d been ‘relieved of his duties.’ It was certainly a relief to me. I wasn’t expecting to see Blues beat Bury, let alone see Martin Thomas save a penalty to keep the score to 1.0. Exeter City away was memorable. Partly for the right reasons, partly for the wrong ones. I was unaware when I left Brum on the train that The West Country had suffered heavy snow. It was only as we passed piles of the dreadful stuff that I realised how bad it must’ve been. Wandering around the impressive old city, I drank enough alcohol for the bravado levels to be at their height. On the way back to the station, I glanced up an alley way. There was what looked like a subterranean bar. I fancied the look of it. I’d noticed a couple of lads leaning up the railings, drinking bottles of lager. I had my coat unzipped and my Blues shirt was on view. One of the lads leant over the railings and announced my presence. Instead of turning round and retreating, the beer bravado took over. More locals poured out and up the steps. Still I carried on. They surrounded me. One of them confronted me and asked for my shirt. He wasn’t after a friendly swap. My retort signalled a flurry of punches. Bizarrely, none of the punches connected properly. One lad aimed a kick. It was one of those slow motion moments. I easily caught his foot, although in reality, it must’ve have been pure reflex. I pushed at his leg, and it created some sort of domino effect, as he bumped into the lad behind him. I made my escape through the resulting gap, running as fast as I could towards the station. They chased me for a few yards before giving up with the excuse that there was ‘Only one of him.’ I still count myself lucky to have escaped what could have easily have been quite a long stay in hospital. I didn’t actually stop to do a head count, but there was definitely enough of them to do me some serious physical damage. After checking my appearance in the station toilet mirror and being pleasantly surprised that I was no uglier than usual, I got the train to the ground. Blues not only won 2.0, but Exeter missed a penalty. At the time, I remember several Blues fans utilizing the abundant piles of snow that had been shovelled from off the pitch, to behind the goal. As the penalty taker ran up, he and the ball was pelted with snowballs. At the time, it only seemed like about half a dozen. I watched footage on Midlands news on the Monday night, the amount of snowballs that were thrown, would’ve been enough to put anyone off. Half a dozen? More like several dozen. Enough to turn the pitch white again. The 0.0 draw at home would be Billy Coldwell’s last in temporary charge. Lou Macari was appointed. There was interesting times ahead. The 0.0 draw versus Wigan Athletic at home wasn’t interesting. I can’t remember a thing about it. Instead of taking on the long trip down to the south coast to watch Blues play Bournemouth, I decided on a bit of ground hopping. The fifth round of the F.A.Cup was far more intriguing. West Ham United against Crewe Alexandra appealed to me. I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t fancied travelling all the way down to Dorset. I had been increasing my circle of acquaintances, There was one Blues lad from Wolverhampton who I had started bumping into on the train. I was on my way up to Sportspages in Caxton Walk just off Charing Cross Road when I just so happened to bump into this particular Blues lad. He was on his way to watch Millwall play at home. Neither of us had said that we weren’t doing Bournemouth away, and neither of us had said we were going to take in a game in London. However, the chances of meeting weren’t actually that great. We both knew how brilliant Sportspages was for picking up fanzines, and so the one place where we would’ve met if any, would’ve been in or near the shop. Oh how I miss that shop. There was a fair number of Crewe fans on the tube down to the ground. They even managed to pluck the courage up to sing a few songs. They were seen as a novelty to the Hammers supporters. I stood towards the back of the home end. It became quite evident there’s no way they’d have afforded Millwall fans the same leniency on West Ham turf. The home side were on top all game, but it was only a solitary goal that won it for them. Shuffling out of the ground, I managed to get close to a bloke with a radio. I couldn’t hide my joy at hearing Blues had won. As eyes were drawn to my small celebration, I announced in the best cockney accent I could muster, that I had got my coupon up. Sometimes betting is good. The next game I don’t remember much about other than it was the first round of the Associate Members Cup, only 3,555 bothered to turn up and it went to penalties. We