By Ian Grant
The comedy value of reunions has long been exploited. That whole area is just sitcom heaven, rich with
possibilities. It's always about the lies that people tell to convince their old chums that they're vastly
successful - feeble attempts to conceal reality that result in the entire room being filled with airline pilots, models
and managing directors. And, while I'm sure that reunions in the non-sitcom world are entirely different, I've
no intention of risking finding out.
So, anyway, picture the scene. The buffet table at a reunion. Two people filling their plates, glancing awkwardly
at each other and trying to put names to faces. Eventually, they pluck up the courage to speak.
"Tommy! Tommy Mooney! Well, well, well..."
"And you're Craig, right? Craig, er, Ramage?"
"Yep, or you can call me 'The Guvnor'. So, Tom, what've you been up to?"
"Well, you're not going to believe it! I've won a Second Division Championship medal, scored seven goals in six games
to get us into the First Division playoffs, won promotion at Wembley, scored the winner against Liverpool at Anfield,
made Marcel Desailly look like a fool, and captained the team."
"What about you?"
"I've been playing for Bradford reserves."
Maybe there's some justice after all. One of the players mentioned above will eventually finish his career having achieved
things that, in most respects, should've been way beyond him. He'll have amazing memories, not only of being successful but
of being truly loved and adored by thousands. The other player, despite vastly superior natural talent, will have none of that.
Look at it that way, and Ramage is to be pitied. In his imagination, he's Stan Bowles or George Best. In reality,
he's nobody, a loser. Even the act of devoting so much of this preview to his first game against the Hornets is giving him attention
that he really doesn't deserve, fuelling that ludicrous ego even further.
In this particular reunion, we don't need to pretend that we've been doing exciting things with our time. We have been
doing exciting things with our time. Most relevantly, we've discovered that talent and creativity don't have to come
packaged in a flabby, lazy, careless player. You don't see Micah Hyde, easily the equal of Ramage in terms of skill,
diving for free kicks simply because he can't be arsed to run any further with the ball.
Even if Ramage has been stagnating, County are having a fairly exciting time. Nothing new there - County are
always having an exciting time, bouncing insanely around the divisions in a way that makes even our recent
existence look a bit tame.
Despite an unusually boring mid-table position, there's plenty going on. Having just been taken over by US journalist Albert Scardino, the Magpies have had a mad ol' season so far. Manager
Jocky Scott must be tearing his hair out - he's seen his side win three times away from home, yet they've contrived
to lose the same number at home. County only just made it through a First Round encounter with Hull, scoring the winner with just a minute of
extra time left. The record is made slightly better by a home draw against Bristol Rovers last
weekend...except that the last-gasp equaliser came courtesy of Ramage's refusal to return the ball after an injury,
leading to the midfielder's dismissal for his role in the subsequent kerfuffle and an irate demand from Rovers
for a replay. Like I say, all quite exciting.
In goal, we'll find someone called Darren Ward...which is going to make the match report really confusing. His reputation is
extremely good and County are likely to struggle to keep hold of him - indeed, they're currently in the process of
fending off a likely £450,000 bid from Gillingham. His deputy is Paul Gibson, who's struggling to get much
of a look-in.
Throughout, the side is a mixture of youth and experience. At the back, for example, youth team product Darren Redmile
plays alongside Richard Liburd, returning to a regular job after being sacked by Bradford for an off-the-field assault
conviction. Ian Richardson played in midfield for Birmingham but has since made a successful transition to centre
back. Even more versatile is Alex Dyer, who was once Bruce's cousin...until someone informed the journo responsible that sharing a surname
doesn't necessarily mean that you're related. He's played in nearly as many positions as Tommy Mooney and is currently
part of the defensive squad.
The star of the midfield is, obviously, Craig Ramage. Now back from the injuries that plagued him at Bradford and
looking remarkably trim, he's clearly saving for his retirement - County fans are paying an extra quid as they
go through the turnstiles to cover his wages. Described as "tigerish" on one website - by someone who's never
laid eyes on a tiger, one assumes - he'll be suspended for the second leg after last weekend's red card. Alongside
Ramage in midfield will probably be Gary Owers, who definitely is tigerish. On the right, Andy Hughes is a highly
promising youth team product. Ian Hamilton, captured earlier in the season on a free transfer from Sheffield United,
completes the midfield.
Tuesday's home defeat against Swansea saw new arrival Colin Cramb, on loan from Crewe, partner Mark Stallard up front. Although
Stallard has been a real success since being captured from Wycombe for just £10,000 by Sam Allardyce, his new teammate's
performance left much to be desired - Cramb ("a mis-spelling, surely!", according to one site) will have to improve
if he's to achieve his stated desire of a permanent move. Other striking options include transfer-listed Kevin Rapley and
Sean Farrell, returning to fitness after a lengthy bout of injury problems.
Unlike previous banana skins - Cambridge, Wigan, Cheltenham - County aren't in any kind of form and, a fired-up
Ramage aside, shouldn't have anything that we haven't dealt with before. Statistic prove that it is possible to emerge from these Worthington Cup ties without looking like complete
idiots. Once, just once, it'd be fantastic to do away with so-called 'lesser' opponents in a vaguely