Monday, 29 December 2014
Well, have you ever known a more difficult Forest game to get to?
It was a Sunday service, at Christmas, so we were asking for trouble. The 9.03 from New Street had two changes [Derby and some no-man's land called 'East Midlands Parkway'] and took 2 hours, or the 10.03 which had the one change at Derby but got you into Nottingham just 10 minutes before kick off.
"Definitely the 10.03" exclaimed my mate, who fancied an extra hour in bed.
"What? You're talking madness pal, madness." I responded in sheer disbelief.
"We'll definitely miss kick off. It'll take us 5 minutes to get off the train, get through the ticket barriers, up the stairs, then it's a 20 minute walk to the ground."
"Naah, see, I'll order a taxi for us from outside Nottingham station, and as soon as we get off the train, we'll jump straight in the taxi and get to the City Ground in seconds."
The entourage backed the 9.03am train in a 4-1 vote.
The other problem was getting from God's Promised Land Solihull to New Street as there were no trains from here. We opted for a taxi.
Solihull town centre was abandoned. You could see your breath in the air. The streets and pavements were sparkling with a dusting of frost. All of a sudden the Nissan Almera screeched around the corner.
"Taxi for Birmingham fans?" shouted a guy resembling the Mummy king.
We got in.
"How much you pay for train to Nottingham?" enquired the Mummy King halfway into the journey.
"£17.50 open return".
"I do one journey, £80 all in"
"Ok, £70, one journey, all in"
"Naah, we'd still need to get home. How about £40 and we might have a spare ticket, so you can have that as well and come to watch Blues?" we countered.
"If I go to game and Blues lose, I jump on pitch and I kill the players, like dogs, I strangle them. They always win then. They win because they know if they lose, I have their heads."
Well, if there was any doubt, we'd now be giving this guy a massive tip just to be on the safe side. Didn't fancy ending up in Syria, even though it was probably easier to get to than Nottingham.
"This guy's been to the Lee Clark school of man management" somebody quipped, breaking the tension.
The platform for the 9.03 train was rammed, everybody had dispensed with the extra hour in bed and gone for the sensible train.
Everything ran smoothly until we got to East Midlands Parkway, or Chernobyl as it should be called, surrounded by fields as far as the eye can see, except for the massive Springfield-like Nuclear Power Plant next door. Quite a weird place. There didn't seem to be any staff knocking about either, or any signal of life in the immediate vicinity. The only noise coming from the humming of the generator and silos overlooking the train tracks.
All of a sudden 50 Blues-supporting sixteen year olds entered the station, resembling The Simpsons' squeeky voiced teen character. They raised their hands aloft and gave it the hooligan schtick, intimidating a couple of pensioners in the waiting room, singing in shrill, ear-piercing tones as their voices quivered and broke.
I don't know if I'm getting older and more 'grandad-like' but I found them hugely embarrassing.
The teenage gang grabbed the station's humble Christmas tree, ripped it from its pot and proceeded the tear it apart, dragging it hither and thither across the station floor.
One spotty teen in a gilet and Converse trainers stamped on the thing's broken branches in a fit of anger, smashing the baubles into pieces. The Inbetweeners in the background then broke into a chorus of 'We're Birmingham City, we'll do wot we WONT! The Roost, the George, the Forge, Adebola!'
Most of whom were too young to remember Adebola, with an even greater number scarcely old enough to drink in those establishments.
The pensioners looked on in teary sadness.
A Virgin train guy appeared out of a cupboard and phoned for the Transport Police. The train to Nottingham pulled into the station but wouldn't open its doors, letting the Christmas-haters in, until the police turned up.
Despite the delay at East Midlands Parkway, we got into the ground moments before the kick off. Managed to secure our seats in order to have a lovely Christmas sing-song to Paul McCartney and Wings.
You all saw the game, even you *spits* tv-watching fans, so I won't go into the ins and outs of the match itself too much, but Blues stung Forest three times in ten minutes in a beautiful display of counter attacking football. 3-0 up at half time with just 33% possession.
It's getting quite apparent that the lower our possession stats, the more deadly we are. We had just 36% against Reading, and smashed in 6 against the hob knob-eaters.