won the shootout that night and so we began our glorious run to winning it. Leyland Daf Cup it might have been called, but it wouldn’t matter to us. In the 5th round F.A.Cup draw, Shrewsbury Town had been paired at home to Champions elect Arsenal. My supervisor at the time was up for going to the game. Bizarrely, I got on with him. Because of postponements, the game was quite long after the West Ham versus Crewe game. Shrewsbury, in a way of getting more money into the club, decided to sell tickets for the cup game at the home game with Huddersfield Town. The catch, was that they were selling the tickets from the buffet inside the ground. I didn’t mind. I queued up to get in and then queued up to get tickets. I almost queued to get out. 0.0. Chester City at home on the Saturday brought a 1.0 win. I don’t remember anything about it, but I do remember the game against Mansfield in Associate Members/Leyland Daf Cup the following Tuesday. We won 2.0 versus Mansfield Town. The crowd wasn’t quite as big as it would have been for a league game, but it was bigger than the crowd for Swansea was. There was an electricity about the place after the game. So much so, that I went for a pint with Ham. With time diminishing before catching the last train, I left to catch the bus. The bus was taking what felt like an eternity to arrive and I bottled it. It was either move or miss the last train. Just as I got to the other side of the island, I saw the bus in the distance behind me. I knew if I put a spurt on, I could make it. Concerned about the progress of the bus, I misjudged the kerb and went over on my ankle. Had I not been wearing decent trainers, I would have ended up in a heap and missed the bus, let alone the train. Adrenaline kicked in and I frantically hobbled as fast as I could to the next bus stop. I somehow made it. In between getting tickets for the Shrewsbury versus Arsenal tie and the game itself, the supervisor at work had pulled out. I was to learn that he couldn’t be trusted on anything. If he came in from outside soaked to the skin, claiming that it was smashing it down with rain, you went out and checked. It meant that I was lumbered with a spare ticket. Les isn’t a ground hopper like me, he doesn’t see the point in watching two teams he’s not interested in. Amazingly, he was interested. I’m actually glad he was considering how my supervisor was to show his true colours. Hey, he was a Liverpool fan, it goes with the territory. In return for driving over to Shrewsbury for the game, Les had the ticket for free. The supervisor had never stumped up any cash anyway. In a capacity crowd, we luckily saw Val and John outside the turnstiles. The initial conversation was to explain why I was limping. It was Tony Adams’ first game since his release from prison for drink driving. The pitch was absolutely sodden and it was a proper F.A.Cup game. One goal was enough to win it, scored by Michael Thomas. If you watch the goal on YouTube, you can just make out me throwing my arms up in celebration next to a bloke jumping up. Les hadn’t got a dodgy ankle. Seeing as Val is an (Well she was at the time still.) Arsenal fan, she kept her celebration a little more reserved. Saturday, and it was back to the league for Blues. Swansea City were the visitors in a 2.0 home win. Nope, I don’t remember anything. Tuesday brought high flying Cambridge United to St Andrews (Yeah I know, it’s hard to imagine the words high flying and Cambridge United in the same sentence.) It was the area semi final in the southern section of the Associate Members/Leyland Daf/Thingy me jig Cup. I’m giving it a disservice, I was excited. I wasn’t the only one. A crowd of 9,429 turned up, though it seemed more. It was bigger than the crowds we were getting for our league games. Cambridge had beaten us easily in the league less than two months previously. The 3.0 defeat had put paid to Dave Mackay’s tenure. There was a steel about Lou Macari’s side. There wasn’t any new additions to the team, it’s more the spirit he’d instilled. Cambridge were dispatched 3.1 infront of a raucous St Andrews crowd. As per usual with a night game, I met up with Bill Carter on the train home. Bill belied his 70 plus years. A Blues fan at heart, he was head steward on the Railway End at Blues, a steward at Edgbaston for Warwickshire C.C.C. and even made the odd appearance as a steward at the cesspit for the Vile. The crowd that seemed larger to me, he reckoned was more than 12,000. He maintained that the Kumar’s were in the habit of not declaring the true attendances for tax reasons. He was a mine of information on Blues was Bill, both past and at that time. He was the same with The Bears. He was never one to