Thanks For The Memories – An (almost) Retrospective Look At Chris Brunt

SOCCER - EFL - Sky Bet Championship English Football League - West Bromwich Albion v Stoke City

The Madejski Stadium isn’t one that’s been favourable to West Bromwich Albion over the years. It’s one of those grounds where the form book always seems to fly out of the window and one of those grounds where, even if Albion are winning 2-0 with 10 minutes left…there’s a feeling that Reading may still win 3-2.

On Saturday 16th February 2016, the Madejski Stadium is the venue for the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Reading and Albion. Reading, in the Championship, have been inconsistent all year, while Albion are doing fairly well in the Premier League. For most on the outside, the expectation was an Albion win. For the most ardent Albion fans? We’ve been here before. The league tables do lie, sometimes.

After an uneventful first half, Albion take the lead in the second. Could it be? Could Albion finally get that win – their first since 1995 – against Reading?

No. Of course not. It’s Albion. It ends 3-1 to Reading, Albion out of the FA Cup.

There was understandable frustration. This period at the club felt like a time when a cup run could happen; a real possibility of maybe, just maybe, having a go at some silverware. The fans were unhappy. Chris Brunt heads over to the away fans to give his shirt away and say thanks to those that travelled down to London to watch them when one of the darker moments of Albion’s recent history happens.

A fan throws a coin at Brunt, hitting him in the face just below his eye. Brunt, in his ninth season at the club, reacts angrily. Fans scuffle amongst each other. Some argue with Chris Brunt, some tussle amongst themselves. Darren Fletcher ends up having to pull Brunt away. The focus of the game is no longer the result, but a shameful act from a supporter to a loyal player…a player responsible for several brilliant memories in the years before.

The response from the majority of Albion fans matched that of Brunt. He spoke after the game saying he was “disgusted” and “ashamed”, said that he wouldn’t want his children to be around that environment. Fans worked to try to help identify the person that threw the coin. But they also did something else.

The next league game was against Crystal Palace. Buckets were in place asking for Albion fans to throw in some loose change. Over £4,500 was raised and then given to Chris Brunt for him to donate to whichever charities he saw fit. A fan movement, a way to say sorry. A rarity in football. The worst of us seemed to bring out the best.


Even back then, four years ago, the fans appreciated that Chris Brunt was somewhat different to the usual player. In his ninth season, may understood that the loyalty he had shown was no longer seen so much in the modern game…he was as much Albion as some of those sitting in the stands. Perhaps even more than some.

I remember when Brunt joined the Albion. A Sheffield Wednesday fan spoke to me about how great he was, commenting that he had an amazing left foot. I personally didn’t know too much about him other than that quick review…I was more impressed by the signing of Jimmy Morrison, another who would go on to stay at the club for a long time.

Brunt’s first season was a spectacular one at the Albion. Tony Mowbray’s team were playing fantastic free flowing attacking football; the midfield were immense, the strikers phenomenal…the defence…well, it was there…but we were on fire. The season prior ended with Play Off Final heartbreak against Derby and then a mass clearout. The feeling amongst many fans was that we’d blown our chance but, in reality, Mowbray was making the changes he wanted. The 2007/08 season resulted in Albion getting to the FA Cup Semi Final and then winning the Championship.

The match that effectively sealed promotion is a key moment in the history of Chris Brunt at the Albion. Southampton, struggling in the league, visited the Hawthorns on a night where anything other than defeat would see Albion either confirmed as promoted or ‘as good as’ promoted. Albion do what Albion do and, in a season where they’ve scored for fun, can’t fid the back of the net. The game rolls on and Southampton take the lead in the 77th minute. Groans all round…”typical Albion”.

The team continue to throw players forward and create chances when eventually a cross comes over towards Luke Moore…but it goes past him and lands at the feet of Chris Brunt, who came on as a sub halfway through the second half. Brunt steadies it, hits it with his left foot…pandemonium. The equaliser, the goal that effectively sealed promotion and the first Chris Brunt ‘moment’. If he’d have only had that season at the club, his name would have been written in the history books. As it is, he’s now finishing his 13th season, his final one at the Albion.


Thirteen seasons that have seen two promotions and two relegations, 417 games, 48 goals, countless assists and chances created. Thirteen seasons that have seen spectacular free kicks and long range goals. Thirteen seasons that have seen 10 different managers (excluding the caretaker managers). Thirteen seasons that have seen the club sign 75 players and sell or release 94 players. Thirteen seasons that have seen Chris Brunt be a major part of the club for the majority of it.

That goal against Southampton is always one of the moments I remember most in football, but you could easily take a pick of Brunt moments…the free kick against Everton, for example. The screamer against Villa. The 40 yard goal against Middlesbrough.

Or, you could look off the pitch. The work he has done with the Albion Foundation has been superb. The stories out there for the way in which he interacts with fans are examples of how good and modest a man he is. I’ve read snippets of examples of acts that he carried out for a family going through a period of massive grief.

Chris Brunt isn’t just another player. He’s one of us.


