10/8/21 Blues v Colchester United, League Cup 1st Round. Shadowy Figures.

I wasn’t going to do this game originally. In fact, I don’t tend to bother with the League Cup, but as I hadn’t been to a home game for about a million years, and it actually dawned on me that I could attend the game, due to being on day shift, I decided to get a ticket. However, it meant that I wouldn’t need to hang around when I finished work. These days, the body doesn’t work like it used to. The ability to run, is nowhere near as fluid as it used to be. My feet and knees screamed at me for even having the audacity to attempt it. I’d been on my feet and in toe-tectors, for getting on for 10 hours, the joints in my legs were letting me know in no uncertain terms, that they were physically tired, and needed a rest. They weren’t going to get one. Racing home as fast as my aging body would let me, I commended myself for having the sense to lay out everything ready, so I could indulge in a lightning quick change of clothes, making sure I used enough deodorant to mask the smell of a full days work in a factory. Bouncing back out of my flat only 10 minutes after I’d entered. I haven’t quite mastered how Mr Ben used to do it on the animated children’s TV programme of the same name. If I could just work out how he did it, I’d save myself 10 valuable minutes. Turning the corner, I saw a bus pull off from the stop. I would have to wait. Since they made mask wearing compulsory on the bus, I hadn’t used one. Preferring to walk instead. Thankfully now, mask wearing has become personal choice. I don’t have to wear them on the bus. I can catch them again. An hour after clocking off at work, I was walking into the Head of Steam. Jinksy, Mikey, Steve and Ian Lake were in there, I joined them with my well earned and much needed pint. Steve had brought along a couple of programmes from two away games we’d played in 79/80. A season that had made a big impression on me. It was interesting flicking through them. Ian mentioned that he’d left a message on this blog. He was now following it. It surprised me to be honest, I didn’t think it was something he’d like. I’m not someone who tries to shoehorn my blog into every conversation. In fact, I’m quite bashful about it. We headed off towards the ground. Kilda wasn’t open, it’s midweek, it doesn’t open. Thing is, we haven’t been able to attend a game for 18 months, that obviously includes evening kickoffs. No point opening if there’s no through crowd. Places have got out of the practice of opening around the fixture list. We hoped that Halton Turner brewery might be open, as we saw someone opening a door there, it was a false alarm, they weren’t opening, and they weren’t aware of the game. We said we’d be back on Saturday, and that it might be worth opening whenever there was a game on. I must admit, I do like their beer, whenever I’ve had it. The brewery has moved from where they were brewing, to where they are now. I was quite pleased when I’d heard the news originally. Digbrew was another one that wasn’t open. Although not a fan of their beer, things were starting to look a bit desperate. The Ruin, a place I’d been in a couple of times, but not been impressed with, hadn’t even bothered to have any real ale on at all. We were down to two options, Roberto’s, (Or Bob’s, as we call it), or the Dog. Bob’s didn’t look open as we approached, but thankfully, it was. It’s a place that prefers customers to pay with card. Some of that is down to the virus, some of it is down to practicality. They don’t have to deal with cash or need to find a float. With the luck we were having, I was just glad