Friday, 25 November 2011

Dead Birds Are Not An Omen

The day gets off to a decent enough start – waiting at Euston for the train to be called, we make some bloke’s morning by letting him know England have beaten Scotland in the rugby. Jenny, Joy and I have a last-minute travelling companion in the shape of Clarkey, who’s probably put himself right in the dog house by coming to the game but doesn’t seem too bothered about it. As we wander down the platform in search of our reserved seats, Joy notices a squashed bird still stuck on the train’s engine. What is it with us and splattered wildlife this season?
We’re supposed to be meeting my brother at Crewe station, but his texts inform me the train he’s on has had to push another one whose engine has failed, and he’s running late from Birmingham. Chris Kirkland is also delayed, having had to wait for forty minutes or so to collect his ticket at Sheffield station. Chris Burrows has made it over from Manchester without any difficulties, and it seems Robert’s actually going to make the connection to Longport, as the train’s been pushed back to let the one he’s on come through first – right up until the moment when they decide the Crewe train has priority. Luckily, as soon as he gets to the bus stop outside the station the bus to Burslem pulls in, so he won’t be too far behind us.
Already, the day is freakily hot, and it’s all uphill from Longport station, so by the time we arrive at the Bull’s Head, we’re in need of a drink. It’s more than warm enough to sit outside – where, as ever, the barbeque is already in full spate, turning out burgers, hot dogs and bacon rolls. Of course Ted simply has to be informed that you can have the option of black pudding with your burger.
Robert eventually joins us, as does Chris K, and we all sit basking in the Staffordshire sunshine. One of the Port Vale fans drinking at a neighbouring table wanders over, but instead of discussing prospects for this afternoon’s game, he treats us to his surreal, vaguely Marxist stand-up comedy routine about football. As you do...
While we’re putting up the flag behind the goal, Boomer the Port Vale mascot wanders over and starts rubbing his furry thighs in a Vic Reeves stylee. I blow him a kiss in return, and before you know it, I’m being hugged by a six-foot squashy dog. Fortunately, no one is able to whip out a camera quickly enough to record the start of this beautiful friendship for posterity.
The defence has been rejigged again, with Michael Raynes, who we later find out has been ill all night and probably shouldn’t be playing, and Johnny Mullins as the centre backs and Troy Brown at right back, and unfortunately the result is decided by two defensive mistakes. Port Vale’s first goal comes from a Marc Richards free-kick which Logan only fumbles as he tries to save it, and the second is as a result of the defence in front of Logan going AWOL, leaving Richards with a one-on-on that he doesn’t miss. Tom Pope, who’s been on the end of some pretty ugly chants from the Rotherham support, provides the assist for the goal, which only goes to show what happens when you dish out the nasty stuff to a former player.
After that, we try everything we can to get back in the game, but it doesn’t happen. Tonge comes on for Brown at the start of the second half, and starts linking up well with the players in front of him. We actually have the ball in the net a couple of minutes into the second half, but it’s disallowed because Grabban is ruled offside. Apart from that, our best chance comes right at the end of the half, when Newey puts in a fine ball from a corner for Mullins to head home, but it’s saved.
The only thing to do is go back to the Bull’s Head – Robert pointing out the Guest and Chrimes hydrant cover in the square by the pub, a little bit of Burslem that is forever Rotherham – and drown our sorrows.
On the train back to London, Joy and I find ourselves perusing the match programme. We can’t decide whether one of the sponsors pictured posing with Marc Richards after their last home game is actually a pre-op tranny or just this year’s winner of the tallest woman in Europe contest. It’s amazing what you think of to pass the time on the way home. But at least we now know that, unlike pressed rats, dead birds are not an omen.
We have to wait ages for a tube out of Euston Square, the delay caused by some vomit-related incident which must have been of Exorcist proportions if it forced a whole train to be taken out of service. Ted eventually gets on at Kings Cross and we have the fun of watching a couple of lads trying – and failing conspicuously – to chat up a girl from Darlington. Blame it on the heat...

