Monday, 13 February 2012

No Crate of Banks' for Cassandra

[Above: Capital Gold listeners shouting down anybody with constructive criticism]

A lot of talk at the moment regarding McLeish. From his first season at Blues I wanted him out of my sight.

A succession of managerial monstrosities had me yanking my hair out in indignation and waving my hanky in displeasure on the terraces in those days. For the following two seasons I took stick off Blues fans for my anti-Eck stance. Funny how these lads and lasses are now the fiercest of McLeish critics - fickle is the beautiful game I 'spose.

You ghostly audience, I'll spare you the dossier I could write on what infuriated me about him. That's perhaps for another time.

But what's come to light this week mind, is N'Zogbia registering his dismay at Villa Park and McLeish's general inability to manage flair players. We had that dismay at St Andrews. I suffered on that one night. Staring out the window..

It were a cold evening. Ice claimed the glass panes. The night-sky was a quilt of blue and black. The stars were fixed, motionless like shards of glass sprinkled over a dark fabric. Timeless scene. What the date was, or the year, I don't know. What the time was I don't know - it was half 6.

I lit the lamp and shuffled towards the wireless. BRMB's Tom Ross was with Birmingham manager Alex McLeish, and they were at a drinking tavern doing a fans forum with some locals.

Birmingham were on the verge of relegation. It was McLeish's first season. He'd taken over when we were relatively safe, and yet no improvements were forthcoming.

The wrinkly-faced Scot sat in front of the crowd. Alongside him the plump radio representative, Tom Ross. A bitter man, a man twisted and prone to hate but disguising it well with a false chuckle masking indignation and a misguided sense of superiority. He was a Brummie once, but his 'family values', old fashioned views, 'common sense' approach to life and anger with the world were distinctly Yorkshire in their tone. He had become a Geoffrey Boycott, a John Prescott, a Brian Clough, something we all vowed never to be. He's at your family Christmas parties complaining about political correctness and health and safety legislation.

'What's your favourite sandwich Alex!?' hiccuped one fool in the darkened tavern.


'Do you like us fans?' spurted a desperado.


'What's the score for Satdee?' mused a man in double-denim sitting under a spider-web.

'I think we'll win. We're Birmingham City and you guys do us proud' chortled McLeish, prompting applause.

'Give that questioner a crate of Banks' beer for the question of the day!' celebrated Tom Ross, the radio representative.

And so it went.

Sycophants as far as the eye could see. Each leaning towards the stage with sparkling eyes of wonder, toothy grins and a soft question in hand.

All to plan.

I turned from the wireless and bit my top lip. And as I went to walk away, this frail man stood up at the Tavern and the room went quiet.

He was one of those men schooled in football, a man from the 70s who had seen the glorious Birmingham side which entertained and scored for fun. Bob Latchford, Trevor Francis and Bob Hatton. The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost.

He was the unremarkable figure in the corner of the bookies with a Racing Post under his arm, quietly going about his business but in that head, there's football knowledge there.

This man slowly rose to his feet. 

'The little man over there' snapped indignant Ross, looking in the opposite direction.

The man from the 70s nodded to show that he understood the platform was his.

He cleared his throat with a cool sip of whiskey. Shaking, he unfurled a crimped note and held it in his worn hands. In a frail but totally measured and controlled voice the man from the 70s asked...

'Alex. Every week we play Gary McSheffrey on the left wing, but it's clear for everyone to see that the lad is finding it hard to step up to the premiership level. He cannot beat a man for pace, he doesn't cross, he no longer scores. You have a lad on the bench signed from the Ajax academy, who starred in the recent Euro u-21 Championships for the Dutch team. Why not give him a chance?'

A football question. Unexpected tonight of all nights.

'AWWHHHHWH' The crowd howled outrage. The shouting and annoyance blocked out all other noise but the cacophony of terror. Incandescence. Sheer incandescence.

Ross, king of the sycophants rose from his chair and outstretched his arms. 'Ssshhh' he ordered the crowd. 'Shhhh'.


Ross eyed the man from the 70s with a fixed scowl and checked him up and down.


'I'll take this one Alex' he whispered to the gingerman.

'De Ridder?'

'De Ridder!'

Ross snarled.

'All I'm saying, to you.... son, is football is about opinions. And there's a reason you're down there and Alex is up here next to me, eh?'

'HahahahahahaHAHahh. Yeeaaahhhh!!!!!!!' The elephants in the room screamed with delight.

They jumped into a dance of triumph, stamping their feet and banging their glasses on the tables in approval. They cheered, spitting bits of piss-stained peanuts into the air - a vile indoor rain storm of nut fragments and saliva

McLeish smirked.

The question was answered before it had been asked.

I switched the wireless off. 

De Ridder never did play for Birmingham again. McSheffrey gave the ball away every week, lost his marker, played no crosses.

Birmingham were relegated.

Turn from that timeless scene from years ago and look out the window today and every Blues fan is McLeish's worst enemy. I dare say even those elephants that were in that tavern on that frosty night.

McLeish is still alienating flair wingers, but this time at Villa.

I wonder where that frail man is, the one from the 70s, schooled in the game. I wonder if he still walks amongst us. He'll be down at the bookies with the Racing Post under his arm, waiting for the next time he airs his reasoned view and its shouted down by the happy-clapping mob who won't hear a bad word against the manager or the club.

Sometimes it doesn't hurt to hear constructive criticism aimed at your own club. 

Sometimes it's healthier to deal with it rather than happy clap over it and pay later.

Put the peanuts down.

Don't be an elephant.

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