it was open. We were the only customers. I like Bob’s. It’s got that undiscovered feel about it. Not so much because nobody knows it’s there, but just that nobody knows it’s there. There’s not really a through traffic. Once someone has been there, they come back. It’s a nice comfortable place, that has always got a good, interesting range of beers on. Like I’ve said, we were the only customers, and there’s no through crowd. It was a Tuesday, it was quiet. I suppose it was only the League Cup 1st round after all, but it was still quiet. So quiet, the girl who was looking after it, came outside to chat to us. When I said there was no through traffic, there were two girls, done up to the nines, walking up and down, even with the clothes, the makeup, the platform shoes making them taller, you could tell they were no older than 14. We’ve all been there with trying to look and act older. I did draw the line at wearing makeup and a mini skirt though. After several attempts, they must’ve conned some unsuspecting shop keeper, or they’d been ground down enough by the pair, to relent and sell them a can of Stella each. Looking at the pair, I’d guess that it wouldn’t have taken any more than a can each for them to get drunk. I don’t know how we got on to the subject of pets, and cats in particular, but we did. I’m not an animal lover, but nor am I a hater. I can barely look after myself, let alone look after a pet. It’s just too much like hard work. That being said, I’ve lived with people who have had pets. I’m not cruel, (Well I don’t perceive myself to be), but I’m not one who views and treats a pet as though it’s one of the family. People who treat a pet as though it’s their child, have serious issues. I once lived with a woman who had two cats. She’ll remain nameless. Ok, she won’t, it was Gayle. One of the cats, I really can’t remember which one, would stalk you when you were eating. it would sit as close as it could on the arm of the chair you were sat in. I’ve got to say, it was immensely irritating. It had learnt that if it did that, Gayle would leave something on her plate, and would put it on the floor, and allow the cat to eat it off the plate. I actually found this disgusting. I put up with it when Gayle was there, after all, it was her cat, and her house, but the thing would do it when Gayle wasn’t there. I decided to teach the damn thing a lesson it wouldn’t forget. I like curry. The cornershop, not to be confused with the Manchester band, did an excellent frozen one. (Knocked spots off anything you’ll find in a supermarket.) I came home from work the one morning, to do one of these delightful, delicious frozen curries, for my tea. Gayle worked a day shift, and had gone to work. Finishing said curry, I had deliberately left some sauce. I put the plate on the floor. The cat duly sauntered over, tail in the air. It then started to lick the sauce until it realised its mistake. Coughing and sputtering, it backed away from the plate. It looked in horror at me, before vanishing out of the living room. I heard it lapping furiously at its water bowl. The cat continued to stalk Gayle when she had food, but never me for some bizarre reason. To make sure the trick had worked, a few months later, I tried it again. The cat did take a few steps towards the plate, but then smelt the sauce. It again backed away, but without this time, tasting any remnants of the chicken madras. If you’re thinking that Gayle might ever read this, don’t worry, her opinion of me couldn’t get any worse anyway. I was in the main stand for the game, and I made my way round with Mikey, after walking up with the other three.

