A Bit Of Reflection – The 2019 Election

A bit of time to reflect, a couple of plates of cheesy nachos and a good number of cups of tea. It hasn’t been a good time to support Labour.

But, truthfully, it hasn’t been a good time for some time now.

I believe in and try to see the best in people. It doesn’t always work…sometimes people perceive that you are an easy target, sometimes you miss the real agenda…sometimes it does work and people do some amazing things for you…and it’s what I choose to believe. People have the best interests at heart.

That’s a big reason as to why I vote Labour. They’re a party that have always been about bringing the best out of society, the best in people in equal measure. Sharing that optimism and well being. They pushed for a kinder politics…and that’s where it started to unravel.

People obviously know I’m against Brexit. I still struggle to see the benefits…but in Jeremy Corbyn, Labour had a leader that had always wanted to leave the EU. It went against my views and many other Labour voters. Rather than step aside, Corbyn took a half arsed approach to campaigning to remain. It didn’t work. He then decided that Labour would support a people’s vote, yet when the people’s vote march took place in London and elsewhere…he completely ignored it, instead opting to call for Labour supporters to knock on doors promoting Labour. It threw votes away. For the first time in my voting history, at the European elections I voted against Labour. I criticised Corbyn on Twitter.

The Corbyn fans went for me. A journalist shared a tweet of mine. Replies to his sub-tweet were along the lines of “Labour doesn’t need you”, “Go join the Tories” etc. The kinder politics Corbyn was advocating wasn’t on show…yet they preached it day in, day out. You only need look at Momentum’s treatment towards Tom Watson (who was at the People’s Vote march) to see how they utterly failed at practicing what they preach when talking “kinder politics.”

You tell people to sod off enough and eventually they will.

People talk about antisemitism – another thing Corbyn got dramatically wrong – but I don’t think the public are as bothered by that as some would suggest. If they were, we wouldn’t currently have a racist, xenophobic, homophobic PM. But, here we are.

I stuck up for Corbyn on the terrorist sympathiser nonsense. He isn’t one. He advocates peace and thinks people should talk to their enemies. There’s nothing wrong in that. There’s more wrong with the fact that we have a government selling arms to Saudi Arabia who then sell to groups like ISIS. But here, again, Corbyn got it wrong. When polls suggested he was building support, the London Bridge attack happened. His next press conference was to blame British Army interference for the rise in terror. He wasn’t wrong with what he was saying, but timing is everything and he absolutely shot himself in the foot. Both feet. It fed right in to the “terrorist sympathiser” story.

The media were appalling towards Corbyn, but he didn’t help himself. The reality is that any Labour leader will have a tough time with the media – Miliband got torn apart for eating a bacon sandwich wrong ffs. His interview techniques didn’t work out. He came across as a nice guy, but if pressed on tougher topics he lost it. The Andrew Neil interview, for example, a disaster. The flip side to that, however, is that he at least turned up. But even then, as Daily Mail journalists even started to turn slightly on Johnson, he didn’t capitalise. Wasted chances.

There’s a lot to like about Corbyn. His idea on socialism is fine. He does come across trustworthy and down to earth. He works incredibly hard and has done some great work to get a lot of youth support.

But this is his loss. Brexit will have absolutely played a role – how do you take a neutral stance on it?! – but there’s far more, too. Social media loves him far more than the real world.

He is a great back bencher…not so good a leader.

I voted Labour because I care about equality. I care about the NHS. I care about the fact there are so many food banks, so many struggling services. I care about mental health in the country and the fact suicide rates are increasing every year. I want a better, safer future for my kids. I will vote Labour again in the future for the same reasons.

Much like when a football team gets relegated, the party must now rebuild. I do believe they have to become more centre-left…but time will tell.

The next 5 years will be interesting. Daunting for those worse off. Many voters will have lent their vote to Tory…and the Tories need to keep those votes. The best way? To become more moderate. I’m not holding my breath.

All in all, it was a disastrous night for Labour. I could write more but I’ve already gone on too long. I’m still bitterly disappointed. I still believe that people deserve better than this government…but they also deserved a better opposition.

“Am I here? Of course I am, yes.”

“Am I here? Of course I am, yes.”

I think it’s sometimes human nature to add meaning to things that, in reality, make little sense. In loss, people give themselves comfort by using something as a sign that the person they’ve lost is still with them…for example, it might be a bird. I went a good time after my Mum passed away without feeling that.

The closest I came to a “She’s still with us” moment was directly after she passed away, in Papworth Hospital. The life support machines had been turned off, we were all in tears…for myself I felt lost and unsure what to do…and then the fire alarm went off. Evacuate. I could almost hear my Mum saying, “Stop fussing, just get on with it!” It was a moment that in great sadness gave us a little laugh. Mum was kicking us out.

Life goes on, but we were now faced with living what would need to be a ‘new normal’. It wasn’t easy for any of us. I started suffering hugely with anxiety and low mood. For the first time I had an anxiety attack…it felt like I was having a heart attack. My ribs felt like they were coming in on themselves and intertwining. It was terrifying. Things that you wouldn’t expect to change started to change. My stomach started to play up frequently. I wasn’t sleeping. I was in a hole. I had days when I was ‘here’, but did not actually feel ‘here’. I kept a lot of it hidden.

And then…life changes. One of the biggest things I felt after Mum passed away was a change in perspective. Life is too short. My Mum was 55. I was half way to 55 at that point. What if that’s what I have left? What if I don’t have that long? I started to think about myself, my own happiness…and I started a new life. New home, new relationship…I’ll stop short of saying new me!

One of the first evenings out that I had with Lori ended with us walking to the car and looking around. It was a cold night, but the sky was clear and the moon looked huge. We’d talked about my Mum a lot on the night, as well as how it affected me (it felt good to get it out and to have someone willing to listen). Lori pointed at the moon and said about how bright it was, saying, “That’s your Mum watching us.”

Not long after, we had everything happen with Dan. Lori was late but we thought it was down to stress because of everything that had happened. I was on a late at work, Lori finished around 5 or 6. The moon was bright again. Lori decided to get a pregnancy test…by now we’d talked a lot about how a bright moon seemed to relate to us that Mum was watching…and we found out we were expecting.

I know it sounds absolutely crazy to anybody that hasn’t been through anything like this, or for anybody that hasn’t attached a significance like that to something else…but we took the brightness and size of the moon to mean that this was my Mum’s way of saying she was happy about it.

It is a bit crazy, really. But it’s become one of those things that gives me comfort – and, ultimately, that’s why people give different meanings to these objects and things.

And I’m not for one second saying my Mum was the size of the moon. She wasn’t. And she’d have killed me if I said something like that!

For those that have read my recent Facebook & Twitter posts, you’ll know that I’m currently running 60k in November, raising money for Royal Papworth Hospital Charity and Tiny Changes. I’m now just over 20k of the way there.

Last night, I was tired…but knew I had to go for a run. The thing I’ve found with these half hour outings is that sometimes the hardest bit is to motivate yourself to get out, pass that mental hurdle…and in a way, that’s true of every challenge I’ve done – for example, the Three Peaks…you reach that point where your mind is telling you to give up, but you have to overcome it. It is often the hardest part.

After I got out and started running, I found I was having one of those runs…Spotify packed in, my pace went off…it was a nightmare. But then I looked up and, on the darkest night, the moon was shining bright. A reminder of why I’m doing the run. My Mum, she’s still watching me. I carried on.

And I will continue to carry on and reach that 60k.

Another difficult run I had, where half way through I started to think “I can’t do this today”, was met half way through by the Frightened Rabbit song ‘Head Rolls Off’ playing on Spotify. The lyric, “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth” ringing through my ears. The lyric that inspired the name for the charity, Tiny Changes. Another reminder…don’t forget why you’re doing this.

Something carries on.

If you’d like to sponsor me on my 60k in November…please click here and use the donate button at the bottom of the post to donate to Papworth Hospital in memory of my Mum: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=624717261392302&id=100015621019285

Or if you’d like to donate to Tiny Changes, a charity that does great work for young people suffering with mental health problems, please donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adam-is-going-running?newPage=True

Cheers for reading, thanks to anybody that has donated and thanks to those that do donate.


If you’d like to read more of my writing, find me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AdamTownsendWriter/

Or follow me on Twitter: @Adam_Townsend

The Secret Of Sodor


“You may have heard of my nickname?”

Of course I had, but the thought of sitting across from someone of such importance and saying, “Yes, you’re the Fat Controller.” felt a bit risky. Too risky. I’m here to do an interview, part of a feature on the Island of Sodor for a newspaper…I don’t want to upset him already.

“I’ve heard of it.” I reply, “But I can imagine you’re not very keen?”

“Well, lad, when you look like this, it’s the least you can expect!” He pats his stomach, laughing heartily. His pocket watch is jumping up and down as his body almost bounces with his laughing. He takes off his top hat to reveal a bald head that reflects any and all light that hits it. Looking around the office, there are numerous pictures of old steam trains on the walls as well as one on his desk; a picture of him stood next to a blue train with the number one on it. It strikes me that he is in every picture, next to every train, but there is only one picture of any other person, an older woman, sat on a chest of drawers in the corner of the room.