Friday, 21 October 2011

Jamie, If You’re Reading This, Give It Back

Ted’s on a one-man mission to baffle Jenny this morning, arriving at St Pancras before I do and claiming he’s got me tucked in his rucksack. In reality, he’s off for breakfast before his trip to Cambridge and has come to wave us off. It’s ladies only on the way up, as Jenny and I are joined by Julia, who busies wading through about 147 sections of an unwanted Telegraph a fellow passenger hands over to us, trying to find the sports section. Failing to find any coverage of the lower leagues (in a broadsheet? What a surprise!), she regales us with a story about how her family had been on holiday and her son-in-law went to collect the baby buggy from the baggage carousel to find it wasn’t there. Instead, an identical buggy, but an older and tattier version, was still circling – and bearing a luggage label reading ‘Jamie Redknapp’. Jamie, if you’re reading this, do the decent thing and give it back…
Once in Sheffield, Julia heads for Rotherham and Jenny and I go to the Fat Cat, where one of the regulars is feeding pub cat Steffie one of those meat stick treats. We have no idea how many years you have to have been drinking there before you’re allowed that privilege. It’s so civilised in there, we make the usual comment about staying all afternoon. Maybe we should have.
Today’s opposition, Southend, are even more of a pound-shop Stoke than they were last season. There’s barely a player below six foot tall in the side, and they rely on set pieces and a bloke who could probably chuck the ball the width of the English channel if he tried. It can’t be denied it’s an effective style of play, and we won’t be the only team to fail to find a way of combating it, but I couldn’t watch it week-in, week-out. They take the lead after ten minutes, Peter Gilbert lashing in the rebound from his own corner, and already the natives are restless. The grumbling doesn’t subside for the rest of the half, even though we have a couple of good chances to equalise, the best of these being Lewis Grabban’s effort which is only just cleared off the line.
Things get worse, particularly for those of us in danger of expiring from passive moaning, as Southend score again within a couple of minutes of the second half kicking off. Unsurprisingly, it’s a long throw that causes the problems. When they score a third, people get up and start walking out. We’re not the only fans to do this (Gillingham did exactly the same when we put three past them a few weeks ago), but it does seem that over the last few years supporters as a whole have become less inclined to stick around if the going gets tough in a particular game. Whatever happened to staying and suffering till the end? To compound our misery, Southend get a fourth. What’s really annoying is that they’re doing quite a bit of time-wasting and falling over. You could understand this if they were defending a one-nil lead and anxious not to concede an equaliser, but when they’re so comfortably ahead it makes you wonder if it’s just engrained in their DNA.
At least there’s one bright spot for us as Johnny Mullins (proudly sponsored by the London Millers, as I’m contractually obliged to point out) makes his comeback from injury, appearing for the last 15 minutes. Given that it was originally thought he might be out till Christmas, it’s nice to see him back.
After the game, Jenny and I meet up with Clarkey at the tram stop, and we pop into the Old Queen’s Head. It’s much busier in there than usual; a bunch of people look to be meeting up before heading off to another venue, or maybe they’ve escaped en masse from a wedding reception, while a few members of a TV outside broadcast crew are wandering round. We’ve no idea what they’re in Sheffield to film, but their van is parked just down the road. The landlord of the pub commiserates with us on losing to our “bogey team”, but I don’t think we bust his pools coupon this week…
The three of us peruse the programme on the train back to London. There’s a big interview with Drewe Broughton, Southend and Rotherham of course being two of the 18 and counting clubs he’s been at, having just signed a (very) short-term contract with Alfreton. Apparently, he’s been doing a diploma in athletics and body performance. Now all his infamous, X-rated gyrations on the touchline at Gillingham and Bury make sense – that must have been the practical part of the exam!