pry, but he soaked up everything he was told, and Bill was easy to talk to. Listening to the bloke was enthralling. Macari had generated some team spirit and Blues were winning far more than they had and were ever going to under Mackay. That rejuvenated spirit had spread to the terracing. Optimism had replaced apathy. I can’t remember what the blokes name was who I went to Preston with, but he lived in Ironbridge. I can’t actually remember how come I met him, but he offered me a lift with him to the game. I remember he picked me up outside the Telford United ground and drove up to Lancashire. I remember he didn’t smile much, and conversation was hard work. He did however, have a memory for trivia, and answered most of the questions on a radio quiz show. I’m probably doing the bloke, who was a lot older than me, a disservice, but I found him boring. Whether that’s down to the age gap, or we just didn’t find any other level but Blues, I don’t know, but he never made it past just passing the time of day. Any final chances of making the playoffs that season were snuffed out by a 2.0 defeat. One of the home support proudly wore his Vile shirt. Afterwards, him and his little mob of mates, clashed with a similar sized mob of Blues who had taken umbrage to his goading. The Vile shirt and the wearer were severely damaged. I never understand what possesses someone to think it’s a good idea to goad opposition fans like that. I’m guessing it’s something that even kamikaze pilots would baulk at doing. After 3 successive weeks with only seven days between rounds, a further three weeks lapsed before the A.M./L.D. Area Final 1st leg versus Brentford. The Wembley bug had bitten several thousand more Blues fans. Officially, the attendance was given as 16,219. Unofficially, Bill said it was more like 24,000. I’m more than inclined to agree with Bill. There was far far more than the ‘official’ attendance, far more. The Kumar’s were pulling a trick. Blues went 2.0 up that night, we were in dreamland. Brentford pulled one back, or more importantly, Marcus Gayle picked the ball up in centre circle, before going on a surging run, leaving Blues defenders in his wake to just outside the area, where he unleashed an unstoppable shot into the back of the net. It was a fantastic goal, however, it completely shredded my nerves. 2.1 was not a lead I was at all confident in holding. I now had 14 days of fretting before the second leg. Four days after the first leg, I went down to Griffin Park for a 2.2 dress rehearsal. I stood with the Blues lad from Wolverhampton. I don’t remember the 1.0 victory over Tranmere at St Andrews, but I remember the weekend after it. I was to learn several years later that a train with Bolton Wanderers fans had been attacked at New Street station. They had wrongly blamed it on Blues and had taken their vengeance out on a small band of Blues who had gone up to Burnden Park. Communication had been established between the two hooligan crews. Bolton, or the ‘Cuckoo Boys’ as they liked to call themselves, had come down to Brum earlier in the season and been met with Zulus who didn’t bother messing about. The Ol Bill had become aware of the fliers that were being handed around. It was evident that the intention was to travel up to Lancashire to ‘finish the job off’. The match was forced to be changed to a Sunday lunch time kickoff. It made no difference, everyone who was anyone wanted to ‘do Bolton’. A special train was laid on from Brum and a police operation was devised and implemented to ensure the game went off without any or little violence. It meant that if I wanted to go to the game, which I did, I needed to stop in Brum, otherwise the Sunday train timetable made it impossible for me to make kickoff. I arranged to stop at Rob Kincaid’s house on the Saturday night. I also had the beauty of a free Saturday. I settled on travelling to Nottingham to watch Newcastle United at Notts County. After watching the Geordies at both Shrewsbury and Leicester, I thought it would be a good laugh and good atmosphere. I was wrong. County easily won 3.0, and the few Newcastle fans that bothered to travel down, did nothing but whinge and moan all game. Rob met me in town when I got back to Brum, and we caught the bus back to where he lived in Nechells. Rob, a keen darts player, had a board set up in his and his missus’ bedroom. I played quite well for me, but he still wiped the floor with me. The one thing I did find odd at the time, was him leaving the radio on downstairs to deter burglars. I lived in Shropshire, I wasn’t used to having to do something like that. In the morning, he walked me to the bus stop. I wouldn’t have found the right one otherwise. 