After yesterday, I was feeling a tad fragile. Not mentally, but physically. Mentally, I was feeling both contented and elated. That feeling was solely down to the vindication with moving back to Brum. I hadn’t needed to exorcise any ghosts with my trip out to Bridgnorth. I hadn’t been avoiding visiting the place because of any bad memories, or an emptiness that comes from remembering the great times. An emptiness that invades and takes you over when it dawns on you that you are deeply miserable with your present life. It really hadn’t been avoidance of any kind other than one of logistics. I don’t drive and so haven’t got a car. I haven’t any family in Bridgnorth anymore, and so I’ve no reason to go back really. I’m not one who lives in the past or the future. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to change the past, and the future is never here. The future is lucid. The plans you make are beholden on the things outside your control. It had though, been a day where memories had flooded back like a tsunami. It had though, somehow transformed into a physical tiredness. I hadn’t overdone it with alcohol, though it felt like I had. I usually drink a lot more or at least the same, and walking wise, I walk far more whenever I do a London game. All that said, I was still fragile. I was glad that it was just a home game and was a normal kickoff. I got to the Welly before anyone else did. Well, before any of the ale trailers anyway. I was pleased to see that there were a few dark beers on the bar for once. I was spoilt for choice. I was eventually joined by Daryl and we chatted about mine and his ground hops from the day before. He’d been to Harrogate and we compared notes on which pubs we’d both done there. He’d been impressed as much as I’d been with the place. The next familiar face through the door, I hadn’t seen for a few weeks. At least three months actually. Paul Mason but without Jackie. Firstly, Jackie had caught the dreaded virus and it had laid her low. Miraculously, Paul hadn’t caught it from her. Were things not good between them? After all, they are married and do live together. Is their house that big that they can live in isolation in different wings? Communicating by notes passed through a team of staff? Or was it just total luck? Either way, knowing that he was coming out for a beer or five, he’d still tested himself constantly and each time had been clear. Secondly, his cholesterol levels had been off the scale and he’d reined it in a bit on the drinking side. Apparently, it had been eighteen, and he’d managed to get it down to five. What on earth that all means, I have no idea. Being of a similar age, am I going to get my own levels tested? Of course not, I honestly don’t care what they are. I’m getting older, the body’s disintegrating and there’s no point whatsoever in trying to stop or slow down the process. There’ll come a day when I’m not going to reach the end of it, and I’d rather not know. Worrying about their health is for people with far too much time on their hands. Thirdly, and probably the most important thing, he’d fallen out of love. No no, not with Jackie, (Though it would explain why he hadn’t caught Covid off her.) but with football and especially The Buggies. As we chatted, I could understand his growing apathy. Not so much with Albion, but with the plastic commercialism of the Premier League. The over hype of our country’s top league is sickly sweet. Played by over paid and over inflated egos. As for the Buggies, he’d been ground down by the malaise at the Hawthorns long before the change in team management. A change that had totally uninspired him. I’ve got to admit, I did feel quite smug about the Buggies situation. It’s rather quite pleasant knowing that they’re not even going to make the playoffs. It’s even better knowing that it’s Steve Bruce that’s the reason for the failure. Steve Whaley was next in, and the conversation veered towards Hereford’s present fortunes. JK arrived, as did a couple more Buggies fans we knew. Everyone was pleased to see Paul back out, and were empathic about the reasons for his apathy towards the game. One lad talked about his Dad giving up on Albion and instead, going and watching Chasetown as it was easier for him to get to. I’ve looked at a ground hop at Chasetown, and it would be a logistical nightmare as there isn’t a train station near. I don’t drive, and so it would have to be a combination of busses. With wanting to do several real ale pubs along the way, it certainly wouldn’t be the easiest to work out. We moved on to the Colemore, where Paul presented Steve with his prize for winning the Death list. The death list isn’t as bad as it sounds. Of course it’s not good for the people