Nationwide Division One, 21/04/03, 3.00pm
Dads vs. Sons
By Martin Blanc
'Helguson is God' said a slogan on the back of a (hopefully homemade) T-shirt I passed on the way to the ground. Some universe that'd be to live in, eh? For a start, no sabbath day of rest, right? Seventh day of all days...rest? In H's world? Hah. He laughs at rest, mocks lassitude of all types, simply builds and builds until one of the planets he's had manic blueprints for on his drawing boards comes off. H alone knows what it'd look like...but I digress. No sign of him today, nor many of the other potential deities who tested themselves against otherworldly forces at Villa Park. Guess there's an even higher power after all.
So, for my own return to the Vic after far too long, on display was a team of the future. At least if some kind soul (maybe Wayne Brown's sponsor) would stump up for Stephen Glass next season, it could be. Don't get me started about Stevie, not again. What have you got? Lee Cook? Don't - I wrote BSaD's profile on him. Macca? Five feet six of undiluted skill. Yeah, five feet six. He could personally nutmeg Peter Crouch et al. Everything that excites me about Cookie and Macca is contained in Stephen Glass. And then some. (Except, obviously as far as the club are concerned, in the low-pay stakes.) So I took it very well - almost as well as Michael Chopra had taken Glass's first-time cross for the first smashing goal on seventeen minutes - when Stevie turned to the Upper Rous, in which front row I'd fortunately tipped up for the day, and he personally took my applause for a few seconds before the teammates that weren't mobbing Chopra came over to pay their respects: Vernazza, who'd provided a beautifully weighted through ball, and the others.
It was only two minutes since Richard Lee had got his first touch of the ball. It was eight minutes since we should have scored from a Glass cross, but Derby's keeper had parried before Jason Norville (or Gifton Plus, as we're going to have to hope we can start calling him) could connect. Never mind, Chopra's volley was a sight to behold, and one can only hope God was watching, wherever He(lguson) was this afternoon....
The next piece of Glassworks was a stonking twenty-five yarder which Grant (just realised I'd better identify him, since he could feature large-ish in this report) just about stopped. The next piece was a terrific free kick from the same distance, which blew a kiss to the post on the way past.
Glass wasn't the only one, though - far from it. The teamwork was outstanding, from back through to front, with a cohesion the seniors didn't prioritised when they were kings. Watching Ravanelli attempt to chase through-balls that were occasionally flicked his way was like those kickarounds in the park with our dads, when their Total Superiority At Everything first came into serious question. Mind you, if your Dad ever headed loopingly against a crossbar or followed up with a searing drive that...whoever, but in this case Richard Lee, kept out at a fantastic stretch, then the doubts about Dad wouldn't have begun at nearly so early an age, let me tell you. But otherwise, Ifil grew in confidence alongside Gayle with every minute that passed. Hand, a smart bomb of a midfielder, dished it out and seemed to love that Derby couldn't take it. Ardley mirrored Glass on the right wing, supported most ably by Doyley. And Norville, even if he couldn't put a through ball in front of Chopra when it was needed on forty minutes, was still having the game of his career so far - and possibly the game of Gifton's career too.
A one-goal lead at half-time can often mean we're going to be hauled back, and be forced to share the points at best. What could we do about it today? Lucky chocolate? I ran the Marathon last weekend, you think I'm going to pile on the pounds again this soon? Well, too late - I had a bar and a half of organic milk choccy as soon as I'd finished the damn thing. Still, didn't bring anything today, probably as I was in fact digesting the half dozen of my mother's brownies I had for elevenses. I'd have to rely on the team. Which, for once, felt quite good as an option, even when Chopra's H-like header from two yards out popped wide. Even when Ardley's half-volleys were kept out by Grant, or his corner nearly caused an own goal of Hornet proportions. Even when Stevie Wonder put the ball in the net (I think - I was a pitch length away) only to be flagged offside when all he'd done was intercept a crap Derby freekick for off-bloody-side. We were having a great time, really. Free and easy, the cares of youth hardly weighing on pretty strong shoulders. Dads, meanwhile, were having a harder time of it. I've been overdoing it myself as much as Derby were, so I know the problems, what with the children, the job, the extra-curriculars...Tommy Mooney joining Ravanelli up front for the second half, and then being all but kept out of the game by Doyley and Ifil, was further proof that this club can look back with pride, but look forward with optimism. And when Glass bowed out with Chopra, and Macca and Fitzgerald arrived to make Norville the senior striker (!), things if anything looked up. Between them, they bundled and provided makeshift centre-forward Ardley (first in the area, not for the first time) with our second goal - at bleeding last, since we ought to have topped the Burnley result by this point.
It was a lovely return - yes, call me fairweather, call me anything you like, I'm just a bit busy these days. If I'm totally honest, and I'm trying to be, I came to check out Chopra. And he didn't disappoint, as Webber and Pennant too often used to. But beyond that, there were plenty of bonuses - makes you proud of all of them. If you're trying to sound like an old fart, that is.
If we can anticipate next season with anything more than terror (very possibly the current mood in Derby), and we definitely can, then we're going to be all right. We're in safe hands, thank H.