Wigan at Home 2014 / 15 Season – Just Another Game

Recently there has been a good deal of negativity surrounding the on pitch achievements, or rather lack of them, and I freely admit to contributing. I’m a glass half empty sort of chap but what really struck me was not how many people were telling me I was wrong but rather how many were going a lot further. Eleven league games without a win and a point off relegation after 15 league games isn’t a little blip; it’s where you deserve to be.

There will be no negativity this time because yesterday allowed me to fall back in love with football – or rather to fall back in love with going to football. There has been some debate recently around this article on Football 365 by John Nicholson that atmosphere at the football is permanently dead, with attendees (and that’s a deliberate choice of words) who would “rather eat pizza and look at their phones”. Nicholson has a point, a large one at that. Naturally the more expensive and corporate football becomes, the more it loses its edge. But it’s also true that there are more distractions and competition for attention than ever before, from playing at being Rooney et al on X-Box to watching the effing X-Factor at 3 in the afternoon in your pants, because Delay TV allows you to.

So the reason for my negativity is this: if we continue to fail to deliver on the pitch the effing XFactor will win and all that financial prudence and academy creating will be for nothing as we disappear up our own deficit. We needed to win last night, but not for the dedicated fans who go to every game, home and away. We needed to win it for the rugby club types who leave on 82 minutes kissing cheeks and blocking play. We needed to win it for the bloke who can’t quite decide between us in the flesh and Chelsea on the telly. We needed to win it for the City investor who bought his seat and seat licence as an asset, an investment, trusting that we really were Premier League Ready. We needed to win it for the dad taking his son even though he, himself, doesn’t like the game and is taking his issue out of duty. We needed to win it for the sponsors in the 1901. And we did.

For me though it was a night redolent of the old school days at The Goldstone. No, I’m not about to indulge in the ultimate old-timer pastime of donning the rose tinted specs and proselytising about how rocking the Goldstone always was, because it wasn’t. In fact some of my fondest memories of The Goldstone were when it wasn’t rocking at all. I would leave work (at the time in Brighton town centre luckily enough) and go straight for a pint with a mate or two. I would saunter up to the ground in my own time. I would take my regular place about ten minutes before kick off and notice that each stand was about half full. I would sing, but I would have enough room to move around, and no one complaining that I was making a noise. And that’s just how it was last night.

I met a mate who normally goes a couple of times a season with his company who are regular sponsors. We left work (at my own home luckily enough) and we had a couple of beers at Brighton station. We sauntered on to a train, no queue, and then we had a couple more at the ground, having been joined by another friend. We watched a fairly poor game, which I had no expectation of winning, against another side destined for the lower half of The Championship. We got to our seats just before kick off and noticed that the stands were about half full. We made noise and no one complained. It was just like being home again.

And this is the really shitty thing about modern corporate football. If someone had told me that we’d be kicking around mid-table in the Championship, that our crowds would vary as they always have, that I could get to and from the ground easily and drink by the station without being confronted by a line of police I would have said “great, where do I sign”. All of the above I recognise well. But of course, these days you can’t. You have to be “Premier League Ready” and have “one ambition”. There needs to be a mission statement and a strap line, not for the dedicated fans who go to every game, home and away, but for the Rugby Club bore and the plastic Chelsea fan and the dedicated dad and the sponsors, especially the sponsors. So expectations are raised. And when they are not met you are accused of being negative and ungrateful and having a pop when all you’re doing is writing what the sponsors and the rugby club bores are thinking, and voting with their feet.

I liked the Amex last night. The atmosphere was BETTER than normal, certainly for a game against a team who only brought 167 fans. That’s because everyone who was there wanted to be there because they cared about the club and the team and the players, not just whether we’d be playing Man Utd next season.

The game? Don’t expect a serious report. We scored a nice goal very early on. Elliot Bennett showed good touches. Walton was excellent. We were a lot more compact and Wigan, while having a lot of the ball, had far less cutting edge than us. And that’s it. I was paying just as much attention to my friends as the game you see. And I’d had a few. Just like the old days.

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Wigan – The Difficulties of the Lone Football Blogger

So, in essence, we lost 2-1 to Wigan, We had 23 shots and they had six making their conversion rate one in three and ours, well, one in twenty three. This is the story of our season, along with injuries and terrible refereeing. While we can’t do a lot about the last two until we fix the finishing we will never be PLR. It really is as simple as that.