I remember when Brunt joined the club, not long after Morrison, it was Morrison that excited me the most. He was he player I wanted to see at the club. The Albion were incredibly fortunate enough to land two players that showed immense loyalty and saw both complete 12 and 13 years service. But the feeling around Brunt leaving is so different to the emotion felt over Morrison.

Morrison was a great player, another with several moments etched in the history of the club, but it never felt the same for me. Injuries plagued him towards the end and consistency was not always there. He clearly cared, but (and perhaps this is just because of the type of player he was) I never felt it was the same passion and emotion as Chris Brunt. You saw that passion in Brunt, he wore his heart on his sleeve, and I think that’s another reason why seeing him leave the club will hurt more than most.

It’s not always been easy for Brunt. Over the years, there have been many times where fans have said that his time is up. Arguably, they were right. It pained me to see Brunt moved to left back under Tony Pulis but, as time goes by, I understand why he did it. There have been times since Pulis was sacked where I’ve even wondered whether Brunt should have been picked at left back…but it wastes his key attribute, his passing, and leaves him open to so much critique as the game has got faster and, unfortunately, age does slow you down.


This season, Brunt’s final one at the club, has only seen him feature in a handful of games. It’s a factor that will have no doubt played on his mind when considering the future, regardless of whatever Albion decided to do with his contract come the end of the season. Yet, despite the fact he’s barely featured, he’s a player that so many want to celebrate on the final game.

A banner currently sits in the Brummie Road End saying “Thank You Brunty” – it’s a far cry from the coin throwing incident, and a show of how much he means to the fans. Twitter has started to become awash with Albion fans changing their profile pictures to images of Chris Brunt – many actually pictures they’ve had with the man. Even those that have been critical of him in recent years are appreciating him. There is a real understanding that every one of us knows – every football fan knows.

We won’t get another like him.

Chris Brunt loves the Albion…there is no doubt about it. There will be 20 year olds going to the Albion that won’t be able to remember much of a time without Chris Brunt at the Albion. To many, Chris Brunt IS Albion…and it will be a sad day watching him go.


The final game of his first season at the club, the game that followed Southampton and THAT goal, was against QPR. A free kick on the edge of the area, he took it and scored to make it 2-0 and put confirmation on Albion becoming champions. On Wednesday, we face QPR with a chance to gain promotion. The romantic in me clamours for a final Chris Brunt goal, a third promotion, the perfect farewell. The Albion fan in me, naturally, fears the worst.

But, whatever happens, I hope we do get one last sight of Brunt in an Albion shirt…and I hope Wednesday is the last time we ever see him in one. In this case, more than any other I can think of, he deserves that moment.

Thirteen seasons. Many memories. One Chris Brunt.

Thank you, and good luck.

brunt trophy


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It’s easy to change a profile picture and write a hashtag…but it will take more than that to change anything.

I spent a great portion of my younger life growing up in a large multicultural area – an upbringing that gave me a good understanding of race…but also a good understanding of racism.

I can look back and think of friends that came out with things like “if she wasn’t black she’d be quite fit but I just don’t like black girls” and say that I deeply regret never challenging those people back then. For not challenging, it means I was complicit. It’s a guilt I have, a guilt I must own and a guilt I have to learn from…and, I think, I’ve done a lot to do that.

I will never know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of racism but I can make myself aware enough to see it and be willing to challenge it where I can.

Looking at what is happening in America is absolutely heartbreaking. And it’s ultimately very scary when you think it could easily happen here. There are still so many institutions that are blatantly rife with racism, there are still so many opportunities that are clearly blocked for black people – if you don’t believe me, look at football and black managers. Look at major business and count the number of black CEOs.

We live in an age where you can be lazy and still learn about racism and the history of racism in the States and the world. Sit on your sofa and watch 12 Years A Slave. Stick some headphones on and listen to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. It’s not hard to find a way to educate yourself that little bit more.

The looting and riots in the States are terrible. But these are the results of years of oppression, years of hate, years of anger and years of social and racial injustice. A footballer takes a knee and nothing changes. They march and nothing changes. So now they riot. They make noise. They get noticed. But the message begins to get lost and the division grows, driven on even more by their lunatic President. Trump will continue to push the narrative of the “thugs” on the streets, ignore the acts of police brutality we are seeing…and keep causing division. He stands with a Bible and preaches about the second amendment to get the support of a specific type of group…and they will be as far away from BAME as possible. It’s terrifying.

We are in a political landscape where, in this country, we seem happy to knowingly let our government lie to us and just carry on. Their response to the reaction to what is happening in the States is to postpone revealing information about Coronavirus and the higher death rates in the BAME community…and, even though they deny that information, Matt Hancock says “Black lives matter” and the rest of the country carries on. Equality, eh? How many outside of the BAME demographic actually care? Division exists.

It’s easy to change a profile picture. It’s easy to write a hashtag.

