Day 25 of the blog post a day in May challenge and we enter the final week with a touch of egg chasing.
“I put a note in my diary today. It simply says… ‘bugger’.
Captain Kevin Darling, Blackadder Goes Forth
THERE was a time on the way back from Gloucester’s Gallagher Premiership play-off semi-final defeat at Saracens when today’s blog post was going to ape Captain Darling’s diary entry.
It wasn’t really the way the season was meant to end, going down 44-19 and, to be frank, not really being in the contest for much of the 80 minutes.
But ‘bugger’ does not really do the positive mood among Gloucester fans justice – and they are not normally too slow in having a good moan. Think we had enough time knowing the outcome was inevitable to come to terms with it.
It is perhaps a fitting epitaph to today’s game, but not to this season which has been studded with highlights and third place, our highest finish for… look, it’s late, it’s been a long day. Do you really want me to look it up? Trust me, it’s been a while.
We beat the top two (one of them twice), didn’t lose to our biggest rivals, returned to the play-offs and the top level of European competition without being embarrassed (safe to say that, the one heavy defeat was the only home game without me in The Shed all season).
And we have welcomed new stars from the Southern Hemisphere (Franco Mostert is on his way to a statue in the city centre which is likely to tackle passers-by, get up and keep on doing it) and just down the road – try of the season scorer Ollie Thorley, once of Cheltenham College.
Familiar faces like Ben Morgan have shown their true worth (even the bloke behind me in The Shed seems to have stopped complaining about him) while Josh Hohneck and Fraser Balmain have performed wonders as, for a long time, the only fit, experienced props.
And then there’s Danny Cipriani.
The player of the season – don’t take our word for it, pretty much every individual award has gone his way – announced himself with a real ‘I was there’ moment with a ridiculous scoring pass in the home opener and (bar brief injury and suspension breaks) has not really let up compiling his personal highlight reel.
If only Eddie Jones felt the same way we do ahead of the World Cup – although, given events in Jersey and Munster, maybe a good job if we don’t let him head off to play on another island.
Yep, it’s been a good season but let’s not kid ourselves – we were, by some distance, second best today.
Saracens are a formidable outfit who have hit top form at the right time, claiming a third European Champions Cup success two weeks ago and bringing that form into today’s clash.
Which serves as a reminder, if anyone needed it, that there’s a long way to go for Gloucester.
Johan Ackermann has just completed his second full season as head coach – his opposite number Mark McCall has been there a decade and has built an extraordinary machine crammed with top-notch players (Maro Itoje was remarkable today while if Ben Spencer is not in England’s World Cup squad, questions need to be asked).
That’s a lot of ground to make up on the pitch, that we travelled with a degree of hope shows how far we have come.
And we travelled in numbers – reckon at least half of the 9,500 crowd were clad in Cherry and White. Which is a remarkably low number for the champions of Europe in a semi-final of the top domestic competition.
Don’t want to knock Saracens or their fans, the vast majority of whom were welcoming, fun and enjoyed the occasion with us – every club has a few cocks, we certainly do, and the less said about the one by us who decided to celebrate tries in such confrontational fashion the better.
One question though. When cruising to a final place, do you really need to be urged to ‘make some noise’ over the tannoy throughout the final quarter? Kingsholm would have been rocking throughout.
Not the place then for the bloke sat next to me who got upset his conversation was interrupted by shouts of “Glawster, Glawster…”.
To the rest of the Saracens fans who were excellent, good luck in the final.
To the Gloucester fans licking their wounds, let’s end this in the finest possible style (if not the best quality)…
THERE is an odd phenomenon which happens some time before the clocks go forward each spring.
Quite when depends on how bleak the previous few months have been but around the point at which it becomes pretty easy to remember the rest of Gloucester’s fixture list, the end of the rugby season cannot come soon enough.
It has not always been like this, but when egg chasing on and off the pitch infiltrated the bulk of my working life, the end of the season increasingly became a moment to savour.
It did not last long. Within weeks – often within days – we had replaced spending Saturday afternoons covering matches or producing pages based around that coverage with going to the pub to watch the summer Test matches over a few beers.
And before you knew it, that gap on a Saturday afternoon needed filling (to say nothing of the sports page which don’t just vanish all summer) and the countdown was on until the first match.
Rugby – and sport in general – forms only part of the day job now. More of a watching brief than the heart of the role. Writing about it and designing pages about it has been replaced by watching it. As a fan.
The same still applies. By around March, the end of the season cannot come soon enough – not that you would have heard any complaints if Gloucester had managed to extend their season into the play-offs (two heavy defeats to end the league campaign made sure that didn’t happen, but we were seriously in the running until then which made a refreshing change).
