In memory of Stuart Griffin, one of his pieces from 2014.
Stuart, who died at the weekend. was one of our most productive contributors. There was a lot he didn’t like, and much of it was the Albion. This story was about the epic 4-3 against that lot almost ten years ago to the day.
Dave did a piece in a previous issue about his day when Man Ure came to visit. I won’t do it as a timeline but, on the basis of what happened last night, I thought I would share what Stripey day looked like for me.
Some context first of all. While you would struggle to find anyone at H&V Towers who has much time for that lot, I perhaps ought to explain why this game means so much to me. I’ve said before that I could write a book on why I can’t stand them and I have neither the time nor the inclination to go into all of that now. The extremely potted version of it is based on geography and I think this does tend to play a part in what is a big game for you.
Originally I’m from Cheltenham so had next to no exposure when growing up to fans of our traditional rivals. That changed when I moved to the West Midlands, where Small Heath were the first opposition fans that caught my attention. Since 2006, though, I’ve lived in Stourbridge. In that eight years one thing I have got to see at very close quarters is Olbiyun fans, their general behaviour about, and outlook on, football and the hatred they have for us. If you have lived in a part of Birmingham that means you haven’t come into much contact with them, then you are very lucky. can assure you that their rivalry Wolves was something they concocted because they couldn’t get high enough up the leagues to play us. Hating Villa is where it is at for most of them.
I’ve had to listen to all manner of poorly argued piffle where their natural disposition of pretending to be plucky and lovable falls by the wayside when our name crops up. Then it’s Kings of the Midlands, We Know What We Are, turning tides and, most recently, the suggestion that they’re at the start of a 1,000 year Reich where they will inevitably be better than us because they’re the finest-run club in football.
Anyway, here is how the day went for me. It all began at 6.30am. Long gone are the days when that would mean an early start at work and being woken by an alarm clock. Nope, I was woken by my three year old giving me a whack on the head and telling me “Get up, Lazybones”. Well, there was the important matter of putting Thomas the Tank Engine on the telly to consider.
I got the train into work and a reasonably uneventful day followed, with me clock watching from lunchtime onwards. At about 3pm it happened. The visit I was expecting from the resident Bitter Bird who sits just down the office from me. He is still in the excited phase at the minute about them getting a foreign manager. As someone who has lived all of his life in the Black Country then I suppose it’s as close as he will get to being in the presence of a genuine foreigner.
His prediction was a win for them as long as Gabby was out. This is the same chap who, on the train back from work before the game over at their dump, complained to me that the gloss was taken off their eighth place finish last season (their highest since God was in short trousers, remember) because they didn’t beat us on the way. He also said he would not be happy with anything other than a comfortable victory in that game and was in such a fearful sulk after they threw away a two goal half-time lead that he didn’t speak to anyone for three days after. And I do mean nobody. He wasn’t just avoiding a chat with Villa fans, it was like he’d taken the vow of a Trappist monk.
I gave him my view that the games are normally close but we have picked up in the last couple of games so was hopeful of a win. I was also delighted that they seem to have taken to starting Lugano, who makes Colin Calderwood look pacey. He chuntered a bit and off he went.
At 4pm the Stripey left work and I followed him at 4.30pm, hot-footed it up to Snow Hill and jumped on the number 7. While I caught a little of the rush hour traffic, I was safely ensconced in the Barton’s for 5pm. So followed the usual eating, drinking and putting the world to rights about what has gone on since the last time we got together. I explained to the youngster in our group, at great and irritable length, why we must beat these detestable toerags, before making the walk down to Villa Park. Thankfully the pre-match beer was enough to stave off the cold as it was yet another game where it was freezing.
What a dreadful start. Brunt lashed one in early and it was party time in the away end. It was like knocking on the doors of heaven for them a couple of minutes later when we went to sleep from a free kick and Delph turned it into his own net.
There were two important things here though. The first is that they’d scored so early that we had plenty of time to get back into it. The second is that, for all the deficiencies we might cite in our team, they certainly don’t lack a pair. To such a point that I was confidently pointing out to my pal we would get back into the game. Not in hope to make myself feel better but actually out of expectation.
I didn’t take long. Benteke wins a header, finds a back in form Andi Weimann on the edge of the box and he lobs Foster. Game on. The belief surged back and the crowd started to get into it. It wasn’t too long and it was all square. It was a decent passing move, ending with a cross from the right. Bacuna arrived at the back post and nonchalantly tucked away. Well, ish. In reality he met it at pace where it rolled up the length of his body before looping into the net. Not that it mattered. They had thrown away yet another two goal start and this time even quicker than the last. Chaos ensued in my part of the Lower Holte. They “All went quiet over there”.
It got even better. With the crowd now roaring the Villa on, and the team visibly lifting about two feet in height, we turned the game on its head. And how. Delph has really played well for us this season and is now starting to add some goals to his game. He followed up his rocket at Southampton by blasting home from outside the box ten minutes before half-time. It was one of those crossbar rattlers that are always pleasing on the eye. If it was chaos after the second, it was pandemonium when that went in and also led to the first occasion of the evening where over-celebrating ended up with scraped legs on the seat on front.
Villa being Villa of course, it didn’t last. Just as we looked like we were shaping up to give them a hiding second half they equalised. Poor defending let them and Mulumbu tucked it under Guzan. 3-3 at half time and a well-deserved breather for everyone.
We started the second half quite poorly and kept giving the ball away cheaply. The game was decided mid-way through the second half. That man Lugano attempted to unscrew Benteke’s head in the box, with the Beast coolly stepping up to slot home a penalty in front of the Holte. This time I ended in the row behind in the ensuing celebrations. There were a few nervy moments between then and the final but Ron Vlaar put a captain’s performance, we held out and West Barcelona Olbiyun resorted to smashing long punts forwards.
A wonderful atmosphere at the close, it’s always great when the roads are filled with happy, singing Villa fans and time to wonder what fun might be had on the train home. As it was, I only saw a couple of them and they were very sheepish.
A nightcap was mooted on the train so, on arrival at Stourbridge, it was off to the local. The nightcap was a good idea. The Sambuca wasn’t. Neither was waking the wife up. But, no matter. Whilst I felt it the next day I would do it all over again because, for those of us that live amongst them in the Black Country, this is a stick we will beat them with until next time we meet and, for us, putting that lot back under their stone is just as important as it might be for others to get one over on Small Heath.
“It ‘ay fair”, they will cry. More importantly, I think they have finally realised what they are.