He leans over and stretches out his large right hand, “My name is Sir Topham Hatt, it’s a pleasure to introduce you to our island. I’m sure you’ll absolutely love it here.”

I’d heard several stories about Sir Topham; a strict task master who believed very much in the older things in life and was reluctant to change. It was easy to sense that this was true. Wearing a three piece suit with a top hat, running the island’s public transport system primarily with steam engines…he had made this little island feel like a different world. I introduced myself and explained that I would be on the island for a few days, exploring the sights and focusing on the absolutely unique aspect of Sodor; the public transport.

“What I’ll really be looking at and writing about,” I tell Topham, “is the fact that all of the vehicles on this island communicate and have characters. There’s nowhere else like it, I know that nobody has found out how the trains talk but…”

“But nobody ever will.” Sir Topham Hatt sits back in his chair and stares at me. His eyes had turned beady, his fingers were interlocked resting on his stomach. “It’s the island’s secret, my boy. Sodor needs it to stay that way.”

I don’t know how to respond. He maintains a stare on me, awaiting a response. I look at him bemused until he eventually lets out a booming laugh, his whole body shaking, the pocket watch now essentially floating in mid air.

“If people knew how they worked, everybody would do it! This way we keep tourism alive on Sodor. These trains, buses and other vehicles are what make Sodor so special. I’ll never give the secret away. I’d have to kill you if you ever found out!”

The laughter was louder than any laughter I’ve heard, but nothing funny had really been said. There was a knock on the door and Sir Topham was advised that his next appointment was waiting for him. It was a family with a young boy, Phillip, who was suffering from a serious terminal illness.

Sir Topham became suddenly very serious. “This is why I can’t tell the secret. For this boy, this dying boy, the magic of this island will give him a smile. If people knew, then the magic is gone.” Sir Topham stands up and walks to the door, holding it open for me. “Enjoy your few days. We will have to meet over a brew on Wednesday afternoon.”

No handshake, just a nod. I walked through the door and looked at the young boy, Phillip, and his parents. Phillip looked around 7 years old and was holding a green toy train with the number 68 on it. He looked excited. By contrast, his parents looked as though they had been crying. His Mother looked at me. Her eyes were completely blood shot. Sir Topham summoned them in to his office. “The number 68 train? I might have one just like that.” He picked the boy up, everybody walked in the office and I heard the door lock.

It was 1.15pm, I opted to go to the cafe on the platform for some lunch. Sitting by the window, I kept looking over at Sir Topham Hatt’s office. He was an intriguing character. One minute laughing, the next almost intimidating. I didn’t know how to take him. I also couldn’t imagine him being fun company for an ill boy. Sipping on my tea, my eyes gazed up to see the office door opening. The parents walked out, the Mother was sobbing uncontrollably. The Father put his hand on her lower back and practically forced her to run to the exit. The door closed, with no sign of Phillip leaving.

Ten minutes passed and the door opened again. This time it was Sir Topham Hatt, carrying his top hat in one hand and a briefcase in the other. As he stepped out he neatly placed his top hat on his head and then gave the briefcase to a train conductor. He closed the door and locked it, before leaving the train station.

Where was Phillip?


I woke up early, it was around 6am. I hadn’t slept too well. My mind was occupied with the thoughts of the family that had been to see Sir Topham after me. The sight of this poor woman leaving the office in floods of tears, the question of where the little boy had gone…he definitely didn’t leave with his parents and he definitely didn’t leave the office with Sir Topham…it was all I could think about.

I went downstairs to the hotel restaurant and set up for breakfast. The dining area was very old fashioned, keeping in with the whole feel of the island. You could hear the whistles of the steam trains through the open window. Sat above the breakfast buffet table was a framed picture of a magnificent steam train called Gordon.

“He’s a handsome engine, isn’t he?” The hotel owner noticed me looking. Removing the empty plates from my table, the elderly lady stopped and stared at the picture. She never removed her gaze when she said, “You should visit him. He’s the fastest engine here. He’s the best engine here; my Gordon.”

The plan for today was to travel by train, going to the main scenic locations on the island taking pictures of the sights I would see. I really wanted to ask about the boy from the day before. I grabbed my notepad, camera and pen and walked out of the hotel to the train station platform. One thing with Sodor is that the train stations are a stones throw from anything in the towns on the island. I started walking towards Sir Topham’s office when I heard a voice.

“Hello! You must be the reporter!” I looked around and was taken aback to see the number one blue engine looking at me with a smile. “Hello! You’re my special today! Sir Topham Hatt has asked me to show you all the sights of Sodor!”

This was incredible. How could a train talk talk? How could a train know who I was? Was this real? I walked towards the train and stared at this huge face staring back at me.

“You don’t say much, do you? He-he!” The train blew his whistle. “My name is Thomas and I’m the number one engine. Will my picture be in the newspaper?”

Nodding, I grabbed my camera and took a picture. All the stories I’d read hadn’t prepared me. I expected the mechanics to be clunky and obvious. I expected robotic voices…but this was nothing like that. It was as if I was talking to an excitable child. It just seemed impossible that any mechanism could create a machine that had such a character and personality.

Walking towards the carriages I noticed they also had faces, they both said hello and asked about the newspaper. I nodded again, climbing aboard and finding a seat. Thomas blew his whistle, told me to “hold on” and we were off. I looked out of the window and saw Sir Topham Hatt on the platform with a young girl, certainly no older than 10, walking towards his office. He looked up and noticed me, and proceeded to give a polite wave. I saw the young girl go in to his office and watched Sir Topham follow in behind her before we turned a corner and went down a siding heading towards the next village.


It was a beautiful, sunny day on the island of Sodor. Every village had areas full of picturesque beauty. The beach, although small, was a throwback to old English holidays. There were numerous children eating ice creams from cones, parents sat on sun beds reading broadsheet newspapers and novels. A blow up beach ball was bouncing along the sand. It reminded me of how my grandparents would talk about beach holidays.

“Come on!” Thomas said, “I want to take you to other places! I can go really fast, if you like? We could race Bertie when we see him!”

I took a few more pictures, and walked back towards Thomas. He was quite the engine, incredibly clean. As I began to step on to the carriage, another whistle sounded. I looked over and saw the same incredible train that I had seen in the picture earlier. It was Gordon.

Thomas whistled. “Hello Gordon! The Fat Controller gave me a special today. I am taking this reporter around the island showing him the sights of Sodor!”

“Well,” said Gordon, “He probably asked you to take him so he’d be able to take pictures. After all, I’d be far too fast for him to take pictures on and pulling the express is the most important job on the island.”

“Or maybe it’s just that I’m the number one engine and have more personality than you!” Thomas tooted his horn and let out a cheeky laugh before we started to set off again.

As we rode by, Gordon cried “Oh, the indignity!” and Thomas kept laughing. We travelled down another siding towards a tunnel – I was told this was Henry’s Tunnel, named because Sir Topham had a train named Henry bricked up in there for not following instruction – and came to a sudden stop.

“Cinders and ashes!” Thomas whistled hard and the brakes squealed. There were some cows on the tracks blocking our path. Thomas whistled to try to encourage them to move but eventually the driver stepped out instead and tried to see what he could do. I had to get this on camera. I jumped out of the carriage and walked up a small hill to get a decent shot. By the time I’d turned around, the cows had moved. I heard Thomas blow his whistle and watched him drive off without me.

My phone had no signal, so I waited by the track and waited for another train to come by. Eventually I heard a train coming and, looking down the track, saw a green engine with the number 6 on it heading my way. I waved at the train to flag it down and, thankfully, it stopped.

“This is a funny place to catch a train! We’d best not let the Fat Controller know I’m picking people up away from the platforms!” I jumped in a carriage. “I’m Percy, the mail engine. I take mail across the island. I’ve finished my jobs for the day but wanted to go to the steam works to see the new engine…would you like to come?”

I agreed to go. I figured it meant that I could get more pictures of the main Sodor attraction, it’s trains, and, maybe, find out how they made the trains have personalities, faces and character. The closer we got to the steam works, the more I noticed the sunny, blue sky begin to develop in to a smoggy, grey colour. There was a smell in the air that wasn’t usual for an area surrounded by steam engines. The smell reminded me of burning. I grew uneasy heading to the steam works, but couldn’t place why.

As we got to the Steam Works, the noise level grew as did the smell. It definitely wasn’t steam. What was it? It reminded me of something, I just wasn’t sure of what.

“Here he comes!” Percy exclaimed, and started tooting his whistle repeatedly. “Hello! Over here!”

A green and yellow train rode towards us, it had the number 68 on the side. I noticed Sir Topham Hatt was riding in the engine.

“Hello Percy.” Sir Topham acknowledged him, “I’d like to introduce you to our newest engine. This is Phillip.”

I stuck my head out of the window and looked at Phillip the train. The face had the same features as the boy from the day before. Phillip caught sight of me before Sir Topham and smiled before saying, “Hello again! It’s me, Phillip!”

