30/1/22 Derby County V Blues. Back 2 Life, Back 2 Reality.

Technically, this was to be my second double game weekend of the year, but as the first one was during the Christmas break and thus messed up with Bank Holidays, (Not that I’m moaning.) it didn’t feel like one. It was also the first time I’d been able to see Blues without needing to show my non-existent Covid passport or one of those positively negative flow test thingys. So how many years had those desperately important passports been relevant? 50 days. That’s right, 50 days. Not even two months. What on earth was the point? The latest super dooper, all conquering mutation hadn’t lived up to the agendas of the ‘health advisors’, or the blind panic of the populus as they raced out to be impaled with their boosters. Me? I just carried on doing what I’ve been doing for the last 12 months. Basically, exactly what I did before the virus touched down. The only difference was I was able to indulge in a fair bit of ground hopping around the country. In other words, I just followed the advice the government laid out at the beginning of the Second World War. I just kept calm, and carried on. This weekend marked the 2 year anniversary of when the very first infection of Covid 19 was detected in this country. 2 years is a long time to put your life on hold, just in case you may or may not catch something that may or may not kill you. I gave up worrying a long time before giving up on the useless advice we were being told. As for the vaccine, well I’m still here aren’t I? I’m not a sceptic, far from it. I just don’t see the point of having something I haven’t up until now, needed. I don’t and will never knock anyone who is worried about the virus enough to be vaccinated, but I’m neither worried nor vaccinated. Every day I get up and go to work, is a another day I haven’t been hospitalised by the virus. Every day I get up and go to work, is another day closer to dying anyway. So 50 days after watching Blues squander a 2:0 lead versus Cardiff at St Andrews, I ventured out to head to Derby. As I walked to the bus stop, I encountered a lad who had mis-controlled and fallen off one of those irritating electronic scooters that have appeared and seemingly taken over the streets and pavements of Brum. Tarmac can be pretty unforgiving to skin, flesh and bone when it’s met at speed. The lad was visibly shaken up by the ordeal, never mind bits of him now resembling corned beef. The adrenaline of shock had been replaced by the pain of his injuries. Whether he had left where he lived without any money, or he’d lost it in the crash, I’m not sure, but I hadn’t the heart to refuse his plea for 89p for some painkillers. Besides, I was quite pleased he’d come off the contraption and made a mess of himself. The things are dangerous and in my opinion, should vanish back to whence they came from. Getting off the bus, I went and bought train tickets for the day and a ground hop in March. Exiting, I caught up with Steve. It was a tad too early to wait for the Wellington to open, so we went in the Briar Rose for a half. Spotting JK who had obviously had a similar idea, we joined him before taking the short distance to the Welly. We were in turn to be joined in there by a match ticket less Jinksy, and a rare away appearance these days of Mikey. Not for the first time this season, Jinksy had had trouble with the ticket office, and he was having to collect his match ticket from the Derby ground. It’s one of the two main reasons why I always buy mine from the Blues ticket office. It’s physically more trouble, but gives me peace of mind. It was great to see Mikey, a face that was up until his parents health deteriorated too much for him to be able to leave them for too long, was a regular at away games. Sunday lunchtime kickoffs aren’t compatible with pre-match drinking, and it had split us Blues supporting ale trailers into two groups. There had been us, that thought it better to do what we were doing, and there was Spoons, Daryl, Russell and Badger who had decided to get to Derby early. Badge being Badge, has ale trailing mates all over the country. Several of them hailing from Derby, so he was always going to get there early. After a couple of pints in the Welly, we headed to New Street station. On the way, Steve recognised a face we both knew from his playing days. Robert ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins played with distinction for Birmingham City in two different spells. Although starting at that cesspit at the bottom of the road from me, he was and still is, a dyed in the wool Blues supporter. He doesn’t need a free ticket and hospitality to entice him into watching Blues, he’s more than happy to ‘mix it’ with us ‘proper’ fans. The fact that he played 173 times for us over those two spells, is beside the point. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t think it. It’s why it pains me with the Gardner’s, and why I’m derogatory about them on here. Like us ‘normal’ fans, (Yes I know I’m classing myself as normal. Stop laughing.) Hoppy is one of us. The Gardner Sisters are just opportunists who in my eyes, aren’t and never were Blues. Although he walked down with us to the station, he somehow got mixed up with the many other Blues fans that got the train to Derby. Whilst a huge amount ended up having to stand up on the journey, we split to find seats as we’d already decided where we were drinking when we hit Derby. Luckily, me and JK found seats. Touching down, we made our way to and past the bouncers on the door of one, if not my favourite pub in Derby, The Alexandra hotel. I’ve taken many photos of this place for this blog before now and I’m not going to take and include any more. If you love trains, railways and real ale, then you’ll love the place. If you don’t, then you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. The place was jammed packed with a good mix of both sets of fans. Jeff, John and Andy had got in there early and had managed to secure themselves a table. We made do with trying to find a little space where elbows weren’t knocked and beer spilt. Space found, we invaded it and staked our claim on it. It gave us a good view of the protest march some Derby fans were staging, the local plod directing it over the flyover passed the pub. I’m not really one for protest marches. I understand the relevance of course, but it’s the pace and time they take that I find irritating. Jinksy not wanting to get caught up with it, waited for it to dissipate before going in search of his ticket. Another pint later, the rest of us without any protest, staged our own march to the ground.

