Birmingham at Home 15/16 – We’re Effing Brilliant

In his novel “So Long and Thanks For All the Fish” Douglas Adams introduces us to the character of a lorry driver called Rob McKenna who can never get away from the rain and has noted over two hundred and thirteen different types of it. It’s something I’ve always identified with and while, unlike McKenna, I don’t keep a log of it written down, there is certainly a section of my brain that is dedicated to identifying – and then fleeing from – types of rain. There is the light mizzle that somehow leaves you totally drenched before you’ve reached the end of your street. There’s the gentle drip-drop of a spring or summer shower. And then there’s absolutely shitting it down, horizontally in stair rods, so that you resemble a clothed Olympic swimmer in ten seconds flat. That’s the type we had to put up with before and after yesterday’s game. It was the only dampener on an otherwise wonderful and entertaining afternoon.

Our number is growing both locally and globally. For the last two home games a third child has been added to our regular group. Yesterday my mate’s brother-in-law – a Leeds fan who has seen us from both the WSU and the away end – was staying with him and came with too. Up to now it has been relatively easy to get tickets around where we sit for any extras, but yesterday the normally empty seats were all taken up. Yes a bumper crowd made its way to the ground through rain type 134 (absolutely shitting it down, horizontally in stair rods) and braved the additional security to pack the Amex. It must have been raining hard because The Boy – a programme addict – agreed to get his match day magazine in the concourse rather than outside.

At 2.15 the WSU concourse hummed with sopping wet people. We three adults decided we needed to be wet on the inside too. The boys dived straight under their shelf and began, variously, reading programmes or luzzing Maltesers. I had a nice chat with “16 things” Jem Stone and his dad (“we met on a radio show” “Turn It Up?” “no not that one…..”). There was a genuine air of anticipation though we were acutely aware that Derby had put us out of the top two the night before. We needed to win. I think Hughton managed to get that message across.

We came out of the traps like the favourite in the Wimbledon Derby. The greyhound analogy is a good one, since March and Murphy were flying past their full backs like prize racers easing past a Corgi. Again and again they were put away and crosses came in from all angles that we were just unable to convert. This was all in the first fifteen minutes. Of course such dominance doesn’t just happen. In midfield Kayal was giving a master class while each full back was providing quality ammunition for the hounds. It seemed we had to score and, indeed, on seventeen minutes we did in exactly the manner with which we’d been pressing. Murphy released Rosenior down the left and his low centre reached March who had come inside. His initial half volley came off the back of Hemed’s legs but it dropped invitingly back at Solly’s feet and he lashed in the rebound. 1-0.

Again the lead was not to last long. This was a constant theme last season and has now happened against MK, Burnley and Birmingham too. It’s the only part of our game that needs sorting out and yet Birmingham’s equalizer was of real quality. A slide rule through ball opened us up and it was followed by a precise, outside of the foot pass in to the space on our left where Rosenior, for once, wasn’t. Stockdale saved the initial shot but Toral followed up with a deft header in to an empty net.

This wasn’t to stop our roving wingers and fullbacks. The only thing to stop them was persistent fouling by a banjaxed Birmingham back four. This wasn’t helped by the weak-as-piss referee Gavin Ward, the sort of man who lets ten challenges in a row go unpunished and then books you for complaining (and disallowed a good looking goal for us). The other thing to stop us was injury and this was purely accidental. Rosenior, raiding again down the left, clashed legs and fell nastily in an unfortunate collision. He immediately thumped the turf and one leg wasn’t moving at all. He was stretchered off and it looked nasty and long term (one day after the closure of the loan window too). As he left our new female announcer told a befuddled Amex it was Hemed. Cue much narfing and gags of the ‘get back in the kitchen love’ variety. Oh dear.

The injury brought on the much-loved Calde and everything else continued in the same vein. Kayal controlled the game. March and Murphy looked dangerous every time they had it. We couldn’t quite score. 1-1 at half time.

Here’s why having a pint or an extended wazz at half time is a bad idea. Anyone late back in to their seats – and there were plenty – would have missed us taking the lead. Murphy (again) got free down the left and cut it back for March (again). A thumping shot was saved but Johnny On The Spot Zamora (who *whispers* hadn’t been that great up till then) tapped in the rebound. 2-1. I was tempted to sing THAT song from the Poyet era but I was surrounded by kids.