But, rather than do that, take an action. Do something that can bring change. Educate yourself. Educate your children. Listen to black voices. Talk to each other. Watch documentaries, read books, listen to music. Realise that black lives do matter…and move forward, together.

There surely would be no better way to pay tribute to the likes of George Floyd, Stephen Lawrence and countless others than by doing that. Together, as one.

A Sad Time – Some Rambling Thoughts

I feel like it would be almost remiss of me to not write about Coronavirus. As a planet we’re all fighting it and, as with Influenza (Spanish Flu, if you must), this is something we will see in history books in the future.

I’m normally pretty up to speed on news. I try to keep myself in the know. You can’t always catch everything, though, and the rise of Coronavirus was actually one thing I’d not noticed. In fact, the first time I heard of it I thought it was a joke. Even then, when I read up on it, I wouldn’t have predicted what has happened.

I apologise in advance for if this post is a bit all over the place…this is all just a bit off the cuff.

I work in food retail. Due to this, I’m now classed as a ‘key worker’ in the UK. Someone that, if my kids were old enough, could still send his kids to school. Someone that has to keep working. That’s fine. I agree with it. I totally understand it…people need food to live. People need to shop.

I’ve been off work this past week due to holiday time. The week prior was when panic buying started. When I finished up for the week on the Saturday I left saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” I was, and still am, incredibly proud of my team during this time and proud of my friends in other stores working equally as hard…this is absolutely unlike anything any of us have ever seen. I’ve been in retail for nigh on 15 years. Going in to the shops this week has been eye opening and has made me think that, potentially, I’ve ended up being off for the worst week of panic shopping.

But what will next week bring? Who knows? All the retailers have been asking shoppers to stop panic buying, think of others. They’ve put restrictions on. But people are still panic buying. People are still buying far more than they need to. Today’s government press conference included a member of the retail consortium. The message? Think of others and stop panic buying.

I fail to understand how that message will change public behaviour any more than retail bosses have by saying the same thing. The mentality of people now is “We need to get this before they run out”…not everybody would have been thinking that way but the behaviour of others will have definitely forced it. Even for myself, I sit here knowing depots have got stock – I know some of the plans that will be put in place…can probably guess at others – but I worry about things my kids need. Thoughts of “if I see the correct size nappies for them I’d best get them before they’re gone”…it’s fear, anxiety and panic not bought on by the retailers, but instead by the actions of the public as a whole. The government message today does nothing, really, to alter that.

I’ve found myself walking around the stores this week when I’ve been getting food and found myself on a few occasions feeling almost emotional. Massive greed and selfishness will have hurt people. When I am shopping and thinking about the food my kids like but those shelves are empty…what do you do? I feel fortunate that I’ve seen some great generosity this week otherwise, potentially, I’d also be panicking for the weeks ahead.

As I’ve stated before, I’ve been in retail for about 15 years…both food and clothing/home. In that time, I’ve had the chance to get to know so many people – people I wouldn’t normally talk to – and you get to see a side of humanity, both good and bad, that you don’t see in any other job sector. Looking at the bare, empty shelves has me thinking of a customer I used to serve years ago when I was a part time deli assistant. His name was John.

I have no idea if John is still alive. He was getting on a bit and clearly had some issues. He’d come in, pretty much, at the same time every day. Albert Einstein hair style, an old blue coat that had tears in it and patches of dirt. His facial expressions used to remind me of Wallace from Wallace and Gromit. Anyway, he’d come in every day and ask for “two slices of honey roast ham on one and a half. I don’t have a fridge so this way I don’t throw it away.” Every day. Without fail. I found John quite an interesting character. He had a good job before retiring, but once he retired he slipped. Clearly had signs of dementia, clearly very lonely. The trip to the shop was as much a social thing as it was a necessity for food.

I look at the shops now and think of John and the countless other John’s I’ve met, served and got to know over the years and it genuinely saddens me. It saddens me because I don’t know how he would survive. Food counters have shut to allow supply chains to focus on key deliveries – a correct decision – but for John that would probably mean spending more on pre-packed items. And, even then, it’s only if he could get it. I’ve noticed how, in several areas of stores, the cheaper and average priced items have all sold meaning only the expensive alternatives remain. If you shop at the wrong time, you’ll spend more and, probably, for less. For people like John…could they even afford that? I worry that, for those people, it won’t be Coronavirus that kills them…it’ll be malnutrition. And, again, it saddens me because that’s not the fault of the retailer as there is stock at depots…there was just no need to panic buy and put depots in a position whereby they simply can’t get enough of the stock out quick enough. We’ll undoubtedly see shoplifting increase, too, as people find only expensive alternatives and find they can’t afford it.

And what about when people do find themselves in a place of not being able to afford food? Food Banks? Well, no…because people aren’t donating. Some are being stolen from. Help from the banks? Unlikely, unless you’re a business affected by things. So, bankruptcy? Unpaid rents and rise in homelessness? Maybe. Anxiety? Depression? Further mental health issues? Most probably.