4,000 Blues fans travelled up to Bolton. It was a complete show of force. It had the desired effect. Bolton, or their Cuckoo Boys have never been brave enough to attempt anything again. The game itself ended in a 3.1 defeat for Blues. I remember David Felgate laying out Mark Yates with a punch instead of punching the ball. I’ve no doubt that Felgate meant to do it. The preceding cross, was just a convenient excuse for the offence. The referee just turned a ‘blind eye.’ Talk amongst the Blues fans was of plans for the second leg against Brentford. Even if I took the time off work, I wouldn’t have got to that second leg. I was clean out of money. I even asked if I could borrow the cash off my Mom, and I never ever asked her for money She turned me down flat. I was still a bundle of nerves that night, regardless of where I was. I was that bad, that after I’d caught the Wembley bug after Cambridge United at home in the Area semi final, I’d vowed not to get my hair cut until we’d been knocked out. I decided to listen to the first bit of the game in the bath. I became so gripped with fear that if I moved, Brentford would score. I went in as the game kicked off. By halftime, there were icebergs floating in the tub that would’ve put the one that did for the Titanic to shame. The whistle bringing an end to the first half, led to me making sure I was in position to listen to the second half upstairs in my bedroom as not to disturb Mom’s enjoyment of whatever she was watching. She could’ve been watching the test card for I knew. It was excruciating. Each minute felt like an hour, each time Brentford had the ball, my heart took up residence in that cavernous recess I call a mouth. Even before it went anywhere near Blues goal. In the 67th minute, Blues had a corner, little Simon Sturridge lashed it high into the roof of the net. At least I think Tom Ross described it like that. What I do know was that I was bounding around the bedroom for all I was worth. The commotion caused Mom to come upstairs and inform me that I could listen to the rest of it downstairs. I spent the rest of the game with the radio on my lap, my heart beating harder and faster than Dave Grohl used to smash his set of drums in Nirvana. The ref blew for time, I looked over at my Mom with a silly grin on my face, ‘we’ve done it’ was all I could manage. Knowing that I wouldn’t sleep otherwise, she fetched out a bottle of homemade wine and gave it to me. ‘You’ll need this.’ The thing that irked me, was that after Tom Ross had commented on Blues showing the game on a big screen at St Andrews, Mom announcing that she’d have lent me the money for that if she’d known. After being turned down flat for the money to get down to Brentford, I hadn’t even bothered to mention the screen at Blues. Even with the wine, I didn’t sleep. I don’t think even chloroform would have had any effect to be honest. This natural high was going to last. Before the final of course, Blues had the rest of the league campaign to finish. Grimsby away, I’ve already written about and you won’t be surprised to hear that the home games passed by in a blur. By the last game before the final itself, I’d managed to secure tickets for myself, Les and Andy. The club pulled a fast one in terms of ripping fans off. The only way to find out details of tickets and sale dates, was to ring up clubcall. First of all, you had to sit through a recorded message telling you that ticket details would follow at the end, and then sit through whatever else the club decided to put on, like player interviews or match reports. They were extremely clever, they changed it every day knowing that supporters would phone up for those sort after details. Clubcall wasn’t cheap. I’d already agreed with my Mom that I would pay half the phone bill. There wasn’t itemised bills back then. After several days of teasing us, the club revealed those golden details. I took the day off work, or more to the point, threw a sickie, and got the earliest train I could to Brum. I wasn’t by no means the first in the queue, but I was a lot closer than the vast majority that queued that day. I was joined by Sean, the Irish lad I’ve written about. He was playing hooky from school. (He’d still got his uniform on.) Life was definitely on hold whilst we got tickets. The club pulled another stroke with the tickets. First of all, you went through the turnstile, where you had to renew your membership card. Annie Bassett had been instrumental in introducing these credit card type things with an electronic strip that enabled you to gain access at the turnstiles. She had been employed at Kenilworth Road, when Luton Town had banned away fans. With the shadow of violence forever darkening games involving