Birmingham, who had always looked quick and dangerous on the break, now had to press us once again, and too their credit they did. We dropped back a little on the lead, though we introduced the lively James Wilson in to the fray. What a player he looks. On another day he’d have had three. Firstly he did his best Murphy impression, skinning Birmingham down our left and dragging a shot across goal inches wide. Then March for the umpteenth time got clear on the right and pulled it back, but Birmingham’s PIG smothered it with Wilson sniffing. Then we nearly scored a cracker, Kayal playing Wilson clean through with a wonderful through ball and a deft finish pinged back off the post and in to a grateful keeper’s hands.

Ince came on to allow us to sit back further and Mr Ward went in to meltdown, booking people for breathing and adding a befuddling six minutes of stoppage time. Ok, so we were time wasting, and that drives me insane when the opposition do it, but the reaction was completely disproportionate given the number of fouls on us in the first half. In one of the six minutes David Davies (and WHO calls their kid a name like that FFS?) should have equalized but his low shot was saved brilliantly by Stockdale. Finally the whistle went. 2-1 us. Top of the league.

There were so many outstanding performances. It was a breathtaking game. If you’ve been reading carefully you’ll know March deserved his man of the match but was nearly matched by Bruno, Murphy, Kayal and Stockdale. Everyone played their part though on both sides to send the majority of the 27,200 odd souls home happy in to Hurricane Splashy.

Sky To Introduce Inflatable Away Fans

 

In a move that is set to revolutionise the televising of football matches in the United Kingdom, Sky have announced that they have purchased an army of “realistic looking” inflatable fans who will take the place of away supporters at matches where the kickoff time has been changed, in order to present a “more credible experience” to the television viewer.

Roger Cockwomble, Sky’s Head Of Consumer Experience said that the convincing looking fans will be dressed in replica shirts and “tied to seats with a piece of string, in case it’s a bit windy.”

Mr Cockwomble continued “there’s nothing more disappointing for the television viewer to be greeted with than the sight of empty seats just because someone had to change to kickoff time to 10pm on a Thursday. 10pm on Thursdays is currently a ‘free slot’ for our hordes of viewers and we wanted to make their experience as close to the real thing as possible.”

“Of course, this could make it hard to get back for away fans, especially when you choose Newcastle v Bournemouth as we have next week. Out ‘inflatable army’ will maximise the atmosphere potential.”

When asked what sort of noise the inflatable away end would make, Mr Cockwonble replied “we have recently headhunted a new Under Head Of Consumer Experience, Julian Thundertwat, fresh from his work revolutionizing Football League coverage at Channel Five. His suggestion was just to record a choir mumbling something inaudible to the tune of Sloop John B. Except for when it’s Palace. Then we’ll just play three year old St Pauli songs.”

Mr Cockwoble continued “Julian did have another idea, which was to put a sofa in the away end for ‘special’ real fans and get them pizza at half time, just like they were actually at home watching Sky, but we rejected that as too ridiculous.”

 

Franchise City At Home – Plastic, Fantastic, Comic and Tragic

Football fans love routine and superstition. Lucky hat / scarf / pie / pants. Sit in the same seat with the same people having arrived on the same train. All of that can help us feel secure when we’re on a good run or require changing when we’re on a bad one, even though it is patently nonsense. Sceptics and science say so and, after yesterday, so do I. We couldn’t have changed the pre match routine more if we’d tried.

Thanks to Network Rail there were no trains at all from our local station. With three kids and two barely salient adults to get over to Falmer we opted for a Seagull Travel bus direct to the ground, rather than faff about changing in town.

There was an additional issue. How do you know when someone’s been running? You don’t, pretty soon they’ll tell you. I’ve been running all year and banging on about it for just about as long. I make no apology for this as I want to raise a boat load of cash for charity next year but it explains why I had a very achy foot and ankle in the week. I went to see a sports injury person who diagnosed tight calves and gave me some stretches. He also said to wear cushioned shoes with insoles as much as I could, i.e. my running shoes. This was not going to happen at football when I had my lucky Gazelles. However, said lucky Gazelles had a hole in the sole when I checked them for arch support, and as Noah floated past my front window, I didn’t think they’d be practical.

