Rotherham United At Home 2015/16 – Boys Night Out

I’m sitting with a strong coffee and a head that feels like someone is trying to tunnel out through my eyes while Brian Blessed yells directly in to my ears in Finnish. My throat is a rough as a January ferry crossing from Harwich. There is a kebab wrapper in my bin. I must have been out with the boys. On a school night too. Tut, tut.

This will not come entirely as a surprise to regular readers. Last season I spent the entire Brentford game in a fug of confusion after my first afternoon in 1901 hospitality and regularly documented how the social side of following our great game was the one thing that was keeping me sane. A mini tradition is emerging where Saturdays are social but sober with small people to look after and on Tuesday night games in term time I get let off the leash.

For this sort of escapade you will need a partner in crime. The sort of friend who holds splendid parties to which it’s compulsory to bring two bottles of wine. Each. The sort of friend who starts accidental mini surges in the West Upper. The sort of friend whose initial response to you posting your runs on Facebook is to ensure that you are not turning vegan or teetotal. The sort of friend who makes sure you are in The Cyclist by 5.30 on a match day drinking Cruzcampo. I have just such a partner in crime.

So it was that we were in The Cyclist by 5.30 though they have taken the Cruzcampo off, much to his disappointment. Not mine though as an ale drinker but we decided not to hang around anyway and to make our way to Dick’s Bar for the first time this season. Here I finally gave in to the temptations of the £4.10 sausage roll. I’ve gone on about that on these pages before and I’ll  just invite you to read the previous sentence again and assure you it doesn’t contain a typo. Any serious AMF activist worth their salt should be crying at the thought of shelling out such a sum for such an item but here’s the thing. £4.10 may be outrageously expensive for a sausage roll but it is quite cheap for dinner, and dinner is what it became. Besides, I needed the meat at that point. Refreshed by its porky goodness (and it is a VERY good sausage roll) I informed Partner In Crime that we were off to meet another mate, and that the first thing we’d be required to do would be to place a pound in a kitty and give a correct score prediction.

We got to the concourse, which was as quiet as Dick’s had been heaving and met another friend who did indeed invite us to put a quid in for the correct score. 2-0 had already gone so I reluctantly went for 1-0. Partner In Crime took 3-0. No one really thought Rotherham would score but the competition’s instigator, going last had to take 2-1, the only realistic score left. It turned out to be very realistic indeed.

So to the game. Saturday’s passed me by in a blur of emotion. It’s hard to concentrate on the finer details with tears still in your eyes. Here though, the beer was ensuring that I concentrated harder to make sense of the thing that was, after all, the reason for us being here. Two changes were made from Saturday, March coming in for Rosenior and Murphy for the suspended Lua Lua as we went more attacking, having presumably gleaned intelligence that Rotherham would park the bus and waste time. We certainly went at them early on and Baldock and Murphy both came close with a volley and a dragged shot respectively. At the other end, however we should have gone one down as Rotherham escaped from Bong down our left and Derbyshire put a free header wide of Stockdale’s left hand post. However, in general we were in charge again. Murphy, in his first full game in the stripes was a menace. Kayal and Stephens were again bossing midfield, Hemed was once again putting himself about and Bruno was once again as dangerous going forward as he was organised in defence. The pressure was always going to tell and on twenty seven minutes Murphy wriggled free and crossed and Hemed put a superb finish in to the corner. We went as crazy as we could without starting a mini surge.

It would be important, having got a lead and played so well in the first half not to immediately surrender it. Rotherham would be fired up as Steve Evans would certainly have threatened to sit on anyone giving less than 110%. And, indeed, we were nearly caught out immediately as they found a gap in our defence again straight from the restart. Luckily for us it was hit high over the bar. Undeterred and with the threat of twenty five stone of Scottish lard mangling their six-packs Rotherham pressed deeper, had more of the ball and generally looked like a side trying to equalise, rather than one trying to keep it to 1-0.

Sometimes though, when you go in search of an equaliser, fate, football or a decent break will kick you in the guts (which is presumably why Evans has so much padding). Yep, we hit them with a sucker punch and a great goal it was too, Murphy and Bong again lively down the left before the ball broke to Stephens, just outside the area, who hit a crisp shot in to the bottom corner. More going mental. Handshakes all round. A general acceptance that it was game done.

That acceptance, though, got as far as our defence who switched off again. Hughton will certainly not have been pleased with aspects of our defending last night and Rotherham finally capatalised on seventy one minutes from a free kick as Clarke-Harris put a lovely header in to the corner. 2-1. On came Sir Bobby to replace Baldock who looked to have been struggling and then Ince came on for Hemed as we went to five in midfield again.

