From a distance
By Brian Turnock
Pubs around Gent appear reluctant to install Sky T.V. They are satisfied with their own sports channel, enabling the locals to see Anderlecht and Club Brugge whip the pants off every other team in Belgium week in and week out. So it was to the radio that I turned in the hope of finding that elusive late Christmas present, a win for my team.
So whilst a group of superfans had overcome the many obstacles God had lain in their way and were inhaling the Yorkshire air at the fag end of Oakwell, I was sitting snugly in my study listening to an atmospheric-ridden Radio Five Live. Of course it's bloody LIVE, apart from when that blandest of interviewers Mr.Ian Payne is behind the mic - then it's more like Five DEAD. Thank God he wasn't around in 1945. I'm sure he would have approached the man with the big cigar and asked, "Mr.Churchill. What does it mean to you to win World War Two?".
What does Barnsley conjure up for me? Well, when I was house-hopping around England in the seventies, I lived for a time in the vicinity. Albert Hirst's Butchers, Barnsley Chops, Black Puddings, John Smiths Bitter and not forgetting the butt of several jokes - "Why do Sumo wrestlers shave their legs? So as not to be mistaken for women from Barnsley.", for example. Warm hearted Northerners, yes. But walking along the terraced streets to Oakwell seemed to transform them into hard-nosed Yorkies. However compared to Hillsborough it was more of a kindergarten atmosphere. I once chatted to Bobby Downes outside the players entrance when he was employed there - sorry about the name-dropping.
The radio commentary had a distinct Northern bias to it. When Watford were on top, thankfully most of the time, it was Barnsley who were poor. Their voices went up several decibels when Barnsley crossed the half-way line. I must exclude the summariser, a certain Mr. John Hendrie who used to manage Barnsley. He was far more complimentary to Watford. I wonder why.
Even when Watford scored, the commentator's voice was bereft of any emotion - in fact, I swear the volume dropped. Not so in my house though. My neighbours were alerted by a triumphant yell, not often heard around these parts nowadays. I must confess I slouched down in my chair when moments later Nielsen missed a "clear-cut chance" to make the game safe. Would that come back to haunt us? But no. There is more than one SAVIOUR to talk about at this time of the year - Alec Chamberlain, and when he made that "quite brilliant save" even over the airwaves, I was confident the three points were in the bag.
Then there was the post-mortem and all the standard phrases were wheeled out - kick-start their season, arrested the slide, turned the corner, etc.
This morning I turned on the radio again, just to confirm the score you understand, and the headline news was about the New Years Honours list. Now if I may I would like to propose some far more deserving candidates. They are the Watford supporters who journeyed to Oakwell. "The Watford contingent is so small you can count them," said the man on the radio, but sadly he refrained from doing so. So how about giving those fans O.B.E.s - Our Bloody 'Eroes. Well, it's Christmas and it's the best I can do.
Anyway, on New Years Eve as the family uncork a bottle or two of champagne - one hour after you - and everyone is toasting each other, I will slip away to a secluded corner of the house, look in the direction of Vicarage Road and raise my glass to salute a new beginning.
A one match unbeaten run. What the hell. It's better than nothing, even though the other half of the exiled Horns over here, K.Birdseye, has just informed me that "one robin doesn't make a winter".