Trapped In The Night Garden…

night garden“Igglepiggle, iggle onk, we’re going to catch…the Pinky Ponk.”

Derek Jacobi’s voice echoed around the garden and the slow drumming “honk…honk” sound of the Pinky Ponk filled the sky. I have been trapped in the Night Garden now for three days.

I’m still unaware of how I got here. I had gone to bed, it was a Friday night, and the next day I found myself lying on a patch of incredibly green grass, surrounded by tall trees, awoken by the booming voice of Derek Jacobi. On the first day I had kept myself hidden from view and watched from afar as Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka went about their duties, seemingly instructed by Derek Jacobi – who I have come to understand is some sort of overlord here.

Back then, I believed I had woken in a dream. But then I fell back to sleep, lying down with my back arched within the wedges of the stump of a tree. Surely if it had been a dream I would have woken up again in my own bed? Instead, I was again awoken by Derek Jacobi’s voice; the alarm clock of the Night Garden. I wondered if I have died and this is actually Limbo, my soul and body waiting to be taken away elsewhere. Typical that it would happen on a Friday night, not even allowing me to enjoy my one last weekend. But I felt alive, I could still feel things…there had to be another explanation.

On the second day, I began to realise the true horror of the Night Garden. I decided to walk stealthily around the Garden, not yet ready to approach the characters I had seen. I found some puddles, but couldn’t find any real water source. I struggled for food – the only way I could eat was by pulling leaves off branches and hoping that they tasted ok. The thirst was crippling. In the end, I went back to a puddle and risked it. I knelt by the side of the puddle and just cupped water in to my mouth. Remarkably, it tasted clean – like mineral water straight from a bottle. And then I saw one. A Pontipine.

It was so small, and looked like an old fashioned wooden toy. It’s pitch black eyes seemed to widen and suddenly it started rocking in an almost deranged fashion, squealing “mi-mi-mi” in a high pitched tone. It moved away from me quickly, now screaming “mi-mi-mi” at what must have been the top of it’s lungs, if it even had lungs. I darted across the garden, found what felt like a quiet area crowded heavily by trees and I hid. By now I could hear what sounded like numerous cries of “mi-mi-mi” coming from a number of different Pontipines. The “honk…honk” sound of the Pinky Ponk had begun to travel throughout the air, the jingle of Iggle Piggle became violently constant, Upsy Daisy was shouting her name louder than I’d heard her do so before, Makka Pakka was cycling around lifting and moving rocks as he went. They were looking for me. But why?

Then I heard a cry. This wasn’t one of the characters, I thought, it sounded human. I witnessed for the first time Iggle Piggle change in size. He was now gigantic. He pointed over to the other side of the garden, sounded a couple of squeaks, and suddenly all the characters gathered together looking in to the trees. The cry had turned to screaming. I could hear a male voice screaming “Get off me!” but I couldn’t see anybody. The Night Garden characters stood motionless, Iggle Piggle still standing above everybody else, pointing at the trees. “Who do we have here?” came the voice of Derek Jacobi. “It’s the Tombliboos!”

Three Tombliboos came from the trees; Tombliboo-Unn, Tombliboo-Ooo and Tombliboo-Eee. Tombliboo’s Unn and Ooo were carrying a man, Unn holding his arms and Ooo holding his legs, with Tombliboo-Eee skipping ahead of them. The man was thrown in front of Iggle Piggle. The other characters circled around him. He wasn’t screaming anymore, but he was sobbing and he looked terrified. I had no idea what was happening. Iggle Piggle pointed to the trees and five gargantuan inflatable looking shapes slowly appeared. It was the HaaHoos.

Derek Jacobi’s voice sounded, “Igglepiggle, iggle onk, we’re going to catch…you.”

The Night Garden characters moved in on the man and started to smother him. The screams from the man were deafening, and then a loud cracking noise followed by silence. I could see blood splattering in to the air. The HaaHoos started making a boinging noise, and the three Tombliboo’s took tippee-cups full of blood over to them. Going to each HaaHoo, the Tombliboos placed their tippee-cups to their inflatable figures, blood draining from each cup with each HaaHoo growing in size. The Pinky Ponk flew back over the Garden back in to the trees. A weird looking train, the Ninky Nonk, came through the bushes. Makka Pakka shrunk in size and got on, leaving the rest of the group in the Garden.

Five minutes passed. The HaaHoos began to move back in to the trees. Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, the Tombliboos and the ten Pontipines all stood in a line. The bright green grass was now painted in blood, there was blood spattered all over the faces and bodies of the Night Garden characters, but there was no body on the floor. The man was no more. Makka Pakka cycled back in to the Garden on his trolley called the Og-Pog, clean from any blood. Makka Pakka grabbed the sponge from the front of the Og-Pog and started to clean all the characters and the floor. Within minutes the blood was all gone, as if nothing had happened. The characters started to dance together.

The Pinky Ponk honked it’s horn, and the characters started to disperse to their own separate areas. All of them, except Iggle Piggle.

“Wait a minute…somebody’s not in bed!” The voice of Derek Jacobi exclaimed, “Who’s Not In bed?”

I panicked. Had I been seen?

“Iggle Piggle’s not in bed!” I sighed a breath of relief. “Don’t worry Iggle Piggle. It’s time to go.” Iggle Piggle skipped to a carousel in the centre of the Garden and lay down to sleep. A tune that seemed to follow Iggle Piggle sounded in the air, the sky turned dark. Night time had come and I knew I had been lucky. I had survived a second day, despite my encounter with a Pontipine, but I knew this encounter put me at risk. They knew I was in the Garden. I had to learn to survive. I needed to find a way out.

So here we are at day number three. I have barely slept…the sound of the other man’s screams were haunting me and I had so many questions. Were there other people in the Garden? How does Iggle Piggle change size? Why did they kill that man? Why were the HaaHoos fed blood? Will the Pontipine try to find me again?

I decided that the only way out was to walk further in to the trees. I’d have to be quiet, I knew that I couldn’t risk being heard and I had no idea where the Tombliboo’s were hiding. Surely I could do this. I set off just before the sun started to rise. Ahead of me were just tall trees, and bushes in full bloom. This place was Hell, but it was an idyllic Hell.

I came to a start as a song played through the trees. It sounded like a nursery rhyme coming from the distance but then, loud and clear, Derek Jacobi’s voice sounded; “But someone I know is safe and snug, and they’re drifting off to sleep.”

Then silence. Something felt off. There was no breeze, no music, no sound. I could hear myself breathing; in…out…in. I was standing still, just waiting for any noise, listening.

“This is the way to the Garden in the Night.” Jacobi’s voice felt closer somehow and it made me jump. My heart started pacing.

“Igglepiggle, iggle onk, we’re going to catch…” I needed to hear the next word, would it be the Pinky Ponk or the Ninky Nonk?

“You.”