Can I flesh out more detail than that? Possibly, but what’s the point. Our passing ability and chance creation are there for everyone to see yet it seems to be beyond us to score more than one goal in any game. Besides, a blog with a single writer who is first and foremost a fan has its own problems. Let me explain.

Scene – The West Stand Upper Pre Match

My Generic Friend: Another pint?

Me: (thinks, I might have to write about this game tomorrow) Oh alright then. Go on. Buuuurrrp.

MGF: Have you seen the team?

Me: Nope. Remember no one’s phone works after 2pm. I doubt you’ve received any of the texts I sent you.

MGF: What texts?

Scene – The Amex press room

Andy Naylor has arrived and is plugging in his laptop. He is brought the team sheets in large font by a model clad in a bikini top and mini skirt, accompanied by a dwarf. Another minion has been dispatched to bring him pie and coffee. He begins to make copious notes in his luxury journalist’s notebook.

Scene – The West Upper. We are in our seats watching the game

My Generic Friend: Lovely tackle by Stephens there.

Me: Are you sure it was Stephens? Wasn’t it Orlandi? These yellow numbers on blue and white stripes are impossible to read.

MGF: Er, well, pretty sure. I suppose. Who’s number 14? It was him.

Me: 14 is Calderon who’s on the bench.

MGF: Are you 100% sure?

Me: No. That club text still hasn’t arrived.

Scene – the press room

Andy Naylor: Lovely tackle by Stephens there.

Fellow Journo: Are you sure it was Stephens? Wasn’t it Orlandi? These yellow numbers on blue and white stripes are impossible to read.

Andy Naylor: Er, pretty sure. On second thoughts it looked like number 14 who shouldn’t be playing.

Fellow Journo: Let’s just both agree it was Stephens. That way our reports won’t contradict each other.

Both journalists write ‘nice tackle by Stephens’ in their notebooks.

Scene – The West Upper. We are in our seats watching the second half

MGF: So we’ve agreed that Bruno is the baldie, Greer is the one with long socks, Kuszczak is the one in goal, Ince is the one running round like Patrick Viera and Ulloa is the only one who can score. And Ward is left back, right?

Me: Just left back. Calderon is the right left back. Anyone, we’re so desperate to claw this back that Orlandi’s playing left back at the moment.

MGF: Who’s the guy who can’t hold it up?

Me: Obika

MGF: Is he also the one who runs like Bambi skating?

Me: Yep

MGF: Who’s the bloke who didn’t bother challenging the keeper on that cross?

Me: Obika again.

(some time passes)

Me: GO ON! GET IN THERE! GREAT TURN. GET IT…..Oh. Bollocks.

MGF: Lovely run. Shame he rolled it straight to the keeper at the end.

Bloke in seat in front: Who was that?

The whole row behind: OBIKA!

Scene – after the game

A large, slightly frantic and very alcoholic circle has formed round the West Lower bar and the match’s deficiencies, today’s travel woes and the first pub in town to be visited are discussed over many beers. Meanwhile Andy Naylor is checking the NSC official match threads for posts by people who followed the game on Seagulls Player and slyly altering his notes.

Wigan-er Climb the League (Away to Wigan)

When I was a young man I had a habit of grading my weekends. I didn’t go quite as far as marking them out of ten but I certainly knew a bad one from a good one. Good ones – certainly at one point – involved me watching Brighton win at football followed by one of two other sports; boxing or greyhound racing. Later, as the dark days under Belotti and Archer took hold the definition of a good Albion weekend was more often seeing us draw while taking part in a protest but the principle remained. Drinking + Sport = Winner.

Two of those sports have changed beyond all recognition since, thanks to satellite TV and Pay Per View. When I grew up big fights were still on terrestrial television (because that’s all there was) at a reasonable hour. It was all a bit like the opening scene of my favourite ever movie Pulp Fiction and I remember those nights covering the early careers of Eubank and Benn, for example, in a similar manner to how Butch’s fight is presented. (Incidentally Pulp Fiction is also the subject of my favourite ever nerdy quiz question which is ‘what is the first scene in Pulp Fiction chronologically?’ Answer at the bottom of the post).

Football in those days had started to have odd live games on a Sunday but they were still on free-to-air television. As a kid the only live football we got was the Cup Final and perhaps the European Cup Final if Forest or Liverpool or Villa were in it. There was no satellite tv and certainly no internet streaming. I started going to almost every game home and away in the late eighties yet it would be 1989 before Tim Berners-Lee connected the ideas of hypertext and the internet to start evolving what we now know as the World Wide Web.

