Leaving the hovel I call home, the outside world was glistening white with frost. I’m a contradiction at the best of times, but my compulsion to carry on going and watching football when the weather is at its coldest, is truly unfathomable. As a kid, I used to romanticise about winter. Things like dark nights, pretty frozen cobwebs, pretending seeing my breath turn to a vapour, was actually cigarette smoke. The smell of salt and vinegar and the heat from chips as we’d walk along holding and eating them. Plus, of course, the joy of playing in snow when ever it made an appearance. The older I became, and the more the aches and pains of rheumatism grabbed hold, the more I’ve grown to truly hate the cold. I’m now at a point in my life that the rheumatism only dissipates when I can feel myself cooking due to the heat of the summer sun. I’m only happy if I can sense myself melting and the bodies movement is pain free. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long for the bus into town, and as I was paying for my ticket on it, I heard my name called. It was Badger. He was going on the early train up to Blackpool. At New Street, we met up with Daryl, who was also going up on that one straight through train. Jinksy had found out that the new Wetherspoons was opening at 7 o’clock, and that’s where the rest of us were meeting. Unfortunately, when I got in there, I was to discover the London North Western wasn’t serving alcohol until 9 o’clock. A mug of tea and breakfast it was, but I really would’ve liked a pint with my traditional. Now if you’re looking at your device in disbelief that I could possibly fancy a pint at such an early time of day, remember that I work nights and my body clock for the most part, is upside down. I could just as easily have a full roast dinner at 5 o’clock in the morning, as I could go to bed at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and get up 8 hours later, completely refreshed and raring to go at midnight. Jinksy was next in, followed by Ian, JK and a very cold looking Spoons. Ian went off to get mine and his tickets, before we went down to the platform to get the train up to Preston. The journey was the usual kaleidoscope of banter and conversation, but as we travelled eyes were on the skies and the snow. At Preston, a couple of hundred North End fans were getting their train to Blackburn for their early kickoff. Greatly outnumbered, we stayed fairly quiet as to not draw attention to ourselves. Theirs arrived before ours, and we then made the last leg to Blackpool.
“Even the Tower was feeling the cold”
I don’t know how exactly, but we conspired to go the wrong way to our first Blackpool pub of the day, but we made the Brew Room 1887 in the end. Daryl, Badge and Steve who was staying in Lytham, were already in there. Back on Easter Monday, we went in here and I took loads of photos, hence the reason why I haven’t taken any more. It is a great place though, and well worth a visit. Although we could’ve stayed in there all day and carried on sampling all the different beers that they had on at the festival they were holding, we moved on to another place we went last season, Cask and Tap. Again, I didn’t take anymore photos, but Jeff and John were already in there. For some unknown reason, it always makes me smile seeing Jeff in another seaside town. I can’t help thinking he’s comparing it to Bournemouth. I don’t believe for a second that’s actually the case, but I still wonder. After almost an entire month of not seeing each other, there’s a lot to catch up on, and the conversation flowed. It was then back round the corner to order a taxi to the next place. Number 10 is one of my favourite places. No, not the mad house in Downing Street, but the micro pub of the same name.
“An absolute mecca for anyone of a Tangerine hued, real ale drinking persuasion”
Walking into the bar, the game on the telly was remarked upon. Knowing that it was the heavy snow shower and the now white pitch that had taken the eye, I remarked on the shock score instead. Preston were beating their high flying neighbours 4:1. Something that wouldn’t have pleased their intense rivals Blackpool. After Steve chatted about how good Bez from Happy Monday’s latest installment of his autobiography is, we moved on. Some went to the Broomhill, me, Spoons, JK and Ian had a half in The Saddle. As pre-match ale trails go, it hadn’t been a major one.