that die and their families, but they’re celebrities who we’ll probably never meet, and so it’s just a bit of fun between us. Both Steve and Jinksy seem to be pretty prolific when it comes to predicting famous people dying. I don’t know what it says about them and me, because I’m useless at it. As it stands right now, Steve has already been able to ‘cross one off’ his list, and it’s only been ten days since the new list has started. If it hadn’t been ‘natural causes’ I’d be a bit more suspicious. Steve is retired himself, so he’s got far more opportunities to assassinate the people on his list than the rest of us have. It’d had been a while since I’d been in the Head of Steam. Initially, due to the virus, it had been table service only, but after the reopening of everything, the beer selection had been poor. Walking in, the first thing I noticed, that selection had got much better. The second thing I noticed, was Rangers were getting beaten at home by Celtic. Rangers had even gone 1:0 up too. Both Jinksy and Nat had travelled up to Glasgow to watch the game. The second half was delayed after someone had thrown broken glass into the goal mouth that Joe Hart would be guarding. Knowing where both Jinksy and Nat have their season tickets, I knew it wouldn’t be them. Neither can throw that far. Kilda was next, and after finishing my pint and letting some Carling out in the toilet, I followed the rest down there. I sat next to Blues Paul, and we discussed how Buxton were doing. Not only is Buxton near the top of my ground hop wishlist, but it’s where Paul’s son now lives, so there’s a vested interest there for him. From Kilda, it was the usual visit to Bob’s and then onto the ground.
Seeing the recent passing of Barrington Paterson came as a real shock. ‘One eyed’ Baz was a well known face at Blues. Although hailing from Handsworth, he’d ignored both Buggies and Vile, to become not only Blues, but one of the original members of the notorious band of hooligans that followed our club. Look at the photo. Is it any wonder we adopted the moniker ‘Zulu Warriors’? It was actually a racial slur directed from the home fans at Maine Road Manchester towards the many black faces in the Blues away support. Some of our fans heard it, started singing an old rugby song with the name amongst the lyrics, and our mob found it kind of cool. That was back in the very early 80s. The Zulus of course, went on to become one of the most feared gangs in world football, let alone this country. Since the turn of the millennium, there’s been a morbid fascination with the clothing style, organisation and antics of the football hooligan gangs of that period of time. There’s been books and films, both fact and fiction. Self styled ‘lad’ Danny Dyer presented a series on the different ‘firms’, similarly named after the film he’d starred in, called ‘The Real Football Factory’ The Zulus were highlighted. Baz instantly became a ‘star’, and a follow up TV series titled ‘Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men’, saw him be the subject of one of the programmes. That, and his rise as a kickboxing champion, saw him become high profile. He made use of this new found fame, and turned his life round from smashing the heads of members from opposition club’s firms, to immersing himself in charity work. He carried on his strict fitness regime though, and not only did he visit the gym every single day, but he made sure he was in bed by 8 o’clock at night. Here’s the thing though, he was only 56 when his heart gave in on him. I’m approaching 54 with a history of heart disease on my Dad’s side of the family. If it can happen to someone as super fit as Baz, then it could well happen to me. There’s four siblings including myself in my family. The other three have made it to their 60s quite easily, one even their 70s. One of us though, must’ve inherited the ‘Sidwell swinging half brick’. As none, if any of the Sidwell line made it into their 60s. It doesn’t take the genius of Sherlock Holmes to deduce that it’s not looking good for me. Unlike Baz did, I don’t eat healthily and don’t exercise to keep fit. Should I start? Probably. Will I? Absolutely not. Not interested, don’t care. Talking of not caring, I’m not one of a growing breed of Blues fans that hate the Albion. In all honesty, I don’t really care much about what Wolves do either. I can’t actually even say I feel any real animosity towards Yamyams in general, if I’m being totally honest. That does though, change as soon as I set foot in whatever ground we’re playing in and whoever we’re playing. That apathy metamorphosis’ into an intensely inane hatred. It’s nothing more than tribalistic. It’s an emotion that is born out of our animal instincts. It’s