Wigan at Home – The Promised Land


This is, in no way a coherent match report. You’ll find those, no doubt, this morning, in all the proper papers, since we now appear to be above the radar. I urge you to read them. Twice.

I took no notes. I have a couple of dodgy photos on my Twitter feed and my memories and that’s it. This is all going to be written from feel.

But what a feeling. Friday was massive enough. The Boy and I watched the Wolves game with growing joy, disbelief and pleasure and then I went out and celebrated it large. Saturday was just one big hangover. Sunday dragged. Monday? I’ve never known a day go slower.

I couldn’t sleep. I got up early to go for a run to sort myself out, logged on to Twitter and found everyone else couldn’t sleep either. An eight mile run along the seafront at seven in the morning in my running top and Albion shorts. A bloke in a blue and white striped shirt walking his dog. Another runner in an old away kit. Flags in the window. Such a massive buzz. A whole long run completed by pacing myself with an earworm of “we’re on our way”.

Finally, after what seemed like a millennium, it was time to go to the pub. Steve and his son met us there. They’ve been with us since I started taking The Boy but today his wife and daughter were coming too for their first games. What a first game.

A diversion here. It was nearly twenty years ago that we played Hereford and stayed in the league. I wasn’t there. I was pacing round the flat that my new girlfriend rented in town, apparently in a totally maniacal fashion. God know how she stuck with me, but she did. As we left, now my wife and The Boy’s mother, she was putting my massive St Georges flag in our bedroom window. It feels like club and person have been on a parrellel journey. Anyway, back to yesterday.

The train to Brighton was quieter than normal, indicating everyone had got an early start. An easy transition to a Falmer service, a slight problem with Steve’s ticket, and we were up. Harvey’s, lager and sweets. No pies though. Pies were out.

Finally up to the seat for the build up and there was another man who’d done the whole journey with me. Mark and his three kids, already in their seats. Mark is the man who rescued my Albion mojo at its lowest and dragged me, kicking and screaming, to Priestfield on more than one occasion, got me involved with the mailing list. The next thing you know we had Withdean season tickets, I was on litter patrol with Paul Whelch (RIP) and wrote an article for Scars and Stripes. Sucked back in. Blue and white blood flowing. Mate, I cannot thank you enough.

Calde had returned for the day and, at 2.45 was being interviewed. Or rather sang at. I think Richard Reynolds got two questions in between the chants. Then the players came on. Deafening noise, me in tears, a bit like someone who takes the X Factor seriously when someone with a decent back story turns out to be able to sing.

The match? It passed almost in a flash. Wigan pressed us high and had a lot of the ball to start with but, for all that, created nothing. They had one corner in the whole first half and no shots on target. We gradually eased them back, finding space and getting plenty of corners. We looked the better side but we needed a goal, and finally it came via that man Murray. Hemed who’d put himself about the whole half forced an error and Murray lashed the ball low in to the net. I can’t adequately describe how mental we went.

Half time took longer than the preceding weekend. Finally we restarted, a cagier game, knowing a second would seal it. It came on 65 minutes from our two wing wizards, Knockaert making the space and March applying the finish. I hugged The Boy. Handshakes all round. We were going to do this.

We don’t make it easy though. We’ve conceded so many goals this season from absence-of-full-back-itis and we caught it again, Wigan finding a whole mile of space down our left and Nick Powell heading in the cross brilliantly. Ten minutes or so to hang on. Nails bitten. I couldn’t watch and spent ten minutes staring at the floor with tears in my eyes. Finally the whistle. On they came.

Hugs and high fives all round the WSU. General whooping. Then I felt an urgent tugging on my sleeve. “Dad, I REALLY want to go on the pitch”. If you knew where we sat you’d know how funny that was.

But it’s a dad’s duty to try and help his son, so we went downstairs and then in to our favourite bar and back out to the stadium and there was just enough room on the blue outer turf and no one stopping us. The players, freshly debagged, were in full voice. As we turned to face them Dunk got the mic. “Let’s go fucking mental” he sang. “What was that?” asked The Boy earnestly.

Steve, who was on reduced alcohol rations (Imagine that) took his wife and their youngest home. I stayed with the two boys. While they flipped bottles in the corner I sought out, yelled at and hugged everyone I knew and some I didn’t. A brief trip to the North Stand to watch the Huddersfield game but they were 1 up at half time and it was time to get small boys home.

A massive sing song on the train and a naughty KFC later we got in to see my Mrs had turned the telly on to SSN and Derby had forced a draw. We were up properly.

I expect I’ll post more over the coming days. I have an important meeting in London this morning so am writing this, annoyingly, on the train. Let’s just say I’ve taken paracetamol.




The Nineties, Bellotti and The Premier League

Twenty five years ago the nineties started. Well, take six months anyway. A wave of Nineties nostalgia has been upon the media, social and otherwise, at least on Channel Four but then they have a relaunched TV series and an accompanying CD to flog. But that’s not the point. For people of my generation I suspect that stating this silver anniversary out loud strikes a mixture of fear, pride and nostalgia in to them. Twenty five years since Spike Island. Twenty five years since Platt’s goal, Let’s All Have A Disco, Gazza’s tears and the bloody Germans. Twenty five years since Millwall fans took over my local.