“As long as I still make it back for the game on a Saturday, I quite fancy a trip round the universe. More cider than cyber though”
Like I’ve said, it’s been almost a whole month since Blues last played. Although because of the weather it didn’t feel like the first game of the season, effectively, it was. The league standings may have indicated that we were safe in mid table and Blackpool were sat second from bottom, but I really didn’t know what to expect. Any momentum we may have generated before the break, would’ve come to an abrupt halt. Conversely, Blackpool would’ve had chance to regroup, analyse what had gone wrong, and having the time, been able to work on those things. Firstly, both the players who had been on World Cup duty were back, and because they’d been able to keep their match fitness up, fitted in seamlessly. Auston Trusty who had come in for us straight after a full season in America, had finally been able to rest, and that would’ve have done him good, but the worrying thing was that Scott Hogan was out. ‘A slight hamstring injury.’ I’m always suspicious when I see that statement. It can be shaken off, and after a weeks rest, (In this case, an extra week.) the player can be back firing again. Or alternatively, it can be a niggling ‘slight hamstring’ that seems to just go on and on and on. I have in mind David Dunn who was plagued by hamstring problems for the entire time he was at Blues. It’s infuriating, especially when it happens to a player who is vitality important to the team. Compared to Hogan, both Deeney and Jukiewicz are as mobile as oak trees. After the idyllic settings of both Belper’s and Matlock’s grounds, it was back to the reality of the EFL.
“Simply beautiful….if you’re blind”
Last season was, to say the least, a nightmare of a game for a Blues fan. For those with a bad or selective memory, it resulted in a 6:1 defeat for us and a manager who spent the entire halftime sat in the dugout. The atmosphere in the sold out away end was toxic. At the time, it was hard to see how the club could come back. Turmoil both on and off the pitch. Stands falling down at St Andrews without any signs of being repaired, an uncaring ownership and no direction but downwards on the playing side. Since then and also in the break for the World Cup, things are different. Lee Bowyer left in the close season, to be replaced by a young inexperienced manager in John Eustace, who seems to have galvanised a wafer thin playing squad, nurtured a strong team spirit and imposed a fairly successful playing system to the point where he’s being sort after, our young players are being sort after, and with the season halfway through, results have us comfortably mid table. Off the pitch, a piecemeal takeover didn’t happen with the ownership, but it does feel that things are finally moving. It is though, still concerning to whom the club will eventually be sold to. Oh, and the remedial work on the stands is now well underway too. However, it remains to be seen how or when it’ll be completed though. Am I more optimistic about what’s happening? Nope. It’s far far too early and too too easy for things not to slip back to how they were. Hope really is a worthless word. Whatever will happen, will happen. If hope is an inane sense of mind, then so is looking any further into the future than just a week. We can only react. Anything else will just leave you in a constant suspended state of agitation. Goal by goal, game by game, point by point. It’s Blues. It’s more or less how it’s always been, regardless of ownership and situation. Yeah we despair at times, feel like walking away because we just can’t take anymore, but something, just anything will claw like, drag you back. Someone’s opening sentence in a book they once wrote, was “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” They could’ve been alluding to life watching Blues. One thing you can guarantee with following Birmingham City Charlie, is it’s never boring. A ‘real’ tale of two cities in fact. If you were to look at the statistics for this game, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a boring game. It wasn’t. When it comes to compiling match stats, disallowed goals aren’t included in chances. They also don’t truly show how teams can control a game. This was one such game. Blues are very adept at giving the ball to the opposition where they can do the least damage. They also have quick, skilful players who can launch a devastating attack from anywhere on the pitch. It’s not formulated and can be extremely hard to defend against. You can see how they trust and support each other. Faults and limitations that normally would be exposed individually, are swallowed up and dissappear. I’m not saying it’s 100% successful, because if it was, then we’d be top of the league by a country mile, with an unsurmountable goal difference, but for a club that’s in a lucid state of turmoil off the pitch, it’s a system that’s picking up enough points to instill an optimism that relegation will be avoided easily and playoffs might even be achieved. Like I’ve said though, goal by goal, point by point, game by game. Let’s just get to the magic 50 points first, and then see how far up the league we can finish. Only