The behaviour of people has lead to this. That is why Supermarkets are now having to put in place designated hours for vulnerable people, NHS workers…but, the reality is that it should never have really needed to get to that point.

Even if the country goes in to lock down – which, you’d believe looking at others, it will – Supermarkets will still be open. I’ll still be going to work. People still need food. My brilliant team, myself and others will still be working to provide for the people. We have online deliveries. To repeat what the retail bosses, and the government, all say…there is no need to panic buy, there is a need to think about others.

But what is the answer? Honestly…I don’t know. We’re asking people to change. There is a likelihood that these past two weeks will change some people’s shopping habits for good, anyway. I don’t know what the future will look like.

Are the government doing enough? Again, I don’t know. Hand on heart, I couldn’t say if I think they’re doing the right things or not. I think today felt like a checklist press conference – a way to say, “we’ve talked about it.” I think offering to pay 80% to workers that find themselves out of work due to Coronavirus is admirable. I think the negligence to the self employed and zero hours contracted people – plumbers, freelance journalists, PR people, writers, musicians and so on – is shambolic. I think we’ve been slow to respond to the virus…still think there’s an element of people underestimating how serious it could be…but I think we’ve eventually got to doing the right things, such as closing pubs.

I still don’t think information on the virus itself is clear enough. We don’t do enough testing. How do you know the difference between a cold and the coronavirus? What makes a “persistent cough”?

I don’t pay for Spotify premium. Don’t really use it enough to warrant it, plus I love physical copies of CDs etc too much. But, during the Brexit talks, there were public service announcements about the changes coming. For Coronavirus, I’ve heard none at all.

We have to trust in those above us and believe they are doing the right thing by us…even if I think, you think, or anybody else thinks more could be done…we have to have faith in them.

And then we have to look at ourselves, too. We have to think about other people. Not just look at the news, read words online and say “That is a shame, isn’t it? How sad.” but seriously look at ourselves, our behaviours and ask if we are doing the right thing, too.

Eventually Coronavirus will pass on and go…but it is our actions that will dictate just how damaging this pandemic is for people in the years to come.

Wrestling For The People

Let me take you back to 1997. The WWF (as they were known back then) were due to be hosting their first UK show in years, ‘One Night Only’, in Birmingham. My home town. The headline match was Shawn Michaels vs The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith for the European Championship.

I’d started to get in to wrestling. It was having a bit of a revival and, aged 10, I was swept away by the characters. Larger than life, yet, at that age, completely believable. I was incredibly excited to find out that Shawn Michaels and The British Bulldog were doing a promo event at Birmingham Town Hall on August 31st…and my Dad was going to take me to it.

But, then…tragedy. Princess Diana dies in a car crash overnight. The country comes to a stand still. I still remember getting up early, seeing writing crawling across the bottom of the TV when watching Nickelodeon advising to put on the news and going to wake up my Mum and Dad to tell them. I look back now and think they must have been fuming with me for waking them up at 7am on a Sunday for that.

The Michaels and Bulldog event is postponed out of respect. My opportunity of seeing these people in real life is gone. Or so I think. A week later, they do the promo event in some run down industrial estate on the back of a van. From the Town Hall to that. All just to make sure the fans had that moment. That little bit of entertainment while promoting their event.

I remember when I saw The British Bulldog. He was massive. He looked more like a super hero than a real person. Even Shawn Michaels, regarded as fairly small in those days, looked huge. They were larger than life in character, larger than life in person.

The first match that truly got me addicted to the WWF was a few months prior to this event. It was at Wrestlemania 13. Bret Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin. They’d had quite a rivalry and this was the key moment in it. Hart entered as the babyface (good guy, for those not in to it) and Austin the heel (bad guy). It was a submission match, the winner would be whoever made the other quit. It was fast, it was hard hitting…it was incredible story telling.

In trying to win, being so desperate to win, Hart started to do things associated with heels. He used dirty tactics. Austin wouldn’t give up. He showed determination and grit. He kept getting up, kept going. The fans started to change tact. The final shot of the match was Bret Hart holding his sharpshooter finisher on Austin, Austin screaming in agony with blood pouring down his face…but he still never gave up. He passed out. The match was ended. Hart won, but Austin never quit. After the bell, Hart tried to attack Austin again…the crowd fully turned against him. The hero had become the villain, the villain became the hero.

Obviously, this is all planned. Whisper it quietly…but wrestling is fake. However, that really doesn’t matter. The story they told was unlike anything else. It was convincing, it felt real…and it created a superstar in Steve Austin.

It was the storytelling that got me hooked. I loved seeing how the stories unfolded and then how those stories transpired in to the ring. Austin would go on to have a legendary rivalry with the owner of the WWF, Vince McMahon. Disgruntled colleague vs terrible boss. It worked because so many people could relate to it. McMahon, when behind his people, would be abrasive to Austin…but when Austin broke through and got to him alone, he’d cower. Character based stories.