It was neither. From behind the trees small wooden characters in blue appeared. Ten of them all turned their heads to me; their eyes as black as the Pontipines. But these weren’t Pontipines…who were they? “Who’s over here?” Derek Jacobi’s voice asked. “It’s the Wottingers.” And just like that, they started to make farting noises. The Garden started to rumble. I began to run.

I could hear the Pinky Ponk in the air, I could hear the farting noises of the Wottingers and the “mi-mi-mi” sounds coming from the Pontipines, I could hear the sounds of Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka. They’re after me. I ran as hard as I could but the thirst and hunger of not eating or drinking properly was draining me, I had no energy just adrenaline. I kept running forward. I kept hearing Derek Jacobi’s voice but I wasn’t listening to him; could he see me? Was he telling the characters where to find me?

As I ran through the trees the Garden suddenly opened up and a large green dome stood in front of me. It had what looked like a door way. I’ve not seen this before. I’m running out of breath. If I hide in it, will I be found? It’s dark inside – there doesn’t seem to be anything inside the dome at all – if I stay in here still enough, maybe I can get myself more time?

I tried to steady my breath as I heard Makka Pakka cycle by. I needed to sleep. I needed food and water. These were all things that had to wait. I peered back out the carved doorway of the green dome. The sounds are getting quieter…is my plan working? I breathed a deep sigh. The light coming in from the carved out doorway disappeared, blocked by a shadow. What is it? I held my breath.

“Tombliboo-Ooo!” A hand came round the corner and grabbed me, pulling me out of the dome. I was surrounded by all three of the Tombliboos. I’ve been found. Tombliboo-Ooo grabbed my legs and Tombliboo-Unn took my arms. They began to carry me back in to the centre of the Garden. I began to try to wiggle free but the grip was too tight. The light through the trees kept flickering in my eyes and then I saw the roof of the carousel. We were nearly there, nearly at the place where the other man was taken.

The Tombliboo’s threw me to the floor. I was surrounded. Iggle Piggle looked gigantic, his red blanket blocking the sunlight. Upsy Daisy was dancing around with Makka Pakka. The Pontipines and the Wottingers were bouncing around. And now I can hear the boinging noise of the HaaHoo’s.

“Clever Tombliboo’s!” Proclaimed Derek Jacobi. “What a pip!”

Iggle Piggle placed his red blanket over me. It covered me completely and weighed an enormous amount. I can’t breathe. I try to wave my arms and push the blanket off me but it’s too heavy, it feels like it’s being held down. I can feel myself fading but, wait, it’s lifting. There’s a blinding light coming from behind the blanket. Iggle Piggle removes the blanket.

Sat looking over me is Derek Jacobi. All of the characters except for the Pontipines and Wottingers, who are very small and hardly there at all, are towering over us both. Jacobi smiles at me. What on Earth is happening? His white hair is glowing.

Jacobi grabs my hand and starts circling his finger round my palm.

“Round and round, a little boat no bigger than your hand, out on the ocean, far away from land. Take the little sail down, light the little light. This is the way to the Garden of the Night.” He smiles at me and turns his head up towards Iggle Piggle’s face. “Time for bed.” He glares back at me and points to the HaaHoo’s, Tombliboo-Ooo and Unn grab my arms and legs and pull. I finally scream.

This is the way out of the Garden of the Night…

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Rainbows Over The Hawthorns

These are strange times. It feels very much like the extreme views of anyone can be presented, and will be presented, due to social media. Facebook is under pressure, but despite that pressure many people read what they find on there, true or false, and believe it.

When I was at Uni, I wrote my dissertation on how media and media portrayal can affect the result of elections and change public perception. I wrote on the American election; Obama vs McCain. The media presentation of Obama was unlike anything else – regardless of policy, there was no way McCain would beat him. The media loved Obama, loved his catchphrases…he was money, he was change, he was exciting, he sold papers. Years later, McCain is now presented as he wanted to be in that election; a war hero with smart ideas. Just see how his Trump comments are presented.

It’s beyond easy to find racist or xenophobic posts on Facebook and Twitter. Both sites have attempted to thwart some major bodies – but, for example, removing a blue tick from the side of Tommy Robinson’s Twitter handle doesn’t diminish his influence on people. You need only search for “#FreeTommy” to see how many cling on to and believe the nonsense he spouts.

To suggest that Facebook or any form of social media is what makes people support the likes of Robinson is somewhat ridiculous. The EDL didn’t need Facebook to have supporters, the BNP were widely recognised before Twitter – what social media has done is given those people extra reach. What social media has also done is allow you to see who in your circle follows these views…it sparks debate, it sparks arguments, it can bring education and it can also enlighten. Different views, different opinions aren’t always negatives. If you can back it up, you can move things forward.

wba lgbt

But, adding to that element of social media that allows you to see other people’s views, no matter how backward they may seem, can be disturbing. It can be disappointing, rage inducing, offensive. I’d like to share some tweets (spelling mistakes and all) I have seen regarding news about West Bromwich Albion agreeing to fly a rainbow flag at The Hawthorns in support of the LGBT community.

“So it will be now known as the Gay stand. Away fans are gunna love it. Thanks Albion but the majority of the East stand I reckon are heterosexuals. Oh I forgot the majority doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Next it will be the “proud to support paedophilies flag” which the LGBT (let’s go bang toddlers) also believes is just a sexual preference rather than a perversion.”

“PC Bollocks…How about a stand for blokes that shag women 5 times a night? Not PC enough?”

“Ffs what’s happened to football? PC gone fucking mad”

“So because youre gay you have to tell everyone by having a flag. I feel victimised because i am straight and we havent got a flag”

In a time where being openly gay is widely accepted, there is still an underbelly of homophobia. Sadly, in football, it’s seemingly more common than in other areas. The above tweets are all from a minority, and thankfully many were pulled up by others and rightly lambasted, but that’s not to say others don’t have these feelings. Unfortunately the sad truth is that the first tweet may have some truth to it – it’s not far fetched at all to believe that some away fans would, and will, target it.

The list of openly gay footballers is ridiculously short. Perhaps the most famous player being Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990 and tragically committed suicide in 1998 aged only 37. The most recent high profile player, Thomas Hitzlsperger, only came out after retiring from the game. There are rumours that there are several gay players in the Premier League yet none have come out. Yes, it’s up to the person as to whether they announce their sexuality to the press, but it’s equally so concerning that even now, in this day and age, there is a belief that players are scared to come out as gay for fear of the impact it would have on their career.

A huge part of that will be because of the vitriol they know they would receive from the fans of different clubs, and to an extent even their own (as seen above). Why would you put yourself in line for the abuse?

This is football’s problem. Hooliganism raises it’s head every now and then, but homophobia is easier to find. It’s a massive issue, and one that Albion should be praised for trying to tackle. The founder of the WBALGBT group, Piero Zizzi, has said, “If the flag makes just one person feel more welcome at The Hawthorns, then it’s served its purpose” and he is correct. The hope has to be that it does help, and that the supporters contribute and ensure they do their bit to tackle homophobia in the game.