Last night I wallowed in the Channel Four retrospective. Partly, of course, this is simply down to my age. I suspect the majority of people over thirty five probably fondly remember the time when they were in their twenties the most. The Nineties almost exactly coincided with my twenties. It was a messy, messy decade and true to the cliché there’s a lot of it I don’t remember, including entire Albion matches, home and away.

But that excess and hedonism needed a soundtrack and visuals and the Nineties produced it in spades. Here’s a gang of E-d up Manchester lads fusing the dance music that we were just starting to get, with the indie that was blowing away the Eighties ingrained pomposity. Their opening acts were DJs who wrote fanzines about football, clothes and gear. Here’s a gang of UK and German producers pushing that dance music to its limits, speeding it up or setting it to funky riffs and drunken breakbeats. When you got home you could put on the sublime, stripped back treatment of soul and hip hop being dealt out by crews in Bristol. Here come the bastard swaggering offspring of The Stone Roses to do battle with the laddy Mockney Art School boys. And the whole thing was set to halved, pickled cows, Tango Man and journalists who had the sorts of weekends we did and then wrote about it in Mixmag or Loaded.

In many ways the Nineties are also the ideal decade for this treatment, thanks to technology and where the planet is currently. If you reprised the Sixties in 1985 then you would have needed to convince the Oxbridge educated old boys that ran the only four television channels that showing grainy black and white footage of a couple of bands, accompanied by a soundtrack that may well be a Mono recorded 78, would make a good hour of television. Who the hell would watch that instead of Poirot? There’d be angry letters to Points of View and no mistake. Yes, Channel Four was in existence but it was three years old and no one watched it.

Yet, last night, there was high quality footage of Oasis and Tricky, CD quality sound of Underworld, Tracy Emin’s bed and that bird from L7 getting her muff out as if it was yesterday. Forty somethings the country over took to their Twitter, Facebook and (ahem) blogs to reminisce. And if you didn’t like it there were at least a hundred other channels you could choose from. And that, sadly, is one of the more unfortunate consequences of the decade, a consequence that still hangs over our football club.

Yes, the Nineties spawned a couple of monsters. Satellite or cable television arrived and with it came The Premier League. At first I rather liked this, I’m not ashamed to admit. We couldn’t afford Sky. Not at the start of the decade when I was flitting between my parents’ house as they concluded a messy divorce and my mates’ sofas, nor the middle when I was in a shared flat, nor at the end when I had just moved in with my girlfriend. And this meant the only way to see the big games that were now routinely on television was to go to the pub on a Sunday afternoon and extend that sybaritic weekend for one more day. Beer was still relatively cheap in Brighton’s back street pubs and none had yet been turned in to a Gastropub, let alone all of them. A new football watching routine was born.

This was just as well because it seemed, in the middle of the decade, that this would be the only football that fans of Brighton and Hove Albion would soon get to see. The club was dying, or rather, it was being killed by the unholy triumvirate of Stanley, Archer and Bellotti. The gory years were upon us. Suddenly the trips to football that had been such a laugh at the start of the decade were now taken up with football that was so terrible that you couldn’t help but notice no matter how off your face you were, Protests, pitch invasions, bonfire-building anger and bannings. As a series of my friends were excluded and, as your average Albion match became as much fun as being one of those people on The Word who would do anything to get on TV, I retreated further in to those night clubs, barely to emerge. Others did not. They led the fight from the front. Tragically, two of them passed on before any of the wreckers. Then, last week, David Bellotti passed away. He was seventy two.

His death was marked in only a few places. A glowing tribute from Lib Dem Voice and a fairly blunt, and far less complimentary, retrospective from many Albion fans on NSC and Twitter and in this admirably honest obit on We Are Brighton. Other than that, the passing of the man who had helped to try to ruin my favourite decade on this planet went largely unmarked. I hope it was worth the hassle David.

I left a fairly blunt message on that NSC thread. I don’t believe in reinventing someone just because they’ve carked it. Yet, as with Thatcher, I felt a lot less like celebrating than I thought I would. Perhaps the passage of time has healed, who knows. However, I think it is more to do with where we are now as a club. Had Bellotti died while we were still mired in Withdean, planning battles and League Two I probably would have organised the celebration drinkies and bonfire myself. But the truth is that the threat the club faces these days is not from the Three Amigos. We are back, playing second tier football in a wonderful stadium, a stadium that, if nowhere near as full as our official attendance claims, still attracts around twenty thousand fans for each game. At The Goldstone – at least pre Fans United – it was less than ten. We have, in short, moved on.

No the threat is from that other Nineties Monster the Premier League. Never has it looked more like a closed shop. The television money sloshing around, and the parachute payments that result from it, mean that clubs like ours become more disadvantaged with every week. When QPR are merrily signing players despite a £65 million “exceptional payment” you can tell no one’s taking FFP seriously, and why would you when you can earn upwards of £75 million for a season in the Prem? The awfulness of last season is still fresh in the mind and yet it will be even harder for us to compete next season. This may seem like I am regurgitating lines straight from Paul Barber but you only need to look at the financial analysis surrounding your average Premier League team to realise just how ingrained in the second tier we are becoming. Meanwhile, Palace, Southampton and even bloody Bournemouth are gorging themselves at the top table.

Thanks Nineties.