The end of the road? Neah, not quite yet. There’s always another season. It really doesn’t feel that long since I was heading up to Sheffield for our first game back. Life is almost back to normal now. Both Wales and Scotland have realised that all the ineffective Covid measures and restrictions don’t actually work, and they’ve finally been ditched inline with England. In China, where it all started, they’re still trying to squash the virus with draconian rules. People are still going to catch the virus because it’s not going to go away. It doesn’t matter what our species does to combat it, we’ve just got to take the chance and live with it. I worked that one out, once I had to go back to work. I realised I was expendable and just a bio-bot. I decided then, to ignore the official ‘advice’, and just live. Two fingers up at the virus and two fingers up at the vaccine. It’s pot luck whether you catch it, and it’s pot luck that I’m still here. Have I caught one or more of the different variants there’s been? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. Whether it’s a good thing that I’m still here or not, again, I really don’t care. I know I’m going to die eventually and I’m determined to squeeze as much out of life and my body as I possibly can. I met up with most of the crew for the day at New Street. The only absence was Steve who was catching an earlier train down to South Wales. The rest of us caught the 8:30 to the Welsh capital. Well, we would’ve had the train not been late departing Brum. The reason? The train was to be made from two conjoined previous services. The problem was the coupling and inept planning according to Ian, and if anyone was going to know, it was Ian. Apparently, planning for New Street when the railways were nationalised, was down to one ex-signalman who knew how things worked. It’s now covered by a department of eight who haven’t got a clue how things actually work. Oh doesn’t that ring a bell? It’s not even the first time this year that I’ve had it happen to me. Remember my ground hop to Harrogate? If you do, then you’ll know the train I was on from Brum to Leeds had coupling problems because it had been coupled up at New Street. So it’s a common occurrence. If only the government, any government of this country, it really doesn’t matter who, would re-nationalise the railways again. Finally on the train, we settled down to conversation and banter. Ian showed me the ‘school photos’ he’d had taken of his two greyhounds. I don’t think I’ve ever known someone become so attached to new ish pets so quickly. They’re old race dogs that basically can’t race anymore. Rather than they were put down, Ian took them on as pets. Personally, I can’t work out whether it’s skin crawling weird, or just commendably sentimental. With his new found fidelity, it could actually just be deflection. As the regular season is drawing to its close, thoughts always turn to who’s going up and who’s coming up. As ale trailers, it’s always about how good a place is for pubs, and how easy it is to get to the ground itself. With that in mind, nobody wants MK Don’s to get promoted from League One. Not only is it rubbish for real ale, but the ground is nowhere near the station. When I mean nowhere, I mean it’s at least 4 miles in between. We already knew that Norwich would be destined to join us. Something we’re all happy about and unfortunately, it looked like Watford would be rejoining us too. With any luck, the fixture gods will either make it Boxing day, or give us a midweek game so we can drink in St Albans. Yes, we may have drunk there before, but always fairly close to the station. I know there’s a couple of decent pubs a little further out that are worth doing, and we’d have more time. The one we all want to see happen though, is Everton being relegated. I haven’t been to Liverpool since November 2007 and back then, I not only had my long suffering son in tow, but I wasn’t drinking real ale. I was much more concerned with trying to find a pub with a pool table to keep him occupied, than I was with finding somewhere with decent beer. I also know of several Everton fans that I’ve always felt have looked down their noses at Blues. It would be nice knowing that they’ll be suffering. At Newport, Steve joined up with us on the train. There were a couple of Ol Bill that were ‘minding’ a handful of Blues fans. Steve had overheard the one copper saying to the other, that Blues fans had been a right pain on our last visit to South Wales. In truth, Blues fans have always been full of mischief. We live on the edge. Although as the saying goes, if you’re not living on the edge, then you’re taking up too much room. And let’s be honest, who the Hell wants to be boring? Personally, I’d much rather go out with a bang any day, than just fade away without anyone noticing. Though I’d defy anyone not to notice the hundred or so Blues fans that got off at Cardiff station and descended on the pubs of the city. It wasn’t even 11 o’clock in the morning. We weren’t the only ones to have descended on the place. There were a good number of people (mainly female.) who were wearing red. Intrigued, we reached for phones to try and work out why. The tinternet was to reveal that Wales were at home to Italy in the women’s version of the 6 Nations. Ironically, the last time we’d been in Wales for our game at Swansea, the men were playing Italy in the male version of the 6 Nations. Having been in the same league for as long as we have now, and although we’re always on the lookout for new places to go, we tend to know where we’re going. That in mind, it was to the Queen’s Vaults first. Having been out of commission due to both ends exploding, Ian hadn’t been able to do the ‘Steve thing’, and buy everyone a drink the very next game after his birthday. He’d joked that he was going to drag us to a Wetherspoons as it was cheaper, but he did the honourable thing and bought the round in the Vaults. As my birthday falls during the close season, I’m going to start doing it before the very first away game of the season. It’s only fair. From the Queen’s Vaults, we went to the Owain Glyndwr. No, not a Wetherspoons, though it probably sounds like one. We were to find Hereford Gary, who had travelled down from, well Hereford obviously. I don’t know if it was done with us Brummies in mind, but the music that was being piped round the pub was old school Ska and Reggae. I certainly wasn’t going to moan, and I wasn’t the only one of us that was enjoying it either. The pub started filling up with ‘plastic’ Liverpool fans who were in there to watch ‘their’ game. I couldn’t help remarking again that they were every bit as bad, if not worse, than Manchester United ‘armchairs’. Daryl led us to the next place, and if me and Steve had known which pub we were heading to, we’d have both pulled rank and gone the short route instead of going what was to be the long way round. I suppose it gave me the opportunity to look at what shops Cardiff now has as we walked passed them all, and I’ve got to say, I was impressed. It really is a ‘proper’ city centre now. The Pen and Wig is still decent and has still got a varied range of ales.
