It’s been a very long time. I could give it to you in days, but I’m not that much of a sad case. (What d’yer mean, it should be longer, and yes you are?) It’s felt like decades since I was able to watch Blues. Have that feeling of anticipation, that tingle of excitement, that sense of wholeness. Yeah, you did read that last bit right. Wholeness. That sense of belonging, that feeling that your life actually has meaning. Not attending football matches, not watching Birmingham City, not having that sense of community, not having that warmth that comes with it all, is like having your favoured limb chopped off. Sounds over dramatic, but that’s the best way I can find for explaining how I’ve felt. With the heightened, nervous excitement that comes with the first game of the season, it’s quite easy to fall into the trap of preparing too early and quickly. You go from continually checking the time because you’re worried about being late, to watching the clock because you’ve done everything. Of course, it won’t have helped because inevitably, you won’t have slept. Coupled with an evening kickoff thanks in no small part to Blues playing a newly relegated from the Premier League, Sheffield United and thus Sky television’s focus. It’s a week before the world stops still and that circus starts. This is Sky’s attempt at a taster for all those armchair fans of the top clubs. As I’ve said before, Sky doesn’t care about the disruption it causes proper match attending fans, and the EFL is just happy to feed off any scraps that the Premier League brushes off the top table. Even with meticulous preparation, I still felt like I’d forgotten something as I walked into town. I hadn’t, it’s just how the mind plays tricks on you. It’s as though you’ve a mischievous little child inside your head, hiding something you need, out of sight. Once you’re far enough away from where you live, too far, and too late to go back, this mischievous little kid will then hold what it is it’s been hiding up in the air, so you can see it. “Neh ne ne neh neh. You’ve forgotten this!” In truth, it’s because you’re doing something that is out of habit, out of routine. Your mind fizzies, bouncing between what you’re going to be doing, what you’re going to need to enhance that experience and what you’re actually doing in that moment to make sure it all happens. Put something else in that equation, that disrupts that fizzing and bouncing back and forth, and boom, forgotten item. Could be absolutely anything that disrupts your practical thinking as your prepare, but it’s a thought that is akin to putting a single number, somewhere in the alphabet. Your mind goes off on a whole new tangent of logic, whilst you’re trying to concentrate. A computer, no matter how powerful, can’t do two things at once, yet our brains do it continuously. JK was already in the Welly. As was Gary from Hereford. I hadn’t seen Gary for getting on for 18 months. It was good to see him. With the amount of fatalities there’s been with Coronavirus, you can’t help but wonder who’s been a victim. Seeing people that you haven’t seen for so long, indicates that the world is still turning, life is still going on, and that it will continue to do so. JK was off to the beer festival in Derby that me and Taff had been to on Wednesday. Having finished his pint, JK went off to get the same train I was going to catch. I gave myself just enough time to finish up and still make it. I did scan the platform to see if I could spot him before the train arrived, but JK was far too cunning, and managed to avoid me. Seat secured, I jammed my earphones in and stuck my nose in the magazine I’d bought. Touching down in Sheffield, it was round the corner to the Tap. Well, it was rude not to. You can’t visit Sheffield without doing the Tap.
I was still in there, when the next train from Brum came in. Andy and another Spotted Dog regular joined me. The talk was of the virus. It certainly has made a huge impact on people. I can honestly say, I’ve a cavalier attitude towards it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, after all, you’ve still got to live life. You can’t put the ageing process on hold. At best, you can only slow it down. Life should be lived at the fullest. We can’t stop hiding from this virus. It was time to get checked in, so bidding the two lads farewell, I exited, bumping into Spoons and Jude on the way out. They informed me that Jeff from Bournemouth was just behind them. I said hello to him, and a now long haired John. as we crossed the road, splitting to head to our respective hotels for the night. Usually with a first game of the season, you play catch up with people you haven’t seen for 3 months, but this time, it’s been 18 months. It’s felt even longer than that. I found my digs for the night. Checking in with a young American TV watching Romanian girl called Paula on reception. Dumping all my gear in the room I had, I headed out into Sheffield. With everyone else arriving on different trains and having different checking in times, I decided to go in a place I hadn’t been in for several years. The Red Deer is a lovely old city centre pub in the heart of the office district. I was relieved to see that it still held a decent range of locales.