When they came to the UK for One Night Only, the British Bulldog was the champion. He got a heroes welcome due to being from England…Michaels, on the other hand, booed. In the end, through cheating, Michaels won and became European champion. The crowd threw bottles, programmes, food…Michaels (and the rest of his group) just fed off it. They embraced it. It was amazing heel work, amazing character work. As a viewer, you genuinely hated him…and he wanted you to.

I watched the WWF/WWE religiously in those days, starting to tail off from it all around 2004. I’d still buy the games – just always enjoyed them – but rarely, if ever, watched the shows. I’d normally just end up playing one of the games, feel nostalgic and seek out specific matches on YouTube.

Through doing that, I eventually got sucked back in to the world of sports entertainment and WWE. I became hooked on WhatCulture Wrestling’s YouTube channel…Adam Blampied, Adam Pacitti and others all created content I found hilarious…and also became almost addicted to Brian Zane’s YouTube channel, Wrestling With Wregret. I would watch list videos, get nostalgic over it all, and end up seeking out more videos of matches and promos. Before long, I started to pay more attention to the modern era of wrestling. Without really knowing it, I’d reached a point where I knew about every key character…without actually watching Raw or Smackdown. I still watch those YouTube channels now, along with Cultaholic and Inside The Ropes, and I would honestly recommend supporting them all.

It felt a bit like a dirty secret at first as I started to watch the WWE YouTube channel, watching every highlight video from the previous shows. I kept thinking, “I’m not a kid anymore…I should be past this”…but there I was, spending my days off watching recaps of shows. Now I look at it and think that, maybe, that’s why I watch it. It takes me back. That little bit of child left in me comes back to life when I watch WWE. I can forget about other things by watching something completely ridiculous. I can be the big kid again. From a mental health perspective, the WWE works wonders. It’s almost like a fantasy world at times and it enables you to switch off.

When I was younger, I watched the wrestling for the matches. I wanted the stories but, really, I wanted to see people like Jeff Hardy jump off 30 foot tall ladders more. Now, I rarely watch a full match. There are a few…most recent ones I’d recommend to anyone are any of the AJ Styles vs John Cena bouts, Tyler Bate vs Pete Dunne on NXT Takeover and, away from WWE, Okada vs Omega for New Japan…but mainly I watch the promos, the build up.

There are a few stories I’m invested in currently, but the biggest one is that of Bray Wyatt. Over the years, Wyatt has consistently been one of the best at talking on the mic and building a story. You get sucked in by him. Leading the Wyatt Family, he played a cult leader that would use his horror to scare opponents. The issue was…he’d always lose. It made it difficult to believe his storylines because you could guess the outcome every time. Regardless of how dominant he was as a character in the build up…his character lost believability because he’d never follow it up.

Last year, Wyatt went away for a while. On his return, he came back as a completely new character. He wasn’t in the ring, he had a video promo segment. As a kids TV presenter. It was surreal. It was creepy. It included nods to his previous characters and character arcs. He cut a cardboard cutout of his old character in half with a chainsaw. He presented himself as a deranged child’s TV host and it was incredible. Eventually, he started to portray himself almost as having schizophrenia. We then got introduced to an alter-ego, The Fiend. Over the months that followed, The Fiend targeted Wyatt’s old rivals, overcoming them with ease and getting revenge. After each win, the loser would change – often change back to an older version of their character. As we approach Wrestlemania, The Fiend faces John Cena, another person that beat Wyatt…and the storyline tells itself.

It’s unlike anything else on TV at the moment, unlike any other sport. It’s a complete escape from reality. It doesn’t matter that the ending is pre-determined. If you watch a film, it doesn’t matter that the ending is scripted…you can still enjoy it. You can still escape in it. And that’s exactly what wrestling is about…the escape. It’s a soap opera, of sorts, with a sports element.

As the world becomes affected more and more by the Coronavirus, most sports are closing their doors. Seasons have been postponed. Tournaments postponed. Yet WWE continues to go on without a live audience, giving people something to escape in.

At a time where people could do with something to take their minds off the real world, you could do far worse than start watching WWE. It is ridiculous. It often knows it is. Watching Stone Cold Steve Austin ask an empty arena to shout “Hell Yeah” shows that. It mocks itself. It takes itself seriously, but isn’t afraid to lighten up. The promos and acting are as good as anything you’ll see on a soap (watch Bray Wyatt and John Cena on Smackdown from Friday 13th March and tell me otherwise – I dare you) and the stories can take you away.

Much like they gave us something to take our minds away from the death of Princess Diana and the national mourning around that, the WWE are now giving us some kind of sport – even if it does have fixed endings – some kind of story…to take our imaginations and thoughts away somewhere different to Coronavirus. That can’t be a bad thing.

It still has the power to make you feel like a big kid and suspend your disbelief.


Thanks for reading!

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Otherwise, you can see me doing a fair bit of moaning on Twitter: @Adam_Townsend

A Retrospective Look – Tony Pulis At The Albion

Soccer - West Bromwich Albion Press Conference - The Hawthorns

Growing up as a West Brom supporter it was never really that difficult to find a reason to dislike Stoke. For years, Stoke would always win against Albion, even prompting the words, “We always beat West Brom”, to be sung by Stoke fans at any game between the two clubs.