When the last cricket World Cup was held in England and Wales, I met up with my Sister, my niece and her hubby for the South Africa v Afghanistan game at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff. As we walked to the ground, a group of lads walked passed us. One turned to the rest and asked if anyone wanted ‘merch’. At the time, we all thought he meant merchandise. Looking at this sign, I’m not entirely sure now. From the Pen and Wig, we moved on to The Flute and Tankard. Another place been in before and another place I’ve taken photos of, so didn’t bother taking anymore. Bizarrely, this place doesn’t open when Wales are at home in the rugby. Yes, I know you’re reading this and thinking that I’ve mentioned that the women were playing.(That and also wondering why you’re reading this garbage.) I suppose they don’t think ‘just a bunch of girls playing rugby’ as important enough. Personally, I think it’s strange that they’d shut when the blokes play. Surely they’re missing out on a substantial amount of revenue? Maybe Ian’s right, the Welsh really are weird. We were to join Hereford Gary again and became better acquainted with his son. Well I did. Luckily for the lad, he’d been far enough away in the Owain Glyndwr to escape having to put up with me. The conversation turned to Rangers and Hearts playing each other in the final, and the fact that Jinksy holds a Rangers season ticket. If I had the money and time, I’d get myself a Hearts one to go along side my Blues one. Unfortunately, it’s an expense I can’t vindicate on my meagre wages. Jinksy lends his Rangers ST out when he can’t use it. As of yet, I haven’t made enough friends up there to be able to have that opportunity. At the moment, I don’t meet the criteria to get a Hearts ticket for the final and given that the Hearts end was sold out for the semi final, I can’t even see me getting one. With Hearts in mind, I’m looking at getting to one of the European home games next season. It’s just annoyed me that due to Mrs McHittler up in Scotland, I haven’t been able to get to Tynecastle this season. Sturgeon has been even more draconian with her Covid restrictions and measures north of the border than the muppet in charge in Wales. The truth is though, they didn’t make a blind bit of difference to infection rates in either Scotland or Wales. It was a power trip. Whatever England did with the virus, Sturgeon was always going to go overboard. With the fantastic Hop Bunker now shutdown due to the fallout from the virus, we were looking at doing something new.
Brew Monster was the first. A hip keg based brewery, but at least it had a sour on.
“The only monster was me.”
Standing outside to drink, we observed several different stag and hen parties staggering past in fancy dress. I like Cardiff, it’s got a mix all of its own. On any given Saturday, you’ve got groups enjoying themselves oblivious to absolutely everything else. It’s a patchwork quilt of a place and rightly the capital of Wales. Like London is in England, it’s a country all of its own. I’m certainly not saying the two cities are the same though. Far from it, you couldn’t get two much more polar opposites if you tried. The next place for a drink was similar to Brew Monster though.
You can tell from the outside that it’s situated in an old shop unit. Unfortunately, it still fooled Ian though. He tried pushing what used to be the door but is now just a window. The funniest part was knowing he was going to do it, and not stopping him. The beer wasn’t to my taste mind. Keg beer, it was far too carbonated for my liking. The one I had was like trying to drink fizzy coffee. Both Daryl and JK had moved on, and So had Jinksy and Steve. We were going to catch up with them, but as I hadn’t bought a lottery ticket yet, I ducked into a Tesco Express to purchase one. Ticket bought, there was no sign of the other two. Knowing what micro pub they were heading to, but not where, I googled directions. Either I didn’t read it properly, or it decided to have fun at my expense, because I contrived to get lost. I actually suspect that it was having fun at my expense rather than me not following the directions it was giving me properly. Giving up, I cut my losses and headed for the game. That’s when I spotted Spoons and Ian again. The damned phone had taken me in totally the opposite direction. The micro pub had been just round the corner from Tesco’s. A mere 20 yards away.
