A bloke named Bill scribbled a few stories down, a couple of centuries ago. He was born and died on the same date. It’s just a coincidence it’s on St George’s day, but it’s got a certain relevance to it. Those scribblings have inspired scholars to immerse themselves in them ever since, and condemned oiks like me never to understand all the nuances of the plays but to be subjected to ‘study’ them at school anyway. Shakespeare is someone you either love dearly, or couldn’t give a monkey’s about, but there’s no doubt he’s been woven into the history of England. So much so that it’s boring just thinking about it. I know I mention the weather a lot on this blog. Not too much for it to seem obsessive, (Least I don’t think so anyway.) but a lot. Thing is, I’m stuck in either a lung dissolving factory environment, or a tiny damp dingy flat. The only time I get to be outdoors in the fresh air, is when I’m ale trailing and watching football. It’s why I’m desperate for it to be dry and warm on a matchday, or at least just dry. Because I know I’m going to be outdoors a lot on a matchday, I will keep an eye on the weather forecast for where I’m going to be. This time of year is the most difficult to ascertain as to what to wear, especially with this island country of ours. The climate is changeable at the best of times, but in April it’s at its most volatile. Every year it’s the same, towards the end of March, you get a day or two that are sunny and warm. You can physically feel the aches and pains that come with age, being massaged by the heat. Then it feels like you’ve been plunged back into winter again. The sun and heat though, has given you a taste of what you want summer to be like. You start thinking of away games where you’re not having to dress like you’re heading off to the North Pole for the afternoon, but heading off to the beach instead. April is the month when you get all seasons in one day. Sometimes in the same hour. Even with meticulous planning, you can get caught out. You can either look like a genius or a complete idiot, and I really don’t need any help with looking like an idiot. I’ve got that nailed already. It’s all about being brave with the weather, but it really is pot luck, playing Russian roulette with dark clouds and blue sky as the bullets and empty chambers. Getting into the town centre, it was off to New Street station to purchase advanced tickets for what will be the last ground hops of the season. It was then up Bennet’s Hill to the Wellington. Sitting with my first pint of the day, I checked the WhatsApp group. Not only was it William Shakespeare’s birthday, but it was Ian’s birthday too. Amongst the many birthday wishes for Ian, was a heavy laden thread of Shakespearean based puns. It ended with a light hearted faceoff between me and Steve, but in all honesty, as Steve put, ‘It was much to do about nothing’ really. Daryl, Steve himself and JK dropped in. One of the barmaid’s is leaving the Welly and moving round the corner to the Colemore. She’d done a trial shift that had coincided with the last home game. I joked that she was just trying to confuse me. Something that is ridiculously easy as it is. She’s looking forward to moving round the corner, and I must admit, I reckon it’ll be the Colemore’s gain, and the Welly’s loss. I outlined the sketchy plans I have for doing the Scottish cup final with the others. We ourselves moved round to the Colemore, where we were joined by Jinksy.
Steve has taken to wearing a red rose on St George’s day. Much as I applaud him for doing it, it does give you the impression that he’s off to a wedding and not, ironically, St Andrews. Celebrating the patron saint of England is something that is trying to be claimed back from the racists that have hijacked it. There’s a certain level of stigma attached to being proud of being English because of it. Something that hasn’t happened with the other three countries of the UK. I can’t ever see me sporting a red rose like Steve does, and I’d also seen a woman serving on the market with a red rose pinned to her top, but I did think about wearing an England badge for the day. We moved on down to the Head of Steam. With Millwall in town, both the police presence and door security had been ‘beefed up’. It’s something I’ve found wherever Blues travel to. Like Millwall, we’re well known for our history of violence. Blues + Millwall = potential flashpoints. There’s a begrudging respect between the two mobs, but also, a game is seen as a chance to ‘test their mettle’ against each other. It’s not something I ordinarily get involved with, and this game wasn’t going to be any different. My indifference wasn’t to be matched elsewhere though. As to not inflame any potential aggravation any further, only one of the telly screens was switched on in the pub. It made no odds to me, as Ian Lake had met up with us in the pub. I hadn’t seen Ian since we played Colchester at home in the League Cup last August. Even now, he wasn’t going to bother with the game, he was just out to see if he could see anyone he knew, and watch whatever happened. Well it beat indulging in a spot of DIY or watching Saturday Scoreline on Sky. Although I always knew what went on in terms of any violence involving Zulus, Ian was one that was involved. He was just out to sample the atmosphere here though. Kilda was to be next, but before we were due to leave, Steve announced he was determined to beat Daryl there, and was off. Daryl was in the toilet having a Carling break at the time, so Steve was able to have a head start.