It’s quite apt that Albion have taken the decision to support the LGBT community. It’s a club with a proud history and a club with a history of tackling discrimination. The “Three Degrees”, Cyrille Regis, Brendan Batson and Laurie Cunningham were the most high profile black players in English football at the time the Albion had them in the team. Bananas were thrown on the pitches, but the club and, perhaps more importantly, the fans really ensured those three players were looked after and were seen as “one of their own”. Colour didn’t matter to them. They loved those three players. They still do.

And now, sexuality shouldn’t matter. It may only be a flag hanging in the East Stand this coming season, but it may make a difference. Earlier I wrote how difference of opinion on social media can be healthy, and it can be educational. For some people, I genuinely hope that this is educational, and that it opens eyes to see that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a different sexual orientation. And then comes the hope that one day a player would feel more comfortable in being openly gay. For all we know, the next Lionel Messi may be in this country, afraid to display his or her talent, because of the stigma that is still apparently attached to homosexuality in football today. It needs to change. It will change.

On a final note, the placing of the flag is rather fitting. The East Stand was built in 2001, replacing the old family stand that was called The Rainbow Stand.

There’s something quite nice about the LGBT flag flying in the Rainbow Stand…perhaps they should bring the old name back.

Tales Of The Unexpected

1.

“Hi Adam, are you at this address? Can we come in?”

It was half past 10 at night on Saturday 3rd December 2016 when my phone started ringing. A private number was calling. Usually I’d ignore private numbers but, for some reason, this time, I answered. It was a detective, and that’s when he asked me the above questions. And so began the most surreal time of my life.

Before I could get up, the door knocked. At this point I was in a flat and the only way to get in was to be buzzed in through the front so both myself and my then new partner were surprised by how someone had got in without us letting them in. I looked through the peephole on the door and saw a group of men, some in heavy gear. I opened the door.

“Hello, is Danny here?”

Around 10 police, several fully kitted out ready for more than just a chat, come in to the flat. Me and my partner are practically separated to different sides of the room. Every part of the flat from the bedroom to the loft to underneath the sofa bed are searched. There’s utter confusion. Why are they looking for my mate? What has happened? is he ok? has he done something? Has something happened to him? All answers to these questions would become painfully clear very suddenly.

Sat down for questioning, I decided to ask – and I remember word for word – “I know this seems a silly thing to ask right now, but, is Dan alright?” I was told that they wanted to ensure his safety but, almost chillingly, left saying to me “If he calls, ignore it. If he texts, ignore it. If he turns up at the front door, no matter what he says, don’t let him in. Call us immediately.”

We were left with a business card and a case reference number to use if there was any contact or further information. Shaking, I turned to my partner and just said “What the fuck has he done? What the fuck just happened?” She took the card from me and googled the reference number. And then we found the news story; a body had been found at an address. I saw the picture of the house. I collapsed to the floor.

2.

I met Dan at work. We’d often joke about the fact that the first time we met each other we both disliked each other. Somewhere along the way, over a few beers (as was always the way with us), that changed. In a relatively short time we’d gone from just being work colleagues to being best mates. Often referred to as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum at work, we were practically inseparable.

As our friendship grew we started talking to each other about everything. We were both someone to confide in for the other person and there was no area that we felt we couldn’t discuss together. I loved him, and I do honestly believe the feeling was mutual. He got me through some tough times, and likewise I felt I had helped him through some of his.

We got to know each others families, and I had also brought Dan in to my circle of friends from uni and before. The “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” relationship had gone past being just a work relationship to being how we were viewed in the ‘real world’. In our work we’d get moved to different locations and people would ask how the other was – we were a double act.

It was with Dan’s first move that things started to go downhill for him at work. He was in a difficult place, and, for various reasons, he struggled. At this point, we spoke on the phone every day. After months of struggling, Dan ended up taking some time off work. I felt desperately for him. He was very good at what he did, but for some reason it just wasn’t happening for him. His stubbornness played against him at times, he didn’t necessarily have the best relationships with certain people, and although I always felt there were things he could do (I often tried to discuss this with him), you could tell he was lost. He’d lost the motivation for the job and wanted out.

As any mate would over a time like this, I’d invite him round to mine for a few drinks every now and then to try to help build him back up. We’d talk for hours about anything and everything. I wanted him to be better, and I really hoped that I could help him. Around this time Dan told me he was going to leave our work and go in to floor laying with his mate. He seemed genuinely excited and it felt like the old Dan was back. I was over the moon for him.

Over the next 4 or 5 years, things seemed to be flourishing for Dan and his floor laying business. He’d speak to me about new contracts that they were getting; big contracts with hotels and hospitals up and down the country. They’d had to hire a couple of lads and get a unit on an industrial estate due to their growth. My mate had made it, he was happy, and I was made up for him.

3.

The day after police had come to the flat looking for Dan, me and my partner were still not sure what was going on. We’d been advised that we weren’t to contact Dan, but were assured that they were looking for him for his safety. Hanging over this was the fact we knew a dead body had been found at his address.

Two detectives came to the flat to see us for questioning. By the time they were with us the news had broke that the dead body was Dan’s Dad. Even at this point I was thinking ‘maybe somebody broke in, maybe Dan’s been taken’. The detectives sat on the sofa and asked if we’d seen the news, “You know how serious this is, then?”

I was asked about the last contact I’d had with Dan. I explained that we’d arranged that he was going to help get a bed to the flat, that he was going to use his work van to bring it over but due to his Dad being unwell he’d not been able to do it. The two detectives looked at each other puzzled.

“The way you’re looking at each other I get the feeling I’ve said something that can’t be true?” I asked.

For the first time in 5 years, I found out Dan didn’t have his own business, he didn’t have a work van and he didn’t work in floor laying. I found out from the two detectives sat in front of me that the person I thought I knew like the back of my hand was actually a stranger.

It suddenly started to dawn that the worst fears I had were most likely true but I didn’t want to believe it. I was clinging on to some weird hope that it couldn’t be, that there was more to it. I just couldn’t grasp the thought that he could have killed his Dad.

4.

Early June 2016, I went to London to see AC/DC with my Dad. I was in a long term relationship but I felt like I was just going through the motions, not really enjoying it. I was coming back home on Dan’s birthday and he said he’d meet me at the train station and we’d have a drink to celebrate. I spoke to him about how I was feeling and explained that I was going to have a chat at home but expected it to go only one way. Dan offered me a place to stay if it came to it.

One week later, I was in Dan’s spare room, staying with him and his Dad. Over the next 5 months I effectively classed his house as my ‘base’, but I also stayed in hotels and occasionally with other friends while I tried to sort myself out. Dan’s Dad was quiet, kept himself to himself, but I had a lot of time for him. I would find it awkward in the house at times, in part due to how quiet his Dad was, and also because I didn’t want to come across as intruding. Because of this, I’d try to spend a lot of time out, be it at work or just with other people.