time will tell, and patience is a must. Watching Blues first disallowed goal, I still don’t know how it was deemed offside. Had it been in the Premier League, the protests would’ve pushed for VAR to be used, the decision would’ve been overturned, and Blues would’ve been 1:0 up. As it was, it’s not the Premier League, VAR isn’t used, and only the referee’s assistant can tell you why an involuntary spasm in his arm, led to his flag shooting up in the air. However, 0:0 it stayed, I spent halftime chatting to different friends. Daz Fleetwood, the Noonan’s, Bugner and Alex being the ones I actually remember, but there were many more that I said hello to, before joining the rest of the ale trailers for the second half. The game did start to go stale midway through the second period, and it was crying out for a fresh bit of impetus. That came in the shape of George Hall. Had it arrived earlier, or even at halftime, Blues would’ve secured all the points. There’s strong rumours surrounding Hall and a January move to Leeds. We’ve all got our different opinions about it. Mine is that I believe he’s destined to join Jude Bellingham in the England side. How he gets there, I couldn’t tell you. He’s an amazing talent, and I think a move to Leeds in January will be the wrong one, too early. If I’m being unfeeling, then if he does go, then I would be extremely disappointed if he goes for less than £10 million with add ons. As it stands, Eustace has expressed his desire to keep Hall, and not to sell him on the cheap. I’ve no confidence that’s going to happen. I fear Eustace will have no say in the matter whatsoever, and Hall will be sold for less than £5 million. Hey, time will tell, and there’s no point fretting about it. Whatever will be, will be. I didn’t see the second disallowed Blues goal. We’d just left the ground to go and get the train. We saw and heard the curtailed celebrations of the Blues fans silhouetted against the top of the away end, but that’s as close as any of us got.
The frost was starting to take a firm grip as we bid goodbye to Steve, and was making it treacherous under feet. Needing to produce some Carling, a few of us ducked into Sainsbury’s. Judging it wrong, I got split up from the others. Unable to see them, I quickly phoned Jinksy, who informed me that they’d managed to catch the 17:21. Being on the railcard with Ian, my hesitation had cost me. Thankfully, I was able to get the 17:28, and was still able to get the connection in Preston, catching up with them on the train back to Brum. Originally, we’d discussed where we were going to watch the England v France Quarter final. Preston had been the only viable option, but by the time we came out of the ground, none of us were bothered, and had just wanted to get back to Brum. That said, the more tech savvy amongst us, still streamed the game on their phones. I tried to get a bit of kip, as did Jk. Something that was easier after hearing that England were losing. After all, the only expectation I had, was one of England losing anyway. Just as we were touching down back at New Street, England were awarded a penalty. Needing to get off, the taking of it seemed to go on forever. Finally alighting, a growing group had surrounded a lad on the platform, who was watching it on his phone. Joining the straining throng, Kane scored and we all went barmy. Hindsight is an absolutely useless thing to possess. As we frantically thought of somewhere to watch the remainder of the game, we’d all forgotten about the new Wetherspoons. We all could have watched the game in there, as all Spoons were showing all the games, England’s including. Instead, we all drifted off. With enough time in the game left, I decided I could make it home on the bus. Something I did. 1:1 I’d been sucked in. Every World Cup. I tell myself not to get involved, that England will just be a let down yet again. I suppose this time, it’d been the emergence of Jude Bellingham on a world stage for everyone to see and understand what I’ve been saying since his fifteenth game for Blues. On the one hand, it’s nice to be vindicated, and on the other hand, like I’ve said, I’d been suckered again. The short distance in between the bus stop and the hovel I live in, was enough time for England to go from parity to going behind again. So that was it then……nope, one more dollop of heartache to be piled on. Initially, the claim was turned down. Protests led to VAR being used (Where was that in Blackpool?) It was a penalty. A blatant penalty. Although you always allow the doubts to creep in, that the referee’s decision won’t be overturned, it was. Kane was given the opportunity to be the hero of the country. (Well, for those who cared, anyway.) He ran up, struck the ball, and took out a passing satellite, his shot was so high and erratic. Now it was over. England were out. France hadn’t won convincingly like I was expecting. It had been close, ridiculously close. Close enough to suck me in and spit me out, yet again. At least the Blues were back, even the 0:0 draw seemed appropriate. The first game of the season was a 0:0 draw away, and the first game after the restart was a 0:0 draw away. Just need to get that magic 50 points. One point, is a point closer.