*BREAKING NEWS* Steve beats Daryl to the next pub! More on these developments later in the show.
I followed on after. Now if you’re thinking that with Daryl being in the toilet when Steve set off, is cheating, then remember that Steve is now in his 70s and Daryl is only in his 40s. As far as I’m concerned, the race was fair. The fact that Daryl was totally oblivious to the fact he was in a race, is beside the point. With now almost monotonous regularity, it was to Bob’s last before the game. With the downstairs seemingly turned into a creche, we joined Spoons and Paul upstairs. In turn, Russell joined us too.
Sorry, I have to break off. We can now cross over to our outside reporter, Lou Brush, who’s upstairs in Roberto’s, Bar and Tasting Club with the two competitors in the ‘Great English pub dash’, Steve Whaley and Daryl Marsh.
LOU: Firstly, congratulations Steve on your amazing achievement. Would you like to describe how you’re feeling right now.
STEVE: Thank you Lou. I’ve got to say that I’m really pleased. Three points for Blues this afternoon will only make it better.
L: Can you talk us through exactly what happened?
S: Well it was something I’ve been training for since just after Christmas. I was chatting to Gaye about how Daryl is always first to the next pub, and she reckoned that if I really went for it, I could beat him.
L: Can you talk us through the lead up to the race?
S: Lots of early nights to bed, a strict, healthy diet and early morning walks. Gradually I got faster and faster.
L: What happened last week in Blackpool?
S: I just misjudged the step in the pub and ended up in a heap. Thankfully, it didn’t disrupt my training routine and so I was ready.
L: Thanks Steve, and once again, congratulations. Now if I can just turn to Daryl. Oh, it appears that he’s already gone.
S: That’s Daryl for you, always off to the next pub.
L: Back to the studio.
I walked up to the ground with Spoons. On the road outside the main Kop gates, was an ambulance, a cordon of police towards the club shop, a woman being consoled on the pavement, and the motionless body of a bloke lying in the middle of the road, being attended to by paramedics. It did not look good.
Rumours get mixed up with the truth, but I was led to believe from Darren behind me where I sit, that the bloke had been ‘mouthing off’, been ‘smacked’, and the punch had knocked him backwards with such force, that the blokes head had split open on the tarmac. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but that’s a fair bit of detail for it not to actually be true. That aside, and having seen Steph, Justin and Seeley on the way out of the ground at Blackpool, we swapped stories of last Monday. The first half was a lot better than I was expecting it to be, especially given our performances in the previous two games. However, Millwall are Rowett’s team, and with Millwall just outside the playoffs, they proceeded to be exactly what I was expecting off them. More often than not, his football works. Not enough for it to ever succeed in getting a club promoted, but it’ll keep a club infuriatingly within touching distance of the playoffs, and well away from the dreaded drop zone. Personally, I think he’s a ‘bottler’. When you really need a team to ‘go for it’, that’s when he gets scared and the team under performs due to the negativity he exudes. As for Lee Bowyer, I’d been expecting his imminent resignation and departure ever since the final whistle at Blackpool. All week I had regularly checked the Blues website believing that I would see an official statement announcing his departure. Even a passive aggressive press conference towards the board during the week hadn’t led to the inevitable sacking. Much had been said about how much his payoff for leaving Blues would be. Is his position going to be made untenable? Would he have grounds for constructive dismissal? Do the owners actually care whether he stays or goes, or even that we’ll eventually get relegated or not? Personally, my resignation would’ve been wrapped around a brick and chucked through the window of a luxury London residence belonging to an elusive character that lurks within the shadows of the club. With much fanfare, fan fare has been ‘improved’ with hip ‘street food’ traders bought in and positioned round the ground. It might be nice tasting, but it’s ridiculously over priced. At halftime I had what can only be described as a posh hot dog with sauce all over it. I suppose you could say it was a bit different. Certainly better than the stewed rubbery hot dogs that the more ‘traditional’ vendors sell, but for what you’re charged, you could pay for a weeks groceries at the supermarket with. With the second half kickoff imminent, I now had a quandary. Did I bin half of the what I’d bought. (There