Dan was out a lot for his work, so in a bizarre way I actually ended up seeing and talking to Dan less when I lived with him than when I didn’t.

There was never anything that stood out as odd in the house or with the relationship between Dan and his Dad. I remember us all watching one of the utterly awful England matches from Euro 2016 and us all talking football. It was just normal.

5.

Everyone has watched news programmes or documentaries about criminals where a neighbour is interviewed and says something like, “Well, you just wouldn’t imagine it, he/she was such a quiet person, always seemed alright…”

For years I’d watch those interviews and think that they must have been stupid to not realise that something wasn’t quite right. Suddenly, I was that guy. I was the idiot.

For the next week following the search of the flat I was faced with at least one moment of contact with the police every day. Some days I’d be the first to get in touch, other days they’d call me. I felt like I was living a TV drama. At one stage there was even the discussion of using me to try to contact Dan as if nothing had happened to see if we could find where he was. It was unreal.

I spent a fair bit of time in a daze throughout this period. The story had hit the news, and some people at work had put two and two together (I was now working in the same place Dan had been placed before leaving the company) and I remember hearing people discussing it then stopping when they noticed me.

I sat on lunch one day and after hearing that police believed his Dad’s car was in Wales I checked on my messages to see if I could find anything to give an idea of who he could see in Wales. To my shock I noticed Dan was ‘Active Now’, for the first time in some time, on Facebook Messenger. I called the police and let them know. I didn’t know if it would matter, if they knew…in my head I believed that they’d be able to use this information to hopefully pinpoint his location.

I have no idea whether my call did help but the next day as I drove to Birmingham to see Biffy Clyro I got a call from the detective to say they’d found Dan, and he was safe. By the time I’d got back to my car after the gig the story was on the news that he had been charged with murder.

It was an absolutely shattering moment. I’d had an amazing time at the gig, had the usual post-gig euphoric feeling and then an immediate crash. The realisation that my best mate was a murderer was something I can’t truly explain. I thought I knew him better than anybody, but over the course of five days found that I knew very little.

I felt broken hearted. Two days later, two detectives came to my work to interview me for a statement. I felt nervous beyond belief but in reality I had no reason to be. I just didn’t know what to think. A couple of hours later and I’d given my character reference. The female detective, on her way out, turns to me and says, “only two people know what happened that night and why. One of them is Dan, the other one is dead.”

6.

Nearly 15 months have passed and it’s still hard to believe what happened. I didn’t attend at court due to wishes of the family but the media reported the horror of it all. Sixty stab wounds, twenty hammer blows. I felt physically sick when I saw the news. I felt even worse when I saw the CCTV that the police released showing Dan’s actions afterwards. I couldn’t, and still can’t, get over how ‘normal’ he appeared to be.

I feel so sorry for his Mum and his younger brother, who in reality has lost both a father and a brother needlessly. And, although a reason won’t change anything, I can’t even begin to imagine the grief and pain they have faced with no reason given as to why it happened.

I’d been thinking about writing this post for some time; debating how to write it, whether to do it as just a personal piece of writing or to share the story. Writing is something I’ve always found therapeutic and I still often find it easier to get things out through my writing.

The whole situation changed me. I find that I have a much harder time trusting people now, and I guess the best way I can describe how I felt was actually to compare it to grief. I seemed to go through so many emotions it was unbelievable.

The sadness and the anger I felt were unparalleled and the closest I’d come to those feelings at any other time was when my Mum passed away. I couldn’t understand the lies over the past years, and it eats at me to know that I’ll never understand why he felt the need to do it. It pains me that the lies seem to have continued even now as I was told to expect a letter, but it never came because a guard was sacked for throwing mail away.

I felt a ton of guilt, too. This may seem the strangest thing for people to understand but I felt insanely guilty. In my head, I kept thinking “I should have been there for him more. I could have helped him. If he’d opened up to me would it have happened?” I beat myself up. It took so long to stop doing that and realise that the chances of me doing anything that could have changed things were slim to none.

I felt, and still do feel, so confused about it all. On some days I wish I knew why things happened, from the lies to the actual act of murder itself, but then other days I don’t want to know at all.

And then comes this; the fact that, regardless of what happened, I find myself missing him. I absolutely loved the guy. When I did my character statement I explained how he was a person that you always felt you could depend upon if you needed someone. But the reality is, that wasn’t all him. I miss a character. I miss someone that was, in some part, make believe. I don’t know how much of the Dan I knew was the ‘real’ Dan and when I think about that, and the fact that this guy was so important to me, it makes me genuinely sad.

My life has changed to such a positive degree since this all happened, and it hurts to think the guy that seriously helped me out when I needed it may not actually really be the guy that helped me out.

I’ve not been to see him since the arrest. My stance is that I never will because my life is in such a different place and I don’t want that tie. I also know that if I was to go I’d be a wreck, I’d be unable to handle it and, simply, I don’t want that. I won’t forget, and I dare say I’ll never forgive what he put his family through and what he put me through.

It’s difficult to not think about the guy I knew, and it’s difficult to think of that guy behind bars. But who is that guy? I’ll never know.

Putting The Pieces Back Together

Biffy_Clyro_-_Puzzle

For as long as I can remember music has been a major part of my life. It has been there through the highs and the lows; helped me celebrate, helped me through sorrow. Ultimately, music has been a lifeline and one of the only real constants in my life. For every occasion, a song. For every moment, a tune. For every emotion, a lyric.

When I think back through the years I can remember several moments in my life purely by the music. I used to listen to Jamiroquai in 1999 because I believed every time I listened to Jamiroquai my football team would win. I remember going to see West Brom and listening to Madness’ ‘Baggy Trousers’ with my Dad because of West Brom’s nickname, The Baggies. I remember hearing Chicago’s ‘If You Leave Me Now…’ at the age of 16 and at the most unfortunate, yet in hindsight funniest of times, as my first ‘relationship’ ended. Simply, music has always been there.

As I grew up, my music tastes broadened. I grew up in Birmingham, around a mixed race society, and although my Dad had got me in to the likes of Pink Floyd, Led Zep and Manic Street Preachers, my favoured taste was more towards Eminem, Craig David and Darude. We moved to Lowestoft just days before my 15th birthday and, through boredom more than anything, I picked up the guitar. I started listening to Nirvana (fell in love with Nirvana…especially In Utero), The Smiths and The Libertines. It took over a month to get in to school after we moved. I didn’t fit in as quick as I’d have liked, and for some time school was difficult. The music I listened to spoke to me. Cobain’s screams were my hidden anger. Even Fred Durst seemed like a voice for me to believe in.

As I made the transition in to sixth form, my tastes continued to widen. I started listening to quirkier music, started exploring weirder sounds on guitar. I would watch 120 Minutes on MTV2 religiously and Gonzo, hosted by Zane Lowe, became my gospel. It was through watching Gonzo one day in 2003 that I was introduced to a band that, unbeknownst to me, would become my favourite band, and the band that would provide me with the greatest comfort I could have in years to come. That band? Biffy Clyro.

