By Martin Blanc
From the moment Malky Mackay and Ade Akinbiyi emerged side by side from the players' tunnel at 2.56pm and, incredibly, Akinbiyi delivered a two-handed bar-room push to Malky's chest like Mackay had just been chatting up Ade's girlfriend, you absolutely knew, no question, that this was Family Day. Certainly it reminded me of parts of my family, and I'd be surprised if we're all that different from most of you out there.
The thing is, Mrs Blanc was born in Burnley. I was born in Watford. And I insisted that our son was born in Watford (not that we live in Stornaway or anything but let's just say a nearer hospital was certainly available to us...) - so it was Alanis-Morrisette-ironic to us that WFC chose this fixture to offer bring-the-kids pricing. (That's to say, not ironic at all, merely amusing. Or, in fact, pointless and irrelevant, since they all went away for the weekend so I was at the game by myself.) This was a grudge match from way before kick-off - for some inexplicable reason (the way families just fall out) - and no amount of genuine affection for long-lost nephews Micah and Gifton could have camouflaged the edge to proceedings.
Without wanting to generalise based on four games (is a league table even worth having until about November?), we are learning to start matches brightly, so that Marlon King's early weak header from five yards out, which on the replay looked like the ball hit him more than he attacked it, seemed bound to be the first of many chances. And so it proved. I'd been watching Malky in the hope that he and Akinbiyi would resume their fronting up. This clearly being beneath him, instead he delivered a beautiful through-ball to Marlon, which was deftly controlled with the outside of a boot and followed by a lethal increase in speed - something we hope will become a Marlon trademark (he tried it often enough today) - and a clean finish. All well with the family - the new members blending very well with the nearly-new, a nice day all but guaranteed.
Not five minutes later, however, Akinbiyi's belting through the middle, running on goal, outpacing the central defenders. And, clear as day, he buggers up his next touch. The ball runs away from him, Foster dives, gets the ball, makes a save. Of course, Ade's got nowhere to go but down (in so many ways). And today's Johnny Cash, the Man In Black, points to the spot.
We were briefly stunned. Then furious. It was like chilling on the back patio getting to know your cousins from around the world, and coming back into the house to find some c***'s stolen the iPod you saved up for all summer long: nobody in your family would do that, would they? And as for the loud and prolonged swearing that followed - would any parents want their especially welcome young Hornets to hear it? Too late. Couldn't we have shouted, 'The referee's a Tweenie' or something similar instead?
Well, after that it began to resemble a long Christmas with the in-laws who were always slagging you off before you married their sister and probably still do on the quiet.... Bitterness? Oh, just a little, maybe. But at least the luck was with us - Gavin Mahon's second shot of the afternoon looked like it was headed for the same spot in the stands as his first and third went; but it hit Graham Branch and looped beautifully and unstoppably into the top corner of the net. Justice pretty much done for now.
Meanwhile, Clark Carlisle had taken over as Ade's chief tormentor, elbowing him in the chest with splendid subtlety on the touchline so that Ade was all ready to take him out too (not that Malky had had another finger laid on him); the icing on the justice cake was a booking for Ade himself! I mean, he had it coming big time, but who'd have thought that this ref would give it? After all, he'd also penalised us for Gifton falling over - heck, he never won a free kick backing into defenders when he was a Hornet.
So we meandered through the second half, having lost the urgency but mercifully not the luck and (whisper it) the cohesion that saved us earlier. Foster made some great saves from Micah, Gifton and Ade, there was some frantic defending, and the occasional Division One pass to oblivion from both sides. We came close to finishing it with a third goal, especially through Ashley Young, who sadly had more chance of winning the lottery than winning a penalty when he went down in the area. But tensions were generally running as high as they do when the family gathering just won't end, it's been long enough now, let's go home, please, back to what we know.
Maybe Darius Henderson was feeling it too, but he was busy leaping for the ball when it came over the top once again with only him and Burnley keeper Brian Jensen challenging for it. The ref endeared himself to the Clarets fans, as he'd previously managed with us, by waving play on once Jensen collapsed in a dramatic heap of stillness, whilst his teammates gesticulated, and we nearly cocked it up by sliding the ball along the goal line and needing three attempts to tee up a player - any player, but it wound up being Spring (who generally played like the ex-Hatter he is) - to stick it in the net. Was that the polite thing to do? The generous thing? Of course not, but those niceties are for friends, aren't they? We're not friends - we're family....
It only got funny in that wincing way of near-tragedy when the ref proceeded to continue waving play on, right up to expecting Burnley to kick off again, despite Jensen remaining prostrate, and with two unsolicited trainers around him calling for the stretcher with the neck-brace on it (Frank Sinclair had bagsied the normal one in the first half). Apparently, the ref apologised to Burnley at the end of the game. If "The Office" had ever had football scenes in it, he would have been a doozie to feature large. Anyway, serious injury always takes the edge off a good barney, I find - not to mention a suddenly comfortable two-goal lead - so the aggression level dipped somewhat in the closing minutes, and we left the ground excited, chastened, happy, sad, confused - all those family feelings - and hoping we didn't have to have another Family Day for a little while at least. I mean, would you want that Ade Akinbiyi round our place for a cup of tea? And who's the gangly self-important moron in the black with the whistle...hang on a minute, that bastard's got my iPod....