Ah good, it’s October. My favourite month ever he typed in the non-existent sarcasm font. I love October the way I love Crystal Palace, brussel sprouts and being woken up at five in the morning by a vomiting child when I have a hangover.
It is starting to get cold in the mornings. Annoyingly we seem to be having summer now in the daytimes rather than during summer but that just makes the morning colder. Soon the storms will be back in from the Atlantic and my back fence will take a pounding for the next six months. Not a euphemism. It is starting to get dark. I am waking up in the dark and not even when my children are vomiting but just to get to work or go for a run. Leaves are dropping, mainly on to pavements already covered in dogshit, so that they create some kind of hideous, smelly, red and brown oil slick, primed to send you flying to your stinky doom. It is too cold to barbeque but not cold enough to stew. And the Albion never win. Never, ever, ever do we win in October. It’s become a greater quest than the sub two hour marathon and with just as much success. Yesterday was no different.
Of course this season has been different so far. It’s hard to abandon all hope when you’re top of the league and undefeated. Our crew at the back of the West Upper was much changed. Out went my regular travel partner to a holiday in Turkey. Out too were my friend’s three boys who were all on a Scout hike. In came Boy’s Oldest Friend and his dad. Whether it was this, the fact that we were top of the league, or the unseasonal warmth I don’t know but The Boy was VERY EXCITED INDEED. He showed this by talking non stop.
I should have seen the warning signs that morning when I came down to see him already up. He’d tuned himself in to Sky Sports (and there was me thinking all eight year olds watch Scooby Doo) and was merrily yelling at Alan Pardew. I’m not sure if this was a proud parenting moment or the instant I realised I’d created a monster.
By the time we got to Brighton I had fielded approximately six hundred and twenty three questions, mostly surrounding the thorny issue of if we would win. These I fielded in a rational way. On the one hand, I mused, we would be missing Lua Lua and Murphy and Cardiff would be very organised. On the other hand Hemed and Baldock would be back and Stephens and Kayal would start in midfield so we could be hopeful that our key partnerships would fire. I should have just said “no chance son, it’s October”.
On arrival we checked the teams. Dunk had come in to the back four to deal with the aerial threat posed by Kenwyne Jones. March replaced Murphy with Manu on the bench. Hemed and Baldock were indeed up front. We went to our seats and The Boy launched a non-stop monologue covering everything from Stockdale’s gloves to Kenwyne Jones’ loan spell with Bournemouth.
As well as watching (and talking) he also plays football on Sundays for a team. I help out with the coaching. Recently he has been playing at right back and I thought I would both shut him up and help him by getting him to focus on how Bruno was playing. After all, he’s been fantastic this season. So, typically, after just five minutes, we got a display of how not to do it. Caught hopelessly out of position Cardiff launched an attack down our wide open right flank where there should have been a Bruno but there wasn’t. Scott Malone, in acres of space, sped down the wing and produced a perfect low cross for Joe Mason to tap in from close range. 1-0 them. It was to be the last time they went in to our half of the pitch in the first half.
We dominated the ball. We dominated the territory. We had a lot of shots, not many of them that dangerous admittedly. Cardiff sat on their lead, wasting time and punting it clear. No one panicked. Not the team. Not Chris Hughton. Not the fans (“it’s coming” the bloke behind me was saying and we all nodded sagely). Not The Boy who was now on a soliloquy about the ref that included repeated uses of the word “idiot”. Baldock went close twice, forcing a double save and putting a header just wide. Then, finally we scored, a cross from the right smartly hooked in by that man Dale Stephens. If you’d heard me on the Albion Roar you’d have heard a debate about who was the boss of midfield, Stephens or Kayal. I’d gone for Kayal but was about to admit defeat. Just at that moment Bong was caught as badly out of position as Bruno had been and Kayal made a twenty yard dash to cover and executed the perfect tackle. It summed up our dominance neatly. If only we hadn’t been so careless in the opening fifteen minutes or so.
The second half was more of the same. Albion created chance after chance, particularly through Solly March who was justifying his selection with some electric wing play, though, as ever, the final touch wasn’t quite there. Baldock really should have given us the lead from one of the openings down the left, a free header from yards out, wastefully glanced wide. March himself went close with a shot before Cardiff really should have scored, the defence getting in a terrible muddle with Stockdale caught out of position, only for Dunk to clear off the line. We would miss an even worse one.
With time ticking down, Cardiff wasting more time and their fans celebrating a draw (and how far we have come in a year that away fans now celebrate draws at The Amex rather than expecting them) we had a set piece on the left. Up came the centre backs. I have lost in my mind’s eye exactly how the chance was set up (The Boy was on to a shouty rant about hats at this point) but I can still see the finish in mega slow motion with the word “NOOOOOOOOOO” being comically shouted over the top. The ball skidded across an open goal. There was no Cardiff player in sight. All we had to do was tap it in from one yard and yet Elvis, and then Greer, somehow managed to send it wide. I can only blame the curse of October.
1-1 it finished. On the way out I saw a boy in a brand new away shirt with 4 – Hünemeier printed on it. ‘I wonder if they charged extra for printing the umlaut?’ I thought.