My first sight of Biffy was the video for Questions and Answers. A ‘garage rock’ band sound to it, I initially thought it was a band in the likes of the Strokes, but I loved the song so I always kept an eye out for them. Then Gonzo On Tour, ‘Eradicate The Doubt’, Simon Neil vs a glittery jacket…I was hooked. I saw them live for the first time on their ‘Infinity Land’ tour at the UEA in Norwich. My love for Nirvana started to drown a little as I became a fan of what was at that time regarded a ‘cult band’. I soaked them in, started to learn songs on guitar, got every album, downloaded b-sides…it was, and still is, an addiction.

By the time Biffy had released ‘Puzzle’, I was at Uni. I remember forcing two of my flatmates to listen to ‘Semi-Mental’ on Zane Lowe’s Radio One Show (it was Hottest Record In The World that day), and I have been the same for every album and song since. With every album, with every success, I feel proud of this band. For several people I know who supported Biffy during the first three albums, the mainstream success disconnected them. For me, I just saw that the world had finally woken up.

‘Puzzle’ would soon become a massive support for me. Largely focussing on the passing of Simon Neil’s mother and his emotions after, I always felt it was the most personal record but I never truly understood it until after January 2015, when my Mum also sadly passed away unexpectedly aged only 55.

mum

I can’t begin to explain the emotions I felt at that time. I remember when I was at Papworth Hospital when we were told there was nothing more that could be done and we all left to walk around he gardens and collect our thoughts before the life support machines were turned off. I remember walking away from my family, not knowing really where to turn. I was lost. It literally felt like a piece of me had been torn out and was suddenly missing.

It took me some time to pluck the courage to listen to ‘Puzzle’. In the meantime, I’d taken to listening to Biffy b-sides. ‘Time Jazz’ became a comfort song, “Time Jazz confronts us all…It’s fine, there’s a throbbing in my shoulder, it’s fine, don’t think it’s getting bigger, it’s fine, I’ll dig it out to ease the pain, I can’t face final fortunes ever again”. I heard those lyrics and hid behind them. I took it as focussing on other feelings and hiding the pain of ‘final fortunes’, death, and found solace.

I remember the first time I listened to Machines after Mum passed. I cried. Hearing “I whisper empty sounds in your ear and hope that you won’t let go” took me back to being sat at the side of Mum’s hospital bed, telling her I loved her, even joking with her, hoping she could hear me, hoping she’d return a word but ultimately feeling like she couldn’t hear me. “Folding Stars” tore me to shreds. Even now, when I saw Biffy on their Ellipsis tour and they played ‘Folding Stars’ (first time in 7 shows I’d seen them play it live), I welled up. The lyrics mean so much to me, and suddenly every word in ‘Puzzle’ resonates with me.

The build to ‘9/15ths’ represents perfectly my slip in to anxiety and depression at that time. “How do you become one again?” was a lyric that, again, hit me. It was a question I frequently asked. I knew I was missing this piece of me, and I didn’t know how to recover. How do you recover? Do you EVER recover? I don’t think so.

For some time I worried that I’d never be able to listen to Puzzle again. ‘The Conversation Is…’, ‘Love Has A Diameter’, even ‘Saturday Superhouse’ (the lyric, “Then I see a darkness, you see a blinding light”, just made me think of the funeral) became too much for me. But ‘Time Jazz’ kept me going.

One day, when I was in the shower, I listened to ‘Machines’ again. It was at this point that I finally started to feel comfortable listening to it again. “Take the pieces and build them skywards” became a lyric of constant solace. Whereas beforehand the song filled me with sadness, suddenly I felt hope. I listened to ‘Folding Stars’ and the lyric “I hope that you’re folding stars” made me think of my Mum again, filling me with this idea of beauty. Ultimately, the songs made me feel closer to Mum. They all gave me comfort.

‘Puzzle’ became my comfort in sound. It made me feel, as a 28 year old man, that I was okay to feel down. It was okay to have the emotions I felt. The Smiths and Nirvana had helped me as a teenager during times of loneliness, but neither gave me the comfort that Biffy Clyro did in grief. They are more than a band to me. They helped save me.

There are really very few ways to say to a band how grateful you are to them for anything and I can only hope that one day, somehow, they see this and they know how grateful I am to them for unknowingly helping a young man deal with bereavement.

Over the past two years since, I have dedicated a lot of time in to raising money for Papworth Hospital in memory of my Mum. I’m extremely proud to say I’ve helped raise over £4,500 for the hospital’s charity and I will continue to raise money for them for as long as I possibly can. This year, I’ll be doing the Three Peaks Challenge, starting in the homeland of Biffy Clyro, Scotland, as we climb Ben Nevis, Sca Fell Pike and end on Snowdon. I will be listening to Puzzle, as well as the other hundreds of Biffy songs I have, on my way up and down each mountain. Biffy have been part of my journey, and they will always remain so.

If anybody reading this is interested in donating to the charity and sponsoring me, please visit my Just Giving page HERE and donate. I cannot tell you how much it means to me.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

And, finally, ‘Mon The Biff.
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A Fresh Start

It feels like an age has passed since I last posted any form of update on this blog. I remember when I started it up I had what were almost ideas of grandeur about it; I was going to update almost daily, I was going to use it to post articles, opinion pieces (well, blogs, duh…), links to published articles…

Somehow, somewhere, life kinda got in the way.

My last post was by far my most viewed on this page, regarding the walk up Snowdon me and a few others did in memory of my Mum, raising money for Papworth Hospital. It seems insane to think that was over a year ago. It also feels insane to think that since then we’ve also climbed up Sca Fell Pike raising more for Papworth. I think we’ve raised over £4500, which, when I look at it, is quite phenomenal. Definitely something I’m proud of. It still feels odd to think that January will mark 2 years since Mum passed. Time flies, memories don’t die, and I still think of that week and that day all the time.

I think that for some time now I’ve been stalling. After everything happened, we all dealt with things differently. I did what I tend to do and I withdrew in to myself and didn’t take the chance to really use the support I had around me. I became anxious, which in turn caused (and still does cause) issues with my stomach, I became a bit numb to other things that were happening and I fell. I’d picture myself in a dark room with no windows and just one door, which on certain days would feel a million miles away. I held all of this in, I can’t tell you why. Perhaps it was easier? Perhaps I didn’t want to admit I wasn’t right? Either way I’d spend most of my time ‘being me’ to anyone I saw in public, before entering that dark room again as soon as I was alone.

I don’t even know how I got on to this, but now I’m typing and it feels okay to get it out. Ironically, despite my best efforts to not let on about my own demons, I’m always the first to tell people they should “talk to someone”. But, you know what…it’s not easy. It’s not fucking easy. Anyone that says it is is lying to you. Facing in to your problems, and admitting that you’re feeling broken and struggling to fix it is really hard. Why would anyone want to openly say it? But, equally, it is the best thing you can do. It doesn’t need to be a doctor. It can be a friend.