It’s not the rugby. You wouldn’t find me anywhere else than in The Shed for any home game or in front of the TV for any televised away match. It’s just that you start to crave a weekend that doesn’t have to be planned around the game (and the getting there early to save a place in The Shed).
Was certainly desperate for the season to end as Gloucester, down to 14 men, were hanging on into the final couple of minutes of the European Challenge Cup final (our third in four years) against a Cardiff Blues team that really should have been buried before the break.
Season’s end came little more than 60 seconds too late, a last-ditch penalty bringing the kind of finale Gloucester fans have seen all too often in recent seasons. It’s got to the point where it is hard to accept we have hung on for the win until you’ve seen it on the TV highlights.
By the end of that night in Bilbao (the venue needs an explanation nearly as long as some of the journeys it took to get there), rugby could just go vanish.
For three days. Right up to the point when Gloucester signed Danny Cipriani.
Unlike the influx of South Africans (more may have arrived by the time you read this*) and Matt Banahan from Bath – akin to Liverpool signing Gary Neville in his playing days – this was not rumoured for weeks, debated and ranted about by the keyboard warriors who would find something to complain about if Gloucester went the whole season undefeated. There had been the odd whisper which over the course of a weekend became a roar.
Popular rantings on forums and social media over the past season included opposition to the renaming of The Shed (it is officially, shock horror, The Greene King Shed although you will not hear anyone call it that), one woman’s crusade against players not spending enough time thanking fans at away games, the selection of beers (much of it supplied by the same sponsors), unsuitable headwear and the club not announcing any new signings.
Whether there was any to announce or not and regardless of whether the player had signed or any agreement between his old and new club over a big reveal. Never mind any of that, somebody had mentioned it on the forum, why had the club not announced it?
Cipriani’s signing – by my reckoning, the biggest name since at least the capture of All Black lock Ian Jones the best part of 20 years ago – was met with almost universal support. Almost.
There were those fretting about his wages and those about what was going to happen to our existing outside-halves. Because clearly we are going to play the same 15 players in every game next season. And one of our No 10s didn’t really play inside centre for Wales in the autumn.
But the keyboard complainers did not have too long to wait. Little more than 24 hours later and they hit the mother load.
Word got out of an announcement – people were invited, people talk, however much the club try to keep it quiet – and the amount of times two plus two came to totals other than four was astonishing.
More signings (complete with mixed reviews, despite not knowing who they were) and a rebranding as Gloucester Lions were presented pretty much as fact. Opinion on Twitter, after all, is confirmation of the truth these days.
And that opinion, particularly about the rebrand, was not a welcoming one – no matter how many times the club denied it. Even after the event. You fear for the king of the jungle around these parts if we ever have a referendum to take back control from cats.
The truth barely caused the complainers to draw breath.
Yes there was a lion. In a new badge. On a new shirt. But no, we remain Gloucester Rugby. We Are Gloucester Rugby as the branding repeats.
Personally, like the shirt (first current one bought since about the time Ian Jones was playing for us) while really cannot get excited one way or another about the badge. Far more concerned about things that actually matter, like what’s happening on the pitch.
And the number of bobble hats in The Shed (probably the favourite issue all season which has become something of a running joke).
But the complaints rolled in. They hated the shirt, declaring it was destined to sit unloved in the club shop (early evidence suggests otherwise) if it was even in the shop before the season started (it was later that day), the lion on the logo had no connection with the club (bar the lions on the old crest and that of the city) and it looked just like Leicester Tigers.
Which, as more than one wag pointed out, suggests they would be easily confused at West Midlands Safari Park.
The shirt’s fine. Some are better than others, if you don’t like it wear an old one and we’ll have a new one soon enough. At least it’s not dayglo, highlighter pen yellow. Or blue, black and white.
The logo is OK, if you really care, and with my page designer head on is certainly more user-friendly than the old one. And no, however many forum gurus claim otherwise, we are not changing the name to Gloucester Lions. They are not going to spend all this money on a rebrand and then change the name.
All this means the need for a summer break is desperately needed. Not from the rugby (already looking forward to next season with more than the usual optimism), but from the serial complainers.
My favourite was the unknown guy who, walking home after a draw with Wasps, blamed the defeat on Ben Morgan – partly for missing tackle for one of their tries. After he had gone off.
He then criticised Ruan Ackermann for being granted a short mid-season rest.
How could a pro sportsman earning decent wages need a rest, he argued? Akin to the utterly ridiculous argument – seen countless times in the last few days – that Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius can take the mental anguish and quite shocking online abuse following his errors in the Champions League final, just because he earns a lot of money.
