Singeing the Blues
I love the Blues. I drove up from Surrey early yesterday morning, singing along to my 'High Fidelity`-type compilation that included Muddy Waters, Elmore James and ... umm ... Howling Wolf. As fans of the team we`ve all been singing the blues recently but yesterday Molineux turned technicolour.
First of all, I was pleased to be able to drive up to Wolverhampton, having bought my ticket just before the snow started to fall. Bugger, I thought, condemned to numptydom again. I immediately set about clearing the drive, vowing not to stop until I reached Molineux. I reasoned that if I shovelled all the snow up into a pile in front of our goal at least we would keep a clean sheet.
Yesterday morning the alarm clock went off in the dark again: I needed to make an early start because of a dodgy back (it`s a common Wolves fan`s complaint). I encountered little traffic on the road and no Wolves supporters in the four service areas I stopped at (how they would regret it later). I arrived at West Park at about 11 a.m. and left my car possibly in the same spot where my dad had parked his B.S.A. Bantam fifty years ago. It`s surprisingly well-placed for the Billy Wright stand and it meant that I could make a quick getaway after the match. If I ignored my back, I might even get home to watch Strictly Come Dancing (I did and the beer eased the pain).
With time to kill I walked into the city and headed for the Moon under Water, proudly waving my ticket to gain admission. After a glass of Banks`s mild and a short chat with two Wolves fans from Shropshire, I was out again, making my way to The Wanderer. Argh! It was closed. Standing around, wondering what do, apart from trying to keep my footing on the icy path, I struck up a conversation with a guy from Redditch. We went to The Varsity, drank Banks`s Bitter and talked to three Aston Villa fans (they seemed to be nice people, though, and naturally wanted us to win). At the time, I noticed few Blues fans in the street. I later heard that they did not know the way to the ground and that the police had to take them there. I suppose the pain of defeat made them forget the route back as well.
Then a thought struck me. I`ve come up from Surrey and have met 'local` supporters living 23-30 miles away and then only if they were crows. It makes sense of Steve Morgan's plans for the club. If only we manage to avoid relegation, we have a huge catchment area of fans to draw upon and fill the enlarged stadium. I read in the paper yesterday that 50,137 people attended the Newcastle game the previous day, double the number at our match. It could happen at Molineux; as a youth, I often felt that if I were to lift up my feet, the crowd would carry me along. And, yesterday, we might have turned the corner. It`s Groundhog Day again but this season MM woke up with Andie MacDowell beside him before the Birmingham match rather than after it.
You can say one thing for the manager and the team: when they absolutely have to win, they do so. And, they did it with the slimmest of resources. Everyone around me in the stand had given up before the match had even started. Luckily, the players were made of sterner stuff. They fought as if their footballing lives depended upon it -and in some cases it did - and dominated Birmingham in every aspect of play. Even so, pessimist that I am, I gloomily turned to my neighbour as half-time approached and predicted a breakaway Birmingham goal. Seconds later Hunt scored! Even better, McLeish`s pep talk did nothing to alter the pattern of play after the break. Wolves were superb. It was clearly our day. Even Phillips, who came on to loud groans from all around me, fluffed a sitter.
If the Wolves play like this every game, we`ll easily avoid relegation. My only concern is the quality of the opposition. Birmingham were dreadful, as McLeish admitted on the Stan Collymore programme I listened to on my way home (I did enjoy his discomfort and that of other Blues callers). Of course, we did not allow them to play their own game, proving sharper, more tenacious and better at distributing the ball than they were. Even though I have criticised Berra and Stearman before, they were solid in defence and completely neutralised Jerome and Zigic. Zubar`s presence was an added bonus.
In attack, Ward was a revelation and played an absolute blinder. He can justifiably stick two fingers up at those of us, who have slagged him off ... but he was playing in his proper position. SEB seamlessly took on Doyle`s job: he tirelessly chased up and down the field, holding up and laying off the ball in attack and harrying the opposition in defence. His charge down the line to deliver the cross for Hunt`s goal was sublime. We can now contemplate cashing in on Fletcher, if he wants to go, and buying a left back and a central defender in January. Let`s not get carried away, lads, we still need them.
So, as a numpty (but one at least temporarily occupying the moral high ground), what were the benefits of seeing the match at Molineux rather than viewing it in cyber space? In terms of the experience, there`s no comparison. To sit in a stand surrounded by other Wolves fans and feel the visceral emotion evoked by the pressure-cooker atmosphere, is something that is impossible to replicate at home, The relief felt when the final whistle blew was almost tangible. Strangers smiled at each other, shook hands and even hugged. At that moment MM was God. On the other hand, I did have trouble following the action, particularly at the far end of the pitch. It`s probably my age! I missed the close-ups and the repeats from all angles too. I had to watch the match on T.V. last night- and again this morning- to get a clear understanding of vital bits of play. And, to stick up for all those bloggers, who cannot possibly attend many matches (if any at all), one does not have to be physically present at a match to exercise one`s critical faculties. Indeed, it refines them.
Finally, it is with pride that I have to acknowledge my part in yesterday`s success, having taking it on myself to renegotiate the price of a Wolves victory with the gods of sport. So, sorry, all you cricket fans, we`re going to lose the test match at the end of the week. Should WBA defeat us at The Hawthorns, the fate of the Ashes rests on the outcome of the Wigan game.