By Matt Rowson
My parents still live in the house that I spent much of my childhood in.
Going home is always magic, of course, but invariably one or two more things in the environs have changed. I don't know whether I ever really thought about what the number 31 bus looked like when I caught it to school, but I notice now that it's different.
The car park of The Bell on the way into Danbury is...a good deal smaller than it was. I'm not sure why that bothers me, but it does. And Chelmsford High Street is a pedestrian zone. Has been for a few years now. And nobody can dispute that anything that anybody did to Chelmsford around ten years ago had to go down as an improvement. I'll always remember the buses rocking and choking past Our Price though.
Small things. Insignificant things. You only notice them when they've gone.
So many things are in danger of passing inconspicuously. The colour of the front door of your neighbour's house, the sound the cars make on the road. The smell when you open your kitchen window, the sound of the voice of your local newsagent, the door that squeaks at work unless you give it a good shove. All insignificant, all minor details that pass by unnoticed. All things that you would instantly perceive a change in.
Playing Barnsley is like arguing with your sister.
You know what I mean. Tedious, sort of. Always there, predictable. And frustrating. How ever much you feel you've grown up...left school, left home, got a job, got promoted to the Premiership...it's part of life that you just can't get away from. But it's sort of dependable too. Playing Barnsley...well, sure, it's irritating. But it's been part of being a Division One (or equivalent, zzz) club for nineteen of the last twenty years, and you'd miss them if they weren't there.
Less missed, of course, would be chirpy cheery Dave Bassett, who can never expect to receive a warm welcome at Vicarage Road. In the theatre, preparing a stage, lighting, sounds and props takes infinitely more time, skill and effort than striking the set after the performance. In 1987, Dave showed that the same applies to football clubs. And he signed Gary Chivers. Bastard.
A more popular ex-Hornet will be keeper Kevin Miller, who has recovered his form and stature since making the well-advised decision to leave Crystal Palace. Also apparently popular with the Barnsley support, he played a central part in the Tykes' opening day victory over Norwich. The other top keeper on Barnsley's books, David Watson, has been missing for two years with injury and is not expected to be in contention until 2001. Tony Bullock, who Hornet fans will remember escaping a red card at Vicarage Road two seasons ago, left for Macclesfield in the summer.
In defence, long-time right-back Nicky Eaden was another summer departure, his place now apparently destined for Carl Regan, a signing from Everton. Young Regan made quite an impression on his debut, not least on Norwich's Daryl Sutch, recipient of the shameful two-footed lunge that saw Regan become the first player to be sent off in England this season.
Other candidates at right-back are Kevin Austin and Mitch Ward, an old stalwart of Bassett's from Sheffield United. Both missed Saturday's opener through injury.
Other key figures at the back are ex-Newcastle stopper Matty Appleby, and club captain Adie Moses. Steve Chettle can generally be depended upon for an uncomplicated lump (usually) away from the goal, whilst player of the year Chris Morgan can also be counted on for zero-tolerance tackling.
An emerging defender at Oakwell is young Irishman Brian O'Callaghan, who made his bow as a sub on Saturday following Regan's dismissal. Whilst his performance was clearly impressive, Bassett's excitable eulogy comparing the youngster to Franz Beckenbauer may be a little premature. No pressure, Brian.
Another potential new face at the back is Uruguayan Mateo Corbo who has been on trial; however his transfer from Oviedo seems unlikely to be completed by Saturday.
Barnsley's midfield suffers from the absence of Craig Hignett, scorer of many a goal and sold to Blackburn before a less profitable Bosman departure could be allowed to happen next summer. Left-sided Darren Barnard is key; a set-piece specialist who sometimes suffers from a distinct lack of interest. Energetic Irishman Sean McClare may feature, although he doesn't seem to be a favourite of Bassett's (though nor were Falco, Bardsley, Coton or Richardson, so I wouldn't read too much into that).
Geoff Thomas is still about, though possibly a bit long-in-the-tooth for all that charging around. Youngster Anthony Kay made a good impression on the flank on Saturday, before being sacrificed to cover for Regan's indiscretion. Neil Shipperley, a one-time Watford loan striker, made an unexpected but highly effective appearance in midfield against Norwich also, a move necessitated by the absence of Robbie Van Der Laan, who had just had a boil lanced (!). Garry Brady, on trial having been released by Newcastle, may also feature.
The forward pairing is likely to be the cumbersome Mike Sheron, and new signing Lee Jones. Jones, a one time Anfield next-big-thing, continued a career tradition of scoring on his first appearance for a new club on Saturday. Seeing as his career to date has also seen him make precious little impression at any of these clubs thenceforth, perhaps we shouldn't be too worried. Reports from Saturday - from Barnsley's own fans - also suggest that Jones was particularly keen to go down under challenge. Another option will be a fourth ex-Hornet, the ever-rough diamond Bruce Dyer.
The Tykes are sponsored by "Big Thing" this season, but their best chance of the big time probably came in May and departed with Hignett over the summer. They're clearly no pushover though, and will present a stiff challenge in our first home game of the season.
Just remember to be easy on them. We'd miss them if they weren't around....