It had the desired effect with the midfield tightening and Zamora winning everything. He does not play a bad pass, ever, something he has in common with that other marquee signing Vicente and Rotherham looked terrified of him.

There was just time for Bruno to nearly score the goal of the season, a magnificent volley brilliantly saved by Lee Camp and then, after six mysterious minutes of injury time we could celebrate.

There were again some stand out performances. Kayal obviously, Hemed for his goal, Zamora when he came on. But our group agreed unanimously with the sponsors that our man of the match was Murphy. It was quite the full debut.

We did indeed celebrate with more ale and a late night stop for a whisky or two in Portslade’s Only Decent Pub. Hence the kebab.

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Hull City At Home – Emotional

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“It was just supposed to be a group of mates walking together and raising a few hundred quid”

That’s what Brett Mendoza, Vice Chair of the REMF told me half way round the Jacob Shilt Memorial Walk. Try a few groups of mates Brett. Try a few thousand quid. But let’s start at the beginning.

The real beginning was perhaps the awful events of August 22nd. Those are talked about in previous posts but, in summary, eleven people lost their lives on the A27 at Shoreham as a Hawker Hunter jet flying as part of the airshow crashed on to the carriage way. Each life lost is a tragedy and my heart and the heart of all Sussex residents goes out to the victims’ friends and family. As we now know, however, two were closer to home than many. Matt Grimstone was a club employee and long term fan. Jacob Shilt was an REMF team player and Brighton fan, and, by all accounts, an excellent footballer. Through the REMF Jacob knew Brett who I have known for many years. Never have I been more proud to call Brett my friend though. It is such connections that make this such a Sussex wide tragedy and I’m sure many, many local people know people affected or who had a very near miss.

So we walked. I nearly walked further than most. For the second time this season I have fallen in to conversation with an Albion Roar presenter on the way to an Albion event. Firstly Ady on the way to Fulham. Now Al on the way to the Toll Bridge. Only it turned out we’d both done the bloke thing of tentatively consulting a map for the route before being a hundred percent certain that the street we were heading down was correct. Until we saw a no through road sign anyway. Then it turned out that the other Albion fans on the same route were only on it because they had been confidently following us. One of those conflabs where everyone stares at their phone and then looks for a road sign ensued before we struck out more in hope than certainty to find the very bend we were after and then the bridge. It was before nine thirty in the morning and a large gathering of Albion fans, Worthing United and Mile Oak players and friends and relatives were already at the Toll Bridge. A few of my mates were there. I would need them.

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A dignified minutes silence was held and I don’t mind admitting I nearly lost it. After that walking and talking became easier. I settled in with a friend towards the front of the group and we discussed our prospects for the game to come, our signings and the way the club had handled itself so well recently, Sussex cricket, the weather and beer. Like Al had said it was almost like being on the way to an away game rather than a home one. The walk felt easy but then I am currently running thirty kilometres a week to get ready for a series of races including next year’s Brighton Marathon. Others walked with young children or buggies, with a stick or with a group of older friends. But easy or hard, sunshine (which there was mostly) or rain (which there was very briefly) we were all determined. None of us would have been anywhere else.

We reached Worthing United to refreshments, more emotional tributes (the first time I had seen the shirts on display there though I had been to the Toll Bridge before) and buses to the Amex. This was a fantastic touch by REMF, the club and Seagull Travel. A group of us gathered at the back of the bus just as I would have at school but I wasn’t in the mood for high jinks right then. The short journey and the very small time it took to go back along the route just served to bring home to me how unfortunate the victims were. It makes you consider your own mortality does that.

The net result of being towards the front of the group and on one of the first buses out however was to be at the pub earlier than I would ever normally have been. Three pints of Palmers and some cheesy chips and a back-to-normal pre-match chat were very well earned indeed. As summer fades to autumn a last beer out in the open was also more than welcome. Then I went to the ground to meet The Boy who had been taken and looked after by my friend and to ensure we were in our seats for 2.30 for more tributes.

I met them on the concourse. The Boy is a religious programme collector and already places them in a drawer in match order. I knew my friend would have got one for him and indeed he had. I pinched a quick look, a dignified tribute to all eleven victims on the back page, listed with their ages as if a team. My eyes filled again.

The tributes were pitched perfectly. Giant shirts had been created and signed and were walked out. Abide With Me was sung by our regular opera singer. I think we were supposed to join in. I couldn’t and neither could anyone else. Flowers were laid by representatives of each club. A minutes applause was held at the request of the families, something I found easier to get through than the silence at the bridge.