I dropped my camera and stood open mouthed, before two train conductors appeared and pulled me off the carriage I was on. They dragged me towards Phillip, towards Sir Topham Hatt. His face was red and I could see a vein pulsing above his left eye.

“You shouldn’t be here. You should be with Thomas. You have caused great confusion and delay.” He looked at Percy, “You shouldn’t have picked him up. Take him back to Knapford Station and have him wait for me in my office.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.” The train conductors lifted me by my arms back on to the carriage and Percy set off.

As we drove away, I heard Phillip say, “Say hello to Mummy for me and let her know I am so happy!”


The two conductors threw me on the seat at Sir Topham Hatt’s desk, and stood behind me, each with one hand on one shoulder each. They had a python like grip, I couldn’t move and if I tried they held me down harder. I looked around the room for an exit. There was one stained glass window looking towards the rail track and the door, nothing else. Then I saw something haunting.

Underneath the window was a small green leather sofa with a briefcase on it. The briefcase was open and inside was what looked like clothing. I had a flashback. The clothing was exactly the same as the clothing on the little girl that entered the office earlier in the day.

The door swung open and Sir Topham Hatt stormed past, sitting opposite me. He was still red. His eyes were as small as I had seen them, and they were practically completely black. His body was shaking but this time it wasn’t through laughing. He was in a rage. He told the train conductors to leave the room. As the second walked out I heard the door lock behind him.

Sir Topham looked at the open briefcase, “So I imagine you’re asking yourself just what is going on here today, yes?”

I nodded, sweat was beginning to run down my face.

“Those clothes belong to a delightful young Scottish girl called Emily. Emily has suffered with a rare form of bone cancer, Ewing sarcoma, for some time. It wasn’t diagnosed early enough and the cancer has spread.” He points his finger at me, “And do you know what is the most incredible thing about Emily? She still wants to go on. She wants to live forever.”

The green dress lay there, neatly folded, in the briefcase. I still couldn’t understand why it was there. Sir Topham banged a green toy train on the desk so hard it made me flinch.

“Emily gave this to me, so I gave it back to her.” He pulled a picture from his jacket pocket, showing him stood next to a green steam engine. The face was identical to the girl I saw yesterday.

“This is madness…how?!”

Sir Topham opened a drawer and pulled out a photo album. He places a picture on the desk in front of me. It’s old. It’s Sir Topham, much younger but still dressed in a black suit with a top hat, and a familiar looking little boy.

“Before I came here, I practiced magic and hypnotherapy. This picture is from 36 years ago, on my first visit to the island. I was putting on a show. The boy, there? Do you recognise him?” Sir Topham glared at me. I couldn’t place who it was.

A whistle sounded. I looked at the stained glass and could make out a blue engine outside on the platform.

“That boy…that boy is my son, Thomas. He, too, suffered with an illness that he couldn’t recover from. He had leukaemia. I was losing him. So, we came here, and I created a magic that would keep my boy alive forever and give hope to more in the same position. You need not lose a loved one in that way, no child needs to die. They can be here, they can live forever. All of my engines, all of my vehicles do.”

Sir Topham put a drink in front of me and called for the two conductors to re-enter the room. They held me down as Sir Topham took the lid off the bottle in front of me. I started to scream for help but nothing came. He forced the drink in to my mouth, a conductor pulled my head back and the liquid ran down my throat. I nearly choked. Some spluttered out. I asked what it was.

“I told you. The secret can never come out. We only offer to a select few. If we begin to fear the worst, if we begin to think somebody will say something, we take action like this.”

I lost all feeling in my body. I was conscious, but I couldn’t move.

“I put the souls, the blood of those children, in to those engines. They remember everything at first but, over time, like all children do, they forget. They drink this potion, like you have, they feel no pain, like you won’t. They go to the Steam Works, we incarcerate the body. I use my magic and we put that in to the new engine. They become the life of this island.”

The conductors open a hidden door under a rug that leads to a tunnel. I try to scream again but I can’t manage it. I can feel my heart beat slowing. I muster enough strength to say, “This…is…wrong.”

Sir Topham removes his hat and crouches down next to me. “It’s a shame you won’t finish that article. I’m sure your pictures were lovely. But, the magic of Sodor isn’t the engines, the magic is me. The miracle of Sodor are the engines. God give life, God take life away. On the Island of Sodor, I am God.”

The conductors pick me up and carry me in to the underground tunnel.

I lose consciousness.


It was a beautiful, sunny day on the Island of Sodor. Thomas was on his branch line carrying passengers, Gordon was steaming past pulling the express and Percy was delivering the mail on time.

At Knapford Station, a new engine called Emily pulled in and blew her whistle, excited to complete her special for the day. Sir Topham Hatt had assigned her the job of transporting some unwanted goods from the Steam Works to the docks, so Cranky the crane could lift them on to a boat and have them taken far away from the island.

The trains were happy, the passengers were happy, and Sir Topham Hatt was happy that his railway was running smoothly once again.

The End.

Thirteen Years – “A Long Time Coming”

2017 Governors Ball Music Festival - Day 3

The only time I have ever seen Tool play live was at the Download Festival in 2006. I’d gone to Download with my cousin, Mark, and we camped with a few others that I knew to varying degrees. I remember when we got the tickets and the line up was announced I was immediately excited to see Metallica, couldn’t believe I’d have a chance to see Prodigy, and hugely anticipated seeing the likes of Deftones, Alice In Chains, Korn and so on.

Headlining the Friday were Tool. I really only knew a few songs; ‘Sober’, ‘Parabola’ and ‘Schism’. Past that, absolutely nothing. I’d always thought ‘Sober’ was an incredible song, but the other songs seemed to go over my head a bit. I remember going to the pub a few weeks before the Download weekend and some of the guys I was going with saying, “Tool on Friday but, you know, seen them once and it’s always the same.” Nothing was really making me think, “Tool are a band I need to invest in.”

But, despite it all, I did. On a day out in Norwich, we popped in to HMV. They were selling the album ‘10,000 Days’. The artwork was unlike any I’d seen before for a CD, with what were special 3D lens type glasses that enabled the pictures in the booklet to almost come to life, showing you more than if you just looked at them normally. It was a work of art. Out of interest, I decided to get it. I remember asking my Dad to put it on in the car, and vividly remember him saying at some points “They’re really trying to rip off Pink Floyd, there.”

I enjoyed it. I wasn’t overawed by it, but I seriously appreciated how good an album it was technically. When Download came, we decided to watch Tool on the Friday night.

Tool 2


Thirteen years on, there are a few bands I remember from Download. Strapping Young Lad were hilarious and brutal, Metallica were sensational (but ‘fashionably’ late), Korn were fronted by various different people as Jonathon Davies was ill, Prodigy was the most insane gig I’d ever seen…and Tool. They were just cool. Visually stunning, the sound was amazing…but it wasn’t that that got me sucked in.

Stood in front of us was a guy that looked to be in his early twenties. Short dreadlocks, back pack on, stood alone. And he was break dancing.

Break dancing. To Tool. In the middle of a field in Derbyshire.

It was as hypnotising as the visuals on the screens. On stage, Maynard and the band had their stands – they rarely moved from their areas – but here was this guy, break dancing at a heavy metal festival. I watched in awe, and started to really listen to the music and, in that moment, I got it. The rhythm, the beats, the differing time signatures…you didn’t mosh to Tool, you felt Tool. This music was something else.

In a way, it’s such a shame that it happened in 2006. Nowadays, in an age where stuff like this is just recorded and put on YouTube, you can guarantee it would be online…but in 2006, all of that was still relatively new ground. The flip side to that is, for all those that argue the point that they need to record so they have the memory of the show, this is proof that you really don’t. That moment stayed with me, I still remember it, I can still play it in my head…and I enjoyed the moment far more than had I been stood there holding my phone recording it.

Tool 5

Following Download, I went back to ‘10,000 Days’. It was like I was listening to a different record. I felt the music more, I got the lyrics more…I started to get it. I understood just why those that love Tool really love Tool, and became enamoured by it. I couldn’t wait to hear more.

But, Tool aren’t like any other band…in my hope for a follow up to ‘10,000 Days’, I was left wanting. The band continued to play and tour, but no new music came. I delved in to the older stuff but I craved more.

One of the things I truly loved about Tool was that you could see, and hear, the growth of the band through their albums. The sound changes, the complexity of songs…the experimentation in noise…I just wanted more. Greedy, really, but that’s how it was.

As time went by, life went by. I went to uni, I graduated from uni, I had a long term relationship and saw it end, I got a job and progressed in to management, I started another relationship, I had two kids…life changed.

Within that time, also, I suffered the personal devastation of my Mum passing away suddenly in 2015. Nine years after ‘10,000 Days’ had been released. But, with that tragedy, came a new level of understanding for the album.

Tool 6

I’d always loved “Wings For Marie (Part One)” and “10,000 Days (Wings Part Two)” as a couplet…but I didn’t feel them in the same way as, say, “The Pot” or “Right In Two”. When Mum passed, the first time I went back to listen to ‘10,000 Days’, I remember sitting with my headphones in and just being heartbroken by the lyrics and the emotion to the songs. Both songs focused on the passing of Maynard’s mother, and I was blown away.

