I just feel the need to type this down so that there's some record somewhere of what yesterday was like. It's overly long and probably a bit self-indulgent, but permit me the indulgence just this once of sharing exactly what it was like being an Albion fan yesterday.Before kick off my mate Andy came round to pick me up for the game. I've supported Albion long enough (31 years) to know that it is fatal to get your hopes up, but Andy (who's supported Albion even longer than I have and is therefore usually even more fatalistic) was surprisingly upbeat. He went through each of the other fixtures and explained clearly why each of the other relegation candidates wasn't going to win. I wanted to believe him, but experience suggested that it would be foolish to get my hopes up. "I'll believe it when I see it," I said, and headed to the car.Well, I've seen it - and I still don't believe it!Andy pointed out that he'd got his lucky teddy bear in the car - "We've only lost once at home since I've had him in the car, " he explained. "Who was that against?" I asked."Arsenal," he replied. "He's a lucky bear, not a miracle worker!"Even walking to the ground was amazing. Everyone was wearing their Albion shirt - even I was wearing my Home 1994/5 strip. I don't even know why - I think it was something to do with trying to will the team to win, or something, but we'd obviously all had the same idea. The atmosphere in the ground was amazing. People really seemed to believe we were going to do it "Oh, there's going to be such a sense of deflation if this doesn't happen," I thought, optimistically.Then the 'Great Escape Girls' came out with their combat fatigues and the 'Great Escape' banner generously provided by our sponsors and this was passed around the Brummie Road end and then the length of the East Stand. I couldn't help feeling that this was all tempting fate horribly.Now, because of the demand for tickets I wasn't sitting in my usual seat. Obviously your enjoyment or otherwise of a game can be crucially effected by who you're sitting next to so when I saw a huge fat bloke waddling up the aisle wearing a beany hat and 'comedy' giant sunglasses I just knew he was going to sit next to me. He waved at the blokes sitting behind me - they obviously knew each other - and sure enough squeezed past me to park his expansive arse in seat 201. He was one of those unbearably optimistic blokes who you just don't want to be next to at a football match:"Whahay! We're gunna do it, Tone, I can feel it in me water!" was his opening gambit. Then he started doing the 'Peter Kay Walk' as 'Is this the Way to Amarillo?' played over the PA system. He was so big, I was being sqeezed out of my seat. "This could be a long afternoon, " I sighed to myself.Of course the moment - and I mean the moment - the game kicked off, he changed completely. Suddenly he turned into Mr Depressed Black Countryman "Aw, this is dreadful. We ay gunna do it. I cor see us scoring in a month of Sundays; we're rubbish." During the course of the next 90 minutes he then preceeded to remind me - and everyone around us - of how many occassions we'd thrown crucial games away. Every goalkeeping fumble, defensive error and half-hearted capitulation (and there have been quite a few) was once again remembered as Albion laboured for 58 minutes to find a way through.The first half was made more bearable by the fact that the other results were going our way, but at half-time we were still facing the nightmare scenario of all the other teams failing to win and Albion failing to capitalise. Fat Bloke was obviously extremely emotional. At half time he turned to me and said "I've watched them for years and we've never done nowt and we am so close now, I cor bear it..." I heard a 'break' in his voice and saw that he was, quite literally, in tears. A lump rose in my throat. This is what football means to people.Back to my mate Andy.Andy's season ticket is next to seats which are reserved for 'the club'. Sometimes it means that he sits next to young hoodlums from Albion's community programme; sometimes some young oik from the youth team, and on occassion, he'll sit next to friends/partners of the players (Mrs Thomas Gaardsoe and the little Gaardsoettes are regular visitors). Yesterday he was sitting next to Mrs Geoff Horsefield and let me tell you, having seen her after the game, Geoff Horsefield is a very lucky man. She is as fit as the proverbial butcher's dog and with knockers you wouldn't believe! When her husband scored within 30 seconds of coming on the crowd understandably went wild. Geoff came over and gave her a celebratory sign - for a moment Andy thought he was signalling to him, before realising it was probably the fit bird next to him.Back in my seats Fat Bloke and me embraced as much in relief as anything else - the whole tension that had been building up like a thunderstorm had suddenly broken. When, moments later, the Pompey fans let us know that Mannew had taken the lead, it all seemed to be going to plan. For the first time, I believed - I mean really believed - that we were going to do it. Fatal mistake. Of course we knew by this time that Palace had equalised and so, although Norwich and Saints were effectively out of it, things could still go wrong. 