Friday, 23 September 2011

A Pot of Gold Somewhere Just Outside Oadby

For once, Ted isn’t off at the crack of doom, as he’s only travelling to Luton today. He takes the tube in with me, and though we leave in good time, it looks like things might go horribly wrong when there’s a signal failure in the Kings Cross area. Luckily, it doesn’t hold us up too badly and we get to St Pancras to he can wave off the travelling London Millers contingent – with more than two fingers, you’ll be relieved to hear.
On the trip for our first meeting with Dagenham since that fateful day at Wembley Jenny, Steve Ducker, Chris Turner, Clarkey and myself. The train is pretty packed, and then the women on the table behind us start unwrapping an array of samosas, cakes and other home-made goodies, Chris wonders if he should recruit them to do the catering for our next Christmas trip. Things get even busier at Leicester, as hordes of fans pile on, en route to their game at Barnsley. Gail and Graham manage to squeeze on at Derby. Trackside problems between there and Long Eaton slow us down, but don’t cut into our valuable drinking time too badly.
It’s very windy when we pitch up at the DVS, making us wonder how good a game we’re going to get. The Brinsworth Club Millers (‘me and our lass’, as he always introduces them to the stewards), and we swap banter about getting our respective flags on TV at Swindon. There’s just time to have the annual conversation with Steve Exley about how it costs him a fortune now Kiran’s in adult-size replica shirts (though that’s pretty much been the case since he was 12!) and then it’s into the fray.
Dagenham have lost the likes of Paul Benson and Danny Green since we last played them, and Tony Roberts looks to have finally hung up his goalkeeping gloves. We shall miss him and his rubbish forward rolls...
We start in lively fashion, and take the lead when Marcus Marshall puts in a cross. Alex Revell tries to get on the end of it, gets a whack from a defender for his pains, but Lewis Grabban slots in the loose ball. Instead of pressing on, we sit back, and get punished for it when Dagenham equalise. Scott doe heads in a corner, and though Dale Tonge tries to keep it out, he only succeeds in nodding it further into the net.
There aren’t many Dagenham fans – Clarkey says later he started counting them but got distracted by something (possibly in a small dress, going by past form...) - but they’re quite lively, twice bursting into a chorus of ‘Cheer up, Stevie Evans.’ Of course, their distaste for the Crawley manager is well known, dating back to all the antics when Evans’ Boston got promoted ahead of Dagenham, before certain financial irregularities came to light.
We quiet them a little by getting two more goals before half-time. Grabban scores the first of these, getting a glancing header to another Marshall cross, though TV footage later suggests it was an own goal. There’s no doubt about his second, though, his shot coming after great persistence from Evans in the first place.
The significance of the anti-Evans chants becomes obvious when the half-time scores reveal Crawley are losing 2-0 to Morecambe. That’s good news for us, but better news is that the Broadsword schools six-a-side competition is back – still the best half-time entertainment anywhere, with Thornhill beating Greasebrough on penalties.
The second half is going to have to go some to match it, but after Tonge hits the crossbar from distance, we go into our shell again, seemingly content to defend the lead. Dagenham threaten to get a goal back, but the nearest they come is when they hit the bar. Their keeper makes a great save to deny Grabban his hat-trick, but people are now more interested in what’s happening at the Crawley game, where rumours that Morecambe have gone five-nil up, then added a sixth, are quickly confirmed.
The other result that seems to grab the imagination is Doncaster’s loss to Cardiff,, with murmurs of ‘Donny’s going down’ all round me as I go to collect the flag.
Jenny’s staying in Rotherham for the weekend, so I meet up with Gail and the boys at the tram stop and we go for a drink in the Old Queen’s Head. Clarkey suggests taking advantage of the flexible tickets to go back on a later train and check out the Rutland. Steve and I decline, but the others head off there.
The train's quieter than on the way up, but we have two people booked from Sheffield to Leicester in the seats next to us. I assume they’re going to be Foxes fans. Instead, we get a nice, middle-aged couple who enjoy their M&S salads and a glass of vino. So much for me and my preconceptions.
Yet again, there’s a spectacular rainbow in the sky as we approach Leicester. I wouldn’t be at al surprised if there’s a pot of gold somewhere just outside Oadby. It’s the perfect setting to digest the fishing reports in the Green ’Un, crowned by the tale of one angler who won a competition despite having had a pint of beer poured over his head in the week by a girl he dumped by text message. Apparently, there’s a silver lining to that story, too. It wasn’t his pint...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Yay, Just Seen The Flag!

