It’s September 26th 2010 and I’m forced to dig out the thermal vest for a football match – the game’s gone.
To be fair, the old Damart faithfuls can come in handy for a pre-season friendly in late July at Stoke’s Brittania Stadium, such is the way the wind whips through the Potteries, but whilst the wife and I have so far resisted in putting the heating on at home, I couldn’t risk a trip to Bolton without a bit more insulation.
Lunchtime kick-offs tend to be more than a tad sluggish – it’s almost as though it takes around an hour for the teams to rub the sleep out of their eyes and run off the bacon rolls for breakfast so the game can liven up. Clearly then, Bolton and Manchester United’s players were all tucked up in bed before X Factor and merely nibbled at a 10g of museli as they rose bright and early at 6am. Well, it could happen. But I’ll get to the game in a moment.
I had to be up at 7 in order to get to Lancashire in good time to set up the commentary equipment. Usually of course, my talkSPORT Sunday consists of a 3-hour review show in the evening, but with our chief commentator off on his stag do, I was asked to reprise my World Cup role for the station, which I was more than happy to do – it’s always nice to try and show how versatile you can be to the bosses after all.
The Reebok looms large to your right as you thump up the M61 away from Bolton city centre – it’s a stadium I have some frustrating memories of previous trips up here. Once I was caught in a 6-mile jam on the M61 whilst trying to get to Bolton/West Brom for BRMB/Capital Gold in 2000 I think. I was 15 minutes late getting in, but true to form of that Albion side with Andy Townsend wheezing his way round in midfield, they hadn’t done anything of note, so I missed nothing.
Unfortunately, I didn’t miss the bollocking I got from my boss Tom Ross the next day for being late, regardless of motorway shenanigans, but I deserved it. Tom, in his defence, usually arrives at stadia around a week before kick-off - I have since learned to do the same. Pretty much.
As I waited for the press ticket collection window to open, I bumped into John Murray from Radio 5 Live. It’s imagined by many listeners (and many radio station bosses) that BBC and talkSPORT reporters at the same game have an unofficial restraining order upon one another and spend the 5 or 6 hours at a ground giving our rivals continuous Paddington Bear-style hard stares and putting salt in their tea when they’re not looking.
This theory is absolute pure unadulterated bollocks – apart from one or two notable exceptions, of course! I’ll let you work out who those individuals are…but John is a lovely, personable chap as so many who work in the press box are – charm personified and always happy to chat about everything and nothing as we waited in the queue, and presently chuckled as our colleague Jack from BBC Radio Manchester timed his arrival on the concourse with the opening of our ticket booth, singularly ignored John, myself and others in the line and strode straight up to the window to claim his pass – of course Jack protested his innocence…if I hadn’t had the thermals on and been a tad colder I might not have been so understanding!!
Alvin Martin joined me in the press room about an hour before the game, buoyed by having only just returned from his 15th holiday of the year. Or something like that. Honestly, Alv has had more breaks than Ronnie O’ Sullivan in the time I’ve known him. Still, better to get a tan at the beach rather than out of a bottle.
The game, as I’ve already hinted was terrific, with Bolton hitting the front twice, only for United to peg them back through Nani & Owen. Stuart Holden was mightily impressive in Bolton’s midfield, whilst Wayne Rooney was again rather subdued…and then subbed. Hmmm…great line in the papers from Colleen’s dad saying Wayne wasn’t welcome in his house…that’ll be the house that Wayne’s wages built I presume?
The mere fact that we had a goal at the Reebok made this game an instantly better spectacle than Birmingham/Wigan was yesterday. Desperate from both sides and an absolute shoe-in for last game on Match Of The Day – didn’t see the show, but if they got a 3-minute highlights package out of the game, they’re either having a laugh or miracle workers.
Alex McLeish does deserve credit for being only the 7th manager in Premier League history to guide his side through a calendar year of fixtures at home unbeaten – who are the others? Well, my esteemed journalistic colleague Ralph Ellis must’ve been up until stupid o’clock working out that Messrs Ferguson, Wenger, Mourinho, Benitez, Ranieri & Evans are the other 6. Well done Ralph – no prizes for such in-depth research, but as he remarked to me, perhaps Blues’ chief exec Peter Pannu might’ve been a little premature when he said Big Eck was ‘no Mourinho’ – the facts don’t back that up anymore you know!!
The real concern for us Bluenoses yesterday was the form of giant striker Nikola Zigic, I’m desperate for him to be a great signing – not just because he cost £6m, but also because Adrian Durham teased me about him out in South Africa claiming he was a ‘dud’. Certainly seems like he’s 6’8” and jumps 6’3”, just like dear old Kevin Francis used to do for us in the 90’s. But ‘Kevinho’ (as we called him) came good in the end and scored one of the great St Andrews goals in a League Cup semi-final against Leeds…plus a vital goal against Brentford that sorted promotion back to the 2nd tier in 1995 and screwed his knee up in the process. Still think he was ace, and no reason why Zigic can’t achieve the same sort of hero status – but he needs to learn how to JUMP!! Somebody get David Lee Roth!!
Got home to find my wife had put the heating on. The game’s definitely gone.