26/11/22 Tividale V Atherstone Town, Midland Football League, Premier Division. A Different Ball Game.

After talks had broken down between the RMT and a collective of rail companies, the strikes were back on with the 26th being pinpointed for industrial action. It was back to where I could get to by bus. As you can see, I chose this one. To be honest, I still wasn’t 100% better after being taken ill during the latter part of the week, so was kind of glad that I wouldn’t be venturing too far from home. Tividale is just outside Dudley in the deepest, darkest part of the Black Country. My Son went to school in Dudley. In fact, although it was a girl’s school back when she attended, one of the very first female newsreaders, Sue Lawley, was a former pupil. A little known fact is that Dudley is the biggest town in the country never to have had a Football League club. Bizarrely, although my Son went to school in the town, I’ve very rarely visited the place. I can actually count how many times I’ve been to Dudley on the fingers of one hand, and still have fingers left over. (Contrary to popular perception amongst us Brummies, Yamyam’s haven’t got six fingers on each hand.) In that sense, I suppose it was well overdue that I visited the place properly. I had got ideas of checking out the new Wetherspoons that had opened up at New Street station, but after reading Jinksy’s report of it running out of real ale the previous night, I made do with a quick one in the Welly instead, before it was on the 126 bus to Dudley. After spending a day and a half travelling back to Brum on the X8 from Wolverhampton, I can’t say I was looking forward to it. Dudley may be only halfway between Brum and Wolverhampton, and the journey time wouldn’t take as long, but a bus trip that far still wasn’t anywhere near the top of my ‘Fun things to do’ list. At one point, when I lived in Telford and looked after my Son John at the weekend, engineering work on the railway between Wolverhampton and Brum meant that the all stations stopper didn’t run on a Sunday, and I’d catch the 126 to Tipton from Wolverhampton. Unlike the unmagical mystery tour of the X8, the 126 used to go straight down the Birmingham Road, and wasn’t too much of an attrition. That was 16 years ago now and it had been 15 years since I’d last been to Dudley, I was wondering quite what to expect. Getting off the bus, I looked around at my surroundings. Dudley was every bit as run down as I remembered it. Thing is, judging by the splendour of some of the buildings, it does look that the town was quite prosperous at some point in time. It certainly isn’t now.

“Never mind Sue Lawley and Sir Lenny Henry, this bloke is still Dudley’s most famous gift to the world”

A victim of the Munich air disaster in 1958, Duncan Edwards is the one player that I would’ve loved to have seen play, more than any other. I wax lyrical about Jude Bellingham a lot, (Probably too much really.) but from what I’ve read about Duncan Edwards, (And that definitely is a lot.) I would like to have been able to compare the two players. Such is how much I rate Bellingham, and how big Edwards’ reputation still is. Duncan was only 21 when he succumbed to the injuries he sustained in the crash. Opinion is that he would’ve been the one lifting the World Cup in 1966, and not Bobby Moore. As it was all before I was born, I can’t comment, other than I just wish I could’ve seen both him and the World Cup in 66. In that sense, I’ve always missed out on stuff. Dropping into the town before midday, my only option was the town’s Wetherspoons. The Full Moon was doing a brisk trade. A typical small town centre Spoons, with its usual type of clientele. That’s not me being snobby, that’s just me being observant. Some Spoons are good, some aren’t. They are what they are. It was showing the World Cup game that was being played though, so at least I had something to watch instead of just the news on a loop. From the Full Moon, it was onto the Lamp Tavern. Batham’s Bitter is one of the best kept secrets of the Black Country, and one of the truly great things about the area. Mostly only sold in the breweries pubs, it really is a gorgeous pint.

“Welcoming and cosy like a pub should be.”

“As Gromit waits for the fire to be lit”

After the Lamp, it was off to a Black Country Ales pub in the shape of The Court House. Again, it was not only showing the World Cup, but I noticed it showed all the games that Sky Sports cover. Would I go anywhere else if I was unfortunate enough to live in Dudley? Probably not, but I was disappointed with the pork pie I had. The pastry was nice enough, but it was the usual processed pink meat rubbish you get. A bit of seasoning wouldn’t go amiss in these things. After the Court House, it was back on the 126 to the last on my itinerary and the ground. Tividale is mainly residential but for the ground, a couple of shops, and a fabulous little micro pub called Tivi ale. It’s very much a pub for the community and has that comfortable kind of feeling about it.