Lunchtime kick-offs, don’t you love ’em? It being international weekend, Sky need a game to be the appetiser for Scotland v the Czech Republic, and they’ve chosen our game against Swindon, purely because they’re now being managed by the somewhat volatile Paolo di Canio. Most of the London Millers have decided to watch the game on TV, and with entry to the County Ground a whopping £25, who can blame them? Only Jenny and I make the journey (passing through Reading, new home of Adam Le Fondre, where the last of the festival is being packed away and innumerable tents have been rounded up in a field…), meeting up with my brother at Swindon station.
The flag, not being fastened to seats...
It’s a sedate walk to the ground, where we’re aided in the setting-up of the flag by some of the most helpful and friendly stewards you’ll find anywhere. The only rules are that we can’t place it right behind the goal (at the behest of Sky) and we can’t fasten it to the seats, but that’s not a problem. Once it’s in place, we join Robert in the vast Arkell’s stand. The last time we played here, it was in our first recent spell of administration, when the away following was one of the best and most vocal you could wish for. There aren’t quite so many here today, but they’re still noisy, doing their best to drown out the pre-match build-up. We’ll draw a veil over the dance stylings of Swindon mascot Rocking Robin and the Rockettes, which almost, but not quite, make me warm to the Millerettes, then the Tannoy bursts into La Donna E Mobile, so the crowd can sing di Canio’s name. Yep, it’s all about Paolo. Of course, our fans respond with a much ruder chant to the same tune, chants of ‘Leon Clarke’, who di Canio had a much-publicised bust-up with at the end of their game in mid-week, and that lovely old hymn, ‘Wednesday reject’.
Within moments of the game kicking off, it becomes clear today’s actually about two men – di Canio and the referee, Carl Boyeson, a man whose name causes Millers hearts to sink. He sets the pattern for the day by booking Alex Revell, making his debut for us, for his first tackle. Then Conrad Logan gets whacked in the face while coming to collect a ball. There’s claret – lots of it – and Don starts warming up furiously in case he can’t continue, but once all his orifices have been plugged with cotton wool, he seems to be okay. It’s not a great game – we’re getting used to the novelty of having a big man up front, while Swindon seem to be getting used to the novelty of each other, if some of their defending is anything to go by – but we take the lead. The ball comes to Ryan Cresswell, who nods it into the path of Revell, his goal hopefully starting his Rotherham career the way it means to go on. It stays that way until almost half-time, when Swindon equalise through Matt Richie’s deflected shot.
The cheerleaders are back at half-time, while a presentation is made to Swindon’s steward of the year for going above and beyond the call of duty. Apart from actually helping to deliver a baby, I can’t see what they could do that goes any further above the call than most of them appear to already…
Early in the second half, I get a text from Tim, reading, ‘Yay, just seen the flag!’ He follows that up with a request for me to put the spec on di Canio. I don’t know whether it makes any difference, but shortly after that Revell scores his second goal, another header. All we need to do now is try and see the game out – except Danny Schofield, already on a yellow card, puts in a needless tackle and Mr Boyeson doesn’t hesitate to send him off. Swindon equalise almost immediately – they get a corner and sub Alan Connell heads it in. With the man advantage, they look more dangerous, and Connell proves anything Revell can do, so can he, heading home what proves to be Swindon’s winner. There’s still time for Alberto Comazzi to be sent off, making it ten a side. It’s a soft challenge that earns him a second yellow card, but the way Boyeson’s been dishing them out, it’s hardly surprising. Di Canio and his bench prove they’re not the classiest bunch around, by getting into a spat with Dale Tonge when the ball finds itself in their dug-out and they refuse to give it back. Andy Scott, who’s been known to have a rant or two in his time, manages to retain his dignity, but the manner of the result – with yet more operatic warbling in celebration of the victory – leaves a slightly sour taste.
A teeny-tiny post box, yesterday
The only way to wash it away is with a few drinks at The Gluepot, hidden away among all the old railway cottages, with the teeny-tiny post box outside that we once filled to bursting with copies of the London Miller. It’s quiet, but the beer’s good and the bloke behind the bar is friendly, even half-remembering our order (for some reason, he pegs Jenny as a stout drinker…).
On the train back to London, we bump into Andy the groundhopper and former landlord of the Gardener’s Arms in Lewes, here in his official capacity as a Swindon supporter. He explains to us the reason the Swindon fans were giving Alex Revell some stick is that they had him on loan and he didn’t do too much for them, yet can’t stop scoring against them, no matter who he plays for.
There’s just time for an eyeballing by East London’s hardest fox, before getting back in the house in time for all the duff Saturday night TV I usually miss because I’m on a train. At least normal service will be resumed next weekend…