All of which is a very long way of saying that this weekend, the one I wrote this on, has already been remembered for being at the very top of my weekend ranking scale. It was my birthday weekend for one and I saw Brighton win a game for another. No of course I didn’t go – this is Brighton But Only At Home – but thanks to Mr Berners-Lee, satellite television and betting sites I was able to watch on a dodgy stream.

In my Reading report I posited that watching football on TV is metaphorically like having jiggy jiggy with your old feller sheathed. If I was to use the same metaphor I would say that watching on a laptop using a dodgy stream is the equivalent of what teenage boys do when they realise that their dangly appendage isn’t just for number ones. (Sorry – I’m practicing for a euphemism contest).

It is slow. Then it is suddenly joyfully fast (this is the stream, not the dangly appendage exploration). The screen freezes and then the next moment the ball is at one end of the pitch without you having realised (in this respect it’s a bit like JC’s radio commentary). Sometimes you can hear the crowd and sometimes not. Luckily I can tell it’s us from the songs. No one else sings Sussex By The Sea or (I wonder why) about their manager having stubble like Barney Rubble. So we were noisy at least in patches according to my laptop. What it could tell is approximately who’s got the ball, which in the first half was us a lot, and approximately who’s had the best chances, which in the first half was Wigan. The closest we came was a sweeping move down the left which led to Bruno hitting a fine volley that was magnificently saved. On the stream it looked like Barnes should have buried the rebound but it may well be that the ball actually hit him at speed. It was one of those moments where you couldn’t tell for sure. You could certainly tell from the stream that Wigan missed a good chance though Ben Watson as early as 10 minutes, while, soon after Barnes’ chance Nick Powell was put through but shot early and just wide of PIG’s right hand post. We went in at half time at a very lucky 0-0.

Now, at the start of the season, if you had offered a section of our support a choice between Ashley Barnes and Grant Holt as a main striker, I suspect many would have taken the latter. So it’s a good job that Oscar picks the side and not the fans. The second half was an object lesson in how an unsung team player (in fact a sometimes derided one) can be far more useful than a misfiring big name.

Oscar organised the side far better. We nearly scored straight after the restart through JFC who headed straight at the keeper – or so it seemed from the stream – from a cross by (guess who?) Barnes. After that Ash ran himself in to the ground, constantly first to the ball drawing fouls and frustrating the hell out of supposedly Premier League class Ryan Shotton who had to resort to a string of niggly fouls.

Holt came on for Wigan, on the other hand, and got no change from our defenders. He looked average almost all afternoon apart from the moment when Gordon Greer gifted him the ball and, with the goal at his mercy, he stuck it wide. At that point he didn’t look average. He looked like a pub player.

We scored almost immediately afterwards, that man Crofts AGAIN finally putting away a rebound. I carefully put down the laptop before going batshit mental round the front room and scaring the children.

And that was that. A specialist injury time substitution of El Abd for Spanish Dave to defend a free kick later and we had three points. We have now played away at all of last season’s Prem clubs and taken five points, without conceding a goal. Thank you Oscar. Thank you Grant Holt.

That evening for a birthday treat we went to the dogs. Greyhound racing has not changed at all in the last twenty years. It remains pleasantly old school. The only change since i started going has been the removal of the ‘cheap side’ and the Alliance and Leicester building it was dwarfed by. Everything else remains in a perfect time warp.

Trap 4 in the first race was called Birthday Boy. My friend Neil suggested putting everything I had on it. I stuck three quid on the nose, because kids and mortgage. It romped home. I drank quite a lot of lager.

Then I got in a cab home. The Carl Froch v George Groves fight was on the cabbies radio. The journey lasted two rounds, rounds that took me back to my childhood. If it wasn’t going to have cost me a fortune I might have got him to drive round again. Had he been an attractive South American named Esmeralda Villalobos I just might have anyway.

*The first scene chronologically in Pulp Fiction is the one where Butch is a child and Christopher Walken is describing how his father had a watch hidden up his arse while having a bad case of dysentery. You’re welcome.

EDIT: My good friend Ian has just reminded me on twitter that I completely forgot to mention PIGs brilliant last minute save from the pub striker. He is right. I blame the booze. Thanks mate!