So 50 days after being allowed to watch Blues versus Cardiff, I was once again, unvaccinated, in amongst the Blues support.

“Clowns to the left of us”
“Jokers to the right, here I was, stuck in the middle with Blues”

It was good to back. The same old songs, same old worries and anxiety, same old expectancy and wishes, all depending on which half of the pitch the ball was in and which team had possession. Oh, and also the score of course. Talking of the score, there was an early goal…..for us!!! The Unbridled joy of watching the team you adore take the lead, cannot be underestimated. Especially when it arrives in an away game. A new or at least, newish phenomenon with away support is a preoccupation with making a visual statement by setting off smoke bombs when their team scores. I’m a simple man (Some people would just say ‘thick’) with simple tastes. I’m not ashamed to say that I absolutely love the smell of a smoke bomb in much the same way as I love the smell of freshly laid tarmac, creosoted fences and paraffin. It’s frowned upon by the authorities of course but is now so common that it’s largely ignored. It’s seen as rebellious at the moment though, but as soon as it’s accepted and gets sold in the club shop, it’ll then die out. We were to hold on to the lead until halftime, when I then went to produce some Carling. I heard the unmistakable sound of Nat’s voice before I saw him. I grabbed a quick chat before Jinksy joined, followed by Daryl and Steve. The general consensus was that we were doing quite well. I went back up to where I had been standing, thinking that if we could just keep kicking the ball over the roof of the stands, we might just win it. However, there was to be another early goal in the half………for Blues!! If the first had been boisterously celebrated, the second made that celebration look like a polite round of applause. Bodies went everywhere, over seats and cascading down steps as jumping and hugging abandoned balance. Now finding myself in a heap of entanglement, I managed to scramble to my feet, pulling a fellow fan up who struggling, was resembling a tortoise on it’s back. We then hit a purple patch of the game. Not only did we conjure up a move that would not have been out of place on the pitch of the Azteca in the 1970 world cup final and been produced by a team playing in yellow and blue. Ironically, we weren’t even playing in our change kit which just happen to be those colours, but Hogan flashed a chance narrowly wide from a low cross. A third would not have been unjust. We were consistently finding each other with passes, Derby’s were constantly going astray. The purple patch was not to last though, and with 15 minutes left, a mistake in a bad area by Hogan, allowed Derby to swiftly move forward and into a shooting position. 1:2. The Blues mindset changed. From being dominant and on the front foot, we retreated and became tentative. Anxiety caught faster than Covid amongst the Blues players and led to sheer panic. You could sense an equaliser. Made worse by an ex-player of ours, returning from long term injury and coming on as substitute. The scene was set. Could we see added time out? Of course not. We’re Blues. With virtually the last kick of the game that ex-player, Bielik scored. 2:2

I left the ground and headed to meet the rest in the Flowerpot. I went the long way round. It wasn’t entirely by design, but didn’t really fancy going through the shopping mall anyway. Apart from Badge and Russell, the rest were already in there when I got to the pub. I don’t know who the band was that were playing in there, but I found the rest in a back part of the pub. It was simply the only place in the pub that there was any space left. The postmortem took place and then the game was forgotten about. We were in agreement that we’d have taken a draw before the start, and the memory of snatching a 2:2 draw in added time away at Derby, was still fresh in the memory. Fresh enough to ease the pain. What goes around, comes around. Not just because of the virus, but I haven’t been to a music gig in years. It’s something I should really change. Spoons however, attends several over the year. Although you couldn’t imagine it to look at him, he’s got a guilty pleasure in that in amongst all the heavy metal music, he likes 80s pop. One of his favourite bands is T’Pau. The brewery he works for is based just outside Nuneaton and T’Pau are playing in the town soon. We joked that he could offer to take the lead singer Carol Decker, for a tour round the brewery. After the Flowerpot, we moved on to the Tap. The Tap is ok, but it’s not my favourite in Derby.

“Just operating instructions for Spoons’ job”

We never ever stay in their long, so I suspect I’m not the only ale trailer that prefers other Derby pubs. The Silkmill was packed with drinkers watching whatever game that was showing on Sky Sports, so we went outside. By this time, the mood had definitely lifted, and it was like the game hadn’t happened. The conversation and laughter flowed like it always does. After the Silkmill, we split into two groups. Some of us headed for The Smithfield, the rest headed to the Alex. As we’d been in the Alex before the game, we wanted to explore a bit more. In the garden of the Smithfield, another band had been set up. It was more cover versions of rock tunes than anything else. With the garden packed with customers listening to the band, we watched and listened to it from the windows. Me and Jinksy got into a conversation with a Derby fan about football hooligan films, and which we liked and rated. I had to disagree with the lad from Derby over Green Street though. He liked it, I think it’s utter drivel. As I had got most of my pint left, I stopped to talk while the rest headed for the Alex. I ended up going the long way to the Alex, and by the time I’d got in there, they’d left. Checking the train times back to Brum on my phone, I could understand why they weren’t in there. I’d got 10 minutes before the last train home. The time had just sped by. Derby may have dampened the day with the added time equaliser, but sitting on that last train to New Street, it just felt so good to be back watching Blues.

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