also something that is heightened when we play any of our local rivals. Not withstanding the Vile of course. My disdain for them lot ranges from immense dislike to total hatred. (Jude being the only anomaly to that.) The bottom line though, was that I really wanted Blues to win more than usual. There’s always local bragging rights of course, but it was probably more to do with Steve Bruce and how I see him as a character. If you’re reading this and thinking that it’s nothing more than ‘sour grapes’, then you’re wrong. I find it appalling that anyone can cross a city divide, whether directly or indirectly. In fact, of all the players that have ever played for both us and ‘them lot’ in my time of watching football, I can count on one hand all the players I’ve forgiven and still have three fingers left. Bruce though, has crossed that barrier in Brum, Sheffield and also the Tyne and Wear derby. The Tyne and Wear derby being even more abhorrent as the slimeball was born in Newcastle and purports to have supported them as a kid. Is there nothing this mercenary wouldn’t do for money? It is therefore, extremely enjoyable watching Blues beat whatever club he’s extracting a wage out of. There’s loyalty and then there’s ‘doing a Bruce’. So usually, I like to see Blues play (Or at least try to.) expressive, attacking football. All that mattered with this one was the result. Bruce had set Buggies up as he always sets his team’s up, and with the same mindset. It doesn’t and didn’t make for football that is easy on the eye. Steph, Justin and Seeley had chosen a good game to miss in terms of entertainment. Checking to see if the concourse TVs now worked as promised, I bumped into Badger at halftime. The lyrical genius was in his elements after being recognised by an old female friend of his. The second half brought two things of note. Firstly, miraculously given the performances of referees at our level this season, we were awarded a penalty for a handball by a Buggies defender. Although cast iron, I’ve seen some very dubious decisions given, and I wouldn’t have been surprised had any of the officials not seen it, as they attended to their nails and touched up their makeup. The penalty itself was taken by Lyle Taylor, who preceded to be so laid back about it, he wouldn’t have been out of place in a back garden somewhere, wearing dark glasses, headphones and lounging in a hammock. He dispatched it into the back of the net like it was as easy as signing an autograph for a fan. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if he didn’t do that in the run up. I say run, it was much more of a saunter really. It was an expertly taken penalty, but it not only put me on edge watching his antics, that so convinced that he’d miss, I was fully expecting the disappointed collective groan followed by instantly having to endure watching the chaos of jubilation in the away end and the empty sick feeling that accompanies. In retrospect, it possibly even enhanced the feeling of elation knowing we were now 1:0 up. Bruce did what he has always done, and relying on an aerial bombardment as his tactics to get back into the game, he brought on Andy Carroll. 10 years ago, I’d have been petrified the bloke would be the one to score the equaliser. Even 5 years ago, I’d have been worried, but these days, you only ever need to afford it a mild concern. I swear you could even hear his knees creaking from the other end of the ground, such was his lack of effectiveness. He did still go close with a header that had me chewing on that vital pumping thing that usually lives somewhere behind my ribcage, but he really should’ve done a lot better with it. So it hadn’t been the greatest of performances, but I really didn’t care. It was all about the result, and we’d won.
The usual suspects were going back to the White Swan. Everyone but Spoons. I joined him, Mal, Rich and Damien in the Spotted Dog. Damien has still got his lockdown style. A style due to his now white hair, that’s reminiscent of a character that dresses up in red once a year. The match was mulled over of course, but there was no wine. Jude joined us, as did Russell. I was just drinking up and contemplating going home, when I was attacked from behind. Turning round to find out who my assailant was, I discovered it was Trond. It completely altered my plans with going home. I knew through Daryl that Tron was over from Norway, but I really wasn’t expecting to see him. I hadn’t seen him since Coventry away in November. Maybe one day, I’ll actually get over to Norway to see him, but I doubt it somehow. After catching up, and drinking up the pint I’d decided to stay and have, I gave Tron a hug and bid farewell to the rest before heading home on the bus.