Ministry of Silly Walks

‘Oh, you’re an Everton fan? So you don’t follow football?!’
That was always my put-down one-liner; but at the moment (at least), Everton are sitting one point above my beloved Liverpool in the Premier League table and I don’t really fancy our chances against them on Saturday in the FA Cup Semi Final at Wembley.
Why Wembley? Think of the carbon foot print of 62,000 scousers heading for London to watch their two teams play each other when the sensible thing to do would be to play it in Manchester and the scousers could’ve trashed Old Trafford together, but hey! when have the FA ever done anything that makes sense?
Watching millionaires prance around in the name of football has left me quite delusional as time marches on. Watching Ashley Young slam to the ground to win a penalty for Man U last weekend, seeing Andy Carroll’s theatrics trying to cheat a penalty against Newcastle and then James Perch falling to the ground when Pepe Reina touched his face, earning the latter a 3 match ban – it’s all bad sportsmanship and happens all too often, and maybe the empty seats you see around grounds these days is a reflection on the cheating and the high prices we have to pay to see it and the injustice it causes.

We picked Jason and son, Daniel up in Rhuddlan at 4.30pm, I gave Jason 2 quid short of £80 for two tickets to see this game. Both young Declan and myself have never done a Liverpool away game before. I did get as far as the gates in Athens for the European Cup Final in 2007 (Jason got in on a forged ticket), but this was to be our first time in the Away End.
Yes, me and the Dec had done grounds other than Anfield, as in The Racecourse, Deepdale, Belle Vue, Farrah Road, Millennium, Old Trafford and vowed to see a few more next season as we got the buzz again.
Unfortunately it’s an expensive hobby, it’s £100 a pop for 2 of you everytime to watch Premiership standard football, but the rollercoaster of emotions after a game like tonights is worth the money.
A £2 punt on Maxi to score first earned me £18 within 10 minutes of kick off. This paid for the fish, chips and curry (slightly spoiled by too much vinegar) and the fuel getting here from Bangor.

Steve Rastin had lent me Kevin Sampson’s excellent book Away Days a few years ago, which was made into a shit film. It chronicled the times of a Tranmere Rovers fan in the early eighties and cited as much on music and fashion as it did on football and hooliganism. Our Away Day didn’t quite live up to the book, (although it was based in real life on Liverpool fans), our music was The Damned’s Anthology album for the journey, fashion was a pair of cammo pants and a Manics t-shirt (not a Fred Perry in sight), the football was a rollercoaster and the hooliganism stretched to the odd ‘wanker’ gesture towards opposing fans.

Within a few minutes Maxi had made it 2-0 and we were coasting. Lots of singing from the Kop’s Greatest Hits album and a party atmosphere was in full swing until our Brazilian (second choice) goalkeeper pulled down the Yak in the penalty box and was sent off. I bet he was gutted, imagine earning £10k a week to warm a bench and when you get your big moment, you get sent off to earn, err.. £10k a week. So, we’re down to 10 men and on comes Liverpool’s third choice keeper Brad Jones to replace the suffering and unprotected Jon Flanagan. Brad Jones promptly saves the penalty (Australia’s and Liverpool’s Number One! – new song for the album).

We parked on Jack Walker Way, a private sprawling housing estate, probably about 15 years old built to commend the great man of the bygone age of steel who invested heavily in this small club and put Blackburn on the map – the little cul-de-sacs are all named after great Blackburn Rovers associates, there’s a Dalglish Drive, Parkes Lane and no doubt you’ll find Henchoz Close and Flowers Fairway too! Unfortunately for Blackburn Rovers, they too are in their own cul-de-sac as they teeter on the precipice of the Premier League where a derby match with Burnley next season beckons. It’d be sad if they went down (why am I getting emotional over a corporate multi-million pound business?), despite Jack Walker being the first Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the modern game to buy the Premier League crown, it was good to see a team having once had all that money ploughed into them, try and sustain their status thereafter without the cash as a genuine business.

My affection toward this northern club did falter when The Yak nodded home an easy header from a corner and it seemed to be game on; particularly when you consider we only had 10 men on the pitch and they had 12 (with the ref). Many of the players thought it was their birthday with the number of cards the ref dished out, and we were stretched as Blackburn tried (but ultimately failed) to make the extra men count!

We, the singing away contingent were silenced in the second half when Brad Jones (Liverpool’s Number One no less!) hauled down a Blackburn player to gift them a second penalty. The Yak made no mistake this time and visions of losing another game after a  2-0 lead to a struggling club were becoming apparent. I was going to say ‘shit club’ – but a glance at the table doesn’t make us much better either.

With Gerrard, Downing, Enrique, Kuyt and Suarez all rested for the semi final, it gave the likes of Jonjo Shelvey, Seb Coates, Flanagan and Maxi the opportunity to stake a claim. Maxi did what Maxi does with his customary goals, but, as he always does, faded as the game wore on. Shelvey did ok, Coates was at fault for their first goal, and Flanagan struggled at right back as we didn’t have anyone helping him against 2 Blackburn players (and that was with 11 on the pitch).

A minute into extra time and I guess both teams and supporters would’ve taken a point, when up pops Andy Carroll to head the ball home and break Blackburn hearts. Scenes of joyous bouncing ensued at the away end as the floodgates opened to let the torrents of home fans escape their misery. Carroll quite justifiably gets lambasted for his lack of work rate, but all was forgiven on 90.41 minutes. If he gave half of what Daniel Agger does he’d be a great player.

Football is the passion of the nation, well, to a lot of us anyway, and there’s a lot to be said for lower league, non-league, Welsh league football, Under 11s football, 5-a-side! – it keeps the kids off the streets (or on them with a football at least!), and like my first passion – music – it needs supporting at grass roots level. It’s all well and good getting excited about paying £30 to see the Kaiser Chiefs and making a family occasion of it, but I do remember a band called the Kaiser Chief’s sending me a mp3 of their new song called I Predict a Riot many years ago. I played it on my Crudcast internet radio show – and I’m not taking any plaudits at all for their success, but it’s bands like them that need supporting when they are playing in your local pub. It’s the same with soccer, you might well sit/stand on The Kop or in the Jack Walker Stand, but you should also be getting muddy feet and wet watching Accrington Stanley (exactly!) and Bangor City or Northwich Victoria as well – they need your support to survive and to nurture new talent so we can see more of the likes of young Jon Flanagan or Jay Spearing or any young home grown player who’d otherwise never get the opportunity to play in the premiership.
Check out Dave Jones’ excellent blog on grassroots soccer in North Wales

Bring on Saturday…