In grief, you feel a lot of different emotions. There’s the sadness, but there’s also anger, frustration, guilt – a reluctance to accept. When Maynard sang “Ignorant siblings at the congregation gather around spewing sympathy; spare me. None of them can even hold a candle up to you” I started to really get it. One thing that always sticks in my mind around my Mum’s funeral was having a distant relative asking me to make her drinks, clearly not having any idea who I was, and then after the funeral offering me a hug before not saying another word to me all night. I felt an anger towards it, and you do feel sick of these people…inside, it feels fake.

I also felt real anger at the time as I had people trying to preach religion on to me. I have never been a religious person, but in turn I just felt anger – a real anger at ‘God’ – how could anything like this happen to my Mum? Why did she deserve it? Hearing Maynard sing that his Mum should “shake her fists at the gates” just seemed to connect to me even more. But, through the sadness of the song, to the anger, it ends on acceptance. It was an acceptance that took me a long time to feel…I sometimes, even now, fall out with that acceptance. But these two songs were a journey in grief – and a journey I could relate to.

After that, Tool were more than just another band to me, and their music made more sense. They are a journey band. I feel that, the older you get – or, more so, the more you go through in life – the more you start to understand Tool. From the angst in the first records, to the development – you grow up with these records and they grow up with you.

And now today, finally, thirteen years later, a new album has been released. ‘Fear Inoculum’ is tremendous. When I think back to the not long turned 18 year old I was in 2006, I know I wouldn’t have been ready for this album. It’s not an album to listen to and expect to understand immediately. It’s another step in the journey.

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To go back to what my Dad said when he had ‘10,000 Days’ on in the car, and compare to Pink Floyd. I love Floyd, but even the great albums – ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, for example – take a few listens before you find those stand-out moments. They’re albums that demand time, demand a few listens before you can judge…before you notice all the little details.

On the title track, Maynard sings “long overdue”, and, initially, I felt like it was a little comment on the length of time leading to this record. As it is, I don’t think it is ‘long overdue’ in the slightest. “Fear Inoculum” isn’t an album to introduce new fans to Tool with, it’s an album to listen to in order to take the next step in the journey. The natural successor to ‘10,000 Days’ – we’ve all got older, the band are in their fifties, the songs have become mellower…but still with that bite, and still with that sense of build, tension and excitement that Tool do so well.

Thirteen years has felt like an age and so much has changed but listening to ‘Pneuma’, listening to the majestic ‘Culling Voices’, the absolutely incredible 16 minutes of ‘7empest’…’Fear Inoculum’ came right on time.

And who knows what the next step on the journey will be?

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A Retrospective Look: Saido Berahino At The Albion

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It could have all been so different.

September 28th 2013, West Brom are at Old Trafford playing Manchester United for the first time since the incredible 5-5 game, with United now managed by David Moyes. Morgan Amalfitano, a new signing for Albion, had put he Baggies 1-0 up with an incredible solo effort. Rooney had immediately pegged it back to 1 all. Then 10 minutes later, a goal by Saido Berahino. Albion go on to win 2-1.

In that moment, Berahino started to become a star at the club. He was clearly still learning his game, still finding his strengths, but he had an ‘it’ factor about him. There was a feeling that this boy could go on to be something special.

And what a story it would have been. Berahino and his Mother fled a war-torn Burundi being granted political asylum in the UK. Berahino, aged 10, made his own way after his Mother. He spoke French, knew nobody except the few of his family that had also made it, and had to start life again. His Father was killed during the Burundian Civil War when Berahino was only 4. It’s an unimaginable start to life. To go from that to scoring the winning goal at Old Trafford was…still is…inspirational.

So…what happened?

A year after coming to the UK, Berahino was spotted by coaches from the Albion and signed up. From age 11, he started to develop his game for the club and, over the years, reportedly rejected advances from other clubs. He scored goals, he was becoming a good striker. By 2009, he was playing for the England U16s team. He would work his way up through each age bracket of the England set up with tremendous stats. When he got to the Under 21s he was paired with Harry Kane – 11 games, 10 goals – and, for some time, it looked as though he would progress further than Kane would.

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Once he’d signed a professional deal in 2011, the decision was made to loan Berahino out to lower league teams to help build his experience. His records were good, scoring 6 in 15 for Northampton Town, 4 in 8 for Brentford and a couple for Peterborough in the Championship. Behind the scenes, though, the signs were there that Berahino could play up.

While at Brentford, his loan was cut short. The reason was revealed that Berahino had been having parties in his hotel room, even trying to get tequila sunsets paid as part of his hotel expenses by Brentford. There was also an occasion where his hotel room was soiled, probably following one of his parties…and that was the final straw. When he returned to the Albion, there was talk of him being dismissed by the club. Dan Ashworth, sporting and technical director, wanted him out. He was talked around. It was to become the first of a number of chances Berahino would have.

More controversy surrounded Berahino in 2012, when he was arrested for being drunk in charge of a vehicle. Driving convictions start to come hand in hand with Berahino from this point. But the club stood by him, and by the start of 2013 Steve Clarke, then head coach at Albion, had decided that he wanted to try to make Berahino Albion’s main striker.

His first start for the club came against Newport County in the League Cup. He was brilliant, scoring a hat-trick and showing the fans the promise that he clearly had. This was his breakthrough season, the goal at United cementing that he had landed…but it wasn’t without controversy. By March, he’d had a (now infamous) bust-up with James Morrison after Albion drew 3-3 with Cardiff – reportedly resulting in Morrison throwing a punch at Berahino – and then, only 2 weeks later, news broke of Berahino inhaling laughing gas (“hippy crack”) after a 3-0 defeat to Manchester United.

Those incidents alone became frustrating to so many that supported Albion because everybody could see the talent and knew how far he’d come. I remember watching him and seeing this news thinking “if he isn’t careful, he’ll lose it all”. And we all wanted him to succeed. His upbringing was well known by supporters, he worked his way through the academy…he had the potential to be an Albion hero.

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If the 2013/14 season was a breakthrough year for Berahino at West Brom, the 2014/15 season was truly the one where he became a household name to supporters of other clubs. Albion, now managed by Alan Irvine, started the season against Sunderland. Berahino opened his account scoring two goals. He then doubled his tally with another two when Albion destroyed Burnley 4-0 at The Hawthorns. The club started to discuss a new, much better paid contract with him…but controversy struck again.

Once more, Berahino found himself arrested for drink driving, with allegations that he was also doing more than 110mph before being stopped on the M6. The club put contract talks on hold. When Tony Pulis joined the club, Berahino showed what he could do, scoring 4 goals in the FA Cup against Gateshead. He didn’t celebrate. He then did an interview stating that he was playing to get a transfer to a bigger club. Tottenham were showing interest and you could see his head was being turned. The Albion stopped contract talks and said they’d consider offers at the end of the season. Despite this, Berahino had a great year, scoring 20 goals in all competitions and ending as the Players’ Player Of The Year.

For other strikers in the Albion’s Premier League era, a season that gave 20 goals would see that player held in especially high regard amongst the fanbase, kids with the name on their shirt. However, with Berahino, it just didn’t happen. His attitude, his conduct…it had prevented him from being held anywhere near as highly as his goals would normally allow. Everybody knew he wanted out, but many knew he wasn’t really ready for it. For all his goals, Berahino was still a very raw talent. He needed another season to develop. He could have improved his game, increased his value and increased interest. But his head had already been turned.

The Summer leading to the 2015/16 season was full of speculation around Berahino. Tottenham had placed a bid of £15m for him that was rejected. Jeremy Peace, chairman at the time, set an asking price of £25m. A few more bids came in, Spurs now bidding £23m in instalments. Again, rejected. Berahino put in a transfer request. It was turned down. Peace and Albion were not budging. Berahino took to Twitter, stating he would never play for the club again.

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It was a threat that never came to light. Berahino featured 35 times for Albion, but it wasn’t the same. In several games he seemed missing. He (understandably) received mixed receptions from supporters. After scoring 20 goals the season prior, he only hit 7 in the 15/16 campaign – only 4 in the league. Salomon Rondon was the preferred striker, and Berahino’s stock was falling. Tony Pulis appeared to try to take a bit of a father figure approach, meeting with Berahino and his Mother to try to improve things. It just wasn’t to be. Eventually, Pulis stopped starting him at all, even claiming he was lucky to be in the team at all. But, still, Albion rejected bids for him. Newcastle attempted to sign him in the January window for £21m – rejected. And, then, after the season ended, Stoke bid £17m. Again, rejected.

I remember thinking when Stoke went in for him that we should have accepted it. I remember thinking we should have let him go to Spurs or Newcastle. He had become a negative energy. Peter Odemwingie had a spell on Twitter where he’d argue with Albion fans but you always felt that there was a reason for Odemwingie’s frustrations – more than any ‘normal’ fan would ever know – but Berahino would incite anger on Twitter from fans and his reasons just simply felt like greed. By the end of the year, the fans had turned. The boy with the absolutely incredible, inspiring story – coming out of desperate personal grief, leaving his home country to become a top Premier League player – had lost touch. When he first broke in to the Albion team, many would comment that he was humble…it sounded as though he was a good kid…but by the end, there was no good feeling towards him.