The Forest fans were getting angry and resorted to the 'yam yam' chants - which seems to wind us up.
If Forest are going to take liberties with geography in an attempt to wind us up, I can't understand why we don't do the same with them and dismiss them as being Yorkshire.
'You dirty Yorkshire bastards' I started chanting, but we were surrounded by the teenage Christmas tree murderers and they didn't join in, either by not getting it, or because the idea of countering Yam Yam with Yorkshire is a lot better to me in my head, but to everybody else it's a terrible idea. Who Knows. They were too busy dancing to pig-bag, and chanting 'u wot, u wot u wot' back to the Forest fans. Ah well.
Forest had allowed a malaise to set in, perfectly encapsulated by their version of 'chip and win'. Except in the Forest version you don't need to chip the ball into the goal, instead you just roll the ball in - and the guy still missed from 10 yards out, and he was even applauded. Poor. No wonder their players can't be arsed.
We'd won the game by the time the second half started, so we never left 2nd gear. Forest scored once we'd taken our better players off and given some of the 2nd string a run out.
Full time, and another win with a load of goals. You'd think we'd be getting used to it by now, but the guys in front of us in the stand had only brought two smoke bombs, seemingly never expecting us to hit the dizzy heights of 3-0 on 45 minutes.
As we walked out of the ground, we split from the Blues fans and went to find a decent bar. We ended up in a marvelous little hipster joint called 'Das Kino' that had ping pong tables at the back of the room. Highly recommended if we're back at Forest any time soon [which we won't be, because we're definitely going up this season].
Another successful away day for the entourage, our record of having never seen us lose away from home in 5 seasons continues.
We've earmarked Fulham away as the next big entourage away day. It's supposed to be lovely down there by the river, with some lovely pubs, almost as lovely as a pre-match rendition of Paul McCartney and Wings.
Wednesday, 5 November 2014
You can be trapped for an eternity in the industrial backstreets of Digbeth.
Whenever we meet at Hennessey’s and try to walk to St Andrews we get lost and walk in circles.
Like a bunch of teens in a budget horror film, we wander the dim-lit side roads, bypassing abandoned warehouses, occasionally stopping to check Google Maps for a few seconds before the phone battery conks out.
The place has the feel of David Bowie’s Labyrinth, where the young Jennifer Connelly tries to navigate through the giant puzzle but every night the goblins emerge from the drains and move all the walls and doors around to totally change the configuration of the maze and push her back to square one.
Except there’s no goblins here, just dodgy mechanics and clampers.
Of course we missed Gary Rowett’s WWF style entrance where they beamed his portrait on the titantron and the new messiah emerged from the tunnel to the adoration of the fans.
We were jogging up the Cattell road at that point. As we entered the ground a bouncing, bespectacled, smiley woman in an oversized fluorescent steward’s jacket, resembling a Mr Men character, chirped:
“You missed the goal lads. The Blues are winning. Hurry up!”
Bloody hell, we’d missed THE home goal. It might be another season before we saw the next one.
The pack of Blues dogs had pounced on Watford’s effeminate defence after sensing an opportunity and picked its pockets to recover the ball in a dangerous area. Donaldson smashed a deflected effort into the back of the net to set up the perfect start for the #RowettRevolution.
Watford quickly equalised with a really frustrating astro-turf goal. Lloyd Doyley ran to the left-hand by-line, Forestieri held his run and made himself available for the cut-back [which you could see coming a mile off]. Blues were slow closing him down and the dramatic Italian fired two attempts on goal with the second flying in.
The Blues fans started to panic – they’d seen this story play out before. The Watford 2nd was a matter of ‘when’ in their minds.
My great auntie used to have a rescue cat. The poor bleeder had been locked in a fridge by its previous owners, so whenever we went to her house and opened the fridge to get a drink, the cat would scarper. When the Blues fans saw their players trying to play out of defence instead of just ‘getting rid of it’ they too allowed previous bad memories to freak them out. They started getting jittery, they shouted at the players, created a nervous vibe. Luckily the Blues players ignored it and played some lovely patient football.