was so much sauce that the eschewing mess wouldn’t have bared thinking about.) or stand at the back and mop the sauce up with the bread roll? As binning it would’ve meant wasting a small King’s ransom, I chose to eat it. Of course, Blues would then choose now to go and take the lead wouldn’t they? I would have to watch the goal in the highlights on Sky. When you miss a goal for your club, everyone else around you revels in pointing it out to you. If and when an equaliser then happens, comments that you should vanish so your team can score again, will follow. It’s mandatory supporter behaviour. You just have to take it. There’s absolutely nothing you can do. An appropriate retort hasn’t been thought up for those moments yet. I can’t say that Blues were playing scintillating football, but after the performance against Blackpool, I was only glad that they were working as a team, and were ‘putting a shift in’. I’d honestly been dreading playing Millwall. After the debacle of Blackpool, I would’ve been dreading playing the worst team in the Birmingham pub league, but disliking the odious cretin Gary Rowett as much as I do, I was fully expecting for Blues to not only be beaten at least 3:0, but then have to put up with seeing Rowett’s smug fizzog being interviewed on TV. We were handed a gilt edged opportunity to retake the lead, courtesy of a penalty. Up stepped Lyle Taylor, with his now customary laidback style. Although it had put me on edge when I saw him do it for the first time against the Buggies. This time I was almost as relaxed as he was, and was able to enjoy it more. All we needed to do now, was outRowett Rowett. The officials co-conspired to add on six minutes to the game. I went into counting down mode. Believing there was only two minutes left and feeling that the game was won, I made for the toilet to produce some Carling. Done, I was met by a fellow Bluenose on my exit, disgruntled that we’d conceded a last minute penalty. I glimpsed it being despatched. 2:2. We hadn’t won after all.
Walking away from the ground, the motionless body I’d seen earlier had been replaced by a layer of sand. They only ever do that for two reasons. Either to mop up copious amounts of oil, or blood. As I couldn’t imagine the bloke leaking Castrol GTX, I can only assume it was the red stuff, and there really was an awful lot of sand. Several decades ago, my brother saw the remnants of a Brummie Chelsea fan who had been pushed under a double decker bus. I could only imagine that ultimately, a similar fate had befallen the Millwall fan. Unlike others that were hanging around for any opportunity for confrontation, I made my way to the Spotted Dog. In there, I found Mikey’s brother Steve, and his girlfriend. I joined them with my pint, and we chatted about what had happened outside the ground. Football is the only sport that organised violence attaches itself to. We agreed that even sporadic violence in cricket is always football related. Steve had the opinion that it was a problem within the working class as both cricket and rugby Union didn’t have the same mob mentality. He conceded that the view was wrong when I pointed out that there wasn’t the problem in rugby League. A sport that is predominantly northern and staunchly working class. It’s a phenomenon that is the same the world over. Although I can totally understand that it’s tribalism, and we are still animals after all, what I don’t understand, is why it’s football that it’s attached itself to. Is it because in rugby, you’re watching controlled aggression on the pitch, and that slates the violence that’s within you? Is it because as cricket is fundamentally a summer sport, the warm weather makes us more sluggish? Is it because both rugby and cricket are sports where the game has a slightly slower build up to points being scored? Emotions can run high in all sports. It’s competitive by nature. But why football and not say, snooker or speedway? One is indoor, one outdoor, one is a ball sport, one a motor sport, one a sport played by an individual, one a team sport. I could carry on with the differences, and there’s many many other sports I could mention. So why football? What makes it so different and attracts a certain type of person? Not every football supporter is a hooligan, and hooligans still love football. It doesn’t make sense. Not the violence bit. I’ve outlined the tribalism reasons, but why football? Believe me, without football, the tribalism thing would just attach itself to something else. Society would still have that problem. Maybe had I done the same degree course as my son did, my thesis would’ve been on ‘The reason or reasons why society has chosen football as it’s outlet for tribal violence.’ Luckily, I’m thick and I was never ever going to get to university.