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Thursday, August 24, 2006

It's, It's An Edgar Street Blitz!

Nick Brade, to me, just before the game started: How do you rate Coventry City?

Once I'd managed to stop wetting the stand floor with my own nitrogenous waste products, I finally answered Nick's innocently-put query. Not the most subtle of respones, sure, and neither was the hysterical laughter from me once that question had been posed, but in short - erm I didn't. Why? Over the years, Coventry City have been subjected to more humiliation at the hands of West Bromwich Albion than I've had hot dinners: that includes a whole heap of five-goal drubbings, a handful of six-goal embarrassments and, on one particularly memorable occasion, back in the late Seventies, an amazing seven-goal dicking carried out in front of our own supporters. And that wasn't all; that same day, the Sky Blues chose to wear one of the most hideous away kits it's ever been my misfortune to see on a football pitch. Chocolate brown, with go-faster stripes all down the sides, anyone? As we pointed out to Nick, perhaps it was just as well they'd been so-attired that day; the colour of those underpants must have beautifully-camouflaged their defence's smelly gut reaction, the moment they saw Albion's rampant attack bearing down on their keeper for the umpteenth time. Take Coventry seriously? You had to be joking.

I'm not entirely sure just how seriously Nick etc. all took me, as this conversation took place not long after both sides kicked off, but by the time the final whistle went, I guess he could see where I was coming from. Mind you, never in my wildest dreams did I envisage seeing last Tuesday night a victory far more emphatic, in some ways, than those other Albion triumphs of long ago; in fact, were it possible to measure degrees of embarrassment, in scientific fashion, then I'd say the Hereford-Coventry League Cup tie would have driven the pointer right off the scale for the visiting club!

Our early-evening journey down the twisty windy road that leads from Worcester to Edgar Street was made far more palatable by playing Steeleye Span CDs the whole journey through. We don't know why it is, but Steeleye Span and Hereford seem to go together like salt and pepper, thunder and lightning or, if you want a decent Albion slant on it, Jeff Astle and Bomber Brown. Because of being slowed down by that perennial harvest-time hazard, the common or garden hay-laden farm tractor, we were slightly late getting there, but still well in time for the kick-off. Just as well, really, as Hereford managed to score right from the kick-off, near enough!

What made that unexpected strike all the more remarkable was the fact that Coventry had elected to put out their proper side, which included such veteran stalwarts as Dele Adebola and Stern John, for this one. Clearly they had intended taking the game seriously, which was the last thing we did, both of us chortling merrily at their discomfiture as they trotted back to the centre-circle, tails well and truly between their sky-blue legs. The goal came about because of a defensive howler of massive proportions from City, when a hopeful Hereford punt up field was totally-misread by defender Ward, the bladder bouncing right over his shoulders and straight to the grateful feet of Bulls hat-trick hero Stuart Fleetwood, who then left the remainder of City's rearguard for dead. It doesn't help, either, if your defence insists upon backing off all the while, thereby making Fleetwood's scoring task all the more easy. Yep, it was a really good night for the old Schadenfreude glands, was Tuesday, and rapidly shaping up to become even better still!

But first, the queue for the main stand. Just in front stood an harassed-looking Tottenham-loving mother, complete with two little sprogs, both decked in Hereford attire. It became evident within seconds of our joining them that the pair of them had been well and truly brainwashed into the ways of The Bulls; amazingly, they knew enough history to refer to the historic 1972 Cup tie, and all those Parka-clad kids running on the pitch following that Ronnie Radford strike: a shame, though, that I didn't manage to get my oar in on the subject of my other half being one of them, an accusation that gets him going first time, every time. Mind you, it's his alleged lack of fashion sense that winds him up, not the palpable fact he probably broke the law by doing it!

Into Edgar Street, then, where a decent League Cup atmosphere was rapidly coming to boiling point. Once we'd taken our seats, behind Nick and his mum and next to Marion, their mate, we noticed the 657 opposition following for the first time that night. All of them shoehorned into the Len Weston stand, then, inexplicably, bursting into their trademark, "Sky Blue Boating Song", essentially a rip-off from its more well-known Eton counterpart. And very melodic it was, too. Don't worry, we said to Nick and Co, as both sides emerged to do battle, "Thats the only flaming song they know!" In retrospect, I should have guessed they would be humiliated that night, as they had still to register a Championship win this season. Mind you, what was even more remarkable was the Coventry away kit: a blue so electric, you really could have plugged it in to boil up water for a nice cup of tea.

But back to the game, which we'd left a couple of paragraphs above and the scoreline reading one-nil to The Bulls. From then on in, Hereford, giving City a torrid old time while they were at it, really lived up well to the attacking and goalscoring credo first established back in 1972 with that famous Ronnie Radford goal of theirs against then-high-flying Newcastle, and amazingly referred to by that small child outside. At first, the visitors' response to the mortal insult inflicted upon their reputation consisted of Route One in its entirety which got them absolutely nowhere, so with 15 minutes gone, they then tried Plan B, passing and movement. Had they stuck to that from then on, they would have probably got the game back in their favour, especially considering that whilst employing such tactics, they virtually passed the Bulls to death, got to within reasonable striking-distance as a result, then hit the post. Truly, the Edgar Street lot's defence had creaked mightily. which is why it came as such a mystery to me they didn't persist with such tactics, reverting instead to more ham-fisted methods.