The move of the game came about when Blues passed the ball from out of defence and worked it wide to Caddis who pinged a bullet cross to the back post which saw Shinnie misjudge the flight of the ball and head wide when it was easier to score.
Blues continued to carve Watford open and create a plethora of gilt-edge chances.
Like a scorpion, Blues held back, kept a controlled shape and when they saw a weakness in Watford they jabbed them with a stinging counter-attack. When the move broke down, Blues quickly re-assembled into defensive positions. Rowett had brought a plan to proceedings. A Blues manager with a plan, how….rare.
The game reached 40 minutes, 50, 60, even 70 and it played out in the same manner. Blues were in control tactically, creating chances on the counter, restricting Watford to pot-shots at Barry sitting in row Z in the Gil Merrick stand.
Shinnie was looking tired. Where other managers would have hauled him off for Callum Riley to shore up and take the point, Rowett knocked everybody off-guard and brought a second striker on.
Aye up! Make or bust time. Hold on to your hats.
It wasn’t too long before Thomas won a 50-50, held onto the ball, laid it back to Cotterill who bent a cross into Donaldson to powerfully head the ball into the back of the net - sending the crowd wild.
‘Gary Rowett’s blue and white army’ echoed around the storied stadium. Keep Right On was belted out, shaking the foundations of the stands as it reached ear-popping levels of volume.
Here we were, under the floodlights; the players were putting in a spirited performance; the Tilton and the Kop were packed; the atmosphere was electric. This was the Blues of old. The ghosts of Steve Bruce, Enckelman, Horsfield, Richard Wright, AJ, looked on from the old famous nights. BIH hadn't taken our souls.
The full-time whistle blew and the crowd continued to dance and clap and sing Gary Rowett’s blue and white army.
Rowett walked onto the pitch and saluted the four stands who cheered back. The Brummie hordes floated out of the stadium on a river of positivity.
We all melted back into the night, back into the industrial side-road labyrinth.
Monday, 3 November 2014
Since the Blues decided to embrace technology [about ten years after everybody else], ticket availability has been advertised via an online map of the St Andrew's stadium, which in turn is divided into 'sectors'.
A green sector means you can take your family, your picnic hamper, a rug to sit on and you're likely to not lay eyes upon another mortal soul for 90 minutes.
Yellow?....So-so. You might be wedged in front of a couple of Bronx hat-wearers, spitting bits of peanut at the back of your head while they heckle the ref. But you can move. There's spare seats.
Red? Well we've not seen a 'code red' since the before time, the glorious Bruce days, since the 2005 Galacticos set the league on fire. A red block on the e-St Andrews map means it's sold out and there's not a seat to be had.
Well something weird happened today....we've got a code red.
Even as I write this, whole blocks are changing from green to red, one after another. It's almost akin to a sci-fi film when a ship's force-field is failing under prolonged attack.
You might imagine Amir [the excitable and amiable ticket office assistant] as the St Andrew's version of Scotty, twirling on his office chair back and forth across the room while a siren blares, smoke shoots out of the pipes and all the phones in the office ring unanswered. The club can't keep up with the demand.
Status report Amir?
'St Andrew's is 15% green laddy, and plummeting quickly!'
What's causing this surge in uptake? What's smashing the availability of tickets for tomorrow's game with Watford?
It's not the Klingons, or the Daleks or the Ewoks....
....It's Rowett fever.
Go to Birmingham and you'll see a city frantically chatting away. The foreign bus drivers are talking about Gary Rowett, the fruit sellers are discussing Rowett, the kids are talking about Rowett, the Birmingham internet forums are alive with the sound of Rowett. Members of the Blues Trust are sending their servants into their grand, opulent, attics to dust down their late 90s Auto-Windscreen emblazoned shirts and present them ready to wear.
The appointment of Gary Rowett has created a tidal wave of optimism that has smashed into the people of Birmingham, washing away the negativity and the misery, cleansing them of despair.
