The Pride of The Midlands…

West Bromwich Albion vs Arsenal

It’s a tale often told, but worth repeating.

Tantallon’s links to The Black Country date back to February of 2011, when Dave Brook was in charge of Gornal Athletic’s Twitter feed and Mat Danks was chairman. Dave and Mat very quickly became  Tantallon supporters and in the July of that year I traveled with another good friend of the club to spend a weekend in Gornal hoping to catch The Peacocks playing at home. As it turned out a rather boisterous friendly the Thursday before left Gornal with so many injuries that the Saturday game was cancelled.

It didn’t stop all of us having a fantastic weekend together and I came back from there somewhat besotted with the place and the people. Mat came to our Christmas night out that year and in June 2012 I returned to The Black Country to visit both my existing friends there and a few new ones as well. At the end of last year Mat attended his second Tally Vics Christmas night out in a row.

I’d been unfortunate in suffering from depression during the time between my two visits down south and Dave and Mat were very good and supportive friends to me. Not only that but a large number of Albion fans,  Brummies and Black Country folk  mostly friends of Mat, had befriended me on Twitter. Many of them used to keep an eye out for my darker days.  I started following The Albion because it made me feel closer to people who I cared about in a place that had given me an escape from my demons.

To happier times then and in January myself and our manager Mo Morrison decided we would take a trip to see The Albion and for me to meet supporters who I’d spoken to for up to two years but never met in person. We chose the game against Arsenal and a waiting game began hoping it wouldn’t be moved for TV. As soon as we knew we it would be okay booked flights, hotel and then thanks to John Bayliss – the wonderful @WhallopAOTS on Twitter we got our tickets.

Me and Mo spent the next six weeks spending anything up to an hour a day talking about what we would do and where we would go, who we would meet and what it would be like. I even tried to teach Mo a little basic Black Country dialect cos he was worried about a language barrier.

Leaving on a jet plane

The day finally came and we headed to the airport to catch a plane to Birmingham. Both of us have a pathological fear of flying and I didn’t help matters trying to wind Mo up that the plane would be so crap that the pilots wore leather helmets and goggles. Couple of beers for courage and we were off though relieved it was a proper jet and not the little prop plane we thought it would be.

We arrived to be met by Mat Wright who is top man at our club partner Star14 and used to sit next to Danksy at school. Mat drove us to the hotel and then we headed out to see the sights of West Bromwich High Street starting off in the local casino.

WEST BROM HAS A CASINO!

We made our way up the High Street to Strollers and then into what’s possibly the worst pub I’ve ever been in, The Bowling Alley. Actually there’s nothing possible about that. It’s a defo. It was about this time that Mat told us an interesting little story about Danks and a Liverpool bench coat that I forgot to question him on the next day…

Wrighty was absolutely superb company for the afternoon and helped me discover that I actually like pork scratchings. We played darts, pool and I showed what a wimp I am on the boxing game machine in The Desi before we went for a quick change and then a dinner in The Sportsman Club. Dinner confused Mo somewhat as there were no plates or forks so we showed him how to eat BBQ Chicken Tikka the way they do down there. We were joined by Chris Lepkowski who was to play the central role in making the weekend special for the club, having already got us into the Birmingham Mail that day with a fantastic light hearted piece by Mike Lockley which you can read here.

http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/tantallon-victoria-link-up-gornal-2520962

At this point things went a bit wrong in a typical Tally Vic shambles as due to flat batteries on phones we missed Dave Brook at The Vine round the corner. We are gutted we missed Dave as he is the person who is responsible for us knowing anyone at all down there. When we did arrive there were a whole bunch of Albion fans and even Wolves supporter Russ Cockburn waiting on us. Sat in the corner was absolutely top lad Peter Bone who was proudly wearing his Tantallon Victoria replica shirt. Practically every person there of twenty something people was a Tally Vic supporter.