Someone very special to me listened to me when I was having a, let’s call it a ‘dark day’, and said “Always keep one eye on that door.” I had someone that understood and would hear me out and would listen. And every time I think I’m dropping, I remember that simple “keep one eye on that door” – there’s always a way back.

I’m on my way. Life has changed, and you have to keep moving. You have to keep going. And, you have to smile. And always keep an eye on that door. Things will, and things do, get better.

I won’t promise to write on this blog every single day. Maybe not even every single week. But I will keep it regular. It won’t all be personal. It won’t all be football. It won’t all be garbage…but some of it may be. It’ll be whatever I choose it to be.

This is a fresh start.

Hi, my name is Adam Townsend.
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Climbing Mountains

snowdon group

I always used to think that when people would say “I think about them everyday” they were being almost too over sentimental, saying things that people are ‘expected’ and ‘ought’ to say. As it turns out, I was the one that was wrong.

Since Mum’s passing in January I can honestly say I have not had one day go by where I haven’t thought about her, and the thoughts can be about anything, brought on by the smallest things. In my own way, I don’t mind having these thoughts because I guess it almost makes it feel like she’s still there, still with me.

I vividly remember when Mum fell ill. I was at work, due to be working to 7pm, a shift I had intentionally put myself on in order to complete some colleague performance reviews. Around half 5/quarter to 6, a colleague came to me with the work phone saying he had Lexi, my fiancée, on the phone for me, which started alarm bells because, well, I don’t get personal calls at work. She told me I needed to contact my Dad. I called him and he explained my Mum had collapsed on the landing. My sister, Joy had found her on the floor, but Mum was awake and talking, just unable to move. Paramedics were on the way.

I remember leaving work and saying to my duty manager that I thought Mum may have just hurt her back, and that was why she couldn’t move or, later, be moved by the paramedic. At no point did I think that things would turn as they did.

mum

Mum was 55 years old when she passed away. She hadn’t suffered with any previous serious illness, the only thing that had affected her was high blood pressure which she was taking medication for. Ultimately, that high blood pressure played a major factor in Mum’s collapse and subsequent illness.

Five days after that fall, after I thought she may have damaged her back, Mum passed away with aortic dissection.

I struggled to come to terms with the shock of that. The whole family did. I can’t write about how my Dad, Joy, Aunt, Cousins felt, but personally I felt like I almost went through two stages of grief – an initial bout of shock that was followed by some large bouts of denial, followed by the realisation that, yes, this had happened, and, no, Mum wasn’t going to walk through the front door and tell us that it was all some sort of joke. Coming to five months on, I know we still all have those bad days, bad moments…but as time goes by we learn to deal and will get better at that.

Somebody, I think it was a nurse, said to me “You’ll always hear people saying that you need time to heal, time is the greatest healer. Ignore it. You never heal; you deal. You learn to deal with it in your way. It’s not about healing, it’s about dealing.” I think they were right.

The five days Mum fell ill and was in hospital getting treatment were five of the longest days of my life, and I can remember so much so clearly it still feels like it was only yesterday. I won’t go in to more details, but I will talk about where she was, and talk about the team that looked after her at the amazing Papworth Hospital.

On the Friday morning, at 7am, I left my Mum after talking to her for what would be the last time while she was awake. We had to leave as the operation was due to start. The surgeon looking after my Mum, a man named Mr Choo, took us in to his office to explain the operation he was about to carry out. I next saw my Mum at 2am on the Saturday morning, Mr Choo sat us in the office to explain how things had gone. 19 hours later, this man was still working, he hadn’t stopped. The next morning, we couldn’t sleep, we were back at the hospital early and so was Mr Choo, continuing to monitor Mum. He was always there, the dedication he put in to it was so incredible to watch and on that Tuesday when the end had come you could see how disappointed and upset he also was. He was with us all the way through it. You don’t forget things like that.

Mr Choo is just an example of the staff at Papworth. Everyday we saw the dedication from so many of the staff there, both working for my Mum and for other patients…it was truly inspirational. To see someone work the hours they do, but never drop the amount of effort they put in, just to try to help, try to save others, was phenomenal. I wonder whether some of them even sleep, to be honest!

The team at Papworth supported us all so much during those last days, and for some people they may struggle to understand why I feel so fondly for a place where my Mum didn’t make it. I feel so strongly for the hospital because of what I saw in every hour of every day; they don’t switch off, they never give up, they do everything they can and they go through it with you, supporting you all the way. They’re a credit to the NHS, these are people we should be proud of, and should support.

One thing that sits in my mind was when I was sat with Mum while she was sleeping post-op, and the nurse was talking to her, explaining what she was doing. It may sound odd, but just something like that alone gave you hope. Every member of that team did what they could to keep our spirits high through an ultimately devastating period of time.

For that reason, a team of us decided to raise some money for the Papworth Hospital Charity; a way to say thank you. A team of 8 of us chose to climb Mount Snowdon at the end of May. None of us particularly experienced walkers/climbers, we set the challenge of doing the climb to raise £2000. The weather was difficult, the walk was tough…both mentally (the Miners Track…constantly looking for the car park on every corner) and physically…but we made it. And, at the time of writing this, I am immensely proud to say we have so far raised £2,591.95.

snowdon climb group

Throughout everything that has happened, it has totally opened my eyes to just how kind and how brilliant people can be. Whether it was the support my work gave me, the team at Papworth, to the several people that have donated out of their own good will and sent messages to us all…I can’t say thank you enough. You have all helped to make positives out of an incredibly negative situation.

I know full well my Mum would have been watching us, calling us “crazy” for going up on what turned out to be a rather wet day, but I know she’d have also been proud of what we have achieved.

She’d also be proud of the work my cousin, Mark, has done in raising £535.34 through his own fund raising efforts.

My Mum was the life of the party, a wonderful woman, and I miss her dearly. I have so much to thank her for, and so much to love her for. I will never stop thinking about her. And if there is another place we go to after life, I hope she’s there having a party now, showing the others how to have a good time.

If you’d like to donate anything to our Just Giving page, please feel free to do so by clicking here. Thank you.

Killing Time

I find myself on the edge of old age. Sitting indoors on a sunny day to watch the snooker, a sport I’m not all that interested in, sipping on coffee. I’ve even downloaded a copy of Wuthering Heights on my phone to read in a bit. I already have the paperback version, I’ve now gone digital and, somehow, it doesn’t feel right. Old age.

Of course, I’m not really that old. When you are old you stop moaning about old age, you accept it, and instead talk about how good you feel for your age. I guess, anyway. I’m talking nonsense.