As with what’s now become a modern tradition, the last away game for a clubs attending supporters is unofficially fancy dress. Before now, I’ve seen some right sights. Some very funny and originally clever, some utterly stomach churning and nightmare inducing. However, it appears to be dying a death with Blues. There were very few fancy dress attired Blues fans for what was to be our last away game of the season. I suppose all good things have to come to an end, and after all, we were the very first set of fans to do it. If you don’t believe me, look up what happened at the first fancy dress game. See if you can find anytime it happened before Crystal Palace v Birmingham City back in season 1988/89. Go on, I dare you. As soon as they released ticket details for this game, my eyes lit up at the option to stand. Cardiff City Stadium is/was an all-seater ground with a capacity of 33,280. It had either bypassed me that the ground had been designated to be part of an experiment in ‘safe standing’, or I’d just forgotten. To be honest, I’d been to sleep since the announcement had been first made, so it’s probable that I’d just forgotten. In all fairness, I regularly have to check my own birth certificate to remind myself as to what my name is, let alone to work out how old I actually am. Having stood in the permanent safe standing section at Shrewsbury Town, (Many thanks to my Sister Val and hubby John for that experience.) I was very much looking forward to repeating that at Cardiff. The thing is, Shrewsbury’s is permanent and not only is/was better, but it was better controlled too. When I was a kid and buses were pulled by horses, terracing was cheaper than seats. At Cardiff, the option of standing or sitting was the same price. In fact, they hadn’t actually altered the ground much to accommodate a safe standing section.
Do I believe that there should be a permanently designated safe standing section like there is at Shrewsbury as opposed to what they’ve done at Cardiff? Yes is the simple answer to that. Personally, I believe you should have the choice, but stick to that choice. A stand or section where you can only sit, and a stand or section where you can only stand. None of the airy fairy set up that you’ve got at Cardiff. Before we had the terracing taken off us due to the appalling actions by Liverpool fans at Hillsborough, if you were stood up and wanted to sit down at halftime for a rest, you just sat down on the concrete steps where you were. As the players came back out for the second half, you got back up. That’s how it was. A lot of the time, you helped pull your mates up, or were helped up by them. Unlike Liverpool fans who just didn’t care about each other, you looked after each other, whether they were friends or strangers. Anyway, safe standing or not, fancy dress or not, we were there for a game, so I’ll write a little about it.
Looking around the ground, I’d say several season ticket holders hadn’t bothered turning up. After the season both clubs have had on the pitch, I could understand why. I suppose it was inevitable that the game would end up in a draw, but we took a first half lead that we could have added to, and definitely should’ve held. Although Cardiff had more possession, but for one glorious chance that they really should’ve scored from very early on in the game, they toiled. We weren’t exactly flowing when we had the ball, but at least we weren’t going to get a repeat of Blackpool. Back to taking the lead, it was a great through ball for the soon to be leaving, Jeremie Bela. He looked like he’d taken the ball too far left and the chance would be squandered. He hadn’t, he’d executed it perfectly. The ball nestled in the corner of the home net, and we went barmy. Safe standing section or not. At halftime, I went downstairs to see who I could spot and say T’ra for the summer to. To tell you the truth, I can’t remember everyone I saw, so can’t really list them all. Besides, it’d just be pretty boring. That does lead me nicely onto seeing Badger though. No no, Badge ain’t boring. Far from it. His mode of transport to and from the game was both surprising and boring though. Surprising as it was official club coach, and also excruciatingly boring as it was official club coach. It’s been a very long time since I’ve gone to a game by official club coach, and believe me, the sun will have been a ball of ice for at least half a millennium by the time I go by official club coach again. I knew the answer before even asking, but I asked it anyway. “Did you stop at a service station for the usual 45 minutes?” The answer was yes. It’s always yes. I reckon that even if the coach was running late and there was a distinct possibility that the kickoff would be missed if the coach stopped for the usual 45 minutes, they’d still have to stop for 3 quarters of an hour. I can’t think of anything much worse than having to stop at a service station for 45 minutes. You can seriously sense your life and soul ebbing away from you. There are those that religiously travel by nothing but official club coach. They also fully appreciate and enjoy the 45 minute service station stop too. I advise you to steer well clear of these people. Engage them in conversation at your peril. Before you’ve even realised it, your personality will be turning to stone. As the second half was drawing to