Monday, 18 August 2014

Boing Boing

Number 13 on my #40before40 list was to take Liv (4) to her experience her first West Bromwich Albion match, preferably at the Hawthorns.

If I'm not playing football on a Saturday, I'll try to find a dodgy stream over the net to watch West Brom's games, or go to my parents house to catch them on Sky Sports, if we're on the telly.

Liv will often watch with me and seems to enjoy it (although I do remember her crying several times as my Dad and I cheered loudly as we demolished Wolves 5-1 in 2012, although she was not quite 2 then!).

I was 11 when my Dad took me to see my first Albion game: a 1-0 win against Huddersfield. We'd just been relegated into the old Division Two, and despite only winning four games that relegation season, I think I remember us been tipped as one of the teams to go up.

My Dad arranged for us to go to watch the team training a couple of days before the game, and the then club captain, Martyn Bennett, took my Panini 85 sticker album to get it signed by the squad, including Steve Bull and future England international, Carlton Palmer.

Watching from the old Rainbow Stand at the Hawthorns, I became completely hooked as Bennett duly scored the winner with a diving header.

It was an interesting time to start watching football: there were still strong elements of hooliganism, and the cages were still in place, as was terracing pre-Hillsborough. I think it cost me £3 to get in, but fans were certainly not treated as 'consumers' back then, especially by the authorities.

And so, I decided it was time that Liv followed the rite of passage, albeit seven years younger than I did.

The decision was helped by the fact that she'd enjoyed the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and said she'd be keen to go to a game.

I was pleased when the fixtures came out to find that Albion had been given a home game for the first match of the season against Sunderland.

Having sat through many terrible, dire matches in freezing cold and wet weather over the numerous winters of watching, I was thinking that a game at the start of the season, when there's a better chance of it being warmer, would be the ideal option.

I contacted our family friend Ray, who had been my Dad's best man and also looked after MPAD's accounts when I first started the business, who popped up to the ground to pick up tickets for us.

Once we'd got tickets I thought it would be a good idea to make a bit of a road trip of it and catch up with some relatives, as well as show Liv some of the sights in the town of my birth - Dudley!

We set off early on Friday (15th August) to beat the summer traffic leaving Cornwall and headed to Merry Hill.

First stop was the West Brom club shop to pick up a t-shirt for Liv (and a Baggy Bird for Bryher).

Liv had wanted to get the new football shirt with 'Picken' and '4' on the back, but at £54.95 I said no! She seemed to be much happier with the t-shirt with the club crest in pink anyway.

Liv with her bag of swag at the West Bromwich Albion club shop in Merry Hill

We had a quick stop at the Disney Store (where we found the much sought after Elsa teddy from Frozen), followed by lunch at Nando's, before heading off to see my Dad's cousin for a cuppa, and then heading up to our other cousins - Kate and Mark - to stay the night.

Daddy / Daughter road trip - lunch at Nando's Merry Hill

Saturday arrived and Liv put on her t-shirt and we ventured off to Ray's for lunch, one of his world famous ham sandwiches, before setting off for West Bromwich.

At this point Liv fell asleep in the car, and I was having some slight concerns that it may all be a bit too much for her.

I had explained to her that going to the game was a bit like going to a panto: you cheer the heroes (West Brom) and boo the baddies (Sunderland and the referee), as well as cheer and clap a lot (hopefully....)

But a quick 25 power nap seemed to do the trick and she awoke excited and raring to go.

As we walked up Halfords Lane towards the ground the crowds started to build, and we stopped to get a flag and a programme before heading through the turnstiles.

Outside the Shrine

We took our seats in the Birmingham Road End and Liv started to wave her flag around, almost hitting the people sat in front and behind us (apologies if you're reading this!).

In our seats in the Birmingham Road End

Then, the best moment of the afternoon as far as Liv was concerned. As the players warmed up, Liv spotted Albion's mascot, Baggy Bird, at the front of the stand. She wanted to meet him / her.

So I rushed down the steps and took her behind the goal for a photo opportunity.

A very excited Liv with Baggy Bird

I had to keep an eye on her as there were a few wayward shots coming over from the players, and the steward was not entirely happy with her standing on the electronic advertising hoarding to be next to Baggy Bird.

West Brom players warming up: Graham Dorrans about to take a shot at Boaz Myhill while Dean Kiely watches on

Players warming up before kick-off

The game kicked off and Liv carried on waving her flag and shouting 'Come on West Brom!'.

But, after five minutes Sunderland took the lead after a 'worldy' from Lee Cattermole.


That only lasted momentarily, as on nine minutes a picture of the late Albion legend, Jeff Astle, came up on the big screens and the whole ground broke into applause for the #JusticeforJeff campaign (Jeff's family are trying to get recognition from the FA about the issues of sport-related head injuries after he died from a degenerative brain disease). Despite being too young to see him play, my Dad has told me that heading was one of strengths and he scored a lot of goals from them).

Albion came back into the game and started to create chances. Long range efforts from Chris Brunt and Sebastien Pocognoli went wide, while a similar effort from Craig Gardner was well saved.

We got back into the game five minutes before half-time when Victor Anichebe was adjudged to have been fouled and the ref, who'd been having shocker, awarded us a soft penalty.

We all stood up and I held Liv in my arms to watch the spot kick.

Up stepped Saido Berahino to dispatch the ball into the back of the net.

Loads cheers and a quick Boing Boing followed as Liv held her hands over her ears, saying that it was too loud!

The half-time whistle blew and Liv asked if it was time to go home!

Despite eating two of Ray's world famous ham sandwiches during the first half, she wanted a packet of crisps and a bottle of water. So we joined the massive queue in the concourse and waiting for 15 minutes before being served.

As a result we missed the start of the second half and an Albion 'goal' that was ruled out for a supposed foul on the keeper.

Albion were more dominant, with Sunderland's best chances coming from set pieces.

Liv was starting to get a bit fidgety at this point, so I sat her on my lap, but she still kept shouting 'Come on West Brom'.

Graham Dorrans then had a shot that was parried by the Sunderland keeper, and the loose ball was picked up by Gardner on the left hand side of the box.

We all stood up, me holding Liv again, as he crossed for Berahino to get his, and Albion's second. Cue more loud cheers and Boinging. Liv put her hands on her ears again to block the noise.

"What happened Daddy?" she asked. "We scored. You saw a goal" I replied. "Does that mean we're winning?" she asked. "Yes it does" I said. "Hooray! Come on West Brom!" cheered Liv.

With five minutes to goal, poor marking from a dodgy free kick let Sunderland in to equalise.


As the game was drawing to a close, the fourth official held up the board showing five minutes added time. At this point Liv announced that she needed the toilet immediately.

The queues of people leaving the ground were starting to build and while we were waiting to make our exit the final whistle blew.

Liv turned to me, gave me a kiss and said thank you for taking her to the game. I was very chuffed (although I would have been more chuffed had we won).

We made it to the toilet in time, before dropping Ray at the metro station and making our way to the motorway to head back home to Truro.

By the time we got home Liv was fast asleep and went to bed in her new West Brom t-shirt.

It was a brilliant trip and I enjoyed the time together with Liv. 

Now just have to see if Bryher wants to do it all in a couple of years time......

Boing Boing!

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