Having opted not to run into him repeatedly (there is, even mid weight loss, quite a lot of me) and arrange to do the same on a weekly basis to see at what point he needed a rest, pointed out the still young back-row forward had not missed a game up to that point and had not had a break after reaching the Super 14 final with the Lions in South Africa, my unhappy companion thought for a second and dismissed my observation.
“He didn’t play for the Lions,” he argued. “He couldn’t, he’s South African.”
As he stormed off ahead before my explanation there was more than one Lions, the woman with him turned to me, shrugged, considered an explanation but simply shrugged again, smiled and sloped off in his wake, resigned to a long night.
Gloucester’s season was not the only thing coming to an end. The G section of the A-Z of the iPod reached its conclusion, all 498 tracks from The Lemonheads to The Kills.
It was a relatively short sprint with some old favourites in The Lemonheads, The Clash (Guns of Brixton – twice – and Groovy Times), REM (Green Grow The Rushes) and Half Man Half Biscuit (Gubba-Look-A-Likes) plus less frequent, but very welcome, visitors in I Am Kloot (Great Escape), Stornoway (The Great Procrastinator), Charlotte Hatherley (Grey Will Fade) and Drive-By Truckers (Guns of Umpqua).
And there was some classic country, two versions of Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs… which always takes me back to a US road trip and a cover version in a bar during a memorable night in Austin, Texas.
You’ve got to do something when there’s no rugby.
* Two more have been announced between writing this and posting it.
EVENTUALLY, think my father forgave me for crossing the bridge and decamping to live and work in Wales.
He never quite got the hang of deadlines and would call for a chat after major rugby matches, no matter how many times it was explained to him that the final whistle was when producing sports reports and pages really got busy and was not the time for a post mortem.
If he was still with us (and my career hadn’t, via a circuitous route, switched from sport to news), not sure that would be a problem following my latest move – doubt he would be talking to me.
Wales is one thing, Bath is another. Behind enemy lines. It’s a Gloucester thing.
But, for a while at least, Bath is my destination for the (far too early) morning commute after a year of travelling and, for the last couple of months, freelancing was ended with a permanent return to the workforce.
Back on the payroll, back to a guaranteed salary, back to paid holidays (yippee), back to only five weeks off a year (booooo), back to the career. And back to being able to give an accurate answer about what my job is.
It’s all been a bit confusing for the last few weeks, that limbo that became my life on returning from Africa transferring to the office (when it wasn’t still asleep on my sister’s sofa), neither out of work or employed, sat at a regular desk, but without any recognised role, a regular at leaving dos, without having actually started.
“What do you do?” was the short version of what one of our trainees asked at one of those leaving dos.
Best answer at that time was “whatever anyone is willing to pay me to do”. Well, within reason.
It was far too difficult to go any deeper as, at that point, two job offers were on the table, one further afield (and back in sport), one on familiar territory. Sort of.
Having spent a lot of time thinking on the back of a truck over the past year, one clear decision (along with vague plans to do a degree and finally write that book) was that putting down roots somewhere familiar was infinitely preferable to relocating and starting anew, even if life by the seaside had its attractions.
So back home to Gloucester (or Cheltenham, to be precise) it was… or was it?
Pretty much a year to the day after leaving, my return to my old company was confirmed, complete with a twist. Not employed by my old paper or even in the old office, my new role was as an employee of the region, dispatched to where needed. Have log-in, will travel.
And where needed is, for the next couple of months, Bath where there is a need for a senior body on their news production desk. As Sam Burgess leaves town, another person not that hot at more than one position on the rugby field arrives – and comments like that are probably why my services won’t be called for on the sports pages.
Three days in and all is going well (at least nobody has told me any different yet), but in a World Heritage City, the main view so far has been the back of the car in front while sat in a traffic jam and questioning the decision to opt for a hire car rather than taking the train (long and circuitous) for the first couple of weeks.
It took almost as long to get out of Bath on my first day as it did to get the rest of the way back to Gloucester. That has improved – partly due to actually finding the right route – but it still means a lengthy commute at either end of the day.
Which means, in the evenings at least (radio in the morning), plenty of progress through the A-Z commute through my iPod (see, almost seamless link).
This latest chunk, plugged into the stereo of the hired Ford Focus with handy display identifying any surprise appearances, has taken us from Depression Era (Patterson Hood) through Desire, Desolation and Diamonds (with the odd bit of Devil thrown in) to Dig A Fire by Pixies.