I missed kickoff. Someone in the queue was having trouble gaining access. The gizmo that the turnstile operator was using, kept saying that the ticket had already been scanned. The operator knowing this to be incorrect, called the supervisor, who then tried to get the gizmo to clear, and then work properly. Eventually they managed to bypass the system, and the queue moved.

“So that’s what they’ve been doing………..nothing.”

They’d only opened the Main Stand and the John Merrick. The reason being, that structural engineering work seriously needed doing on the rest of the ground. Before I go into why, along with theories, I’m going to admit to compiling a post of its own. I’d managed to buy a programme for the game, and I’m glad I did. Several on view for Blues, I didn’t recognise. I kept needing to refer to the squad lineup, linking names to numbers. As a supporter, especially one of a certain age, you start to grow more interested in the youngsters that are the next off the production line. The overwhelming question is always the same, can they step up to the first team. Gone are the days when clubs had a team that played every game. It’s a squad game. Players health is much more important. The physical nature of the game, means that to keep a player ‘fresh’, they may need ‘resting’. Niggling injuries are taken much more seriously. We now know that a niggling injury can metamorph into one that can sideline a player for weeks if not treated. Add to this, suspensions for falling foul of match officials, and just loss of form, and there’s now a need for back up players. Blues are a Championship club, we may have the resources that a League Two club hasn’t got, but we haven’t got anywhere near the resources that any club in the Premier League has got, and even some of the Championship clubs have a better squad of players. Sometime during the season, we will need to rely on the youth (Or Academy, as it’s now called.) team players. The League Cup has long been a competition that first team players have been ‘rested.’ It gives the manager/head coach/latest jargon, the chance to run the rule on players on the fringe. Can they step up? Well first of all, I’d noticed Nico Gordon had grown taller from the last time I’d seen him. However, he still isn’t good enough on this showing. Usually there’s an older, experienced player, given the responsibility of marshalling the young players and organising the fringe players. A ‘captain go between.’ That job was given to George Friend. Now I don’t know whether it’s because he was Aitor Karanka’s lieutenant, or whether his legs have gone. (By that, I don’t mean he’s having to get about the pitch, sat on a skateboard, I mean, like me trying to run back from work, Friends’ mobility around the pitch isn’t what it was), but I don’t trust the bloke. For me, there always seems to be a ‘Fifth column’ air about him. I obviously could be completely wrong, and he’s actually a good bloke. After all, Lee Bowyer trusts him enough to have given him the job of captain for the night, but I don’t trust him. He gives me the impression of a hidden agenda going on. Of the rest, one player I didn’t know was Marcel Oakley. This kid stood out. You could see that he’s not quite ready yet, but by the end of the season, he’ll be an able replacement for Maxime Colin. The progress that Jude Bellingham made after his debut away at Portsmouth, is well documented. I believe Marcel Oakley has got what it takes. He’s not in the same bracket as Jude, but he’ll go on to bigger, better things. Sometimes, you just know. Don’t ask me how and why, but sometimes you just know. For Colchester, Frank Nouble was showing why West Ham let him go. For those who remember, more Frank Bruno, than Frank Lampard. As the game went on, the two Ivans, Sanchez and Sunjic started to show their class. I say class, it was when either could be bothered. Especially Sunjic, who drifted in and out of the game. If either had taken the game by the scruff of the neck, they’d have been too much for Colchester. it was like they were holding themselves back so they didn’t get injured. Halftime, 0:0. Second half, no changes and no change. The game needed that spark. Finally we had a shot in anger. Then the game went back to mush. A flurry of activity in the technical area, led to the game starting to get interesting. Technical area. It used to be called ‘The dugout” It’s a bit like renaming your garden shed, ‘Domestic engineering department’ I don’t understand this predilection for making things sound much more important than what they actually are. Tate Campbell replaced Nico Gordon. Gordon had gone down with an injury, but I’d actually seen it as a blessing in disguise. Chucks Aneke was replaced by Riley McGree. Remember when players had names like Bill and Stan? I’m definitely getting old. Blues took the lead through a good finish from…….yeah, you’ve guessed it, I’ve already given him a pretty good write up, Marcel Oakley. It capped a performance that just got better as the game wore on, and it started quite well. If I was Maxime Colin, I’d be concerned for my position. Charlie Larkin (See, you can have a proper name.) produced a sharp save from the Colchester keeper, with a shot from outside the area. (No, not the technical area, the penalty area. It’s always been called the penalty area. Try messing with that.) Their number 6 got booked. It wasn’t before time, he’d been consistently fouling all game. Colchester then hit the post. Instead of galvanising Blues to go after that all important second goal that would kill the game off, it instilled a nervousness about Blues. The closer the final whistle got, the more nervy they became. The final whistle brought more relief than elation. We were through.

I caught up with Mikey as we exited the ground, before catching sight of Dave Moyna. He was with a toned Steph, a bespectacled Justin and a taller, older Seeley. Seeley had lost all his babyness, he’s now a little boy. 18 months is a long time. It’s going to be good seeing them back in the Tilton on Saturday, I thought. I walked with Mikey to his bus stop opposite Alcester Street, before crossing the road towards the Spotted Dog. Jinksy and Ian were already in there. Deciding to go in the beer garden, the pub was holding some kind of modern jazz jamming session. I’ll keep it clean, it was utter rubbish. They were playing all the right instruments, just not necessarily in the right order. It was no Sham 69, a band me and Ian tried describing to Jinksy. The garden was wall to wall ‘hipsters’ I half expected to see John Thompson’s character from the ‘Fast Show’ in there. Drinking up, me and Ian walked into town. I’ve got to say, Birmingham city centre is a right mess at the moment. It’s horrendous trying to get round it. The council will have you believe that they’re creating a junction for the next tram branch line. It’s not, it’s because they didn’t lay the track down properly in the first place. Catching the bus home, I knew I would be paying for it in the morning. I really should’ve gone straight home after the game, but then stupidity has always been something I’ve made the most of.

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