The 2016/17 season was to be Berahino’s last at the Albion, featuring only 5 times and not scoring any goals. Fairly early in the season, Berahino was dropped and sent to a training camp in France. The club gave the reason that he was overweight, and this was to help build him back up to full fitness. Reality was, however, that he had failed a drugs test. Found positive for MDMA, Berahino was banned for 8 weeks. In covering it up, the club had tried to protect him and his reputation, but this was it. Enough was enough, and he was sold to Stoke for a potential £15m.

Some months after news broke about the failed drugs test, Berahino did an interview claiming it was because his drink was spiked. This may have been true, but it’s sadly so often the way with Berahino – for every wrong, there’s an excuse and a denial. When people criticise or point the finger (even to the extent of WaterAid claiming Berahino’s charity hadn’t donated the money it promised), he always denies and says it’s been exaggerated. The only admissions of guilt come when there’s no other possible story. It’s not a good character trait.

I will always have the frustration with Berahino that, beneath it all, there is a really good footballer in there. Had he kept his head down, stayed out of trouble and just concentrated on his game then I honestly believe he’d be regarded as somewhat of an Albion icon. His story alone would have given him that. Instead, he left the club he joined as an 11 year old and spent 13 years with as a villain.

There was a time when Saido Berahino was considered a brighter prospect than Harry Kane. He could have had it all. He blew it. Two years after leaving Albion, he has had yet another drink driving conviction and that, plus his attitude, resulted in Stoke sacking him. He now has another chance at redemption, this time in Belgium with Zulte Waregem…and part of me, the part that still thinks of that academy built player scoring the winner at Old Trafford, really wants him to succeed. He has to, because this is surely the very last chance he has altogether.

Saido Berahino. Through all of his own doing, a wasted talent.

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A Retrospective Look: Kevin Phillips At The Albion

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It’s not everyday that your club signs a 33 year old striker from your local rivals and you feel equal parts excited and interested about what is to come, yet in 2006 that’s exactly what happened when Kevin Phillips left Villa to join Albion for £700,000.

Phillips was a known prolific goalscorer, but there were doubts over how much was left in him. His record at Sunderland was incredible, averaging better than a goal every two games. At Southampton, he managed an impressive 22 goals in 64 league games. Then, he joined Villa. Phillips lasted one year at the club, scoring only five goals in a season hampered by injuries and illness. It was his worst season in front of goal since the 1996/97 season at Watford.

And so, Phillips joined the Albion. Bryan Robson in charge, the club were hotly tipped for promotion straight back to the Premier League after relegation the year before…but things don’t always go to plan. A poor start saw Robson out the door and replaced by Tony Mowbray. The style of play changed. Suddenly the likes of Koumas and Kamara looked like real deals again, and up front Kevin Phillips was proving his worth.

To sum up the kind of impact Kevin Phillips had on me as a fan watching the game, I’ll take a trip to a match that involved neither West Brom or Kevin Phillips.

20th September 2009, over a season after Phillips had left Albion, the Manchester derby was on. It had been an incredible game. Back and forth, non-stop action, and as the final minutes hit Craig Bellamy scored to make it 3-3. In to ‘Fergie Time’…a perfect pass from Ryan Giggs finds Michael Owen in the penalty area with acres of space. Goal. 4-3 after 96 minutes. Bedlam. And sat there watching this happen, I turn around to my Dad and say, “That was a Kevin Phillips goal if I’ve ever seen one.”

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For a 33 year old Phillips still had an impressive turn of pace but his overall game was about so much more. When he joined the Albion I had visions of him being a goal poacher…he’d score goals with the right service but not much else. To an extent, that was true. He would hang around the goal if he needed to…he was a striker…but, equally, he’d drop back. It became clear that he would always be in the right place at the right time.

I quickly found myself in awe at just how well Phillips could read the game. If the other players were running around all over the place, he’d just stop and wait. Eventually the ball would drop to him from the scramble and he’d ever get a chance at goal or set up a chance instead. And that’s what made that Michael Owen goal in 2009 so much like a Phillips goal – when everyone else chased the ball, Owen stood still. Space opened, ball came, goal. It’s brilliant reading of the game and the more you watch football the more you realise just how many players are not capable of doing it all that well.

That approach to the game even changed how I would play myself. I used to run around like a headless chicken chasing everything. Suddenly, inspired by watching Kevin Phillips, I would decide to stop and stand still or just walk while everyone else ran. I’d get the ball more, I’d get better chances, I’d always lose my man…if I had a better finish, touch (and the rest), I could have been lethal. But that style of play changed my opinion on how a forward should play.

In his first season at Albion, Phillips scored an impressive 22 goals. Mowbray had started to place his style on to the team and we were desperately unlucky to miss out on promotion, losing to Derby in the Play Off Final. That Summer there was an exodus. Jason Koumas was gone, Diomansy Kamara gone, Curtis Davies gone…amongst others. It was expected and, to some extent, wanted. The ‘bad blood’ was out. Mowbray could build his team of soldiers and artists. Chris Brunt, James Morrison, Felipe Teixeira all join…as does a young forward by the name of Ishmael Miller, on loan from Manchester City.

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The 2007/08 season was, for me, the perfect year. The football was sensational, the players were hugely likeable, and the club had massive success. A season that saw an amazing FA Cup run, ending (unfairly) at Wembley in the Semi Final, and then the club won the league. This was also the year where Kevin Phillips cemented himself as my favourite player.

24 goals in 38 games is more than a good return; it’s sensational. It was so good that there was always an air of expectancy when Phillips played. If he was on the pitch, you knew Albion would score. You’d know it because either he would score or he’d create the space, make the chance, for the other player to score. He made the players around him better. Ishmael Miller, alongside Phillips, looked a world beater in the making. They were immense together. And away from the goals, he also bought a joy to the pitch. When you saw Phillips and Paul Robinson dye hair the same colour, rub each others heads…you could see that this was a team loving life. Phillips made that and, in turn, it made the support feel it too. He was quiet, he was small, but he was somehow almost larger than life. Only 5’7, but on the pitch he was the guy you saw.

The goal that epitomises Kevin Phillips’ time at the club, in my opinion, came in the 5-1 win against QPR on 30th September 2007. As QPR attempted to clear the ball after another attack, the defenders chased after the ball as Albion players tried to get it back in the area. Phillips makes his way to the edge of the area, with defenders running the other way. The ball comes across to him. He stops it, looks up, and just curls it in to the top corner. As cool a finish that you will ever see, he walked over to the supporters with a beaming smile and both arms aloft. It was pure quality. I’ve seen few, if any, finishes that beat that goal in terms of quality.

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As the end of the season drew near, talk began about Phillips new contract. The current deal expiring at the end of the season, it felt almost imperative to have him sign a new deal. He was the player of the year, he was named in PFA teams of the year…the fans dressed as super heroes for the last game of the season in tribute to him, ‘Super’ Kevin Phillips. It was simple. Give him two years and he’d sign.

But we didn’t do it.

A contract was offered of one year, with an option of a second year only being given if Phillips played in 19 games. No guarantee. It was turned down. Birmingham City offered two years, back in the Championship, and he took it.

In a way, I really admired that decision. It showed that it was about more than just the Premier League for him. He just wanted to play, and he wanted to play for another two seasons at least. I’m of the opinion that, had we offered the second year as a guarantee, Phillips would have signed and probably have gone on to retire at the Albion. In the space of two years, Kevin Phillips had completely bought in to the club. Even today, interviews show how much the Albion mean to him.

I would have loved to have seen Phillips play for Albion in the Premier League under Mowbray. I remember reading that Mowbray was equally disappointed that it never happened. There’s still a part of me that thinks Phillips would have played the 19 games and would have got that second year…but I could understand why he wouldn’t risk it.

To this day, the refusal to offer a basic two year contract stands high on my list of things that have frustrated me about Albion in my lifetime (perhaps a blog for another day). The fact he would go on to spend two (and a bit) seasons at Birmingham, including time in the Premier League, just heightens the feeling. But the fact I could feel so frustrated, so upset, at losing a player turning 35 just shows how good he was.

Kevin Phillips joined Albion with an air of interest, excitement and a tinge of doubt. He went on to score 46 goals in 81 games. He helped the team win the league. He got the club to the FA Cup Semi Final. He loved scoring against Wolves (I couldn’t leave that out). He left the Albion as a hero.

Super Kevin Phillips. The best striker I’ve ever seen play for Albion.

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A Retrospective Look: Lukaku At The Albion

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There was a moment on transfer deadline day in 2013 where I thought, along with several others, that the unthinkable was about to happen. Albion were going to re-sign Romelu Lukaku on loan for another season.

