Arnold Furious: Adventures in Football #1
So, yeah, I’ve been a bit quiet recently and that’s been largely because of losing an interest in professional wrestling and trying to find something else that I have a passion to write about has been tricky. I tried a diary format and that worked for a while but swiftly became me talking about my Football Manager save and it wasn’t really achieving anything unless you were interested in my Football Manager save. I’ve since been streaming on Twitch (twitch.tv/arnfurious) and that’s my main FM output. Maybe I’ll return to blogging about it at some point, but FM has helped me to re-connect with my love of football. So, what I’m going to do is write about football. Specifically, football journeys as I really loved writing about the trips I took as part of professional wrestling. In order to get on to this journey, I have to take you back to the start. Where I started to love football in the beginning.
#1 THE VICTORIA GROUND.
I didn’t go to football much as a kid. The one time I did go I went with my mom. It was around 1985. We went to watch a friendly match between the current (at the time) Bromsgrove Rovers team and a team of their legendary former players. My mom doesn’t like football. I have no idea why my dad didn’t take me to this but it was my first football match. We left at half time and I didn’t go again until 1992. Why 1992? Bromsgrove Rovers made it into the GM Vauxhall Conference. I was 15 years old and I was about to become a football addict.
Rovers 1 Northwich Victoria 2
September 5, 1992.
I suppose it’s appropriate that my love of live football began with heartache. Over a thousand fans in attendance discovered that the GM Vauxhall Conference may have been a pretty hefty step up for the Rovers. Some of the players were idols to 15-year-old me. I loved Paul Webb, our midfield ace.
Constantly man of the match, he was a level above everyone else and ran the game. Hard in the tackle, talented on the ball. He joined Kiddy Harriers after our Conference days were over and I couldn’t blame him. He was that good. Stewart Brighton, our left back, once had a trial with West Brom. I know because I used to work in a shop with his wife Joan. I don’t think I still have it but I did get a Christmas card from the Brighton’s one year. Kevin Richardson, creatively nicknamed “Richo” but also going by the name “Psycho” because his savage tackles, was our rock at the heart of defence. Chris Hanks was a club legend up front but was getting on a bit and about to replaced by Mark Whitehouse. In this game Whitehouse came off the bench…and was immediately sent off. Along with my mate Brighton. One for a reckless challenge, the other for jumping in afterwards. I forget who did which. Three goals, two red cards. Interesting start.
Rovers 1 Yeovil 0
September 26, 1992
Three games in and I already thought I was a jinx. I legitimately think I’m bad luck for teams. Beaten at home by Northwich and scraping a draw with Welling. However, my jinx ended in game three; a sound thrashing of Yeovil. Well, 1-0 and a Webb penalty. Still the first time I’d cheered a team to victory. Glorious. It doesn’t stop me from removing shirts of teams I support during games because I think it’s a jinx.
Rovers 1 Wycombe 0
October 10, 1992
I’ll never forget this. Wycombe were the best team in the league, by miles. Managed by Martin O’Neill and boasting non leagues top players; the likes of Keith Scott, Steve Guppy (who played for Leicester and Celtic later on) and Dave Carroll. Everyone else got smashed by Wycombe in 92/93. Until Mark Whitehouse smacked home a clinical finish and I got to yell abuse at a famous manager from mere feet away. A 16 year old’s dream come true. The ground was packed with 3675 in. This is the high mark of being a Rovers fan. We knew we wouldn’t win the league and even if we did, the ground wasn’t good enough to cut it at league level. There’s only one stand you can actually sit in and the pitch isn’t flat. Beating Wycombe, a clear league team in the making, and doing so in strong fashion proved we were good. We were in the Conference to stay!
Rovers 4 Altrincham 1
December 12, 1992
During this season there were highs and lows but when this team played well they were sensational. Given a confidence boost by beating Wycombe and having found their best eleven; Paul Wardle joining the central defence pairing and Whitehouse now a regular starter up front. We absolutely smashed Altrincham. Whitehouse got two, Webby scored and Tom Daly added a fourth. This football shit is easy! After winning four games in April and not losing in the last eight games Rovers finished the league second. I was there watching when we beat Woking 1-0 last game of the season. What a year this was. Wycombe won the division by a mile but second!
And now, let me bring you the misery of football. The 93/94 season should have been a continued run in dreamland. Rovers replaced Whitehouse with speedy forward Reckey Carter, added tricky winger Colin Radburn and got through the first two rounds of the FA Cup. We were drawn at home in the third round against Barnsley. I remember queuing for tickets.
Rovers 1 Barnsley 2
January 8, 1994
Mark Crisp, aka “Kipper” because of his distinctive leg movement, put Rovers 1-0 up after 31 minutes and the lads absolutely ran themselves into the ground. Gerry Taggart, an International at that point, was being terrorised by Radburn. Rovers were the better team for 88 minutes. That’s when Barnsley took advantage of Rovers tiring legs. First Andy Rammell and then two minutes later Owen Archdeacon provided the goals that knocked Rovers out. The Barnsley fans did a pitch invasion and a couple of them made a point of telling us that Bromsgrove had a great team and were better than most sides in their league. 4893 were hanging off the rafters for this one and what a heartbreaker it was. I still talk about it now. The glory and agony of being a football supporter. Encapsulated in one game of football. It happened 27 years ago. I can hardly believe it. It feels like yesterday. The memories are so clear.
Rovers 0 Kettering 4
March 19, 1994
It didn’t happen overnight. The team that pushed a league side to the 88th minute didn’t collapse immediately. They won their next three games in the Conference. Cup success caused so much fixture congestion though. Not only the FA Cup but the FA Trophy, the National Conference Cup (Rovers lost in the semis over two legs to Yeovil) and the Worcestershire Senior Cup (which Rovers won). At one-point Rovers played four games in a week…and they stopped winning. In my head I stopped going after we lost three home games in a row but I can’t find that run of fixtures so I think my memory has blended a load of games together.
Rovers 0 Northwich Victoria 5
March 1, 1997
This was the point that broke me though. This was the last Rovers game I went to. I started working on Saturdays the previous year and had gone less and less. I remember explaining to my dad why the dream was over. It’s miserable going to these games. The crowd’s had dwindled. The team was nowhere near as good. Looking at the team sheet, I don’t remember these names as fondly. Darren Grocutt, Nick Amos, Steve Taylor, Chris Smith, Robin Elmes. No thanks. So that was it. I went to almost every Rovers Saturday home game for four years. I experienced the highs and lows of football and I felt I didn’t need to continue doing so. And just like that, I walked away.
NEXT: The Coach Trip