It was though, time to go to a football match. Every Year, there’s a strange ball game played on Shrove Tuesday in the streets and common land of Atherstone. Much physical struggle results in many injuries, and even broken limbs. Personally, I don’t see the point of it, but it’s a tradition that has lasted for almost a thousand years, and hundreds compete in it. Knowing several resident Blues fans in the town, although entitled to, none bother with it. Ok, now to the obligatory photos.

“A bit different to the Shankly gates”

“You want a closer look at that magnificent structure?”

“There you go. I’ll even chuck in the tyre for free. No, I didn’t take it with me”

If you’re wondering where my fellow spectators are, they’re right up the other end sat on the fixed benches. As it was free and I’m old, I joined them and settled down to watch the game. One thing I’ve noticed with watching highlight reruns of games from the 70s, 80s and also today’s Non-League games, is that you don’t get all the pushing and pulling you get in professional football. The reason is simple. It’s coached into players from Academy level and beyond. It’s not a natural act to pull and push people in any other setting, so why is it being allowed in the highest levels of football? Basically it’s being ignored by the governing bodies. Tackling is well on the way to being abolished within the game and although for ‘medical reasons’, heading is fast approaching the time it’ll be banned too. For me, it’s the pulling and pushing that needs to be banned, because it’s blatant cheating. You also don’t get any of the histrionics in Non-League, that you get in professional football. The screaming in pain you get whenever someone deliberately falls into an opponent to gain an advantage, needs to be addressed too, as far as I’m concerned. A directive needs to be set out by the referee’s association, that if a player screams in agony, then that player has to be immediately, compulsory substituted. As far as I’m concerned, if a player is screaming in pain that much, then their injury is bad enough to require hospital treatment. Stop the play acting and cheating, and just get on with it. If I’ve been injured and in pain, then the last thing I want to do is writhe around on the floor. I will fully support any player who is in genuine pain because of a proper injury, but the cheating really has to stop. Anyway, rant over. According to one particularly indignant local who was still struggling to process Tividale’s 3:0 home defeat to Stone Old Alleynian’s, they’d been rubbish. I think he was after someone who had been at the game to vent his fury with. Finding out that I was ‘just’ ground hopping, crestfallen, he moved on to seek out another victim to put up with his protestations. If he was struggling with processing the defeat, Tividale were going about putting the record straight. They may have been beaten during the week, but they seemed determined to do something about it, and deservedly took the lead with a great diving header. (Soon to be outlawed by the woke ‘do gooders’.) If Tividale shaded the first half, then the goal appeared to be the shot of adrenaline they needed, because they came out for the second half, all guns blazing. To the disappointment of a fair number of Atherstone fans, the away side had no answer. 1:0 quickly became 2:0 after being awarded a penalty. Typically, I went to produce some Carling, and while doing so, Tividale went and scored a third. Thankfully for me, it wasn’t to be the last of the scoring, and the home side scored a fourth. After the stalemate of the previous evening’s tactical bore draw between England and the good old, U.S of A, it was light relief. Though I suspect not for the several Atherstone fans in attendance.

With what was a rare stroke of luck for me, I didn’t have to wait long for the next 126 bus service back to Brum, and spent biggest part of the journey chatting to a couple who are struggling with the financial pinch more than I am. Sitting there listening, I felt extremely grateful with my meagre existence. If anyone needed an example of why many many British workers from a plethora of different industries are taking industrial action against their money grabbing employers, this was it. With a bleak looking future, the couple still managed to find humour. It appeared that it was the only thing they had left. Their dignity had long been stripped from them. As one who has always bounced along the bottom of life, I know only too well how much I’ve had to fight like Hell to keep bouncing and not go under. It’s both physically, mentally and emotionally tiring. Getting off back in civilisation, I joined Daryl in the Post Office Vaults for his post work beer before splitting to go our separate ways.

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