News filtered through on Twitter – I even remember Stan Collymore (I know…), who worked at Talk Sport at the time, tweeting that he had signed for Albion. He wrote it in block capitals. I remember jumping up and going “Oh my God! Brilliant! Yes!” as if Albion had scored a goal.

But isn’t it just like the Albion to get it wrong?

Lukaku joined Everton, and Albion signed Victor Anichebe. It was like going out and saying, “Tonight I’m buying a brand new Aston Martin” but then coming home with a second hand Skoda. It’ll still get you from A to B, but it’s nowhere near as glamorous and it’s probably going to break down two or two hundred times along the way.

It capped a pretty dreadful transfer window at the club – arguably the start of a deterioration within the club as we failed to capitalise on a great opportunity to establish ourselves as a steady Premier League team – and the season that followed was a nightmare. Steve Clarke, who needed some luck, couldn’t get anything and ended up being sacked. Pepe Mel came in and got a cult like status for really very little. And following that came Irvine and Pulis. The Albion gradually moving backwards and the idea of having a player like Lukaku at the club growing more and more like a pipe dream.

But once upon a time, it did happen. Romelu Lukaku was sent on loan to the Albion from Chelsea to help aid his development and add a bit of quality to the Albion’s attack.

Aged only 19 years old, Lukaku came to the club having only played 10 league games for Chelsea without actually scoring. That stat didn’t really matter, though. It was well known that at Anderlecht Lukaku had made a name for himself as a strong, fast centre forward with a good eye for goal. He looked ahead of his years at Anderlecht, resulting in Chelsea paying good money for a teenager and seeing him picked for the Belgium squad at the age of 16. There was a real air of excitement about the Hawthorns.


His debut came in the first game of the season at home against Liverpool – a game that would later become famous for Brendan Rodgers and his envelopes – coming on as a second half substitute and scoring a header in a surprise 3-0 victory. It was a great way to start, and had fans believing that the hype was real…but Lukaku could rarely break in to the starting line up. Instead, Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long were preferred.

The 2012/13 season started off brilliantly for the club, and by the end of November the club found themselves sat fourth in the league, occupying a Champions League spot heading in to December. It was a real “pinch me” moment for the Albion faithful. Totally unexpected, the team were flying, and even when the club had dropped to seventh by the end of December it still felt like a dream. It felt like ‘little’ West Brom had arrived.

Then came the January transfer window and the saga of Peter Odemwingie and the QPR car park. Things were never the same after it, and form dropped massively. The incident with Odemwingie (who had now also started arguing with fans over Twitter) resulted in him being dropped from the starting 11, leaving a gap for Lukaku, who had previously mainly featured as a sub.

And this is when we saw what he was capable of.

Eleven goals in the second half of the season, resulting in him becoming the highest Premier League goalscorer in Albion’s history. His last actions at the club being an incredible hat-trick in the unforgettable 5-5 draw against Manchester United, Alex Ferguson’s final game.

The second half of the season, and that hat-trick, cemented Lukaku as a massive fan favourite. He had the buy-in of the crowd already, but stepping in as a heroic figure, as such, following the ‘betrayal’ of Odemwingie secured him a status afforded to few at The Hawthorns. He deserved it, too.

In interviews it was clear just how much of a perfectionist Lukaku was; he was articulate, critical of his own performances and always looking at how to improve. He had a determination that was clear in the way he played and the way he carried himself. Despite being so young it felt like he had more about him than some of the older players at the time.

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I remember when I first saw Lukaku play at The Hawhorns and I was struck by his size and speed. For a guy that looked so big, he moved so well…but he was raw. The potential clearly there, but it wasn’t fulfilled yet. Of course it wasn’t, he was playing for Albion. His first touch often let him down, but if he got the chance to hold the ball then you felt that something could happen. His size intimidated defenders and, at the time, the Albion had some good players who could help him out up top. The team posed a threat.

It was easy to see why he was a bit part player in the first half of the season. Peter Odemwingie was superb for the club – it’s still such a shame it ended the way it did – and Shane Long was a brilliant partner for him. The team were performing so well, it would have made little sense to alter things to make space each week for him. But, in a way, this is where part of the problem comes when looking at Lukaku at Albion.

There is no doubt that as a player he improved as the season progressed. That raw, powerful striker at the start of the season had turned in to a solid, ‘too-good-really-to-be-at-Albion’ striker…but his form came as the rest of the team fell apart. The final 18 games of the season from January onward saw Albion lose 10 games and win only four. Of those four wins, Lukaku scored in all of them.

An argument is sometimes made that the majority of Lukaku’s 17 goals meant very little over the season – even amongst the four wins it’s argued that his goal against Liverpool was a second in stoppage time where Albion were already 1-0 up and his goal against Southampton was the second in a 3-0 win…potentially these games were already won.

What feels odd is that a team drops in form, but the key striker rises to prominence. It’s very rare that a striker will grab the headlines for a team that continues to lose, but he did. And for that to happen, in a way, demonstrated how good he was becoming. Romelu Lukaku was a bright light in a very dark end to a season.

When that final game of the season came round, and Alex Ferguson came to the Hawthorns with his Manchester United team for his last game I felt the writing was on the wall. We’d been beat 4-0 the week before by Norwich, we couldn’t buy a result. United would want to leave on a high. Ferguson would want to leave on a high. With the game at 5-2 to United after 80 minutes, it felt like it would only go one way.

It didn’t.

Lukaku saved his best for last. Having already scored Albion’s second, he popped up with two in five minutes and helped Albion finish the game 5-5. This was a player that had well and truly landed. It felt like he knew this was his big opportunity, and I don’t think any other player in the world would have had the same impact.

It left me feeling like we’d seen someone special play in the blue and white stripes. We’d watched a young boy with bags of potential join, and in that last game seen his potential become fulfilled. It felt like we’d been on a journey with him and, I think, that’s why so many of the Albion fans still hold him so close to their heart. This felt like a feel good story and we were a big part of that story. We all invested in to that story. I also think it’s why Lukaku still holds the Albion in such high regard. He came with a point to prove…and, by the end, he did it.

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Watching him now, it’s interesting to see how much he has changed. I don’t see the love for the game in him so much at Manchester United…the style of play just doesn’t look to suit him as much as it should…but also, the perfectionist aspect of his character doesn’t feel as prominent as it once did. Where, at Albion, you could sense he strived to improve, it now sometimes feels like he’s just there. His first touch still lets him down too much, and his goal scoring form has started to drop. There are rumours that he may be sold this Summer, and I hope it happens. As a football fan, and as a fan of the player, I’d like nothing more than to see a truly fired up Romelu Lukaku again.

In a different world, that fired up player could have had another year at The Hawthorns. His rise in form giving massive reason to be hugely excited at the prospect of seeing him at the club for another year. It wasn’t to be. Stan Collymore lied to me (I was foolish to believe him in the first place), I celebrated for no reason.

But I’ll always be grateful we got to see the young Lukaku play for the Albion. The majority of his goals may have meant little in the grand scheme of things, his form may have peaked as the team began to drop…but it felt like we had a player of importance. It felt like we had something special. It felt like we had an attraction.

And, at the end of the day, it’s those type of players we want to see, and those type of players we end up remembering.

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A Hero, A Fallen Idol – My Trouble With Morrissey

As a teenager you’re almost molded by the people around you and by the people you look up to and I was no different. Many of the views I held were founded by my idols…they put the idea in my head and I carried them on, such is the way. A massive voice to me, one of my biggest idols, was Morrissey.

There were certain parts to Morrissey that I couldn’t quite grasp – example, for as much as I am always moved by ‘Meat Is Murder’, I’ve not felt the urge to become vegetarian – but for the most part, I found many of his opinions to be one’s I could approve of. I was never a Royalist, and hearing “The Queen Is Dead” was confirmation that I could never be a Royalist. Seems daft, really, but that’s how it was. I also read his views of Thatcher and Tory Britain and became moved by how against it all he was. Manchester was not a place to be during Thatcher’s time, and Morrissey made that clear. I started to read up on the politics and, starting from his outspoken views of Thatcher, I found my political leaning.

The biggest thing for me with Morrissey was, and always will be, his lyrics. I absorbed them. He was singing words that sounded like they were made for me, words that resonated so much and so well that the emotional connect was like no other. I loved Morrissey, and this was real love – his lyrics changed my life. How many people have that sort of impact on you?

From his interviews, I started to delve in to the works of authors he discussed. Oscar Wilde is an author that I maybe wouldn’t have taken to as much if not for Morrissey. As it turned out, Morrissey talking about Wilde got me interested in him and I was genuinely excited for the fact that I got to study Wilde at university. It was this love of Wilde that played part in me wanting my son to be called Oscar. But the love of Wilde may not have existed were it not for Morrissey.

My first moment of conflict with Morrissey came through an NME interview. The front page had the heading “Bigmouth Strikes Again. Oh Dear, Not Again…”, and featured a quote saying, “The gates of England are flooded. The country’s been thrown away.” The slant was that Morrissey was racist and opposed to immigrants. I read the interview and felt that, with context, it didn’t read like that (it just seemed that he was saying some immigration is good but it should be controlled) but, overall, the interview displayed beliefs that were no longer intertwined with mine. The idol, my idol, was drifting somewhere else and it was to a place I couldn’t go.