The first time I saw Albion beat Stoke was in 1998 in the FA Cup. One of those moments that I always remember. Prior to that, Albion hadn’t beat Stoke since 1988. When people talk of ‘bogey’ teams, Stoke were definitely that.

In the background of growing up as an Albion fan in the Nineties were the changes that were starting to happen within football. Arsene Wenger had taken over at Arsenal in 1996 and, with him, he bought change to the English game. From the scouting to the dieting to the way it was played. As a youngster, as a football fanatic, I loved it. I loved watching those teams play fluid football. As years went by, the Albion took their own style of fluid football under Tony Mowbray and my favourite era at the Albion had started.

40 miles down the road, however, Stoke were playing the complete opposite style of football. Far from fluid, they settled for sitting deep and playing long ball. They used Rory Delap for his long throw ins as if they were corners. It was effective. It made them hard to beat. It made them a comfortable Premier League team. However, this wasn’t just Stoke City. This was Tony Pulis’ Stoke City.


The football was largely terrible to watch. Stoke would grind out results and always create issues for teams. They were strong and weren’t scared to put in hard challenges. They played as though they were from a different era…and they were, in a way. Tony Pulis is an era defining manager. Stoke were in the Pulis era. Second time round, they seemed the perfect fit. The supporters were louder than most, if not all, and Stoke maintained a good Premier League position throughout.

From a football perspective, it gave another reason to dislike Stoke. Not only could Albion seemingly never get a result against them, they were now playing the most boring, difficult to watch football. I couldn’t imagine Albion ever playing that way. Eventually, Stoke fans wanted more. Patience began to wear thin with the playing style and what felt like a lack of ambition…and Pulis and Stoke went their separate ways.

As this was happening, Albion were just finishing their best ever Premier League season. Steve Clarke had seen the club to 8th in the league and it seemed as if Albion had cemented themselves somewhat as the ‘best of the rest’. The 8th place finish masked a run of poor form in the second half of the season, however, and the year following it saw the poor form continue. Clarke got sacked, Pepe Mel came in, Albion survived – just – but damage had been done.

At a time when Albion needed somebody strong, somebody who could take the club forward following Pepe Mel…the board hired Alan Irvine. To say it was badly received would be a huge understatement. The club seemed to be falling apart in the 2014/15 season. The famous blue and white stripes had been replaced with pinstripes, there were multiple issues behind the scenes…and it was ultimately no surprise at all when the Irvine experiment failed and he was dismissed halfway through the season. We were only going one way.

So, then, who to appoint as manager if you don’t want to be relegated? Easy. Pick one that’s never been relegated. Enter, Tony Pulis.

The appointment made sense, but it always felt like a deal with the devil for me. This manager that had helped produce football that I detested, for a team I detested – largely because of that style of play – was in charge of my team…and for as much as I couldn’t stand the man’s football I knew, deep down, he was the right man at that time.

The club had lost 10 games in the league during the first half of the 2014/15 season, only winning 4. The second half of the season, under Pulis, saw a turnaround. Albion won 7 games, lost 6, drew 6. Defensively Albion had improved, too. From looking like a team destined for relegation, Albion ended the season comfortably mid-table…even beating the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United at the end of the season. Results wise, the Pulis appointment was a success.

Despite this, the warning signs of discontent had already started to show. Albion’s style was changing. A soul destroying week where the club were beat twice in a week by Aston Villa didn’t help him win support. The Jeff Astle Day defeat was so disappointing. But they were, in the grand scheme, singular events. The fact that Albion were staying up was enough to please the majority of fans.

The following season saw the start of a Pulis trend at Albion. The team were solid. They’d made some good additions. Jonny Evans was a superb signing. Alongside Darren Fletcher, who joined in the February of the previous season, it gave an increased sense of quality within the spine of the team. Premier League winners…and it told. The experience of those players, the leadership, oozed throughout the team. Salomon Rondon signed for a then record £12m, adding a different strength up front. James Chester also signed for £8m – more expensive than Evans – with Serge Gnabry, a young talent from Arsenal, joining on loan.


The club were never in any danger of relegation. They were also never in any danger of challenging for anything else. Albion were just there. But the playing style had now changed completely. It had become Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion. This was the Pulis era, definitively. This was also the season where it started to become too much for me. The frustrations were huge, and I could sense myself falling out of love with it all.

In the seasons that Pulis was at Albion, the team did well. Mid-table finishes, they were hard to break down…Albion were no fuss, defensive and hard to beat. But the Pulis theme was this. Albion got to 39/40 points, results then stopped. In the 2015/16 season, Albion got to 39 points after beating Manchester United on the 6th March. They didn’t win another game all season. The following season, Albion hit 40 points after beating Bournemouth on the 25th February. In the 12 games that followed, they won only once and lost nine times.