On the face of it the delirium seems misplaced. The uncaring, mysterious, distanced and damaging Hong Kong regime 'BIH' still own the club and look no closer to even wanting to sell. Finances are still cripplingly tight. The squad remains a mish-mash of young unproven academy products, free transfers from the lower leagues and wrinkled, aging pros on a last meal ticket. Blues fans continue to look to the transfer window with sheer terror. The overall situation hasn't changed much.
Yet Rowett's appointment has sent the masses into euphoria. Why?
Being an idiot who will occasionally buy a psychological book in the best-sellers stand at an airport bookstore, I must admit that I find the area fascinating when I get around to dipping my toe into literary titles like 'The 48 Laws of Power', 'The Art of Seduction' and 'The Chimp Complex' - all works loosely based on the techniques you can use to improve how others view you.
Rowett seems to embody a hell of a lot of the principles found in these books - conciously or subconciously.
Firstly the man, whilst not classically good looking, has an attractive vibe to him. Researchers everywhere from Ancient Greece to the London School of Economics have found that the more attractive you are, the better people treat you, think of you and behave around you.
Dr Gordon Patzer studied the phenomenon for three decades:
"According to Dr. Gordon Patzer, who has concluded 3 decades of research on physical attractiveness, human beings are hard-wired to respond more favorably to attractive people: “Good-looking men and women are generally regarded to be more talented, kind, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts.”
Patzer contends, “controlled studies show people go out of their way to help attractive people—of the same sex and opposite sex—because they want to be liked and accepted by good-looking people.” Even studies of babies show they will look more intently and longer at attractive faces, Patzer argues."
Dion, Berscheid & Walster called this 'the halo effect':
"Results showed that participants overwhelmingly believed more attractive subjects have more socially desirable personality traits than either averagely attractive or unattractive subjects."
Part of Rowett's appeal is that he's a good looking bloke, and we therefore subconsciously assume he's going to be a good manager.
The 'halo effect' has undoubtedly added to the success of managers like José Mourinho, for example.
I believe the opposite is true too. Ugly managers have to work their bollocks off to get praise. Steve McLaren and Steve Bruce being two great examples.
Like Mourinho, Rowett also employs another devastatingly effective social tactic....he's immaculately dressed.
By switching the muddy tracksuit for a smart shirt, chinos, shoes, a neck-scarf, even a snood. This creates status, engenders a sense of professionalism.
If you look the part, people will assume that you are the part.
'That guy's wearing a scarf and a suit, he MUST be a good manager'.
Rowett knows this, and again, adds this tactic to his arsenal.
The visual will only get you so far, however. Looking the part must be coupled with high status behaviour.
When Gary Rowett joined the guy off Blue Peter and Peter Beagrie during the reflective post-match show after Blues drew with Wolves at Molineux on Saturday morning, he seemed to steal the focus by talking slowly and calmly in a relaxed, informed, confident manner that emitted an aura, a sense of gravitas. Not only did the viewers learn about the game from the content of Rowett's post-match comments, but the way Rowett used the tools of rhetoric so effectively added to this 'cool' reputation that is building quickly.
In many ways Rowett is the anti-Ed Miliband, whose ugliness, geekiness and awkward, nasally, way of speaking is making what should be an easy Labour win in the next election appear shaky to say the least.
When you add the innate attributes Rowett has that make him appealing on a psychological level to the fact he's an ex-Blues player himself, and is born in the suburbs of Greater Birmingham, you quickly start to realise just why this guy is getting a lot of Brummie love.
All peoples in every corner of the globe idolise that which reminds them of themselves. In Rowett, when we hear his soft South Birmingham tones, it immediately resonates with us. Exactly the same reason Peaky Blinders is immensely popular in the West Midlands region. We're proud when we see one of our own succeed - especially because there is a perception that Brummies and West Midlanders in general are largely beaten down and ridiculed by the rest of the nation.
Rowett has emerged as a Brummie Julius Caesar type character, ready to rally the Brummie legions together, create a siege mentality and drag Blues up the table kicking and screaming.
It also helps that he's coming across as extremely positive. He refuses to mention the 8-0, the prior management, he's bringing players back in from the cold, he's pumping out a positive message in between making thoroughly complimentary remarks about the club and the fans in heartfelt way.
The Blues fans are absolutely desperate to find a messiah too.