I have never, ever been more proud to be a Brighton fan. Not when we were chasing out Archer and Bellotti or on the pitch versus York. Not when I saw us running out (on telly) at Wembley in 1983 to play Manchester United, nor when we ran back out at Withdean, survived Hereford or finally moved in to The Amex. All of those moments are iconic but none have displayed the dignity and togetherness of yesterday. Paul Barber, Tom Gorringe, Brett Mendoza, Mike Langridge, Tony Bloom, Chris Hughton, Richard Reynolds and everyone else involved in making it happen, take a bow.

The game? Oh yeah, there was that. After everything else it went by in a blur. I can’t adequately describe it which is why I  have focussed on the other stuff. We started like an express train and were up after four minutes, Tomer Hemed putting in from close range after a quick move (though the goal was initially credited to Baldock over the tannoy). We should have been ahead by even more just a few minutes later, an absolute sitter missed after good work on our right. For twenty odd minutes we looked unstoppable. Then Hull came back in to it and dominated the ball, ensuring that, for a change this season, it would be our defensive organisation that saved us. Hull had lots of possession but no real chances. At the end we were still 1-0 up and four points clear at the top. We celebrated like we’d won the league itself.

Special mentions? The Hull fans. Thank you. What an excellent set you were yesterday. Rosenior was outstanding in a right midfield role. Bong and Bruno were tested but stood firm and Greer and BFG were imperious in centre defence. Kaz got himself booked as I predicted in the pub and is now suspended. Baldock was a menace, Hemed scored and HE returned for a cameo at the end. A bigger Bobby but still one who doesn’t give the ball away. A club icon on the day the club made itself iconic in Sussex again. The tragic irony is that every single person involved would have preferred it if Shoreham had been just another airshow and Hull just another game.

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This Window Seems 9/10

So, right now, there is a thread on North Stand Chat asking fans to rate the permanent transfer window that closed yesterday at 6 p.m.

I gave it a solid nine. But…….

Last season, in the middle of this window and on several posts I have argued that the time to really judge the business you have done is just before the next one. The table after half a season will not tell a lie and your team’s new purchases will have, by then, gone up against everyone else’s new purchases. At that point it becomes a case of HAVE done well rather than it LOOKS like we’ve done well.

With that disclaimer in place though I’m confident. A look at the business in and their starts to the season will show why.

Firstly there are those who have already made a first team impact. Rosenior, though mainly used as a sub, showed his versatility on Saturday against Ipswich with a stand out performance in midfield. For a – shall we say – more experienced player he has bags of pace. His open letter to Hull fans shows him to be the same sort of person as Calde (IMO). In other words, where last season we were lacking pace and leadership our initial signing seems to bring both.

Hemed meanwhile looks a genuine number nine. Three goals already, one dubious, but I wouldn’t want a centre forward in the team who didn’t claim a goal if he thought he got half a hair follicle on it. That’s what strikers do. Baldock – as so many said last season – looks a different player playing off him.

Bong is fast. VERY fast. As an attacking threat he is more potent than Bennett from the same position last season and the combination of his pace and reading of passes means he can get himself out of trouble. He can get himself IN to trouble as well, we’ve already seen that, and he will commit the odd howler or two. However, his partnership with Lua Lua is looking as good as Hemed’s with Baldock.

Zamora. I really don’t need to say anything do i?

Hunemeier, aka Uwe, aka the BFG brings more leadership. Already we have seen he will put his body on the line for the team and will stop at almost nothing to intercept or make a tackle. Despite GG being club captain his organisation of the line at Fulham – his debut – was noticeable (with the exception of their goal which he or Bong should have cleared). If he has a weakness it’s in the air with teams already bombarding us long ball stylee (I’m looking at YOU Blackburn and Fulham).

As for the later additions we will have to see on Murphy and Manu. Murphy had a very solid debut without tearing up trees and was sacrificed tactically against Ipswich. Manu has such a flair name I might just forgive him anything. As far as I can gather either of these players could play the Baldock role as well as out wide if needed bringing real flexibility to the front line.

Of the ones bought to develop or play back up I am yet to see Maenpaa in action and cannot comment. However, his signing has had an effect on Stockdale who looks twice as fit as last season and is playing out of his skin.

Hambo and Harper are risks but I’m told Hughton and the team really rate Harper and getting him from Real Madrid is possibly the biggest coup we pulled off in the whole window. Goldson? I’d have to see him first.

Finally it’s goodbye to COG for now. It was inevitable he would go out on loan once Zamora was match fit. A genuinely nice bloke and intelligent man it just never quite worked out for him here. While he can do a job we will never play to his strengths, or even know what those truly are beyond holding the ball up. Sending a COC Cup penalty in to orbit was the final straw.

No loans yet either. Last season’s biggest bugbear has turned in to this season’s relief. I would not be surprised if we did land one or two. Perhaps an additional attacking option if CH felt that we needed one, However, on the evidence of the first part of the season what we have already will do just nicely thanks.