a close, and with a rare away victory within sight, the bang on the head that Etheridge had sustained at Forrest, came back to have an affect. Both the ball and the attacker were going nowhere that vindicated the keepers bizarre decision to pull the player down and give away a penalty. What annoyed me even more though, was his impression of Aneurin Bevan’s city centre statue. Sorry mate, you gave away the penalty, at least make an effort at rectifying your mistake. If I didn’t know any better, I would say that either Etheridge wants to see Lee Bowyer dismissed, or he’d been bribed by a bookmaker from the country he represents. In truth, Etheridge is just a liability. He was a liability before getting knocked unconscious in Nottingham, and he still is. While I’m ranting, it riles me that we shelled out a substantial transfer fee for his inept services, and that we pay him handsomely for them too. So our last away game ended pretty much like the season is ending. A glimpse of better, but a glimpse of worse too. I don’t know what’s going to happen with Lee Bowyer. I honestly thought he was going to resign after Blackpool. The rumour train is chugging nicely down the track, but I’m anaesthetised to it all now. Of course I want Blues to do well, of course I want them to be successful. Will that be with Lee Bowyer or Sum Yu Wong? I just haven’t a Scooby Doo. It’s not just the stands that are rotten at Birmingham City, and I’m sick of the secrets and lies. Doesn’t matter if you wrap an empty box with beautiful shiny paper and stick pretty ribbons and a bow on it, it’s still an empty box. What we have at Blues is an empty box of disappointment and disillusionment. I want change at Blues. I’m desperate for change at Blues. All I can see is a battered old telly showing repeats of a comedy programme that you never really thought was all that funny in the first place.
The plan for after was made to head back to Tiny Rebel. I made sure I didn’t get caught up with the majority of the Blues fans that had come to the game by train, and who the Ol Bill were now trying to channel back to the station so that they couldn’t get another drink. I suppose with games running out now, I’m trying to squeeze as much as I can out them before I go into hibernation for the summer. I didn’t know what had happened to the rest of the ale trailers, but I left the ground and walked back to town on my own. After buying a pint, I did a sweep of the pub to see where the rest were. I’d either got to the pub first, or the plans had changed. I checked the WhatsApp group. Daryl had posted saying he’d dropped into the Landsdown, and I must admit, had I done Tiny Rebel before the game, I’d have suggested the Landsdown instead. Had I got advanced tickets and not been on the joint railcard with Ian, I probably would’ve gone there anyway. Ian himself had already been in the Tiny Rebel on the way back from the ground, but knowing that I’d only just got there, returned. Only Spoons had decided to carry on to the station, but that was because without a mobile phone, he was untouchable to inform him with what was happening. I honestly don’t blame him for steadfastly refusing to become a slave to the things, but it’s now virtually at a point that it’s going to be made compulsory to own one. We actually joke that Spoons mobile phone is called Jude, because if we want or need to get in touch with him, we contact his girlfriend. In that respect, she’s golden for putting up with it. I must admit, I’m just as stubborn with things to the point of stupidity. My mobile contract ran out almost a year ago and I’m eligible for a new handset. However, because the network provider I’m with, has still got their Covid measures in place at their branches, I won’t go in. Until they get rid of something that doesn’t make sense to persevere with, I’ll carry on boycotting them. Although there’s functions on my phone that don’t work anymore, and also I’m forever having to update services on it, I can still use my phone quite easily. In other words, you cope. JK is on the same railcard with Spoons, and he was feeling guilty for getting split up from him. Tiny Rebel isn’t as good as it used to be. It’s got more guest ales on now, but it was the breweries different ‘specials’ that I liked going in there for. Maybe we hit it at the wrong time, but as it was a Saturday, I don’t think so. Beer sales are at their highest at the weekend for obvious reasons. It’s why breweries time their processes to coincide with being able to make deliveries in time for the weekend. Getting the train back to Brum, it had been a good day out still, but I’d been a little disappointed, both with the Tiny Rebel, and also because the wonderful Hop Bunker is no longer in business. It’s entirely down to the virus and the impact that it’s had. The hospitality industry is only now just getting back on its feet in England, and because restrictions and measures were left in place for longer in both Wales and Scotland, the devastation they’ve caused, will take longer to get back to pre-Covid levels. In England, both Woods and Kelham Island breweries have ceased trading. Two medium sized breweries whose demise has taken the real ale community by surprise. I fear that Tiny Rebel might be one that is also teetering on the brink. My fingers and toes are crossed that my fears are unfounded.