Serendipity

Monday, November 06, 2006

Birmingham City, 1995 and stuff

Not a team we have played that often over the years but whilst I am adding to my blog I may as well "fess up" as they say.

What follows some may see as entirely shameless and a complete abdication of responsibility but somehow I don't think any true supporters of any club will feel that way...

The last time we played them at Home Park in a league game was April 19th 1995 (thanks to Semper Viridis for the exact details). I remembered that it was 1995 because that was the year Mrs B and I got married. We had fixed the date for April 8th due to reasons far too personal to elaborate on here and much to my dismay it coincided with a home game. In what proved to be a long, desperate and ultimately futile season a real crunch game loomed for the same day. Shrewsbury at home. Still no matter how you cut it sometimes Argyle just has to take second place. Our wedding plans went ahead unaltered and as an aside I can honestly say I enjoyed one of the very greatest days of my life.

There is a silver lining to the cloud of missing the game. We selected To Be A Pilgrim, much to the Minister's amusement, as one of the wedding hymns and as far as I am able to tell the congregation in the church was lustily belting it out as Mad Dog Mark Patterson made a trademark lung-busting dash down the right wing. This time he scored!! Nobody else did and the game ended 1-0 to the Argyle. Hope springs eternal as they say and this result gave us a glimpse of safety in what had been a season of dour struggle.

It did not last long. Shilton's (was he still in charge? I doubt it. Steve McCall, maybe, or had he gone too? Did we have a manager at all?) hapless saps, for that is what they were, soon lost the next game at Swansea and the abyss loomed ever closer as Mrs B and I honeymooned down in Cornwall. We stayed in a cottage in a tiny village called Treknow which is on the north coast and not fair from Tintagel. Now obviously besotted newly weds are going to come up for air occasionally and venture forth into the local town for supplies of champagne, chocolate body paint, banking purposes and the like and it was on one of these forays that I spied the locked-in-time premises that passed as the Fry's Coaches HQ. On the forecourt outside there was a blackboard and it advertised travel to Home Park for the next game v. Birmingham City. For some reason this caught my eye. "Oh look at that" I said, "they run a coach up to Plymouth from here for a game. Fancy that!!"

(You can tell what's coming can't you?)

The fortnight we spent there wound on. Most evenings were spent at the rather splendid Fort William pub. Some at the nearly as splendid The Mill. The walks home were rather wonderful since they were relatively brief, although agonisingly uphill, and bright and dry days kept the sky crystal clear at night. The number of stars visible in the night sky seemed to mimic the endless infinity of the space in which they existed. To this confirmed city dweller they were a truly amazing sight. I’m not one for horoscopes but you could see why the aincients were so obsessed by the night sky and how the awe it inspires has driven study and discovery in the fields of mathematics and science in general. But I digress...

Then out of the blue on the way home on the Monday night "why don't you get the bus to the game tomorrow?" You could have knocked me down with a feather. Like I said we were both "newly wed, besotted".

The next day we looked into it. No need to reserve a seat just turn up at the pick up point. Mrs B decided to give the game a miss and so, with a pasty in my pocket, off I went on my lonesome.

The coach was clearly filled (almost) with people who regularly made the trip and knew one another well. A fresh face was something of a novelty and I was the centre of some attention. "What's your name? Where do you live? Who do you support? Why are you here?" "On honeymoon", I said. The whole coach seemed to go "ooooooooooooohhhhhh!!" as one. I sensed elbows being nudged gently into ribs and knowing glances being exchanged.

The coach wound it's way via God alone knows where across deepest and darkest Cornwall, including funnily enough Treknow - they didn't tell me that when I enquired, where they picked up an Old Boy named Cecil if I recall accurately who was the focus of much affection and gentle leg pulling by the others. He put up a robust defence of Dan McCauley as I remember which flew somewhat in the face of popular opinion at the time.

There was a great atmosphere at the game; to start with at any rate. Floodlights always seem to add to the buzz and a floodlit pitch complete, with each player having 4 shadows, always accentuates the sense of theatre for me. Sadly we lost 3-1. I remember little of the occasion except for the crushing disappointment as yet another nail was hammered into the relegation coffin by Barry Fry's Blues. They had a diminuitive Portuguese winger. Dominguez, perhaps? Who had one hell of a tussle with Patterson throughout. I remember one challenge where the Portuguezer was annoyed by a Patto sliding tackle where Patto had managed to rake his studs from ankle to thigh up the back of the little chap's leg. They had quite an old-fashioned ding dong throughout.

Justice, of a sort, was done in the end. Birmingham were by far the better team and we lost 3-1. Not long after they were promoted as champions and we were relegated after finishing 4th from bottom.

The team that day was:

Nicholls, Dalton, Skinner, Patterson, Nugent, Swan, Castle, Ross, Edworthy, Hill, Naylor. Subs - Landon

Just how a team that had gone from being so good the season before to being so bad that season remains a mystery to this day. I suppose Shilton was at the root of it all and the Shilton/McCauley feud was probably the lowest ever point to be an Argyle fan but the whole season was a disaster from start to finish. We lost our first 3 home games 5-1, 5-1 and 3-0!! Even those shockers paled into insignificance against a 7-0 humiliation at Brentford (who beat us on aggregate 12-1 over the 2 league games). Word is that the team was severely split into factions who all hated each other and above all everybody hated Shilton. On top of that there was the Peter Swan/Steve Castle thing about who should captain the team. Still how a team that included Nicholls, Dalton, Patterson, Nugent, Castle and Edworthy ever got relegated shows quite how badly the team and players must have been handled. Demotivated and rotten to the core just about describes it.

It didn't spoil the honeymoon though!!

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