So it was we got a bus from a pub we’d never been in full of people we didn’t know with me dressed in ridiculous looking running shoes.

They weren’t quite as ridiculous looking as the MK Dons fans mind you. A pathetic number turned up given the distance and the fact it was a Saturday afternoon. Those who did looked like a small sub-section of newly arrived Palace Ultras who’d spent fifteen minutes in front of a video called ‘how to be a football fan in 2010’. Or, as Steve said to me just before kick off “that – that’s shocking.”

Not quite as shocking as the Dons defence it turned out. We came out of the traps all guns blazing (to mix my metaphors) and with March and Murphy starting on the wings we looked highly intent on feeding them. After five minutes the Dons had already misplaced several passes in to touch and been roasted on either wing when March was again set off down the left. He created space beautifully but was somewhat wasteful with the cross and we were fortunate to see it turned out for a corner. “No end product” I said, knowledgably. The corner came in and we won the first ball but the Dons succeeded in clearing it to the edge of the box and looked like they had the numbers to block any shot. However, the ball whizzed in to the top of the net at the speed of sound from a shot from just outside the area by none other than Soloman March. Ahem. 1-0.

The onslaught continued. While the Franchise fans looked like they’d watched an annoying Ultras training video their players looked like they’d been reading books called “how to put the ball in touch”, “how to put the wrong studs in your boots” and “how to be lucky with an offside trap”. Time after time we got in behind them and another goal seemed to be only a matter of time away. Hemed, though, was having a shocker, wastefully placing a header wide when it looked easier to score. We still doubled the lead soon enough though, as Bruno, March and Baldock interchanged, the pace and skill of each terrifying a limited defence, before Baldock slipped a pass just through a defender’s legs to the unmarked Murphy who finished low in to the corner.

Annoyingly the thieves hit back almost immediately with their first shot of the game, Dunk and Stockdale both culpable. Nicky Maynard has always been a dangerous player at this level and he received the ball with his back to goal and more than twenty five yards out, with Dunk tight to him. He rolled Dunk like he wasn’t there and shot immediately, the ball skidding in to the goal past a surprised Stockdale. 2-1. It was the only thing of note they would do all half.

We would go on to rip them a new one time and time again, only for Hemed to waste the chances. Firstly he turned a chance to cushion a volley easily in to a net in to a thrashed overhead attempt. Then, when found on the penalty spot with a ball that was slightly behind him, he dug it out only to hit the post. The rebound came out to March who pinged it back in and Hemed’s header went wide. From two yards.

At half time I tweeted that the ref would have stopped it there and then had it been a boxing match. We had not taken enough chances however, and there was no way they could be as bad in the second half. Indeed they weren’t.

A much more even second half saw us go in to our shells and MK get more of the ball, the part of the game they are comfortable with. It saw Baldock limp off with an injury that looked bad (Baldock’s pace was at the heart of everything good yesterday and we will miss him) before the plastics were denied an absolute stone wall penalty by a ref who’d been useless all game. The otherwise awful Carruthers went one on one with Dunk in the penalty area but too wide to be a danger. ‘Don’t dive in, see him out’ I thought. Dunk dived in. Bizarrely both the ref and linesman denied the penalty claim. They must have realised their mistake because we got nothing out of them at all for the rest of the game.

So it was that Zamora was booked for nothing. So it was that Manu who, to understate it a touch, didn’t look great, was penalised for beating their right back for pace. So it was that the ref left the ground to a chorus of boos from North Stand, West Stand and the trainee Ultras. So it was we won 2-1, moving the unbeaten record to seventeen league games and moving up to second, behind Hull on goal difference.

To finish. Well done to the club on a record league unbeaten run. The transformation from this time last year is incredible. Well done too on another immaculate pre-match remembrance ceremony. Today we will honour those who gave their lives selflessly for our freedom (The Boy is a Cub so we will be at a service). Their tragic loss is what makes it possible to watch a fantastic attacking performance against a plastic football club with a comic ref. For one Saturday we did not take this for granted.