They are the romantic, working class hordes of the city. Simple people, the people of the earth. They will follow unquestioningly, and they have been ill-treated time and time again.
Chris Hughton will never be held in such high regard as he was at Blues. The fans worshiped him, forgave every mistake, afforded patience, yet he abandoned them on the sinking ship as he fled to Norwich.
This is a fanbase that put up with McLeish's horrific anti-football for the best part of four seasons, witnessed two relegations because of it and didn't even boo in protest, when other fans [such as Blackburn, Blackpool, Newcastle, Villa] would have burned the ground down in similar circumstances.
When Birmingham first reached the Premiership, and they signed their first big, foreign type player [Aliou Cissé], the guy was treated as the king of Birmingham despite being a really average, cumbersome, central midfielder.
The Birmingham fans are desperate for something, somebody, to get behind, a receptacle for their unwavering passionate support.
In Rowett, they may have finally found such a figure.
And Rowett himself is on to an obvious winner. Faced with a fanbase that is at its lowest ebb and in search of a hero; taking over a team that is in the relegation zone and has just lost 8-0, and having all the psychological 'cool tools' at his disposal - it's difficult to see Rowett failing at Blues.
If Blues go down, Rowett can rightfully say 'it wasn't my fault' and blame the ownership problems or even the previous manager. If Blues stay up, the Brummie Julius Caesar will have the desperate hordes eating out of his hands. Rowett will be raised to demi-God status.
Ultimately if the ownership issues don't change, Rowett's charm will one day work on a club in the Premiership, and the drive and ambition in the man that saw him leave Burton for Blues will see him leave Blues to progress.
On such a day the Blues hordes' love for Rowett will turn to anger, with the vitriol of a spurned lover.
I'll probably have to dig out a new internet username too.
But in the mean time, let's enjoy the journey. Let's ride this tidal wave of positivity, let's get behind local lad Rowett and his attempts to unite the Brummies, let's turn all of those green sectors red for the Watford game tomorrow.
Otherwise if you don't you'll upset Amir in the ticket office, and that'd be ever such a shame.
Sunday, 26 October 2014
The fortress of St Andrews stood imposingly on the horizon as we walked towards the home of the Blues. The sun-light bounced off the glass windows and reflective paneling, the rooftop flags danced in the wind, twisted fences of metal surrounded the perimeter.
This was one of the toughest places to go in football.
Just three seasons ago, when Hughton reigned, Blues were unbeaten in 22 of their 23 home games. Even in the days of the Premiership, the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal rarely escaped the ground with their dignity intact [the latter losing two titles on the hallowed Birmingham turf].
The chubby Spaniard - Rafa Benitez - piled up the greatest riches the sport had to offer whilst manager at Liverpool. Yet even this Anfield legend failed to taste a single league victory at the Blues.
From the isolated, cold, wind-swept, Northern fishing villages of Newcastle and Sunderland, to the farms of Norwich and Ipswich, all and sundry feared the St Andrews fixture.
As we got closer to the ground, it became noticeable that the streets were half empty. A palpable silence floated through the air, only broken by the sizzling of the unsold burgers now burning on the grills of the food stalls. Nobody was here.
The metal fences had started to rust. The once powerful royal blue had faded to a sickly grey. The walls were peeling, crying out for a new lick of paint. I looked down at my feet, I found myself standing on a pavement comprised of crumbling bricks which seemed to whisper ghost-like personal messages from deceased Brummies. "Make us proud, remember we're Blues, never forget what we stand for."
A shadow blinked in the corner of my eye, a Blues fan scarpered from an alleyway and then vanished in an instant, like a mouse hoping to escape attention by racing into a hole in the floorboards.
The shutters of a window flapped in the distance.
We entered the ground. In the thoroughfare a bunch of Blues fans had gathered. These were gaunt men with worn faces, standing in contemplative silence, defeated people bedraggled with fatigue. Ten years ago these were monsters, warriors, Spartans ready to raise the roof off the fortress and create a hostile cauldron of noise fueled by working class aggression. Now they were meekly nibbling cheese and onion pasties and playing Candy Crush on their iPhones.