It was disheartening. As a fan, you felt that the target was always 40 points and nothing more. As soon as the club hit that target they switched off. In both of Pulis’ full seasons, you were left wondering what the point was in even going to the games from March onwards because it was clear the team you were watching was not playing with the same intent as the one a month or so prior. It was dull, it was boring…it was unbelievably difficult to feel passionate about.


I found myself so frustrated, also, at the use of the signings made during the Pulis reign. Salomon Rondon had the makings of a great powerhouse forward – we later saw that in full effect when he joined Newcastle United – but the style of play Pulis implemented didn’t benefit any striker. Robson-Kanu, flourishing this season, has never been known for his goals but his work rate…and he looked lost. The signings of Nacer Chadli, Ollie Burke, Matt Phillips all felt like signals of intent – but none fitted with how a Pulis team plays. (However, looking at how things have gone for Burke since, maybe Pulis was right on that one.) Callum McManaman was another that did nothing.

Defensively, the signings of Darren Fletcher, Jonny Evans, Gareth Barry and Jake Livermore made sense and they all, for the most part, did well. Yet James Chester, a defender that cost £2m more than Evans, was played out of position and deemed too small by Pulis, who eventually sold him to Villa where he went on to do extremely well. The loan signings also made no sense. Serge Gnabry was a waste of time (though, to be fair to Pulis, that was more because of Gnabry than anyone else at the club). Alex Pritchard pointless. Brendon Galloway, too. Young players that would have never fitted in with the Pulis ideology.

We became an old team. Possession wise, we would often struggle to even reach 40% against any team. For fans of statistics, we must have left them completely confused. How could this team maintain security in the Premier League whilst going every game with only 35% of the ball and struggling to have any shots? Somehow, we did. But that in itself was an issue. Against the big clubs…Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool…you could forgive sitting back and hoping for a counter. Although that even went too far in one game against Manchester City when we failed to register a single shot. The biggest issue was that even against teams of a similar ilk, Albion did the same. Sit back, constantly.

There was no ambition. The club didn’t play to win, they played to avoid defeat. Because of that, there was no excitement. There was no enjoyment. For the first time in my life, I gave up on Albion. I lost interest. I couldn’t bring myself to attend games. I could no longer tell people who we had next in the league. I couldn’t tell people how many goals a striker had scored. I was bored of it. I couldn’t even put on Match Of The Day because I’d lost the passion for the game.

pulis out

Growing up, I started supporting Albion during the Alan Buckley days. They were bleak. We were so much poorer than we’ve ever been since. Denis Smith wasn’t great but was infinitely better than Buckley. Brian Little was a disaster. None of them, however, drove me away from the club. Throughout all the poor seasons, narrowly avoiding relegation to Division Two (League One, as it’s called now)…I was still there. I still enjoyed going down the Hawthorns. Pulis and the football he made us play changed that. We were beyond boring. The atmosphere was, at times, toxic. Why would you spend money on it?

Not all of what Pulis did was bad, though. As I said earlier, after Irvine he was absolutely the right man for the job and I don’t think anybody else would have kept the club up. When Saido Berahino let his ego get the better of him, Pulis dealt with it well and managed to protect Saido and the club as well as he could. He developed Craig Dawson in to a Premier League player. I’ll even begrudgingly accept that he maybe prolonged Chris Brunt’s time at the club by moving him to full back. He gave the club security and, in the end, when results really did go downhill, I remember reading that it was actually the board that stopped him from leaving as he was prepared to let somebody else try to move the club forward. A rare selfless act.

Despite that, my memory of Pulis at Albion isn’t one I look back at fondly. Tony Pulis made me hate football. Tony Pulis made me stop going to watch the Albion…even when we were getting the results – and I wasn’t alone as average attendances dipped continuously. The Pulis era was uninspired, boring, frustrating, devoid of all ambition and not a lot else.

But, on the plus side, at least we can beat Stoke now.



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Dear Mum

Dear Mum,

It’s been five years since I last said goodbye to you. In some ways, that’s felt like a long time. In other ways, it feels like no time at all.

This is a time of year that I’ve come to hate. Flashbacks of you in Papworth Hospital. Flashbacks of phone calls on the day you fell. Constant flashbacks. Only the other day I heard a Led Zeppelin song that took me back to sitting in the car with Mark as we parked at a hotel preparing for another night of very little sleep before going back to you at hospital.

I regularly think of the last time I saw you before you had the operation. I have no idea whether you actually knew I was there. You looked at me as if to say, “Bloody hell, what are you doing here?” As daft as it may sound, that thought makes me smile. I got it. You didn’t want me worried about you. I’m sure that had you come through and woke up you’d have gone mad at Dad for even telling me that you were in hospital. But, for as short a time as that was, I’m glad I have that little memory. One last little laugh.

Memories…there were a few weren’t there? I laugh out loud whenever I think about the phone call where you told me Dad got you an air fryer instead of a hair dryer (because you’d been after one for so long…). I remember when we looked at moving to Lowestoft and we had the boat hired on the broads. You were essentially captain. I sometimes think that you were sold on East Anglia by that boat hire, visions of riding the waves in a small boat…it makes me wish we’d done it more.

