The Wedding Present
By Will Rowson
Two weeks ago, your regular columnist went and got himself married and there was much rejoicing. On that occasion, I was his dutiful best man. Many guests came, got drunk and left again. Matt and Tsega greeted all, thanked all and then, bafflingly forsook Watford against Walsall the next day and buggered off to New York. This meant that they were not there to greet one particular guest....
He came as the last drunks were leaving. Clad all in black, hooded and faceless, he spoke no words. He just handed me a box and vanished. Intrigued but tired, I added the package to Matt and Tsega's gifts and took it home to look after until the newly weds should return. But that night as I slept, my dreams were troubled. The box seemed to be calling to me from downstairs. Like a splinter in my mind, it would not let me rest.
So I did a terrible thing. I opened the box. Inside was another box, this one made of gilded oak with a single gold clasp. Engraved on top of the box was a message; 'For Matthew James Eustace Rowson on his wedding day - Herein layeth all that is lost - lest we forget'. Curiosity consumed me and I lifted the lid. The dust choked me and, coughing, I peered down inside. Contained within, I re-discovered all that had been forgotten, a whole world full of artefacts long faded out of memory. In one corner of the box, perched upon a milk crate stood a sheepish-looking Thomas Brolin, swinging a terrace rattle. In another, Steve Talboys merrily juggled Bobby Robson's marbles whilst Mark McGee's soul flitted happily between towers of Trevor Francis dignity. It seemed that all that had once been swept embarrassedly under the footballing carpet to be forgotten about, had somehow found its way into this Pandora's Box of ignominious obsolescence. At the very bottom, next to Barry Fry's copy of Hamlet, I saw some folded white cloth. Reaching for it I noticed it was adorned with black and gold lettering. I unravelled the cloth, it was twenty feet long. I stood back and read its bold inscription,
"BRISTOL CITY - DIVISION 2 CHAMPIONS 1997-98"
So now you know where it went. But where did Bristol City go? When my brother's future wedding gift was brandished so boldly in the East Stand at Ashton Gate over three years ago, it seemed that City, if not on course for the Championship, were at least set to continue what had become a rather enjoyable rivalry with the Hornets. Alas it was not to be. We exited Division One the next year by different doors and the Robins have yet to return. There's a feeling among fans at Ashton Gate, though, that they're about to. Hopefully should they do so they will be prevented from renewing the acquaintance. If a promotion of our own is on the cards (and forgive my blind optimism but why the hell not?) then this could be our last reunion for a while.
Standing in our way on Wednesday will be a defence that's only conceded twice so far this season and that by all accounts has rarely looked troubled either. Summer signing from Wolves, Mike Stowell, has received praise for his early performances and where he loses out to Stephen Phillips in terms of agility he makes amends by providing some much needed authority at the back for City. This need for leadership has arisen because club captain Keith Millen has missed the season so far due to injury. Millen is however expected to make a welcome return, if not at home to Port Vale on Saturday then certainly against his former club on Tuesday. In his absence Louis Carey has captained the side and led a three man defence, which includes Mark Lever (himself recently recovered from long term injury) and youngster Mark Hill. Hill is likely to make way for Millen's return. Mark Bell will take the left wing back role on Wednesday whilst the right wing back position is being contested between the popular Scott Murray and the more defensive minded Kevin Amankwaah.
Also expected to be back in action in time for Wednesday's battle is Tommy Doherty. The Robins' midfield has apparently been lacking a ball winner thus far and it seems his return is just in time, not only for City but I suspect for the Hornets too. For if his reputation is anything to go by, we will thankfully be forced to move the ball around quickly and with more than a little urgency. Doherty will take the first team place of either Simon Clist or West Brom target Aaron Brown. Certainly under no threat is the place of Brian Tinnion; allegedly in the form of his life, the experienced playmaker has a good record in cup competitions for City, as Liverpool will surely testify.
Providing goal-juice for the Robins, Steve Jones is miraculously back in favour after a loan spell at Wycombe Wanderers that few expected him to return from. He scored the winner late on against Cheltenham in the First Round and will hope to hold off competition from Lee Matthews for the right to partner Tony Thorpe up front. Thorpe is in scoring form this season, scoring a hat-trick on the opening day.
Games against Bristol City are always fantastic. Even when they're rubbish, they are bloody funny. Picture Gifton standing on the ball for five minutes by the corner flag, as City players get frustrated, humiliated and booked around him. Remember three players off in five minutes, remember Jason Lee, remember Luther's last goal for Watford. I do.
Come on you 'Orns.