A very short note in praise of the club

A tiny footnote to Sunday’s match report.

When I wrote it I knew that a tragedy had occurred. I worried people on their way to our match might have been affected. I didn’t know for certain the already heavy toll it had taken on our club.

As things went horribly wrong on the pitch last season I questioned Paul Barber’s leadership on these pages. It is only right to post back and say how wrong I was. Turning it round on the pitch is one thing (and we’ve done that) but conducting yourself with such dignity and professionalism at such a difficult time takes a very special set of people. Nor is it the first time as I’m sure relatives of Don Lock and Sarah Watts would attest. I am more proud than I’ve ever been of the club I support.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to bring people together. I wish it hadn’t.

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Blackburn Rovers At Home 2015/16 – Mixed Emotions

Life. Impossibly long, terribly short, happy, amazing, tragic and awful. That’s deliberately contradictory because yesterday was one of highs and lows.

This will be shorter than normal. Normally the tone of the blog is of what a Twitter friend calls “gentle comedy”. It’s meant to be light hearted but, at times, this isn’t possible. Last season that was down to the football. But to write in that voice you have to be in a certain mood and I’m not.

Yesterday really should have been one of those happy and amazing days that I dwelt on for an impossibly long time. It dawned sunny and warm, a beautiful late summer’s day.  The Boy’s football training went well, we met our friends on time and Southern Rail had managed to lay on an eight coach train across to Brighton, on which we got a seat. OK, when we got to Brighton the train monkeys managed to load us on totally the wrong train, meaning we sat in the station while people who’d only just arrived got put on the first train out, but we still got to The Amex in plenty of time. When we arrived it was eerily empty.

As I queued at one of the concourses a supervisor type came out and told all the servers that kick off was delayed by fifteen minutes. Surely the train stewards hadn’t sent everyone after us on to the fast train to Victoria? I checked my phone and only then caught up with the fact that something horrific was unfolding at the Shoreham Airshow. A plane had crashed on to a full A27, a road that at that time would have been full of families off for an afternoon somewhere and fans heading to The Amex from the west. At the time of writing I’m not sure exactly who has been affected but my heart goes out to them and their loved ones.

A football match still took place, and mostly we were able to focus on events on the pitch, albeit updates were coming in from Shoreham from all those around me. Blackburn had the better of the opening exchanges with Conway and Marshall giving our fullback pairing more trouble than they’d yet received this season, the centre backs being worked hard in the heat too, and long throws were coming in to the box from all angles.

Eventually we settled down and began to enjoy more possession. Lua Lua who had spent much of the first ten minutes giving the ball away suddenly began to trouble their defence while, on the other side, Jamie Murphy was easing in to his full debut. Hemed’s strength was allowing Baldock to buzz around him and the Blackburn defence and Kayal and Stephens were doing what centre midfielders should and putting themselves about. After a few probing moves we finally carved them apart with Baldock finding Kaz unmarked in the box. His powerful shot could only be parried in to the net and we were one up.

We held on with no small thanks to Stockdale who was excellent. Blackburn carved several good chances but they either wasted them or found our keeper more than equal to the challenge. We created chances ourselves on the break but couldn’t take those either and the game finished 1-0.  We are equal top with Ipswich, a goal down on goal difference, and unbeaten all season. We looked solid and a proper Championship team without ever hitting the heights of the first half at Fulham.

Afterwards we were walking past the North Stand entrance where we saw Calde surrounded by a large crowd singing his name. We tried to get a photo but he told us to get lost and made a run for his luxury vehicle. No, of course he didn’t, he stayed and had photos with each and every person who wanted one, generous as ever with his time. What a wonderful man and great club ambassador he is.

For the boys, then, it was a perfect day. A win. A team sitting pretty at the right end of the league and a chance meeting with a player. Afterwards we went to our friend’s 40th birthday party which was good enough to have delayed the usual posting time of this blog. But, when we remember this day in years to come it won’t be the day that we beat Blackburn 1-0, nor the day of the 40th party, but the day of the plane crash on the A27. For that reason alone this report is shorter and more subdued than normal.

Blackburn Preview

It’s not every day you get a preview on Brighton But Only At Home but then again we don’t have a match every day. If we did we’d need a squad of eighty players, Tony would be destitute by October and the only person who could afford a season ticket would be The Queen. Sky would continue as normal.

So what I mean is they’re rare. Rare enough to warrant me creating a new Category, a Category that might only ever have one post in it. So why? Well firstly I’m on holiday from work without actually being away anywhere warm with exotic lager and egg and chips priced in Euros. I have a list of jobs to do that reads (approximately); paint shed, take rubbish to dump, family trip to Science Museum, clean paddling pool, write Blackburn preview.

Secondly, though, I’m EXCITED.

Is this the most eagerly anticipated game at The Amex ever? Obviously not. I don’t have the same level of excitement I did before the first competitive game at our new ground against Doncaster for example (and nothing could ever live up to the climax of that particular game). Nor is the tension in the house as palpable as it was when we were about to take on Palace in the playoffs (an ending I’d like never to repeat). Arsenal and Liverpool have visited in competitive games and we have twice vanquished poor Newcastle sides (Newcastle, remember, are an even bigger deal than Sheffield Wednesday).