As it was, Morrissey ended up getting an apology from the NME for that article and that cover. I remember reading at the time and having people question me on him, declaring Morrissey as racist due to songs like “The National Front Disco” and “Bengali In Platforms” – but I never saw those songs as anything more than Morrissey, an expert writer, writing from the perspective of another person. When he sang “England for the English”, I saw it as writing as a character. Did I think Morrissey believed that? No.

The real tipping point for me came in 2011. News flooded in of an awful terrorist attack in Norway, with 76 people – mostly children – killed by far right extremist Anders Breivik. It was truly horrific. And then Morrissey compared it all to the slaughter of animals for McDonald’s and KFC. “That is nothing compared to what happens in McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Shit every day.” I was appalled.

I’d always respected Morrissey’s veganism, and understood his view of “Meat is Murder”. Or, at least, I thought I did. For if that view ultimately leads you to believe that the ‘murder’ of chickens is comparable to the murder of children…I just can’t understand that. I certainly can’t agree with it. Suddenly, for the first time, I found myself unable to defend him.

Despite this, I still had his music. Nothing could take that away from me. And when Morrissey’s autobiography came out it was essential that I had it. The autobiography was, I thought, brilliant. Some of it incredibly quotable. Not an easy read at times – the joys of no chapters – but it was enthralling. If nothing else, ‘Autobiography’ reignited the love. He’d messed up with his comments on the Norway attack. We all make mistakes, don’t we?

Time moves forward, Brexit becomes topic. I voted remain, and truly believe that remaining in the EU is better for the UK, but I accept that not everybody will feel that way. When it comes to politics I like to hear all opinions. I think there are points to be heard for every side and I think that, as a people, we should be prepared to listen to the opposition and be prepared to change our minds if the opposite argument is actually valid. However, I’m also a firm believer in research. And through research I discovered more than enough to understand that Nigel Farage is not the voice for me. It broke my heart somewhat when Morrissey declared that he liked Nigel Farage “a great deal” and then put his weight behind Brexit. It felt like a defeat. But this is politics, we can’t all be the same, and it’s his right to have his own views and beliefs…but then he defended Tommy Robinson, and you start to question where his beliefs come from.

Tommy Robinson, former leader of the EDL. A man known for targeting Muslims and other minorities. A criminal that incites racial tension. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. And then, in the same piece, Morrissey declared support for For Britain, a far right political group that are Islamophobic and made up of former EDL and BNP MEMBERS. And why? Because of animal rights, apparently. But, deeper than that, is the real possibility of something more. When I read Morrissey’s interview and the answer, “Halal slaughter requires certification that can only be given by supporters of ISIS, and yet in England we have halal meat served in hospitals and schools! UK law is pointless!” I was gobsmacked. It screamed ignorance. Whether you agree with the act of Halal meat is one thing – to say that those that follow Halal are all ISIS supporters (at a time when ISIS were incredibly present), was incredibly offensive and an insanely unfair comment. Morrissey is a smart man, and he will know what those sort of comments will do. It’s fine him now saying he “loves his Muslim friends”, but those comments feed on the people that, like me, had their views molded by him. For some, they’re blinded by it – his words are gospel – and this ignorance will, sadly, be ignored.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. He claimed, in the same interview, that Hitler was left wing and that the word ‘racist’ was meaningless. His argument being that “When someone calls you racist, what they are saying is ”hmm, you actually have a point, and I don’t know how to answer it, so perhaps if I distract you by calling you a bigot we’ll both forget how enlightened your comment was.“” It was evasive, and it’s a common escape route for people in far right groups that are challenged. It turns those calling out racism in to attackers, rather than victims, for example.

With Morrissey now openly wearing a ‘For Britain’ badge, the controversy starts again. But this now isn’t new, this is just old. It pains me beyond belief to say that Morrissey, an idol and a hero of mine, is so far detached from the man I loved for singing “it takes guts to be gentle and kind” that I just don’t feel the ‘love’ anymore, or maybe I do, just “slightly less than I used to”.

But, vitally, where the love of the man has declined and gone, the love of the music remains.

I was discussing Morrissey after the image of him wearing the ‘For Britain’ badge appeared online and the question was put to me – “How can you listen to his music and not think about him and the things he stands for?”

It’s a good question. He is standing for the complete opposite of my beliefs now, some of which genuinely upset me. I viewed him as a hero, but would struggle to now. So how do I look past it? For me, it’s about separating the art from the artist, and allowing the meaning that the art has for me be the leading factor.

One of my favourite films is ‘American Beauty’. I also love ‘Seven’. Kevin Spacey is, obviously, a main actor in both. His alleged acts of sexual abuse won’t stop me enjoying those films. It doesn’t mean that I support him. I just don’t view the characters as ‘Kevin Spacey’.

With Morrissey, it’s even easier. I don’t need to think about Morrissey when I listen to his music. For me, as the listener, I now own those songs. ‘Asleep’, ‘This Charming Man’, ‘Life Is A Pigsty’…those songs belong to me. How? Because of the meaning I have put to them. The emotional connection I have between myself and the songs is purely that – it’s between me and the music. I’ve created my own personal meaning behind them that doesn’t need to link to Morrissey. And that’s simply how I continue to love the music of the man, whilst continuing to no longer agree with him. I know that won’t be for everyone, but the songs mean too much for me to just let them go.

And, finally, if nothing else…you can always think of Johnny Marr.

Disappointment, Frustration and Hope – Doing An Albion

My first taste of an Albion Villa derby came 21 years ago, 1998, in the FA Cup. Managed by Denis Smith, it was a very different time to be an Albion fan compared to what it’s like now. After starting the 97/98 season quite brightly under Ray Harford, the season would eventually peter out after he left to join QPR and Smith could only manage to get to 10th in the league.

I remember when the FA Cup draw was made and we were drawn against Villa my Dad, far more than me, was massively excited. This was the rivalry of his childhood. For my generation we had grown up to despise Wolves, but for my Dad it was all about Villa. This was the first time we’d faced them in 8 years. You could tell that this meant something else.

The day came. I remember that I was kitted out in an Albion tracksuit (the kind of thing an 11 year old can get away with but now, as a 32 year old…not a chance), Dad had his Albion shirt on. Our team had the likes of Alan Miller in goal, Lee Hughes and Andy Hunt up front, Kevin Kilbane and Richard Sneekes in midfield…Shaun Murphy and Shane Nicholson in defence…and we were up against a strong Villa that had Dwight Yorke, Stan Collymore, Gareth Southgate and Ian Taylor in. My Dad and I knew it would be tough to get a result but you’ve always got hope and…

4-0. We were destroyed. Simon Grayson opened the scoring early, Yorke scored two in quick succession and then Collymore (obviously him…it had to be him…) finished it off. A day to forget. We hoped, maybe one day, we could get out revenge. At the time, the play offs were in our sights but it didn’t happen and we wouldn’t see Villa again for a few years.

At that time we used to go to the Midland Red Social Club in Quinton every Saturday (I don’t think it exists anymore). It was populated by Birmingham and Villa fans, few Albion in there and perhaps some silent Wolves. I went still in my Albion tracksuit. I remember my Dad saying to me during the night that he was proud that I was still wearing the colours even though we’d been thrashed to which I replied something along the lines of “well, they need the support more than ever now and I’m still proud to be an Albion fan”.

A full 21 years later and that stance has always remained, albeit tested on several occasions. The tracksuits don’t exist anymore for me, even the shirts have become more “laze around the house” attire, but the love for the club has always been able to fight through and remain, even at the times when I’ve really felt like giving it up.

Since 1998, times at the Albion have changed dramatically. In 98, the thought of sneaking in to the play offs and getting promoted was like a pipe dream. Unimaginable, almost. But we finally got there, and for some time we actually established ourselves as a decent, if unspectacular, Premier League team. A succession of years of bad management, from top to bottom, has seen the club drop back down in to the Championship and now facing the play offs, with Villa being our semi final opponents.

When I think back to how I felt as an 11 year old thinking about Albion, and compare it to now, the difference is huge. I fell out with the club, and refused to go to the Hawthorns at all, during the Tony Pulis years. For me football had always been about the enjoyment, more than anything else really, and I felt we sacrificed that in hiring Pulis just hoping that he’d be able to keep us just afloat in the Premier League. Even thinking to that 1998 team, when we were far from great, we had players that made it entertaining – Hughes, Sneekes, Kilbane, Hunt all had the ability to make you leave a game and feel like you’d witnessed something good. Under Pulis, we had better players, but played a style that nullified them (for an example, look at Rondon at Newcastle and compare to the Rondon that played for Pulis) and just made it so boring.