Blues, the Kumar’s had employed her with the hope that it would work at St Andrews. The membership card hadn’t gone down well, and hadn’t really been effective anyway. The Kumar’s knew this, and had made membership renewal a hoop to jump through to get tickets for Wembley. The buffet was set up to sell the actual tickets themselves. Once tickets bought, we were in the ground. We weren’t the only ones to spend time gazing at the empty ground and the youth team training on the pitch. We even wandered into the away end as the gates were open. It felt surreal standing there with the view that travelling fans to St Andrews would have got. After training, the youth team were given litter picking duty on the terracing. Hearing a conversation between a couple of them, it was apparent that there was a game that afternoon. Me and Sean just needed to kill time before kickoff. We spent it wandering round Small Heath and Bordesley. We sat in the main stand for free and watched the youth team easily win in a Midland cup game. I think it was Swindon we beat, but I’m not entirely sure. Us fans weren’t the only ones for which games were secondary. With the playoffs out of reach, the players went through games just not wanting to get injured. Blues’ performances were lack luster to say the least. Only Huddersfield Town away stands out, mainly because we won 1.0, but I followed my two new mates from Bromsgrove who wanted to sit in the stand as aposed to standing behind the goal. Oh, and Walshy’s head was turned by a badge seller who was selling ‘final’ memorabilia. The only other thing I remember was having my breath taken away by the scenery on the way between Manchester and Huddersfield. It was the first time I’d seen the Pennines up close, and up until then, I hadn’t realised how beautiful that particular area was, or is, because it’s still outstandingly beautiful. With the last league game out of the way, Blues held an ‘Open day’ on the pitch at St Andrews exactly a week before the final. The first team squad were going to be in attendance to pose for photos and sign autographs and I saw an opportune moment to indoctrinate Andy even further. In truth, it was self indulgent. I made sure I took a pen with me and also my copy of The History of Birmingham City. I remember that Eddie Brown who played for Blues the last time we’d got to a Wembley final was also in attendance. The only ones who weren’t there, were John Gayle and the man who had led us to Wembley, Lou Macari. At the time, Macari’s signature was the one I really wanted. It wasn’t the first time I’d been on the pitch and it wasn’t going to be my last, but it was the only time it was legaIl. It made for a decent bit of time killing to be honest, as well as sealing the deal with making sure Andy would remain forever Blues, it also strengthened my love and devotion to Blues. (As if I needed it strengthening.) The next week moved as slowly as an asthmatic, arthritic snail carrying heavy bags of shopping up a very steep hill. Fact has it that there’s only 24 hours in a day, and 7 days in a week. So who’s in charge of that fact? Because I’m convinced that whoever’s in charge has a warped sense of humour. When you are desperate for that time to go fast, they will laugh and hold the clock back. Speeding it up without you knowing, when you’re enjoying what you’re doing. I hope whoever becomes ‘The Keeper of the Clock’ next, is much more sympathetic. Me and Andy travelled down to Val and John’s on the Friday night, before spending Saturday sight seeing. Most of the time, it was Blues fan spotting, and there was loads of them. We had a camera with us, and we cajoled a passer by to photograph us sat on the steps of the Albert Hall. Wherever that photograph is, it’s the only one of me with how long my hair had grown before that final…………thankfully. In the interests of good taste and sensibility, I’d like to think that photo doesn’t exist anymore. Andy looked ok, but his uncle, yours truly, looked terrible in it. The hair was a disgrace. Mine, not Andy’s. We met Les at Euston station as he came up the approach from the train. Half the passengers coming off it were Blues. The Saturday had been like that. The longer the day went on, the more Blues fans poured into the capital. London was unofficially Brummie. When I heard about the news that Blues had taken over Trafalgar Square at Midnight, I wished I’d been there to just to see it. We turned up on Sunday morning at Uxbridge tube station not expecting anyone else to be there. How wrong was I? At least two dozen Blues were on the train that left Uxbridge station. There’d been more outside the pub opposite the station, waiting for it to open. We headed to Baker Street