But compared to last season I’m like the kid who is about to have a birthday party in a Nerf Gun shooting range hosted by Stampy the Minecraft Vlogger and surrounded by bowls of never ending chocolates.

Last season –certainly between October and Christmas and definitely towards the end – I did not want to go to football. Despite the presence of good friends, assurances from The Brass that we were Premier League Ready and a huge poster of JFC (yes I know) proclaiming we had “one ambition” I TRUDGED from the station to the ground like a kid who’s been forced to see that Great Aunt who smells of poo and has the frisky Chihuahuas. We knew – all of us – that we had as much chance of scoring as Plug from The Bash St Kids at a Miss Universe convention.

Not now. OK, I’m possibly jinxing it and I promise all of you, right now, that if we’re terrible tomorrow I won’t write another match preview until the next time I’m bored at home with only an algae filled paddling pool competing for my attention. But I really do think the days of Brighton Nil are in the past.

Firstly we have had a tremendous start. Top of the table after match two and joint top (sort of) after three we have gleaned seven points out of a possible nine. Each of our starting strikers has a goal to their name, something that took until I can’t remember last season (when we only had one starting striker anyway and that was often COG) and we have scored a last minute winner and a first minute goal.

The squad is genuinely evolving as squads should. The defence already has much more strength in depth than last season (though, like my Fulham report, Dunk needs his own paragraph later on). It also has more pace, particularly down the left, meaning we are not defending so deeply. Jamie Murphy has been added as an option to the attack, Kayal and Stephens are forming a natural midfield partnership and we have not one but two number nines who are better than COG (albeit we will probably see one of them about as much as we saw Vicente). We are also playing a style of football that actually suits the league we’re in and players we have, rather than some pipe dream about being the next Barcelona or Germany.

Our opponents tomorrow, meanwhile have none of this. Owned by mental chicken farmers who apparently didn’t understand the concept of relegation Blackburn seem to be the only club in the country suffering under the FFP rules. The hugely impressive Gestade has already left as has Tom Cairney (one of Fulham’s best players last week). In have come Nathan Delfouneso from that current footballing powerhouse Blackpool and Hope Akpan, generously described by Reading fans as a “six out of ten player”.

Of course there is plenty of danger remaining. We all know what a good cross Craig Conway can put in if he’s in the mood while our summer pursuit of Ben Marshall may (hopefully) create its own Dunk type benching situation (though I doubt it). Jordan Rhodes is still just about there. So there is plenty of danger in their attack. They have scored in every game they have played this season though only once in each. They got exactly the same result as us at Huddersfield but they are yet to win a game (including a 1-2 defeat at home to Shrewsbury in the League Cup ). They are both a danger and there for the taking and therefore predicting a 1-1 draw seems the sensible thing to do.

But I don’t want to be sensible. I want to make up puerile songs about Gaetan Bong. I want to get one of those lary hi viz away shirts with “25  ZAMORA” on the back (ok I don’t but I’m as close to buying a replica shirt with a number on it for myself as I ever have been).  I want to write to 4-4-2 magazine and tell them that their season preview was wrong, ironically because we are playing 4-4-2. I want to sniff a £4.10 sausage roll, sit in a padded seat and swing a scarf over my head to “Ring of Fire”. In other words my Albion mojo is BACK.

Oh yeah, I promised a paragraph on Dunk. Firstly the club have, apparently, turned down a fresh bid of £5 million from Fulham this week. All of the public noises say we do not want to sell. Yet we have, this week, added a promising young centre back in the form of Connor Goldson from Shrewsbury and I doubt we persuaded him to sign by telling him he’d be fourth choice. So long as GG’s body is holding up I would not expect Dunk to be starting tomorrow. Nor, necessarily, would I expect him to be here at the end of the window. There will be more transfer dealings to come before September, of that I have no doubt. Whether we’ll meet the exorbitant demands of the mental chicken farmers for Marshall remains to be seen. However, neither should we expect the likes of Gary Gardner on loan.

PREDICTIONS

Score: 1-1

Attendance: 25,000 ish again including 400 odd Blackburn fans who will be applauded despite spending the afternoon singing inaudible homophobic “funnies”.

Team: Unchanged with the exception  of Murphy coming in for March.

Fulham Away – Love It

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What. A. Day.

But let’s start at the beginning. A bright and sunny, but breezy day saw everyone meet at the station on time and the train get us to where we were going, also on time. Such incredible unlikeliness had to be taken advantage of and we therefore thronged – yes thronged – through Putney towards the river and The Rocket. At 12.15 it was already packed to the gills with some very familiar faces indeed. We opted for the next door Boathouse which still had one table free outside. Yes, it was going to be one of those days.