I will never forget the karaoke/BBQ party we put on at the house. A multitude of disasters. Eyebrows singed, choosing not to eat but instead cook for everybody else, still drinking a lot of gin, breaking the microphone in half…and eventually “Me drunk, me sick”. Going through uni and in the immediate years following uni I found myself and others in various bad, drunken states…but that is still the standout “bloody hell you were drunk” moment.

It’s these little memories that I cling on to and try to think of when I start thinking to those days at Papworth. Thoughts of you picking us up from school, having mates round and talking of your amazing food…memories of you looking after us. Memories of you laughing.

I find myself sometimes down because I struggle to remember your voice. I feel like five years shouldn’t be long enough to forget such an important voice but I fear I have. I can just about hear you saying “Roy!” when moaning at Dad. I can remember you groaning at me when seeing me at Papworth…but that’s it. I hate that. I wish I could remember it more.

I blame myself for that, too. In those final years we’d sometimes see each other only a couple of times a year. I should have gone home more. I’m sorry.

I also wish I could remember our last proper conversation. I watch these things on TV and people say, “We spoke about this and that. That was the last thing we spoke about.” I don’t remember it at all. I don’t know if it’s just time and me approaching middle age…whatever…I just don’t remember. But, then, does that really matter? Surely it matters more that I remember the times we all had? The time you gave us.

Memories. Good for those with good memory.

Five years. Mum…so much has changed. I could bore you with everything that’s happened in the world but I won’t. It’s probably best you don’t know some of that, anyway. But a lot has changed with me.

For a long time prior to your days in Papworth, I wasn’t happy. I think you knew that but didn’t say anything. I got engaged not because I wanted to, but more because I felt it was what I should have done. Forget the happiness aspect…can’t always be easy, can it? But there I was. That’s where I was when we said goodbye.

A year and a half later, I took the decision to put myself first. I left.

I hate it because you taught it to me in the worst way, but I think the biggest lesson that you ever taught me was to live life for now because it’s too short. I was fed up with drifting along, unhappy on a path I didn’t really want to take anymore. I think you’d have been proud of me…even if a bit worried for me as I essentially signed myself up to sofa hopping for a while.

I’ve ended up meeting someone else and, this time, getting engaged for the right reasons. Lori is a lot like you, personality wise…I wish you’d have been able to meet her because I honestly believe that you would love her. I can picture you both sat watching some terrible horror film that’s probably more comedy than horror…I can imagine you on the dance floor together after a drink. I can just imagine you having a good time together.

Another pretty massive change to my life is having children. You’d have been a Nan! Both of the kids are amazing. Our little lad is crazy, but seems so developed already – a proper little character – and our little lady is equally as cheeky. We named her after you and Lori’s Mum, giving her the middle names Mary Jean. Jean, Lori’s Mum, passed away when Lori was pregnant. We want both of the kids to know about you both…we talk about you to them…and I like to think that, by sharing your name, you’ll be with our little girl everywhere she goes.

It’s one of my biggest bittersweet feelings in life. I’d always wanted kids and felt so ecstatic when we had them but that emotion was always hit by the feeling of wishing you’d also been there to meet them. I really do wish that you were here now to see the kids, to hear them call you “Nanna”…I know you’d have loved them. I also reckon you’d have moved in with us by now to be with them!

Five years…so much change…one real constant. And that constant is you.

I always found it ridiculously over sentimental when people said “I think of them everyday”…but it’s true. I do. Every day, since January 27th 2015, I think about you. From hours of thinking to seconds…you’re always in my head.

I miss you so much. There’s so much that I wish I could show you, so much I want you to see that you can’t. So many Thursdays where, even now, I will have a moment of thinking “I could give Mum a call, it’s her day off.” I miss you.

Losing you when we did…it took it out of me. I didn’t react well, getting angry at small things. Such small things. My mood dipped. I really found it hard. This was me…I can’t begin to imagine what Joy and Dad were feeling. 55 years old. It’s not fair that we lost you at that age. You’d be turning 60 this year. I’m not sure you’d like that…but I can’t believe you never got to see it.

You sparked the change in me when you went. We started raising money for Papworth Hospital…I was never really a charitable person before that. I decided to do things to make myself happy after seeing first hand how life can just be taken away. You didn’t deserve to be that person to show me that. But you were. Nothing can change that.

Those changes that have happened in my life may never have happened without you.

Perhaps, somehow, you can see all of this. You’re probably sat by me thinking “why on Earth write all of that on there?”

The answer is simple. I wanted to write to you. I wanted to let you know that things are okay. I wanted to let you know that I’m happy. I wanted to let you know that you’d be a Nan right now. I wanted to let you know how much you have helped make me the person I am today.

But mostly I wanted to let you know that I am thinking of you. Now and always. Every day.

I love you. I miss you.

Love you, Mum.


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:

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:

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


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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.

Tool 3

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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