In reality, I’m currently bored out of my mind. Floor layers are in laying carpet and conversation is simply asking every 20 minutes, “Would you like a cup of tea?” I have become a Brummie, 28 year old version of Mrs Doyle from Father Ted.

I’ve killed some time writing this, none of it probably interests any of you but, well, it kept me occupied.

Now I’m gonna go…the carpet is fitted and I need to vacuum.

What was I saying about old age?

A Forgotten Rivalry Or A Return To The Dark Ages?

I’m normally one to try to write blogs like articles, taking note from my journalism and media writing lectures at University, trying to be as unbiased as I can regardless of topic. It’s not always easy, and I’ve battled against myself at times when writing about West Brom, the club I support. For this, though, that approach would seem off.

It’s been an awful week for the Albion. We’ve gone to Villa Park twice, just 4 miles up the road, and got beat twice. This isn’t a great Villa team we’ve lost to, it’s a pretty awful one…but both times, they deserved it. The Tuesday evening game was a shambles; we went there for a draw, nothing more. I heard the BBC commentator talk of how we dominated the second half and were desperately unlucky but I didn’t see that at all. Villa wanted a win, we wanted a draw. Villa won.

On Saturday, we travel 4 miles up the road again, this time in the FA Cup. First half, we are in control. Brown Ideye, a player I have supported through thick and thin, misses a glorious chance after just 8 minutes. At that point, I said to my other half “We’ve lost this.” We are so utterly predictable. Ideye barely had a look in after that, Berahino didn’t do much…and as for creativity in midfield we may as well give in. Going in at half time with the score at 0-0 I tweeted that we could live to regret those missed chances, and boy did we.

With all the usual typicality of Albion, we came out for the second half and within 6 minutes we are 1-0 down. Villa’s first proper chance, and it goes in. That right there is the difference. It doesn’t matter how ‘in control’ you are, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the better team overall, if you don’t take your chances you lose. Football is not a difficult game, but we love to make it so.

The second half saw Villa come at us. We had to open up after the goal, so it’s inevitable that more chances will come against you, but we were poor. Like the first half on Tuesday night I felt a distinct feeling of ‘Villa want to win, we want to draw’ coming over me. It looked like we wanted the replay. And then came the Yacob red card.

As bad a decision as I think I’ve seen in a long time. Bacuna comes in, Yacob stops. I’m of the opinion that had Yacob knocked the ball forward, Bacuna would have taken him out and probably injured him. In the end, it’s a block tackle from Yacob, Bacuna actually hurts himself. Play carries on for a few seconds, then ref calls a halt, and a red card.

If the referee seriously felt the challenge warranted a red, why did he hesitate? It wasn’t advantage that saw us play on for 5 seconds. It was a poor decision. Did it cost Albion the game? No. As much as I love Claudio Yacob, he isn’t a game changer, and if anybody could honestly say we looked like we were going to grab an equaliser then I wish I was watching the same game. We were out by that point. Scott Sinclair’s goal, the same Sinclair that was so dire at Albion last year, was just icing on an already very poor cake.

Grealish’s red card, also, was a shambles. If a man the size of Joleon Lescott dives in front of you when you are running at full speed how are you meant to stay on your feet? But it’s irrelevant, the game was won for Villa.

I won’t sit here bemoaning Tony Pulis and his tactical decisions. Had Ideye scored, we’d have won on Saturday…but games are turned on those missed chances. We saw that when Mowbray managed us in the Premier League. Before this week the overwhelming view across Albion fans was that Pulis was a saviour. He still is. He’ll keep us up, same way that Sherwood will keep Villa up; but I can’t help think what little that says for the “best league in the world” that two teams so poor will end up surviving yet again.

Away from the shambles on the pitch, it’s impossible to miss the shambles off it.

Prior to the FA Cup game, several Albion and Villa fans had voiced concerns about the late kick off, especially when considering the fact the teams were playing each other two times within five days. But the sheer ignorance to the concern from both the police and the FA just goes to confirm my beliefs that there is a ridiculous underestimation of the rivalry between Albion and Villa across the region and the nation. Whereas my generation feel Wolves are the ‘big’ rivals, for the generation just below me, and the ones below that, Villa is the big one.

I’m not defending fan trouble by saying “we are big rivals”, but it was, just like Albion, so predictable that trouble would flare up.

The reaction to the pitch invasion is, quite rightly, one of disgust. However, it yet again highlights just how little the national media and police, and (by the lack of stewarding) even the football clubs, think of THIS local derby. Had it been Villa v Birmingham, surely the stewarding would have been better, and the policing. Had it been Albion v Wolves, you’d imagine the same. Would there be as much ‘shock’ or reaction had this happened at an Villa/Blues or Albion/Wolves game? I doubt it. But this is Albion/Villa…it isn’t the ‘biggest derby’.

On the pitch invasion, I’d also like to add that had this been at The Hawthorns, and it was Albion winning 1-0, then believe me, it would have happened there, too. I love my football club, but to say that we wouldn’t have done the same is just pure nonsense. Every club has idiots, and, unfortunately, I’ve been watching our idiots grow over time.

Running on the pitch before the game is over is awful; the threat to players’ safety is incredibly visible because of that, and, ultimately, this will play a part in speeches that are bound to come saying that football fans never learn. It’s just disrespect to the game, the players, and, in my view most importantly, the fans that paid over the odds to go and watch it in good nature. Imagine that’s your child’s first game that you’ve taken them to and that’s what they see.

And then, on to my fellow Albion fans; are we any better? Yacob gets sent off and then some mindless bunch start ripping up seats and throwing them on to fans below and on to the pitch. It’s a disgrace and I sincerely hope that they receive the same justice as the people that invaded the pitch before the game finished. And for those that will have read this and gone “We wouldn’t have invaded the pitch…” think about this with the seats.

I remember when we got to the FA Cup Semi Final and got beat by Portsmouth. I went to the toilet after the game, and when washing my hands, some guy with an Albion flag came in and started smashing it to pieces, hitting it against the walls, doors, sinks and so on. There were kids all over the place. This guy with the flag looked about 30. Do you think he would run on the pitch? Do you think people smashing chairs would run on a pitch?

The media reaction is that this was a ‘throwback’ to the dark ages. I don’t necessarily agree with that. Pitch invasions happen. Had this been Bradford, it would have been greeted as one of the great sights…but it wasn’t Bradford, it was Villa, and it was a local derby.

For me, questions have to be asked of Aston Villa and the stewarding – have they forgotten the type of game this was? If it had been Birmingham, there would have been more stewards…should they have anticipated this could have happened? And for the police and the FA, similar questions…have they forgotten just how big a rivalry this actually is?

A shambles of a footballing week from Albion; we weren’t good enough on the pitch in either game. And an utter shambles off the pitch in the end from both Albion and Villa.

Simply put; not good enough.

Rebuilding Relationships and Eating Words

It says a lot that many West Brom fans were disappointed to leave The Hawthorns having seen the team draw against Manchester United. Seeing what would have been a famous win snatched away with a late equaliser put a slight dampener on what was a great night to be a Baggie. A strong organised defensive performance to be proud of.