Much to Coventry's discomfiture, it could have been a whole lot more in the back of their net, that trauma-ridden first half. Not only did the Bulls have the ball in the net again ruled out for offside on at least two subsequent occasions, and within the space of about five minutes, too, Fleetwood could have quite easily worked his magic again, had the final effort not been narrowly off-target. My other lasting impression of that astonishing first half, Nick Brade simmering volcanically following a string of refereeing decisions I considered downright daft and that's me at my most charitable!

Come the break, The Ceremony Of The Chomping Of The Mints with our Bulls-lovin' counterparts. This is fast developing into one of those daft matchday superstitions footie supporters everywhere delight in, by the way, one begun by Marion, the lady that sits adjacent to us on those occasions we can spare the time to come down to games. She always considers it her bounden duty to purchase a couple of tubes of mints, and that night was no exception. The strange thing is, she never eats them at all when she's not sitting inside a football ground, and only bothers for Hereford-watching purposes!

Off we started again, only for The Bulls to nearly blow it in similar fashion to Coventry at the very start of the game. It was just as well for the League newbie upstarts that The Sky Blues really were incapable of hitting a barn door by that stage, and missed by a country mile instead. That small aberration aside, the second half really was all Bulls, as the home side built up yet another head of steam with a series of corners that truly had the City defence rocking. You could tell the excitement was getting to some of the main stand's more venerable members by the remarkable fact that even such common items as travel rugs and Thermoses were being waved enthusiastically by them.

The only thing that surprised me at that point was the sheer length of time it took for The Bulls to finally double their lead. Error piled upon error for the hapless Midlanders, and by then, everyone just knew a second was only a matter of time. All of ten minutes, in fact, their next strike coming from a bit of defensive "After you, Marshall, no, after YOU, Whing?." from the now-panic-stricken visitors. Once more, it was that man Fleetwood nipping in to take advantage of the confusion, giving rise to an immediate chorus of "Championship - you're havin' a larf!" from the home stand. As for Nick and his mum, all those passionate kisses and hugs in front of me were looking positively incestuous!

Two minutes later, a slight glitch, as City managed to grab an unexpected goal, courtesy Adebola's sheer bulk, which could have put quite a different complexion on the game, of course - but once more, it was an eternal mystery to me why City never really sought to capitalise on this unscripted piece of good fortune. The Bulls simply responded with more of the same instead, and just five minutes after the visitors had pulled that one back, Fleetwood had got his rightful rewards for such a good night's work, a much-deserved hat-trick, the lad once more leaving the City defence literally wondering what happened before putting the ball away in fine style once more. Oh, whoops. Not for the first time that night, I seriously speculated as to whether they'd overdosed on suicide pills prior to kick-off.

The visitors did try to remedy the situation, 'tis true, and on one occasion making Bulls keeper Scott Tynan perform a full-length fingertip save, the high standard of which would probably have earned applause from Gordon Banks, had he seen it, but City's doom was upon them, now, and they knew it. As for their crowded away end, total silence, highly-reminiscent of an active volcano about to go up in an explosion of Krakatoa proportions, in fact. I really did wonder by that time as to whether or not they were quietly organising the manufacture of brown paper bags with eyehole-slits cut out, so as to face the considerable trauma of having to show themselves in their city workplaces the following day.

As for this Baggie, pre-knowledge of Kevin Phillips signing for us (it was our chum "The Noise" - The nickname? Don't ask! - that told us on our way back from the game, by the way), I was by then left wondering whether Albion's scouts were watching Fleetwood's remarkable performance, and making copious notes while they were at it. In fact I was to discover today that there had been representatives of most League clubs at last night's game, which really does beg the question of just how long The Bulls can resist the financial temptation of off-loading his talented services onto some other, much more opulent, outfit?

Back to the game, now, and with three in the net by that stage, and City's own attack getting absolutely nowhere every time they tried to get past former Baggie Tam Mkandawire, you could see the visitors wilt visibly. Most sides would have throttled back, by then, secure in the certain knowledge mortal damage had been done, but not The Bulls. Instead, they cheekily tried for more, and given a little more luck, plus a decent following wind, they might well have made City's humiliation all the more telling. Particularly notable was one audacious back-heeled attempt from Hereford's Rose, from point-blank range, and giving the City keeper much food for thought in the execution of his duties. All in all, the visitors must have been mighty glad to hear that final whistle go, I reckon.

So, onward do The Bulls progress in this tournament; totally deservedly, might I say, they go into the hat for Saturday's draw, and what with West Brom being frighteningly-successful in their League Cup venture at Orient tonight, a nasty thought is gradually taking shape in the back of my mind. Suppose Albion and The Bulls get paired on Saturday? Great for Hereford, as that would very likely ensure a live game for your lot, and the nice little earner for the club such an appearance would attract from Sky, but not so good for me and marital harmony! The main problem is, of course, that my other half, still has considerable passion for Hereford in his blood, a disturbing state of affairs that would undoubtedly totally-eclipse what affection he still has for The Baggies, and very likely have us both at loggerheads well before the tie! Hmmm, I'm now left wondering whether or not the other marital partner supporting another football club has ever constituted legally-sound grounds for divorce proceedings! Especially considering that over the course of almost ten meetings of the two clubs over the last few decades, friendlies, League Cup, etc whatever. Albion have yet to win a single one!