 Big Mo and Peter Bone

Mo, Wrighty, Me, Chris Cochrane

The beers and the patter flowed until late. When asked if, being horrendously drunk, I would make the game the next day I answered with an incredulous look, “Ahm f*ckin’ Scottish”.

Mo took the easy way out at 11 while me and Wrighty headed to the casino again trying to put the world to rights till about 3am when we returned to the hotel.

We were back in The Vine for 12 the next day and met more wonderful people enjoying some beers and more chicken tikka before heading off to the match with my absolutely dying of a hangover. It’s about a mile to the ground and we were soon in our seats just in time for kick off on a beautiful sunny spring day. It was a special moment for me to be there and I must admit that I felt very emotional.

The Hawthorns

 

On the walk up to the ground we had excitedly bought programmes knowing that Chris Lepkowski had very kindly arranged for a bit about our club to appear in them. We were absolutely buzzing at seeing our little grassroots club in an EPL programme but there was more to come. Chris had told us to listen out at halftime to the PA system. I’d been winding up Mo that he was to go on the park and take a penalty – “Will I f*ck”, was his response.

What actually happened was that The Albion very kindly announced our presence at the game and told everyone a bit about our club and our links to The Black Country. They mentioned The Strathclyde Saturday Morning League and our next away kit which will be in tribute to our friends in that part of the world. It was incredible to hear the team you run, that plays in a park, being welcomed to an EPL stadium and we wish to thank Chris Hall the Social Media Officer at The Albion and Dave Bowler who edits the programme for giving us a shout out.

I’m so happy for the boys who burst a gut and pay to  play for the club and grateful to The Albion that the guys know they got a mention and got to see the programme. It’s a wonderful recognition of their efforts and of their club.

We presented Chris Lepkowski with a “Lewicki 4″ replica shirt as a thank you from the boys which seemed extra appropriate as both our Jan and our friend Chris have Polish heritage.

Everything about the game was fantastic bar the result (well…apart from the bad ted behind me who was slagging Chris Brunt before he’d even had a touch). I loved hearing the fans sing “BOING BOING” which Baggies fans sometimes Tweet as us when we score too.

Dinner time was spent in The Vine again where we met up with Mat Danks, Gurdo Thandi and our Honourary Director of Chaos and General Mayhem Adam Smith – also known as Steve Zacharanda. Having finally got rid of my hangover the five of us headed into Brum to The Lord Clifden where we proceeded to drink ourselves into another stupor on cider slushies WHICH ARE THE BEST THING OF ALL TIME. Back at the hotel we met a group of Arsenal fans who’d heard the announcement in the stadium and sat drinking with us and talking about grassroots football  to 3am.

Sunday it was sadly time to go home, the day starting with a worrying question from Mo.

“Mate…what day is it?”

The taxi driver who took us to the airport sums up The Black Country to me. An Asian of Pakistani origins he saw himself as Black Country first and foremost. He was proud of the melting pot that is the West Midlands and how the different cultures intertwine. A wise man once told me of The Black Country – “Everyone is welcome – just bring your food, your drink and your women.”

Everyone we met over the weekend made us feel at home and a part of things.

On the plane back, we were already planning a return.

Thanks to: (in no particular order) Mark Hayward and family, Steve Nock, FabWBA, Shamps, Chris Cochrane, Chris Lepkowski, Mat Wright, Mat Danks, Adam Smith, Gurdo, The Croom Family, The Hoxton Raj, Aubrey Fellows, Beardy Biff, Peter Bone, Lisa Goodhall, Russ Cockburn, John Bayliss, Penners, Throstle Fantastic, Bald Baggie, Astlebridge, Chris Brownhill, Stuart Fisher, Lee Wickstead, West Bromwich Albion Football club  and everyone else who made us feel at home. 

 

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 11th, 2013 at 8:07 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

One Response to “The Pride of The Midlands…”

  1. @whallopAOTS Says:

    Brilliant, mon.

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