WBA v Man U

I’m not sure where you’re reading this, probably in Reservoir, or Tooleybuc, or Tearabagapart, but if you are from one of those little Lanchy villages in the north-west of England (where third grade Australian cricketers have passed themselves off as batting all-rounders for rent, a job washing soot from window sills, and a pint or two from the committeemen) then I thought I’d best explain that we know our soccer (as we call it) here in Australia, and that there are plenty of Manchester United fans who hang off every clipped Ferguson word, every Rooney glide, every Giggs entanglement.

I am not a Manchester United fan. Never was. Although I do like that a team has been named in celebration of linen. Arsenal: in celebration of the weapons factory at Woolwich. Man U: in celebration of linen.

In fact, as a little tacker, I wouldn’t have had a clue about English soccer. In country Victoria we played Australian football, while soccer was that weird game where you couldn’t use your hands (rugby was even weirder and I didn’t even realise there were two forms of it for years).

So when I ran and jumped and threw the discus for the Red Devils club in Little Athletics I had no idea it had been set up by a Man U fan. And when Rolf Harris sang “He’s football crazy, he’s football mad, the football it has taken away the little bit of sense he had,” I thought he was singing about our footy. (And about me)

Things, however, changed when we started watching The Big Match (with Brian Moore was it?) and Match of the Day (Jimmy Hill?)which were arriving on our 1970s TV screens on Monday nights. Are You Being Served, The Two Ronnies, Pot Black, Dave Allen, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Man About the House, Fawlty Towers: we might as well have been living in Tooting Bec.

When my family moved to Queensland I decided to take a serious interest in English soccer, and as a kid who loved books and sport, and had a slightly lateral sensibility, I reversed the trend of well-adjusted and stable youngsters who start following the very best team of the day (which might have been Leeds with their tasselled hose or Liverpool or Brian Clough’s Notts Forest not to be confused with County) and chose the team at the bottom of the Fourth Division. So I have always been a Doncaster Rovers fan. I watched as they disappeared off the charts altogether only to return (someone told me it was on the coat-tails of porn money?) to make their way from League Two, to a strong position in the Championship last season before being knocked about by injuries, and just warding off relegation.

They were always hard to follow from the Darling Downs, which is why I had another team: West Ham, because they were often on TV and I liked Billy Bond (especially) and Mervyn Day. Then one day I saw a West Ham shirt for sale in the local haberdashery (where they also sold manchester), so I spent most of my lawn-mowing money buying it, and that was it. I remained with West ham until the shirt was in threads and Matthew Le Tisier won my affection for his pure sporting genius. Hence a dalliance with Southampton.

I was mad on all sport back then. But I became intrigued by the many, many teams in the four divisions, and would listen to the BBC’s Sports Round-up (with its distinctive music) to hear that long list of scores read. “But first, the football results: “Aston Villa 0, Liverpool 3; Birmingham 1, Wolverhampton Wanderers 0….”)

The years have rolled on, and now I live in Melbourne, and on this cold, wet night I am in front of the fire, watching Chelsea away to Stoke, in a drab match. On the other Foxtel channel is Australia v Sri Lanka in the first one-day international which is even drabber, so I pour another glass of red and contemplate watching Racing Replay from Bairnsedale or Penola or wherever they raced today, or a bit of poker.

Our pre-match banter here in the colonies is anchored by a generic host: one of those blokes who on first glance makes you wonder whether Ken of Ken and Barbie Doll fame has kicked in to life. He is joined by Mark Bosnich who is lively and loose (and possibly nuts) and at least has something to say, and Craig Foster whom you might remember from Portsmouth and Palace (or you might not).

Of particular amusement to me is the coincidence that the night before Doncaster has played West Ham in the Championship, and that the Clarets have won. The Rovers injury woes continue.

And so we cross to The Hawthorns, home of West Bromwich Albion, where Man U begin their title defence, in a game the scheduling of which was in doubt for a while. Since Maggie Thatcher said there was no such thing as society and Trainspotting had a deleterious effect when studied in schools (the way Clockwork Orange didn’t when I were a lad) England looks pretty stuffed, especially when observed from the second fairway, the beaches, and the pubs of Australia.

But at least you’ve got your football.

From the outset the referee is under pressure when the first pass of the match is knocked sharply straight at him. He cocks his leg in time, straddles perfectly, and the game is in motion.

Immediately Rooney stands out, running, turning, dinking here and there. When he is changing direction he has the tilt of a Formula Whatsit motor cyclist. Such balance.