Normally you need a second mortgage to drink in Putney but a few rounds at The Amex were expensive even in comparison to this upmarket option and it even had  a fantastic sausage roll at over a pound cheaper than ours. The boys found some other boys to play football with, threw ice cubes in to the Thames (as you do) and stared at the fully clothed paddle boarder battling against the tide. Soon the first strains of Sussex By The Sea were filling the air as was some Brighton blue smoke from a canister. As it cleared we found our two in the middle joining in loudly. A leisurely drain of the pint and it was time for a lovely walk along the Thames and through the park (to the horror of the local NCT mums) to the ground.

We were accompanied on this by Ade from the Albion Roar who entertained the kids with unlikely songs about our new German centre back before we got to the away turnstiles and I made the mistake of picking a fanzine seller as a programme seller. PLEASE no one tell TSLR. More embarrassment followed as I inexplicably juggled The Boy’s hot dog and caught it by pressing it against him. It left a large, red ketchup smear on his new away top. We hadn’t even kicked off and he stank of smoke bombs and looked like he’d been fighting Fulham’s top boys under Putney Bridge.

Talking of fighting,  my granddad once smashed up his Nursing Home room because it was “too nice”. I know that’s an odd thing to put in to a football report but bear with me. He was an old working class Londoner, brought up in a couple of rooms on the Caledonian Road and could not bear anything that was too good or too posh as he considered it above him. Four years on and I still feel a similar way about The Amex. I don’t want to smash it up, obviously, but it does feel too good for a lad brought up on the Goldstone North Stand and with a few Withdean seasons in the bank. Going to a ground like Fulham just reinforces it.

On the face of it, it should be so much more middle class than us. On the river – in bloody PUTNEY – with the gourmet sausage and pie vendors having moved in and with a Grade 2 Listed Building in the corner it simply screams Quinoa and BMWs. Yet its seats are not padded and its sight lines are awful. And, as with modern football anywhere, they are perfectly happy to sell you forty quids worth of tickets for said awful view. But don’t take my word for it, this is what we had.

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I mention it because, by now, you will have realised that this is one of those posts where you don’t get a sensible match report. I’d like to see Andy Naylor file a sensible match report after three pints of Youngs, hemmed in the corner and with an eight year old trying to dodge in and out to see something of the pitch.

There was one significant change to the team from the Forest game. As I had correctly predicted on Twitter (but not in my preview for a Fulham site) Dunk dropped to the bench (more of his situation shortly) with Uwe Húnnemeir making his debut.

And what a debut. We completely bossed the first half. The relief cascaded through the away end and the songs reached us in the corner easily. A few minutes in and we were already losing our voices when the Albion hit the bar after a lovely move down the right through, well, through SOMEONE in bright yellow. It was at the other end you see. But when Fulham did go on one of their rare attacks we got a very good view indeed of the Big Fucking German tidying up, and organising the defence or throwing his body on the line. When he wasn’t then Bong was outracing their wingers having given them a couple of yards start, My God he’s quick.

Eventually this masterful defence and attacking pressure combined to give us the lead. Uwe (look, I’m going to call him that, it’s easier and saves use of ALTGR) breaking up a Fulham break and finding a lovely pass down our right. Even lovelier was Bruno’s centre and Baldock couldn’t miss. He didn’t. ONE OF OUR STRIKERS HAS SCORED KLAXON.

What we then didn’t need was Fulham coming back in to it and scoring a worldy. And of course, they came back in to it and scored a worldy. Perhaps we should have cleared down our left but when we didn’t Pringle set the ball over to Cairney who was a fair way out and on the angle. He curled a magnificent drive past Stockdale and in to the top corner anyway. We went in at a highly undeserved 1-1.

We deserved nothing out of the second half though which just made the eventual outcome even better. Fulham closed us down quicker, kept the ball better and hit long balls from all over that kept our defence under constant pressure. They didn’t actually score but could have on a number of occasions. We looked overrun or bypassed in midfield and, on the odd occasions we released March he had the unfortunate habit of devising new ways to give it straight back to Fulham.

On eighty eight minutes we and the blokes in front of us agreed we would take a point.

On ninety minutes we and the blokes in front of us howled at how four extra minutes could have been awarded.

On ninety plus three we managed to break out down our left and Kazenga was through with one player to beat. He couldn’t again could he? Well no. But only because he was tripped from behind a yard in to the box. PENALTY!

The blokes in front of us helped the boys to see, whereas I, who hate watching these, covered my eyes. I opened them just in time to see Hemed run up and send the keeper the wrong way. The away end went mental. Absolutely mental. A minute later and the whistle went. 2-1 us.

Things just got better. On the way out the Championship table was being shown. We were top of it. As I type we are the only team with a 100% record after two games. This suggests another tight Championship season. And so we move back to Dunk.

If I were Tony (and I appreciate it’s his money) I would be drawing up a new contract right now because, if we’re even close on wages, it makes no sense for Lewis to go to Fulham. They look an average well drilled, long ball team. They badly need him at centre back. On this evidence, even though they bossed much of the second half, they will not be going up or even close. Why would you swap decent sight lines, padded seats and the world’s most expensive sausage roll for that?