After Pulis and the shambles that was Alan Pardew, the club went back to one of their icons, Darren Moore. In the space of a year, my connection with the club had grown back. Moore made the club feel like it’s old self again, brought that connection with the fans back and made me care again. Ultimately it never worked out for Moore and he was dismissed. It was a sacking that pained me more than any other, even though I felt it was the right call. I wanted Moore to succeed. I wanted him to be the one to take us up and move the club forward. I wanted him to help turn me back in to that 11 year old kid, excited about the Albion even when we lost. I had missed that feeling…Moore got it back.

Then the frustration. More mismanagement. The sacking of Moore did make sense results wise, but the sacking of Moore with no succession plan was, and is, beyond naive. It’s foolish, and it puts the club in limbo. It also alters the way in which the club can be perceived – compared to the other three teams in the play offs this year, we stand out as a team that doesn’t seem to have a plan. If we go up, James Shan will have an undeniably brilliant record of results as caretaker – is it really that unlikely that the club could decide to do the same with Shan as they did with Moore and promote him? Likewise, if we fail, is it really that unlikely that the club could decide to stick with Shan because it’d be a far cheaper alternative than looking elsewhere and “he knows the club”? This isn’t meant as a dig at Shan, but it is laughable, really, that a club potentially 3 games away from promotion doesn’t know who their manager is for after those 3 games. It’s even worse when you’re already thinking the club will probably get it wrong when they make a final decision, too.

And this is the biggest frustration with Albion. We had a chance to really reset this year, but have failed to do so. Although it’s been more exciting this season, performance has been poor most of the time and we’ve been reliant on a great strike force. It pains me to think that several of the issues we face as a club come from planning…and you can look over the years, back to Steve Clarke’s last Summer in charge, perhaps even further, and see that it is planning that hurts us most. This season we’ve struggled defensively…but in Craig Dawson (a player I’ve generally always liked) we have a defender that doesn’t want to be at the club and promotion, essentially, hinders his chances of a move away – we should have sold him last Summer – and then you look at, say, the decision to loan out Allan Nyom but have no plan to replace with another right back. Poor decisions. In hindsight, the last Premier League season, paying the ridiculous wages for Krychowiak and Sturbridge, Chadli and so on, have bitten us. If we don’t go up this year the potential for implosion next year is massive because we will absolutely have to sell to make amends, but we won’t get the money we may have got the year prior for the likes of Dawson and Rodriguez, for example.

But then comes the thing with football, and the Albion. Despite the poor planning, despite the frustration, despite the poor defending and performances, we finished fourth and are now two games away from Wembley, three games away from the Premier League. My heart says we can do it. My head says we need to do it but I don’t think we’re consistent enough. But this is football, and the heart will always override.

In a week that saw the impossible completed by Liverpool and Tottenham, it gives all fans hope. The unlikeliest of results are always possible. We go to Villa Park on Saturday as the unfancied team, in my opinion. Villa have ended the season in brilliant form. They have some of the best players in the league. They are a good team. But so are we. There has to be belief.

For all the frustration, the anger…the Albion are my club, and I have to believe things will go well. Although I have supported Albion long enough to know that, if we can, we will find a way to mess it up. We call it “doing an Albion” in our house.

21 years ago, my Dad was excited because we had Villa in the cup. Now, we have them in the play offs. I’m excited, I’m nervous and I’m absolutely dreading it. We’ve made up for that 4-0 drubbing in 1998 on a fair few occasions in recent years but none would make up for it more than beating them over two legs now. A few good results will make me forget all the frustrations…even if only for a few weeks…and it will mean everything.

The nail biting has already started. The anxiousness has kicked in. But deep down I can’t wait.

Now, I just wait and I hope. Hope that we do it. And, most of all, hope that we don’t “do an Albion”.

Our Secret Tongues

An admission: I had never given Frightened Rabbit much time until Scott Hutchison was found dead. They were a band that I’d heard of, a band that several of my favourite bands and artists discussed as well as friends and fellow posters on Facebook groups I am on…but, for whatever reason, I never gave them a chance until Scott went missing.

Since that awful day in May 2018, and particularly over the past few months, Frightened Rabbit have taken over my life somewhat. Not since Biffy Clyro or The Smiths have I listened to a band and felt an emotional connection like the one I do with Frightened Rabbit. They’re a special band, and Scott Hutchison was a special song writer.

My first sample of Frightened Rabbit came a couple of years before Scott’s passing. An indie compilation I’d downloaded featured the song ‘Holy’ – a brilliant song – but, as is the way with many compilations, it became background music to me. The compilation album was one to go on if people were round or housework was being done.

Looking back, that was a bit of a travesty. ‘Holy’ has become a go-to song for me, one that contains lyrics that I relate to massively – particularly if I think to years gone by. The final refrain in the song feels like it was written for me…I just found it a couple of years too late:

I don’t mind being lonely, so leave me alone
Are you, oh, so holy, that I’ll never be good enough
Don’t care if I’m lonely, ’cause it feels like home
I won’t ever be holy, thank God I’m full of holes.”

This is now a very constant theme between Frightened Rabbit, Scott Hutchison’s lyrics and me. I find I relate to them so much that I’m moved by their music more than I’ve been moved by music in some years. For many others this is also the case. Scott’s lyrics speak to people, connect with people and they offer comfort.

Scott Hutchison suffered with depression, an illness that he openly discussed in interviews and through his lyrics. Some people may argue that other bands and artists have written about depression and anxiety and they’d be right, but with Scott it was a bit different. This guy was baring his soul regularly and in doing so he was doing two things. He was opening a connect to those that suffer with depression and anxiety, and he was also displaying that it’s okay to talk about these things. It’s important. It’s also important to have a male role model voicing this because there have not been enough voices.

A look on the Samaritans website shows desperate statistics around suicide. In the UK, men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women (in Ireland its four times more likely to be a man). In Scotland, suicide rates in young men in 2017 had increased for the third year in a row. There are many reasons why a person may feel that suicide is the only option, even if those reasons don’t seem logical to everybody else. I’ve discussed on this blog before that suicide is an end to an illness that someone hasn’t recovered from and I still believe that, but it doesn’t need to be that way. With men there is still that macho culture whereby a stigma exists against mental health and I’ve even witnessed when other men have mocked people for being depressed. The end result of this is that it leads to other men being hesitant in discussing their illness, their issues, and ultimately leads to an increase in drastic final actions. Where else do they go if they’re ashamed to seek out help and, more importantly, how much worse will those men that suffer feel by feeling that, on top of everything, they should be ashamed of themselves for feeling like they can’t go on? This is why people like Scott Hutchison are so important – he’s opened doors, encouraging men to talk, showing that we shouldn’t be ashamed to feel that way.

However, it wasn’t enough for Scott. He used his Twitter account to write, “Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given. I’m so annoyed that it’s not. I didn’t live by that standard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones.” and a final, “I’m away now. Thanks.”. Three days later, Scott was found on the banks of the Firth of Forth dead. He was 36. His light had gone out, and for many people that voice was gone.

I remember at the time reading one person argue that Scott’s death showed that talking had little impact for depression but to think that is to look at depression in the wrong light. If a person with cancer dies it doesn’t mean that every person with that cancer will also die, it just means that, sadly, the illness beat the other person. Medication works better for some than others. It’s the same with depression…it needs to be viewed as an illness to understand it, and it needs to be understood that what works for one doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for the other. By talking a person takes a first step to trying to find a way to recover. Talking is the start, and that’s something men have not been comfortable doing. It’s why Scott helped so many others, even if ultimately he couldn’t save himself. He allowed others to feel they could take that first step. When Scott sang about speaking in “our secret tongue” in the song, “The Woodpile”, I have always tried to interpret it as a way of expressing opening up about emotions. The things people don’t talk about, the feelings that we so often keep secret.

In retrospect, listening to Frightened Rabbit is sometimes incredibly difficult. The song ‘Floating In The Forth’ is about suicide and even poses the question, “is there peace beneath the roar of the Forth Road bridge?” which is haunting when considering where Scott was found 10 years later. One of my favourite songs, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”, is also quite haunting to listen to when you consider the lyrics…but it would be unfair to focus on Frightened Rabbit and Scott’s lyrics just for that.

The magic of Frightened Rabbit, the power of Scott’s lyrics, are that they give you hope. The lyric many go to now, from the song ‘Head Rolls Off’, is “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth”. Everybody will have their own interpretation of these words but, for me, I listen to that song and think about it stressing the importance of making the most of what we have, and doing what we can to make an impact. Much like I found myself connecting to The Smiths and feeling comfort because they made me feel “not alone”, Frightened Rabbit have the same effect…but lyrics like “make tiny changes…” give a motivation that Morrissey’s lyrics don’t. They give you hope that there is a meaning. There is more.

I found Frightened Rabbit some years too late, but it hasn’t lessened their impact. They are one of the most important bands of the past decade but not many will know them, which is a complete injustice.

The ending may have been sad, but Scott’s lyrics and words live on. They remain important. They still give hope. They still give comfort. They’ll still help countless people.

And, at the end of the day, that’s how Scott Hutchison “made tiny changes to Earth” – he made other men feel like they could talk about their battles and demons. Although he couldn’t save himself he saved many others.

(Click here to watch the music video for their song “Head Rolls Off” – and then, please, dig further and listen to more.)