and The Globe on the corner opposite. Baker street was awash with Blues, so was the Globe. Expecting to get a drink there, it was only when I went to push the door open that another Blues fan informed me that the pub was shut. I glanced round to notice everyone was actually drinking from cans. The purveyor of the bad news also informed me that there was an off-licence across the road from the station. We retraced back over the road and queued at the shop to stock up on beer. The idea was to drink them before going in the ground. Even back then, even with it being a final, even with it being at Wembley, I still didn’t want to get in too early. Just outside Wembley Park tube station, other Blues were drinking on a grassy mound belonging to an office block, we found a space and sat drinking. Les started up a conversation with a Blues fan who hadn’t been able to get a ticket for the Blues end, but had been successful in getting one for the Tranmere end. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one. I couldn’t have imagined going in the wrong end to Blues at the time. Looking back, and now having been in the home end at away games, it gives you a unique view of what Blues fans are like from the perspective of being one. We got in, took our places. It was an awful view, and if I’m being totally honest, I’d actually been in better atmospheres with a lot less fans. For a neutral, I would have said it was a good game. For any Blues fan, it was a rollercoaster of emotion with a tremendous high at the end. Tranmere were more interested in attempting to win the playoffs than winning the final. Blues went 1.0 up with a goal by Simon Sturridge. It was scrappy, but I didn’t care. As soon as the goal had gone in, I’d noticed a big contingent of Blues celebrating in the Tranmere end. There were a few scuffles, but the contingent was big enough to hold its own. The second Blues goal I missed. I’d heard the roar from the toilet. Finishing up, I ran back out to see the replay on one of the TV screens they had dotted around the concourse. I didn’t mind too much that I’d missed it, we were 2.0 up! I also had the consolation that I hadn’t been the only Blues fan who had missed it. I would’ve been more than happy for the game to finish then, but there was a second half, Blues had gone off like a steam train in the first half. In fact, just before the end of it, Dean Peer had stretched to get on the end of a cross that Nixon had done well to save from a point blank range. Such was our dominance, 3.0 may not have flattered us, but it wasn’t to be. Blues have always had a record of finding the hardest way of doing things, and I suppose they always will, but that first half dominance had paid its price, Tranmere were a good side. You don’t make league playoffs without being half decent. The energy was sapping out of Blues and into Rovers. They pulled one back and attacked incessantly. An equaliser was inevitable. 10 minutes after being 2.0 down, the club from Birkenhead were on level terms. From being on the top of the world, we were doing all we could to just stay on equal terms. With time running out and chances at a premium for Blues. In fact, just getting over the Halfway line was an achievement, we got a free kick towards the halfway line but in Tranmere’s half. It was a chance to punt a hopeful ball into the box. Ian Clarkson put it into the penalty area, Vince Overson got his head on the end of it, the ball was seemingly falling safe for Rovers, John Gayle, scorer of that spectacular second for Blues managed to hook it over his shoulder from just outside the penalty area. I watched the ball’s progress as it arched towards the goal, it evaded Nixon’s grasp. I honestly thought it had gone past the post, a goal kick. Instead, the net bulged as the ball hit it. Football is a sport where things can change in a split second. It feeds off your emotions, your perceptions. It can devastate and elate in equal measures. We as fans, supporters invest so much of our psychological wellbeing into our teams, our clubs. We’re totally at the mercy of faith and fate. 3.2, we’d won……well almost, those final couple of minutes were like hours…days….weeks. The ref blew, we HAD won. 50,000 Blues fans finally left that ground happy. Luck would have it that we shared a table on the train back to Brum with Sean and his Dad. I arranged to meet Sean in Chamberlain Square the next day for the civic reception. Bank holiday Monday saw us carrying on our celebrations. Though I’ve got to admit, I was In such a daze, I don’t remember much. Nothing worth actually writing about. Oh, and the next weekend, I finally went and got my hair cut.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s