"Do you know who I am?"
By Matt Rowson
August 12th, 2000. A day the memory of which has found itself a niche despite representing nothing of any great consequence. Like the red HB pencil with my name engraved on it in gold that has somehow survived since primary school, dodging from desk drawer to box-under-the-bed, avoiding being used or discarded, just still there...
The first day of the season. Huddersfield away. The Premiership ordeal over, this was a return to football matches that we had a realistic chance of winning. To prove the point, we won this one despite doing our best not to... Steve Palmer's sixteenth minute own goal would have ended the game the previous season even if we hadn't been playing appallingly; instead, Nico Vaesen neglected his near post to shepherd Cox's bizarre free kick in just before the break, Ngonge released Smith to put us ahead just after it.
It was a very satisfactory day all round. The journey home featured a beleaguered Crewe fan on 606 whose tirade against the national media's obsession with then Third Division Stoke City has descended into (local) legend. But the (very tenuous) link in to our game against Wigan Athletic on Tuesday night came on the way up to Yorkshire.
It was a gloriously sunny day. Loz, ig and I had left Watford early... in Loz's and my case to get the season under way as soon as possible, in ig's case in grumbling concession to the majority vote. So we had time to kill, and killed some of it at a service area on the M1. This was where we met Paul Taylor.
Castigating referees is part of a football fan's lot. It's only very few of us who, like ig, retain some kind of balance when watching a football match, and as a consequence the officials tend to cop it. It's only now, for example, some five hours after the event that it occurs to me that the fact that Mr. Mike Thorpe of Suffolk didn't see the deflection off Nicky Forster's boot before awarding Reading a throw in the second half doesn't actually make him a f***ing ****. In cold moments of "they've a very tough job to do" reflection, it becomes more natural to regard referees as honest Joes in an impossibly difficult position.
Paul Taylor, however, was a f***ing ****. Our golden livery betraying us as football fans, he was all too quick to make himself known with a "do you know who I am?" swagger. It was a moment of enlightenment for me, since when I've felt less guilty about insulting officials. It's not, after all, as if I'd have found it as easy to swear profusely with him in the service station car park, Loz standing next to me or otherwise.
It's no great surprise to see Mr. Taylor's name increasingly cropping up in association with fussy or attention-seeking performances. We witnessed our man in his element ourselves a week ago at Millwall... the home fans were even more vexed than we were, although being on the losing side probably didn't help. Hackles were also raised by the home fans on messageboards at Mr. Taylor's Hertfordshire residence, although his Cheshunt base is closer to Bermondsey than Watford by some five miles (the similar distance possibly explaining why the only time we're exposed to him is for fixtures against Millwall - the 4-0 embarrassment at the New Den two years ago being the only other encounter).
Anyway, Mr. Taylor appears to have done us another favour today, by issuing three yellow cards to Wigan players and two of those, reportedly harshly, to Lee McCulloch, scorer of the Latics' winning goal in our game at the JJB last season, who now misses Tuesday's game through suspension. This will be a crucial game for the Hornets, testing our ability to bounce back from a defeat after riding the crest of a fine series of results in previous weeks; Wigan look on paper like a very decent bet for promotion, but have had series of setbacks in the last week which work in our favour with regard to Tuesday evening.
Key of these is the serious ligament injury suffered by Per Frandsen which has ended his season and almost certainly his career in England, if not altogether. The thirty-four year old had planned on this being a one-season swansong before returning to Denmark and had been at the centre of the Latics' fine start to the campaign. With Jason Jarrett recovering from a broken leg and several other candidates to step into a midfield now shorn of two first choices out on loan, this is not an area where Wigan are overburdened with cover.
Australian John Filan is first choice goalkeeper, one of two experienced stoppers on Athletic's books - Gary Walsh, at thirty-six, is two years his senior.
At the back, Wigan were hit with another setback today as Matt Jackson limped off after quarter of an hour. Brazilian Emerson Thome replaced him and is the obvious deputy should Jackson not make Tuesday's game. Ian Breckin will be the other centre-back with former skipper Jason de Vos having moved to Ipswich in the close season. David Wright, a summer signing from Crewe, has spent most of the season at right back but lost his place to Nicky Eaden for last week's cup game. Eaden was nominated as Athletic's weakest link in our pre-season survey of their fans, but appears to be reacting positively to competition; Wright, meanwhile, is a candidate for a midfield role on Tuesday. Left back Leighton Baines became Wigan's first ever England call-up when named for the U21 squad recently; he's tipped for full honours and has been attracting Premiership attention, reputedly from Everton. Steve McMillan, last season's first choice, has been out with a groin injury but may struggle to reclaim his place.
The weakened midfield will feature Gary Teale on the right... a pacy Scot who hasn't, reportedly, found his form yet this term. In the centre, former West Ham trainee Jimmy Bullard will take most of the set pieces... with Frandsen's injury and Alan Mahon likely to move out to the left to cover for McCulloch, either full back David Wright or Gareth Whalley will step in. Whalley, a recent recruit from Cardiff, has been short of match fitness and made the bench today for the first time this season - he previously played under Paul Jewell at Bradford.
Up front, Wigan's headline attraction... Jason Roberts and Nathan Ellington, best mates off the pitch and also a partnership at Bristol Rovers in the late nineties. Ellington has had a £12million price tag put on his head by Wigan, with an unspoken "so bugger off, the lot of you" subtext. With McCulloch, also an occasional striker, suspended and Neil Roberts on loan at Bradford another Scot, former Torquay striker David Graham is the only striking option in reserve - he's yet to start a league game for the Latics.
Wigan are unbeaten in the League this season, the one reverse in the Carling Cup coming at Grimsby where a much weakened team was fielded. This will be a tough encounter, but we're probably catching them at as good a time as any... and a victory would eradicate the effects of today's interruption to our momentum.