Monday, 29 August 2011

Struck With The Urge To Buy A Sofa

Arriving at St Pancras, I get a text from Ted letting me know he’s spotted Alan Pardew at King’s Cross this morning. This being one of the signs of the apocalypse (one of the others being if Ted gets to Cleethorpes for his pre-Blundell Park drinkies and doesn’t see any donkeys on the sands), goodness knows what we’re in for today.
When I pop into AMT for the tea and coffee order for Jenny, Julia, Chris Turner and myself, the bloke behind the counter gets chatting to me, curious as to why he sees me pretty much every other week. Am I travelling to visit family? So I enlighten him about Rotherham. But not the whole ‘why we’re playing in Sheffield but getting excited about moving back to Rotherham (apart from its lack of decent pubs) next season’ part. Because a) he wouldn’t be interested and b) there’s a queue behind me...
The Fat Cat is quiet after last week’s festival. That changes a little when Chris Kirkland arrives. He enlightens us about his plans to come back to Sheffield to do a PhD, being determined to remain a student for as long as possible (probably about another year, given the increase in tuition fees), and find a place to live within easy staggering distance of the Fat Cat. He also had a fun day at the Oval for the Fourth Test, finding himself seated behind Father Christmas, a nun, the Pope and Jesus. The only thing that could have topped that would have been the appearance of the woman we saw in the away end at Mansfield, dressed as a cigarette.
The most important non-appearance of the day is actually that of Adam Le Fondre. He’s completed a move to Reading, having successfully passed his medical, agreed personal terms and, presumably, managed not to giggle at Sir John Madejski’s hairstyle. As a result, the mood’s a little flat as the game kicks off, with people digesting the news and wondering where our goals are going to come from. It’s also quiet because Mr Random Stream Of Consciouness behind me is also a no-show. Or maybe, I suggest to my dad, we really have gone deaf. With impeccable comedy timing, he replies, ‘Pardon?’ Our Edinburgh Fringe residency can only be a matter of time...
For a game that begins the day as second against third in the table, it lives up to the suggestion that these will be two decent, evenly matched teams. Gillingham, naturally, have the little bit of whinge and niggle that comes from having Andy Hessenthaler in charge, as opposed to Barnet last week, who had the gamesmanship without the added dirtiness. We’re effectively playing with five at the back, including Marcus Marshall at right-back, and Jason Taylor is back in midfield, but he isn’t having his greatest game, finding himself caught in possession several times. Indeed, a few passes go astray as the team adjust to their unfamiliar formation and lack of Alf, but Gillingham aren’t doing too much to trouble us. Logan only has one real save to make, bravely getting down at the feet of Danny Kedwell (and as Mr Warrington will tell you, that’s a risky strategy against the Gills, because you could end up getting kicked in the head for your pains...), while Gillingham’s keeper makes two saves from Gareth Evans right at the end of the half, one of which is a really good flying effort.
The old chap who’s been sitting at the side of me in the first half decides to take the seat on the aisle usually occupied by Gordon, another one who’s not here today (anyone would think it was holiday season or something), which gives my dad a whole new audience for his observations. It’s another formation change that makes the difference on the pitch, though. The crowd is growing increasingly exasperated with Jason Taylor, and about five minutes into the second half, Andy Scott replaces him with Mark Bradley. A couple of minutes later, the ball goes out for a throw-in. It should be Gillingham’s, but the assistant referee awards it to us. When the ball reaches Danny Schofield he twists, turns, twists a bit more, adds a turn then crosses past the bamboozled defender. Danny Harrison hangs in the air in a manner that suggests if he was only seven foot tall he’d have a career in basketball and heads home. Gillingham’s players, naturally, complain about the incorrect throw (and one of them gets booked for his pains), but with the catalogue of dodgy sendings-off, goals not given despite being a foot over the line and disallowed goals we’ve endured against them over the last few years, we’ll take this bit of fortune all day.
With Bradley now spraying the ball around in midfield and Gillingham clearly letting the lino’s call get to them, it’s not long before we score again, Lewis Grabban latching on to a lovely pass from Bradley. Gillingham bring on Dennis Oli and Luke Rooney (no relation), but we’re playing some gorgeous football and have taken control of the game. There’s one nasty moment when a swirling ball nearly catches Logan out at the post, and another moment when everyone expects the ball to go out for our goal kick, only for it to stop dead on the line, prompting a scramble for Logan to clear it in time, but apart from that we look very comfortable. Marcus Marshall causes Gillingham problems every time he makes a run, and Grabban nearly scores again, but there’s so little pace on his shot it’s one step up from a back pass.In the end, Gareth Evans gets the third goal, which is the perfect reward for all the hard work he’s put in today.
Apparently, there’s some kind of altercation between Andy Hessenthaler and the ref at full time, but I miss it as I’m collecting the flag. However, outside the ground I bump into Tim, who’s full of the joys of just having spent a couple of minutes yelling at Hessenthaler for being – how shall we put this? – aesthetically challenged. This is considerably politer than some of the things assorted London Millers have called him over the years...
In the Old Queen’s Head, Jenny and I have a drink with Chris T, who’s staying up in Rotherham for the weekend, Toddy, now gainfully employed once more, and Toddy’s friend Kirby. It means Jenny’s can relieve Toddy of his subs and other monies he owes her, and I can hand over the scarf I’ve been holding ransom carrying around for him since last December. He’s depressed by the fract we’re winning, and playing good football, as this is outside his natural order of things. He also informs us that Diamond’s going back into the licensed trade, running a pub in Braithwell which, by a bizarre twist of fate, used to be run by one of Jenny’s relatives.
There are all kinds of fun and games on the way back to London. It starts innocently enough, when Jenny and I find we’re sitting opposite a tableful of London Owls. This isn’t surprising, as they use the same East Midlands booking scheme for football travellers as we do. However, somewhere around Derby, a large ginger gentleman asks whether the seat next to me is free and plonks himself down to read his Green ’Un. It’s celebrity Wednesday fan, Tommy Craig. I’m struck with the sudden, inexplicable urge to buy a sofa... When he finds out Jenny and I are Rotherham fans, he can’t resist giving us gip, but it’s all amiable enough.
At Derby, the world’s loudest Gillingham fans get on. They sneaked out when the third goal went in, and have been trying to get back to London on trains they weren’t booked on, meaning they’ve been turfed off at Chesterfield, then Derby. They aren’t particularly rowdy, or quite as entertaining as the two spectacularly drunk QPR fans who tried to get us to egg John Prescott a couple of seasons ago, but their conversation is hard to ignore, punctuated as it is by the regular popping of ringpulls. In addition, one of the women has a laugh that could drill holes in concrete. As one of the London Owls points out, it’s like listening to a southern version of Shameless. Eventually, Tommy decides he’s going to go down to first class to schmooze with fellow celebrity Wendy, Martyn Ware out of Heaven 17. Though he does wish us all the best when we all get off at St Pancras, which is nice.
Ted lets me know he’s off to the Euston Tap for a nightcap, but I decide to go home, stroke the cats and let them know they’re still the best thing to come out of Gillingham...

