Friday, 20 May 2011

Canio Be Serious?

Ladies and Gentlemen, May I present to you the new Swindon Town manager, S. Paulo Di Canio.

Lovely chap. Big fan of that Mussolini fellow, apparently.

Looking forward very much to warmly greeting him and his new team at the Kassam Stadium next season.

Monday, 9 May 2011

You Shrews, You Lose.

Saturday, 7th May 2011.
nPower League Two
Shrewsbury Town 3 OUFC 0

I always like the last game of the season, even when there is nothing to play for. As long as you don't end the day relegated there is always something of a party atmosphere about a last-day away trip.

For the travelling 800+ Oxford fans, this was really a non-event - Oxford were playing for pride only. But for Shrewsbury of course, a win for them and anything less for Wycombe at home to Southend, and Shrewsbury would leap-frog our near-neighbours into the last promotion spot. So we had a chance to wreck their party.

I had a full car for a change for the trip to Salop* this weekend. Rising fuel costs dictate that trips like this can't be done alone anymore, however much I'd like to be able to wallow in solitude to a Leonard Cohen soundtrack for the journey. So I rounded up a couple of chaps from London, and a further wastrel from Oxford and off we set to the Welsh borderlands.

It's a funny old town, Shrewsbury. So obviously a bit of a cut-off backwater these days, it has a civic grandeur in places that reminds it was once on the doorstep of the industrial revolution and a very wealthy trading centre some 200 years ago.

It's one of those places that appears a lovely quaint market town with grand civic buildings, but when you scratch under the surface it's quite a rough-and-ready town. A place where the seemingly innocent choice of pub you go into can mean the difference between sharing pre-match drinks with an eccentric bunch of hippies and bikers guilty only of too-much substance abuse over the years; or walking into an angry wall of imitation stone-island jumpers and coke'd-up chavs in tracksuits willing to knock your nose into the back of your head.

Thankfully, after parking up in the town centre we ended up walking into the former rather than the latter - and perhaps the most bizarre pub I think I've ever been to. It was called Yorkshire House and the outside facade in a lovely quiet square next to a beautiful red-stone church did little to prepare us for the delights of the interior that awaited.

This pub you see, had wizards and goblins in it. No, seriously - wizards and goblins. Next to the bar. Wizards and goblins.

I see you don't believe me? Well - here is the proof, as modelled by my lovely assistant Susan.


...and Goblins. In a pub.

Yorkshire House was a metallers pub, with leather-clad patrons and wall-murals of classic Slayer and Iron Maiden albums, and also statues of wizards and goblins by the bar. Well why not I say?

We had a good hour or two chatting to some of the quite crazy locals in there to the soundtrack of Norwegian Black Metal. One friend of mine got chatting to a local who told him he refused to watch football any more because his dad was killed at Shrewsbury's old Gay Meadow ground by a flying tomato which hit him right on the temple. I kid you not, and this chap was either a genius at delivering deadpan comedy or was totally serious.

After our cultural exchange with these crazed Salopians, we got a taxi out to Shrewsbury's new ground. A ground which is a good 3 miles well out of town, surrounded on all sides by fields (fields that had clearly just been coated in shit, judging by the stench), and yet provided not a single parking space for visiting fans. A ridiculous state of affairs and having to traipse back to the town centre was not something I was looking forward to having seen how up for a scrap some of their fans seemed to be inside the ground.

I've not got an awful lot to say about the game itself. More than anything because it was far more entertaining watching the Salopians fighting amongst themselves and with the stewards. There was also the quite hilarious sight of Shrews fans TWICE celebrating what they perceived to be Southend goals, when in fact they were Wycombe goals. Someone must have been having a laugh in there feeding them dud information. Perhaps that is what caused them to kick the living shit out of each other.

"Breathe On 'Em, Salop!"

"Well, either that or kick the shit out of the bloke sat next to you."
90mins came and went, and as an apt reflection for the way the season as a whole petered out too early, our defenders looked like they'd already boarded the plane for their summer holidays by the time Shrewsbury walked through for their third goal. And so, that was that - the season was over.

Our day's adventures still involved trying to get back to our car amidst a mildly-sinister atmosphere though. Whilst walking back amidst the Shrews fans, keeping our heads down just in case any of them were as mentally-ill as they looked they were in the ground, I realised that I wasn't used to this feeling any more. This edgy uneasiness leaving a football game - the feeling that you need to be on guard as it might kick-off at any point.

This used to be par for the course of going to football for me, 10 years ago. The fact is these days I rarely take the train and/or have to walk back to the town centre after a game like I used to- It's normally straight back to the car and off. Plus, for the past 4 seasons we've been travelling to villages or nothing-towns where the threat of trouble just doesn't raise it's head. Other than Luton, the most threatening thing in recent years has been the danger of falling into the duck-pond at Histon and getting the unwanted attentions of a randy mallard.

Nothing did happen on the way back to the car of course, but there was a nervy moment at the bus-stop when I noticed a Schwarzenegger-wannabe who'd been giving it the big-un all through the first half was approaching us, clearly off his tits and also bang up for slapping somebody, if he could.

Shrews Steroid-Man. He looked just like this (or thought he did, at least).
Thankfully, he walked straight past us, probably off home to spit on his mum and beat up his dog. Of course, had he tried it on I'd have used my kung-fu skills on him and he'd have been mincemeat. But I don't like getting the chops flying unless I really have to.

It was a long old day, and the trip home pretty uneventful - but it had all been too much for one of the passengers. Bless.

So, 12th place in the end isn't a bad finish for our first season back in the league - but you can't help feeling that we should have been in the play-off mix, and anything less that that next season will be viewed a lot more critically by most fans than it was this season.

Roll on August!

*Yes, that's right, Salop.
It may now officially be Shropshire but I remember when my Phillip's School Atlas clearly marked this borderlands county as Salop. And the locals seem to still like being called Salopians from Salop. Weirdos. Incidentally, Salop is also French slang for a slapper. Haha, you Shrewsbury Salops!