We emerged from the dark, cavernous thoroughfare and were blinded by huge waves of bright blue empty seats which splashed against pockets of supporters huddling together in the crisp October air.
As I looked over to block 21 where me and my dad sat from 1995 to 2013, where we'd experienced every emotion as football fans over the best part of two decades: feeling the highs of thrashing the Villa 3-0 on that famed September night; the intense drama as we never gave up against Ipswich in the semi-finals of the league cup as the whole stand literally shook in excitement; and finally the heartbreak of shock play-off defeats at home to Watford and Barnsley. I now saw an abandoned block, with no life or movement except for a plastic bag blowing in the wind underneath a 'Hollywood Monster' sponsor board.
Gone were me and my dad. So too had Sue and Dave vanished. And the four Zulus who used to come late every week and miss kick off. And that guy with the goatee who made everyone laugh. And Brian. And old man Larry who would offer everybody a sweet from his bag which never seemed to empty. They were all ghosts of a bygone era.
The few Blues fans left in the stadium were haunted figures. Sitting in silence, awaiting their fate. They reclined in their chairs, and stared at the sky, with glazed eyes and miserable countenances.
Many lacked the energy to speak, or even react to the events on the field, as if they were characters on an Antarctic film, had got lost and were slowly freezing to death.
Bournemouth scored. The frozen, older Blues fans remained unperturbed, still staring at the sky, inert with indifference.
Small bands of younger Birmingham fans started abusing the Blues players. Jeering every misplaced pass. Booing bouts of poor play. Shouting and swearing in high pitched voices, creating an atmosphere of panic, negativity and hostility.
The Birmingham players reacted by actively hiding from the football. Treating it like a hot potato. They let the indignant screams of the hotheaded younger fans get to them and started making foolish mistakes.
Bournemouth scored again, and scored again. The half time whistle blew. The angry young Blues fans snarled and spat boos. The zombified Birmingham fans rose in synchronisation.
The half time entertainment started. An awkward Birmingham fan had to chip three balls into the net from varying distances without the ball bouncing in order to win some prizes. As the tubby contestant chipped the ball around, wry smiles broke on the faces of the Birmingham fans - light relief from the torture of the football.
Yet these smiles were soon wiped out as the players re-emerged for the second half. The zombies in the stands sat down and resumed their fixed positions and the younger hate-filled Birmingham fans returned from the bars and food stands with bits of pie and pasty splattered around the corners of their saggy cheeks.
Many Birmingham fans had fled the ground at 3-0. Many more abandoned the once impenetrable fortress when Bournemouth's fourth and fifth went in.
On Bournemouth scoring their sixth and seventh the sky went an ominous black and the clouds swirled in disarray.
Young babes and children in their parents arms let out a piercing, bloodcurdling scream, and begged their parents to take them home and never bring them back again.
Women swooned in the stands. Men fell about with grief, pounding the floor with their fists, begging for an end to come quick.
The Bournemouth players were throwing up on the sidelines.
Eddie Howe, the Bournemouth manager, burst into a flood of tears. Unable to comprehend the horrible and tragic event he was witnessing.
He wanted Bournemouth to win today, but not at the expense of destroying one of the nation's most-loved and respected sides in such a comprehensive manner.
Two Birmingham fans, totally shattered and broken, in a last ditch effort, invaded the pitch, burst past the BIH agents and hurled their season tickets into the air before being caught and taken into the dark, torture cells in the abyss of the St Andrews basement.
Malcolm Crosby escaped out of a side-door.
At the full time whistle Bournemouth had scored eight, and what was once the great and feared St Andrews was now nothing but a patch of grass.
The Birmingham fans scarpered out and hurried into their cars, as they zipped past, the sound of Tom Ross sighing from the radio became audible to all who lined the dusty roads out of Small Heath. The smoke from St Andrews billowed into the air.
As I got home, my dad was sitting on the sofa watching 'Beauty and the Geek: Australia'.
'Blues were shit then?'
'Yeah' I replied, hanging my coat up.
'I dunno why you still bother.'
'Yeah..me neither, but hey ho, it's something to do I suppose.' I shrugged.