The Last Van Dyke Beard In Captivity

There’s only one thing better than spending a Saturday lunchtime at the Fat Cat, and that’s spending Saturday lunchtime there during their beer festival. Just as last year, it’s coincided with a home game, and when the travelling London Millers contingent – Jenny, Joy, Steve Ducker and myself, along with Graham and Gail, who join us at Derby – arrive there, Mr Kyte and Andy Leng are already comfortably ensconsed in the beer garden, pints in hand. The tickers are out in force, but we’re more concerned with discussing today’s game, which has all the signs of being a potential banana skin. Barnet have started well, and held Gillingham to a draw in the week. It did us a favour, but it suggests the Bees have improved since last season. I’ve done my usual trick of checking the list of today’s horseracing runners and riders and found nothing with a name to suggest it might be a Rotherham omen – but there is a Barnet Fair running today, which could be ominous.
Phil has our sponsored shirt from last season, to pass on to Clarkey. I take it from him, as I’m the only one with room in my bag, but it looks like I’m going to be carrying it round for a while, as Clarkey’s dashing off to catch the early train tonight to make some gig in London.
On the way to the DVS, Gail manages to drive us all demented by telling us she saw one of the London Millers at the Oxford game, but can’t remember his name. ‘He’s dark-haired, losing it at the back, quiet and hasn’t travelled with you for a while,’ she says. We run through the card of all the obvious suspects, but you can rule most of them out not so much on the grounds they still have their hair, but they’re definitely not quiet! Even now, I still haven’t worked out who she was talking about, so if you are that mystery Miller, please make yourself known...
Barnet are now being managed by Lawrie Sanchez, possessor of the last Van Dyke beard in captivity, and he’s beefed them up with the addition of Jason Price, ludicrously tall even without the exploding mushroom of hair, who seems to be in the team primarily for his skill with back headers. They’re organised and very efficient at closing us down and not giving us any time on the ball. We’re missing Jason Taylor and Ryan Cresswell, who got injured at Crewe, and Dale Tonge looks strangely off the pace today, slipping and losing the ball in dangerous areas on a couple of occasions. The game has the feel of a scrappy nil-nil, but Barnet take the lead about ten minutes before half-time, Clovis Kamdjo scoring a soft header from a corner kick. The fistful of Barnet fans in attendance, including the four who’ve been singing, ‘We are Barnet, no one likes us, we don’t care,’ without any sense of irony, go barmy. Mr Random Stream Of Consciousness behind me has been fairly quiet, apart from randomly asking one of his companions if he’s human or if he’s dancer, but now he has a good old grumble. At half time, the eight surviving members of Rotherham’s 1961 League Cup runners-up team are being presented to the crowd, and he rants that they should come on in the second half because they’d show more effort than the current 11.
Said 1961 team get a brilliant reaction from the crowd, and the BBC’s Football League Show are here to record the occasion in the shape of Mark ‘Clem’ Clemmett, last seen having his ear bent about all things Darlo when he happened to share a train back from Manchester with Ted in February.
Andy Scott makes the changes the crowd has been hoping for Tonge and Lewis Grabban are replaced by Marcus Marshall and Chris Holroyd. There must have been a stern half-time talking-to, because Rotherham play with renewed vigour, and equalise from a corner almost immediately. I’m sure the goal will be disallowed, because Troy Brown appears to be climbing all over the man marking him before he volleys the ball past Dean Brill, last spotted at the DVS being caught out by a freaky Alex Rhodes cross cum shot while in goal for Luton.
Barnet retake the lead when Izale McLeod is tugged down in the box by Michael Raynes, and gives Conrad Logan no chance with the resulting penalty. Incidentally, my dad and I have been discussing the fact that my trademark shout at the keeper to ‘have a run with it’ takes on a whole new dimension when you’te telling someone called Logan to do it. Goodness knows what’s going to happen to him when he hits thirty...
Ahead once more, Barnet start timewasting with a vengeance. Having a manager who was once part of the Crazy Gang, they’ve certainly got the art of gamesmanship down pat. Mr Random Stream Of Consciousness, having had a good old moan in the first half, now starts berating those of us around him for our apparent lack of support for the team. We’d like to express it, believe us, but we simply can’t get a word in edgeways.
Things could get a lot worse when McLeod looks to have beaten Logan in a one-on-one, but Brown clears the ball off the line. Mark Bradley, who’s having a decent game, hits the crossbar, and we have a really good claim for a penalty of our own, but the referee ignores it. However, before any feeling of injustice about the decision can fester, we equalise, Danny Harrison slipping a great ball through to Alf, who slots it through Brill’s legs. With the other goals having been scored by a Clovis, a Troy and an Izale, it’s nice to see the man with the oldest name in the (good) book rounding off proceedings. We’d more than likely have lost this game last season, but in the end this was a pleasingly resilient performance after the sloppiness in the first half.
Jenny’s staying in Rotherham for the weekend, so Steve, Joy, Graham, Gail and I go to the Old Queen’s Head. QPR are playing in the televised game, which gives us a chance to go into a flight of fancy involving Neil Warnock as England manager – because it would be entertaining on so many levels and it would be nice to have a former Rotherham player in charge of the national team. In the course of this conversation we learn Gail’s one of the few people who doesn’t know why Warnock’s nickname is Colin, so naturally we enlighten her...
The train journey down is as quiet as the one up, though the good news is the Green ’Un  is now reaching the station in time for us to pick up a copy, meaning Steve and I can catch up on the fishing results. Hoorah! All is right with the world once more...