I’ve got to say, I was feeling immensely relaxed and extremely happy to be back. Not just in Sheffield, but doing something that I enjoy more than anything else I ever do. Trains, ale and football. The perfect Trinity. The others got in touch to decide on a place to head. It was on the tram to Shalesmoor, and the beautiful art deco decor of The Wellington. It’s a running joke with us ale trailers, with Spoons not setting foot in the pub with that name in Brum, but will happily go in one, anywhere else. Just as I sat down with my pint, Spoons and Jude came in, just as they joined me, so Steve and Daryl came in. I hadn’t realised Spoons and Jude had been on the same tram as me, and the other two were on the tram behind us. Talk was of hotels and football. Spoons and Jude had had the same problem as I had. Unbeknown to me, they’d been due to stay at the same hotel as me. The original hotel had emailed me late on the Wednesday to say my booking had been cancelled due to the hotel having to close. I’m guessing, it was due to the virus. I then had to quickly book somewhere else. To say it was a nasty shock, Is an understatement. Tell you the truth ladies and gentlemen, it put me on edge until I’d checked in at the new one. Knowing that poor Jude suffers from anxiety, I can only imagine how bad she was feeling, when she was contacted. Jack Grealish, or Greasy, as us Blues ale trailers call him, was the football talk. Jude who I’ve said before, is a Vile fan, but even she can’t stand Greasy, and is glad he’s gone. We moved on to The Shakespeare. I know I’ve been in there, because I was getting flashbacks when I was in there, but I couldn’t actually remember going in there before. Moving on to The Crow, I definitely hadn’t been in there before. They had a range of pork pies on, and after finding out that the plain ones had all gone, I had one with chorizo in. I only wish that somewhere in Brum did pork pies like they do in Sheffield. It’s the closest I ever get to the ones that they make in Shropshire. I can honestly say, I love Sheffield, it’s a comfortable place. Even if it is built on seven hills and you find yourself having to do a fair bit of climbing.
“It definitely keeps you fit”
The Dog and Partridge was next, a proper Sheffield boozer. Even had a helpful guide to the dialect on the wall.
Saying farewell to Jude, we’d got just enough time for a quick half in the Beer Engine. I’d not been in it before, and with luck, they’ll have dispensed with the table service that they still had in place, the next time we go in there. For me, it took a little gloss off what had been a good day. We walked towards the ground with a Sheffield United lad, who showed us the short cuts.
We were here, the 18 months that had lapsed since my last away game, had felt like canoeing down a glacier. I was back.
It was so so good seeing familiar faces. Fans that you don’t find yourself talking to but always seeing. The feeling of relief was palpable. I can’t explain it well enough. I could try of course, but I wouldn’t truly do it justice. If I’m being totally honest with you, all the restrictions and measures that have been in place, not being allowed to do all the things I love doing, had put a massive strain on my mental health and well being. The feeling of release as I watched the game, was like having my brain massaged. Blues came under pressure. It was to be expected, we were away. What wasn’t expected, was us taking the lead. The away end went barmy. There were no masks, no social distancing, just pure unbridled joy. Strangers hugging strangers. It was how it should be. I like Bela as a player, but he wasn’t at the races. Tahith Chong on the other hand, looked brilliant. An arrival on-loan from Manchester United, he was everywhere. Assured on the ball, and has in his possession, one of those telescopic legs that is excellent for tackling with. Although we weren’t having much of the ball, the Blades weren’t doing much with it. Another close season arrival, Matija Sarkic, had little to do in the Blues goal, and what he did have to do, he coped with easily. You always want a safe pair of hands in goal, and in the on-loan from Wolves, keeper, we look like we’ve an able replacement for the recovering Neil Etheridge. The first half finished with us in the lead. It’s Blues, it wouldn’t last the whole of the second half surely? Halftime, and I went in search of more familiar faces. I spotted Mick from Willenhall, one of Clacker’s lads, Paul, a Roost regular, who hugged me like a long lost friend, and the Noonan brothers. Rob’s missus is expecting again, and he showed me a latest photo of his eldest. 