How times have changed. My last blog on here was called ‘Spitting Feathers’. It was me discussing how very unambitious the hiring of Alan Irvine was, discussing what I was viewing as a stagnation at the Albion. I felt we were heading backwards. Recent weeks, and performances, are making me think I may have spoken too soon.

And I’m not just talking about Irvine there. I’m talking about the club as a whole. The relationship between supporters and club is growing again. The right moves are being taken. The media and PR side to the club has been enhanced (we’ll ignore the Fellaini tweet…) because they’ve hired people that Albion fans know and respect in Chris Lepkowski and Martin Swain. The support for the ‘Justice For Jeff’ campaign has grown.

It’s the little things that matter most sometimes, though…and, for me personally, the biggest indication of the club ‘giving back’ to the fans happened on my birthday on the 28th September. The other half had treated me to tickets for the Burnley game, and with the tickets she had a letter. I opened it to find a signed note from Alan Irvine wishing me a happy birthday on behalf of him and everyone at the club. It may only seem a small gesture to many…but it meant a huge amount to me. Not just because I had received a letter from an Albion head coach, but because I saw it as the club improving relations. Would this have happened last year? Most probably not.

It feels like we are getting our club back.

I’m not naive enough to believe that it’s all hunky dory because of these examples. I know full well the relationship between the club and fans will never be as close-knit as many would like it to be. I know it’s still early days and the good feeling about the club could crash down as quickly as it’s built up. I know there are still questions to be answered by Jeremy Peace for the debacle that was last season; a season that, potentially, could have set us back a couple of years…may still have set us back. We are a club that is still rebuilding off the pitch. And on it?

On the pitch we look completely different. Irvine has, so far, done extremely well and I’m very happy for him. I wanted him to make me regret criticising him being hired and thus far he is doing it. The team look as organised as I have seen for years…at Spurs we defended resolutely, kept shape and got a great win. Against Burnley we kept shape again, we dominated…if a move didn’t work we went back to defence and started again, we opened Burnley up. Tactically it was probably as good as I’d seen from Albion since Hodgson’s days. And last night, against United…kept shape, defended incredibly well and we were very unlucky not to get more than just one point for our efforts.

Irvine has got the team looking organised again. It is reminiscent of Hodgson’s time at the club – everybody knows their role, everybody knows their job. They look well drilled. In comparison to the latter stages of Clarke’s reign and all of Pepe Mel’s, we look miles better. We look a new team. Craig Dawson looks like a new player, Saido Berahino just gets better and better, and Graham Dorrans seems to have gone back in time and recovered his old self. Joleon Lescott adds confidence at the back, even if he doesn’t have a decent game, Andre Wisdom is getting better with each game, we’ve not really even seen our £10m striker Brown Ideye yet…there’s much to be positive about at Albion at the moment.

So, Alan Irvine, keep making me eat my words. Keep proving us all wrong. And who knows where we could end up at the end of the season.

Spitting Feathers

In 2009 West Bromwich Albion were looking for a new head coach. For a long time, the front runner for the job looked to be Alan Irvine. In the end, Roberto Di Matteo got it instead. Irvine held post match interviews after stating that he had actually been offered the Albion job but he’d turned it down. Albion rejected it, saying Di Matteo was first choice and the only one asked.

Fast forward five years. Albion and Pepe Mel part ways after the last game of an incredibly frustrating and disappointing season, the club release 11 players and sign one, Jeremy Peace, the chairman, speaks to the press saying “the buck stops with me”. Five years on, Albion offer the job to Irvine.

In the five years in between, both parties have gone in very different directions. Irvine’s managerial career has been poor, at best average if you’re being kind. At Preston North End he did fairly well until a disastrous 10 game run with one win ended with him getting the sack. His next job, at Sheffield Wednesday, was just poor. For the past few years he has managed the Everton Youth Academy. Albion, on the other hand, saw promotion under Di Matteo, and now look to start their fifth consecutive Premier League season.

It’s unfair to criticise Irvine before he starts work at the club, but the overall lack of ambition that it displays in hiring a figure like Irvine would make anyone believe that Albion are still in the Championship looking at maybe going for promotion. It’s not a signal of intent to any team in the Premier League that West Bromwich Albion are here to stay.

Personally, I feel for Alan Irvine. I feel like he’s been thrown in to a lions den and there is little chance of reward for him. If he doesn’t oversee a good start to next season the I fear the crowd at the Hawthorns could be very similar to that hostile environment we saw at Ewood Park when Steve Kean was manager at Blackburn.

Unfortunately for Irvine, he is a victim to his own good ambitions. He will be overjoyed that he has landed a Premier League job. He is well within his rights to go for it, too. Why should a person not aim for a better position than the one they currently have?

Irvine has a mammoth task ahead of him and he will need more support than any previous Albion manager has. However, I fear that the support he needs will not come to him. The money won’t be made available, the squad will remain small, and he will struggle. Even the fact that Irvine is on a 12 month rolling contract displays a lack of trust and confidence that the job will go well.

Jeremy Peace has much to answer for. It is not unreasonable to believe that Albion should be showing loftier ambitions by now. It is not unreasonable to believe that Albion should be looking at finishing mid-table or higher by now. It is, perhaps, not unreasonable to believe that Albion, in their fifth year, should even be considering pushing for Europe.

To Jeremy Peace, however, it is unreasonable.

To Jeremy Peace, Albion are a club that are punching way above their weight. Surviving in the Premier League is the key goal, so we won’t spend, because if we fail to achieve our target we’ll need financial security to see us through the Championship. “For a club our size…” will be at the start of any reasoning, any excuse, any statement used to defend what is, and what will be seen by everybody, as a complete lack of ambition.

If I try to play devil’s advocate, and find reasons for Peace hiring Irvine rather than a bigger name (and exclude cost element), then the key reason must surely be linked to the Academy. The other key candidate this time round was Tim Sherwood. Both Sherwood and Irvine have a history of developing young players. We’ve spent so much money developing our academy to make it renowned as one of the best in the country, yet, other than Saido Berahino and George Thorne, not many have come through the ranks. Perhaps Peace has decided that he now wants to see the benefits of spending money on the Academy. Though, that said, how big a risk is it to decide to use untried and untested teenagers in a battling Premier League side?

It’s hard to pull many positive spins on the appointment of Irvine. Peace must surely know that now, especially following the reaction of the fans. Not since the days of Tony Hale have I witnessed the fans turn so suddenly on the board. Peace has just one chance now to improve his standing before August, and the thought of it happening fills me with even more pessimism.

Jeremy Peace; for West Brom, for the fans, for Alan Irvine, needs to make the money available and needs to make some big key signings that will show that we are a club that want to move forward, and show that we do have some ambition.

I’ll start planning the away trips to Huddersfield and Charlton now.