10 minutes later they did. There were two blokes in the row behind us with tranny radios - one directly behind me, and one three seats along. Clearly, now we were ahead no-one was watching the Albion match which looked to be petering out. Pompey were going through the motions, but clearly had no intention of trying to spoil our party. But then i heard a voice behind me say "Penalty at the Valley!" We turned round to see Tranny Man 2 listening eagerly for news - "It's for Palace!" Our hearts sank. We knew this was in the script - former Bluenose Andy Johnson nets a disputed penalty to send Albion down - sure enough, after an apparently interminable wait, Tranny man 2 confirmed the worst.I kicked myself for believing - for daring to believe, even if only for for 10 minutes - that we were going to survive. "This is Albion," I reminded myself, "Nothing good ever happens to us." I was angry and frustrated with myself - I'd been doing so well until the goal. I'd kept my feet on the ground and everything. Fat Bloke was inconsolable - and in tears again. What can you say? There's nothing to say. Football's like that; the moment you allow yourself to dream, even for a moment, it comes up and kicks you in the knackers.Kieran Richardson scored a second and celebrated with a flourish - but there was little celebration in the stands. Whereas the Horse's goal had been greeted with total mayhem. This one provoked little more than polite applause - at least we knew we were going to do our bit. The players (who were initially ecstatic) were suddenly bemused at the lack of celebration - Paul Robinson and Neil Clement looked to the crowd to ask what was going on. I couldn't look them in the eye. It was too painful to break the news to them.Tranny Man 1 had been largely silent up to this point - nerves sometimes get to you that way. Some people become hyper, some people go into themselves, he was obviously the latter rather than the former. We'd had a couple of 'false alarms' when people in the corporate boxes (probably Dingles) had said that it was 2-2 at the Valley, only for our Tranny men to confirm that it was still 2-1 and palace were 'all over 'em', so i was determined not to get my hopes up again. The clock was ticking down, and our EPL future appeared to be ebbing away. Suddenly Tranny man 2 pipes up "Charlton have equalised!" I look to Tranny man 1 for confirmation. He simply nodded and said "It's 2-2". there was abrief pause while we took this in and then suddenly it hit us - "Norwich are out of it (5-0 down by this stage), Saints aren't going to score 2 goals in 10 minutes, so if Palace only draw that means....."YEEEEEEESSSSSSSS!!!!!The last 8 minutes were interminable. I have absolutely no idea what goal mouth action, if any, there was at the Hawthorns as it was all irrelevant. The Tranny Men were the focus of our attention now. "How's it going?" we kept asking. "Still 2-2" they'd reply. Ocassionally the tension would be punctuated by a "Free kick to palace" or "Corner!". Fat Bloke had covered his face with beany hat and put his head between his knees. God knows what was going on under there, and frankly i thought it was best not to get involved.Our game finished. There was mighty cheer and players immediately rushed over to the bench to find out what was going on in the other games. There appeared to be half an hour injury time at the Valley before Tranny man 1 looked at me and said quietly "That's it - 2-2. It's finished" The ground erupted. Fat Bloke erupted. I burst into tears. We all hugged.Unbelievable.I'm getting emotional about it now even as a type this. Yesterday was a special day. Never mind being bottom at Christmas - we were bottom at 3 o'clock yesterday! Survival is little short of a miracle.I was there and I'll never forget it.If you're still reading - thanks for sticking with it.Jim:-)
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