18 months really is a long time. 18 months that we’ll never get back. Second half and we’re going to be under the cosh. The home side were attacking their Kop thingy with all their diehard fans in. The second half was a better game, they may have been having a lot of the play, but Blues were getting chances. Chances they really should’ve done better with. We even got another goal, but it was ruled out for a push. Hogan missed appallingly from one glorious chance he had. On the balance of play, a second would’ve flattered us. You don’t think that, when you’re only 1:0 up though. The big screen, with its clock agonisingly showing the minutes left seemed to have frozen. It hadn’t, it just felt like it. 18 months is a long time, 10 minutes left when you’re 1:0 up, is even longer. Seeing the anxiety etched on the face of a bloke in front, I mentioned to him that we’ve supposed to have missed this. The home support were starting to drift away. Why? How? You could understand after getting relegated last season, but hold on, it was only 1:0. I mean, come on, you haven’t been able to go for 18 months, and you’re going early? Really? I’ve got to say, it surprised me. Mind you, I was keeping an eye on the clock, wishing for the end of the game. Ref! Blow up, will you! He did, we’d won.
I walked back into town, trying not to look too smug. I checked my phone, I had a message from Jude, she’d gone back to the digs, could I tell Spoons. No, because I wasn’t with him. I phoned Daryl, he didn’t answer. He then phoned me. Never mind trying not to look smug, the Brummie accent was giving me away anyway, I didn’t care. I met up with the rest, and Bryn and Birdy in the Rutland Arms. Although you get a couple of fans in there, it’s not a football pub. It’s a student pub. It turned into one of the best after match sessions I’d had in years. Oh, how I’d missed it. Spoons, Daryl and Steve, went one by one, leaving me, Bryn and Birdy. We got talking about this blog and how much they loved it. I’m not going to lie, it was one Hell of an ego boost. I’m not a boastful person, don’t think who, or what I am is anything special. That extends to this thing. I just enjoy writing. Don’t think anything I actually write is any good, I just like doing it. If I could afford to, I’d love to just concentrate on writing. Thing is, I’ve bills to pay, rent to pay for, and food to buy. Plus, where would I get the money to do what I do? That Trinity doesn’t come cheap. With our digs being close, and the pub kicking us out, we walked back to my hotel. Bidding farewell, we went our separate ways. It really had been a good night.
I miss having a shower, I haven’t got one where I live. A bath doesn’t revitalise you like a shower does. I needed revitalising. I felt a bit of a wreck, but a wreck with that inner glow of contentment. I waited for the rain to subside, before checking out. I hadn’t got a coat with me. Whenever this sort of thing happens, I can always hear the words of my Mom. “You’ll need your coat.” Back then, I never heeded her advice. These days, I’m not as gungho, but still as stupid. Venturing out, I bought a couple of papers to read, and headed into the Banker’s Draft. As city centre Wetherspoons go, the Banker’s Draft is the best of them in Sheffield. Well it used to be pre Covid. Post Covid, it obviously isn’t. The pint I had was on the turn. Knowing that the Tap would be open, I headed there. It had started raining again. The Tap was virtually empty. I had the back room to myself. The Tap is a place where you could easily spend all day in. It didn’t help that I was enjoying the music that was being piped round the place. I managed to peel myself out of the comfy armchair I’d found to inhabit, and went and caught the train, along with several other Blues fans I recognised. The hotels had done well out of us. Approaching Brum, I always have the same feeling…..home. Even with not actually being born in Brum, and also before I came to decamp to Brum from Telford, it was home. In fact, I forever had an underlying annoyance with myself for not living in Brum. I’d been in touch with Jinksy as he’d been drinking in town. I met up in the Post Office Vaults, with him and a couple of Rangers mates of his, Jarrod I’d met before, Graeme, who I hadn’t. We spent several rounds, telling stories and falling about laughing at them. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.