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FA Carling Premiership, 18/9/99
Stuff your neighbour
By Martin Blanc

Great days out, pt 2. It was splendid, and it all began at 2.20pm when Wooter, which sounds uncannily like 'Luther' if you chant it right, jogged out to much applause and a few obligatory personal remarks. Hair somewhere between Gullit and mullet, he looked promising, yet somehow much...tinier than you'd expect. Okay, personal remarks out the way, at least about the players.

We sat around and absorbed the team selection - clearly GT had built on the lessons of the last few games, Wigan included. Lyttle out, but Gibbsy in rather than the captain relocating to right back. Why not? we thought. Old dear needs a run out. And Mooney on the bench. There wasn't quite as much of a spring in his step going through his warm-up, but hey, he's a team player, hero not goal machine, can-do - maybe he could come on and bail us out, he was thinking.

But no sooner was I settled into my seat, firmly in the Horns end of the ground, than I found myself making room for Chelsea fans to take the pews on either side. Difficult to be a good host, chatty, all Family-Enclosure-like, on a day like this. These biggies require even more partisanship than normal, don't they. So what my regular neighbour bastards, and that's all I can call them, thought they were doing presumably touting their season tickets to the opposition is anyone's guess. Grim proof of what I wanted to deny - that the influx of new attention is pathetically weak if there's the chance of a fast buck.

So to the game - and to hear the mutterings and muted urgings on either side while we were parading self-belief, a bit of style and the usual fantastic endeavour, was part gratifying and part bloody annoying. First great moment: Chelsea's first shot, got them mumbling "40 minutes, first shot". Ha! We squeezed 10m right out of the game. Which still didn't level it up in financial terms, but it looked and felt great.

Anyway, a couple more personal remarks: in the unwelcome presence of one blonde sarf Lahndener, over-made-up and nervous, on my left, and a velvet-jeaned pig in a wig and her Costa del Crime hubby on my right, our section were chanting all the louder. So for that above all I'm most grateful for Allan Smart's strike. So what if we can't sing "one-nil and we spent f***-all" any more. It couldn't have been any more pleasurable than yelling "what a waste of money" in the ears of my new and obviously very temporary neighbours every time Sutton got near the ball (and near was all he got). And then, to prove we were enjoying ourselves at their nail-varnished expense, a chorus of "It's just like watching Brazil..." You could try and fault Smart's earlier over-complicated tricks that left him facing the wrong way and without the ball, or Kennedy's less than usually smooth control and accuracy, but we've now got the shape of a solid and lasting outfit at this level. Wooter was of course inspirational, in a different way from Mooney, who came on, did some hilarious damage first touch he got, at the back post, then took some damage and disappeared whence he came, cheers still ringing out for the lad.

The match was great, the afternoon as a whole...a little testing. We played as well as or better than against Villa, and actually got the result to go with it. But will this now means the vultures of a financial sort will start circling all the more...? I think I looked either side of me and got a glimpse of a possible future, one that's in some ways already here. We have to make enough noise to affect it.