Man U have a few early chances close in, with a scrimmage or two in the goal-mouth, somehow thwarted by the scramble of the home side’s defenders.

I am no aficionado of football so some names are new to me, but I notice a few players in the way that a general sports fan can see quality and class. Somen Tchoyi is one of those players. He’s big, and strong, and having an immediate impact, the mid-fielder from Cameroon.

Rooney presents and demands the ball. He gets a first-time touch which glances off the outside of his right foot like Mark Waugh gliding Devon Malcolm through fourth slip. Young knocks it back to him at the top of the box, he touches, turns onto his left and bangs it across the keeper for a beautifully-constructed goal. These blokes are good.

The Baggies, who haven’t won the League since the flu epidemic just after the First World War, are on the improve, finishing mid-table last year. But they’ll do well to keep this potent attack out. Chances to Nani, and Rooney, and Nani again (just over the cross bar) have the home fans worried.

Controversial young Spanish goal-keeper, David de Gea, already the subject of disquiet among the hordes of Man U fans around the world, makes a fine save, as West Brom have a good patch.

Tchoyi is in everything. After a number of attacking moves, he is again strong over the pig leather. He passes across the top of the box to Long on the left. Left beats one, and takes his shot quickly; too quickly for de Gea, who, caught unawares, goes over the top of a shot which is fractionally quicker than dribbling. Goal to The Baggies and the locals go off. 1-1.

WBA are in this, and after half-time when back in the Australian studio de gea cops a hammering, the game is a stalemate. The early buzz has gone. WBA will be happy with the point and defend admirably until a deflection from Young’s shot (or was he squaring it in to the six yard box?) gets past an unlucky Foster. And it’s 1-2.

Sir Alex is relieved. But he has some worries: injuries to Ferdinand and Vidic, and maybe a dud signing in the keeper.

It’s three in the morning.

At least the kids are sleeping.



About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. JTH

    Interesting that you mentioned Arsenal and the Two Ronnies is the same piece. My support of Arsenal goes back to a Two Ronnies joke on club nicknames… you can guess where they went with ‘Arse’nal.

    Also, thanks for reminding me about Dave Allen – read his biography a year or so ago. Was interesting to read how important Australia was in the development of his career.

  2. Peter Flynn says

    C Little,

    Can’t believe that you didn’t begin supporting Bristol City.

  3. P Flynn

    Good point, well made.

  4. Thanks John, Wonderful reflection. West Ham to me was Alf Garnet – “Silly old Moo!!”

  5. Good to hear that there is another Doncaster Rovers fan in the Knackery.

    I chose them because I lived in East Doncaster, Victoria.

    Always my first choice in Premier League Manager, or FIFA.

    However, I must admit I have never actually seen them play a game.

  6. Shaken, alovesupreme is a Rovers man as well.

  7. David Lloyd says

    dear John,

    you left out the other great reason for following West Ham, that Alf Garnett was a West Ham man. You are probably too young to know Alf, but if you get a chance, have a look at the show. What I love most is the set, the whole of English post-war society is encapsualted in it, although I do love the jokes, especially the one about sending the navy to sink Ireland.

    Keep up the good work, but I hope you are feeling guilty about killing our coach (Dean Baily) a couple of weeks ago


  8. It must have been the lot of comedy writers in England at that time. Are You Being Served is also about the composition of England, beautifully crafted with Grace Brothers being England herself. If you haven’t seen the book Mrs Slocombe’s Pussy I recommend it to you. An engaging look at English TV from 1966 onwards.

    PS Re D Bailey, I would like to be the personification of the Geelong Footy Club but I can’t claim that, which is no doubt very good for the Geelong FC.

  9. Alovesupreme says

    Sorry, I’m not in the Donny camp; I expect that you’ve been misled by my offering a couple of heads ups about references to the Rovers in various obscure websites. Apart from Sunderland, I have some interest in Norwich, Swansea, Rochdale, Oldham, Scunthorpe, Shrewsbury and Crewe, and Celtic north of Hadrian’s Wall.
    My initial interest was sparked by Tiger annuals and weeklies, long before I had even a vague grasp of the rules and tactics of the game.
    My brother and I picked a team in each of the English four divisions as we did habitually for every Victorian footy comp. When promotion or relegation left me without a team in a particular division, I generally adopted another to ensure that my collection had the full complement.

    Re West Ham, Alf’s racist bigotry was far too off-putting for me; however, I guess the defence is that Warren Mitchell (who played Alf) recounted how he was nonplussed to encounter people who didn’t realise the show was satirical, and who congratulated him for his forthright views on race.

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