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

According to an item on the breakfast news, today is supposed to be the happiest day of the year. It’s something to do with nice weather, the possibility of impending holidays and the like. No mention of the new season, which is the reason why the clans are gathering at St Pancras once more, discussing new signings (or the lack) of and their team’s prospects for the coming year. I’m travelling up with Jenny, Steve Ducker, Chris Turner and Clarkey. Jenny and Chris were in Amsterdam last weekend, as part of the London Millers’ annual trip to see Yorkshire play the Netherlands at cricket. We’ll gloss over the result of that one…
By the time we’re hitting the outskirts of Sheffield, it’s like we’ve never been away. There’s no sign of the torrential rain promised on the weather forecast, which up the happiness quotient, though it’s lowered again by the sight of a very dead, very squashed rat in the road just by the Shalesmoor roundabout. Which, admittedly, is preferable to seeing a live one.
We’re joined by Phil in the Fat Cat, where it’s very nearly steak pie all round (indeed, there was probably more discussion of the pie on our way up than there was of our chances against Oxford). The kitchen staff have not let their culinary standards slip over the summer, you’ll be pleased to hear.
The Kirkland family arrive while we’re stuffing our faces. The last time we saw Chris’ mum was when she and John decided to make a weekend of it on the outskirts of Burton, and as ever she’ll be keeping well away from the game today. Jenny and I make an early exit, as we need to get down to the DVS to collect our season tickets (hers is waiting in the ticket office, while my dad has mine). A bunch of Oxford fans on the tram are getting very excited about the fact AFC Wimbledon have just equalised against Bristol Rovers. Until today, I’d never been aware of any long-standing rivalry between the Us and the Pirates, so if anyone can shed any light on that, please do. It all becomes irrelevant anyway, as Rovers go on to win the game.
There’s a definite buzz outside the turnstiles, and so many people have already turned up that Jenny fails to get a programme. Presumably as we’re going to have so many unfamiliar players on display, people feel the need to see the squad list so they know who they’re watching. While I’m waiting for my dad, Chris Burrows arrives. The rest of our posse are on the way to Attercliffe, so he’s going to wait and go in with them.
Once my ticket has been ceremonially handed over, it’s off to put up the flag, which has had its summer wash. (Biological powder, 40 degrees, no pre-wash, since you ask.) As Jenny and I are finishing taping it in place, some of the non-playing players turn up to sit by it, but without a programme the squad numbers on their tracksuit are no help in identifying them. Though we think one of them is Johnny Mullins, whose Rotherham career the London Millers will be finishing by sponsoring him this year – sorry, Johnny!
The pre-match build-up and arrival of the teams now appears to come with added Chase The Sun by Planet Funk, better known as ‘that song from the darts’. Surveying the line-ups, the new players in the starting eleven include keeper Conrad Logan, on loan from Leicester and a particular favourite of Ted’s chum John (ahem), Troy Brown, Danny Schofield, Chris Holroyd and Lewis Grabban. However, the shaven individual at left back isn’t a newcomer. Instead, Tom Newey’s had a rather radical haircut that won’t spoil his pretty-boy good looks.
Oxford also have a number of new signings, the most recognisable being Michael Duberry, last seen getting sent off for trying to bisect Will Hoskins at the knees while playing for Stoke. They seem bigger and more solid than last season, and the man sitting behind us is certainly impressed. He keeps up a non-stop stream of random conversation to his friend, spending the first ten minutes or so repeatedly opining, ‘These lot are going to beat us, because these lot are class.’ When an Oxford player puts a free header wide, he exclaims, ‘You know who’d have scored that? Andy Gray. Joe Royle. The Royle Family. Ricky Tomlinson…’ If this was a Harry Pearson book, he’d come across as an endearing eccentric. Instead, he’s just a pain. The man to my left looks like he’d swap his life savings for a pair of earplugs at this moment. ‘At least he’ll never get lockjaw,’ my dad comments. When he and his friend go for refreshments at half-time, my dad looks round, establishes his seat is empty and, with a well-timed pause, says, ‘Thank goodness for that. I thought I’d gone deaf.’
On the pitch, things are slightly less frantic. Oxford’s early spell of possession has come to nothing, their best chance being when they hit the post and Duberry spoons the rebound over the bar. In return, their keeper is forced to make a fingertip save that keeps the scores level at half-time. So far, Schofield has looked the pick of the new players, but Grabban, Holroyd and Alfie are combining well as a front three, and of the old players, Danny Harrison in particular looks reinvigorated. The London Miller boys are sitting about three rows from the front, and Clarkey’s thrown the ball back when it came into the crowd at one point. Ted needs to enlighten him on the art of heading it back. Over the summer, the Football League has done away with the multi-ball system. While this prevents certain managers cough Alan Pardew cough taking away all the spare balls when their team takes the lead, it means our tiny ball boys spend forever chasing the ball over the running track. Please dont view this as any kind of time-wasting tactic. If we wanted to waste time, we'd lure Neil Cutler out of retirement to go back in goal...
The Millerettes haven’t gone away, and are probably still basking in the glow of being voted the league’s best cheerleaders. They do their thing while the new Mayor of Rotherham performs the half-time draw. Top-notch entertainment as always.
Oxford are out well in advance of the second half, but if they’ve had a stern talking-to by manager Chris Wilder (ex-Rotherham player in charge of Oxford, while Andy Scott having played for Oxford provides delicious symmetry), it hasn’t worked. Within a couple of minutes, we’ve taken the lead, when Jason Taylor threads a ball through the midfield and when Grabban picks it up, he scores with a beautiful, powerful side-footed shot.
This rouses Oxford, who press for an equaliser. They fizz the ball across the box from a corner, but no one connects with it. We make a couple of substitutions, Gareth Evans coming on for Holroyd and having an attempt on goal from distance that just goes over the bar. Grabban has a great shot well saved by the Oxford keeper, and apart from one chance very close to the end, Oxford don’t look like getting back into the game. The man behind us with the verbal diarrhoea has now decided we’re the ones who are ‘class’, though his opinions are still surrounded by what the man to my left calls ‘the longest suicide note in history’.
It’s a toss-up whether the most remarkable moment of the ninety minutes is the sponsors’ man of the match award going to Jason Taylor, to general disbelief (he’s not had a bad game by any means, but obviously the crowd don’t agree with today’s sponsors, who we reckon are Jason Taylor’s parents) or the sight of Alfie chasing back sixty yards to try and get the ball off an Oxford player.
Both Jenny and Clarkey are staying up in Rotherham for a few days, so Chris T, Steve and I head for a quick drink in the Old Queen’s Head, where the TV screen is showing Leeds going two down to Southampton, to almost general approval, before catching the train. Chris gets into conversation with a Wednesday fan and his son, who tell us to look out for David Prutton’s goal on the highlights as by all accounts it’s a cracker. Chris, naturally, tells them the same about Grabban’s. It also appears Chris O’Grady, better known to Rotherham fans as O’Greedy for refusing to defer his wages in our time of crisis, is about to join the Wendies. Chris declines to comment…
Somewhere outside Leicester, a rainbow appears in an unbroken arch. The gold is buried in Oadby, unless my compass is off. It might not have been the happiest day of the year, but all things told, we’re pretty content.