There was also one of my common fallbacks which can be manipulated for headlines involving design (surprisingly common), the Manic Street Preachers’ A Design for Life.
Ryan Adams, almost inevitably, appeared just after with three versions of Desire, which fed straight into Desire As from Prefab Sprout, who also popped up with Devil Came A Calling.
The Devil… section was rounded off by Devils Haircut by Beck while on the opposite extreme, the Sugarcubes gave us Deus (although they are adamant he does not exist).
Paul Simon was the pick of the Diamond tracks (Diamonds On The Sole Of Her Shoes) while another musical veteran ate up the miles – even in a traffic jam – with more than 11 minutes of Desolation Row by Bob Dylan.
A couple of familiar faces popped up twice, Half Man Half Biscuit with Descent of the Stiperstones and Dickie Davies Eyes and Sufjan Stevens with the noticeably wordy Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!) and, quite apt considering the number of festive stories which landed on my screen this week, Did I Make You Cry On Christmas (Well, You Deserved It!).
But pick of this section was the wonderful Different Day from the equally wonderful Jason Isbell.
BACK in the early days of this blog, an appearance by Echo and the Bunnymen prompted a recollection of my first proper gig (excluding, on musical grounds, being taken to watch Culture Club a few years earlier).
As well as triggering my teenage obsession with the Bunnymen (which still surfaces reasonably regularly and had me wallowing in the peerless B side of Ocean Rain just a few days ago), their Songs to Learn and Sing tour stop-off at Gloucester Leisure Centre was also the first live experience for actor Simon Pegg.
That confession also came with a recollection that those of us who were likely to don long black overcoats and spend hours dissecting music and lyrics by, to quote John Peel, ‘white boys with guitars’ were not overly well-served with live music on our doorstep in Gloucester.
Which is what prompted a bit of a telling off.
Still stick by that assertion, but a long-time friend who appears to be a relatively loyal reader (which rather narrows it down somewhat) was at a lot of those same gigs and remembers it rather differently.
She reeled off a list of gigs she had been to at the same venue – several of which had totally passed me by, either through lack of attention or some musical snobbery – and it was fairly impressive.
It was just compiled over the best part of a decade when those of us compiling a soundtrack to our teenage lives could have done with far more regular live outings and somewhere to see smaller, newer bands we had read about in the NME but were never going to fill the large box which was the sports hall at the Leisure Centre.
We eventually got one in the shape of Gloucester Guildhall – the old Mayor’s Parlour where generations of city children had assembled for their one invite to the annual Christmas Party, converted into an arts centre – which provided regular Friday night live music as my teens rolled towards an end and beyond (there’s a story about EMF and their video for Unbelievable, but we’ll get to that at some point, never mind an argument with the keyboard player of a minor indie band during their set).
And the Guildhall still offers an eclectic mix of live music and somewhere which needs frequenting a bit more often.
It also offers something the Leisure Centre never could – decent sound.
Far from flawless (but who needs Carnegie Hall at small live venues), but certainly much better than that echoey box – built for badminton and five-a-side football, not music – with the sound bouncing back off the walls end echoing around the walkways above.
Had no idea of this at first (certainly not as the Bunnymen were luring me into their web -warren?), but as my musical knowledge (and, let’s be honest, snobbery) took hold, it became ever more noticeable.
Didn’t stop me enjoying some great gigs there, mind.
And very near the top of the list of gigs there lie the Pixies. Suggest only The Smiths and the Bunnymen are alongside them in the top echelon (Radiohead took their place among my top gigs at later outings, not supporting James).
Pixies stand alone, however, as they got round the sound problems by being just so bleeding loud. And the word bleeding is used advisedly.
The only bands that can compete on volume are the Red Hot Chili Peppers (seen rather accidentally and who had to be loud in the vastness of Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium) and Sugar, who seemed much louder but it was in a much smaller venue. Basically rather like being upstairs in a pub.
In an interesting take on their trademark, much-aped sound (which is what Kurt Cobain was trying to do when he wrote Smells Like Teen Spirit), they were quiet, loud, quiet, incredibly loud.
And they were fantastic.
Apart from the volume, the fact Frank Black (or whatever name he was using at the time) came across fairly unhinged and Kim Deal was… well, Kim Deal, two things stick in my mind from that night.
Firstly, the band opened behind a curtain which dropped at the end of the first song (Cecilia Ann?) into a thunderous Allison and, secondly, one of our group lost his watch and only recovered it after my full-blooded rugby tackle on half of the mosh pit.
All this – as any regular reader knows, if they are not too busy disagreeing with any of the above – acts as a preamble to working round to mentioning the latest batch of songs on the journey from A-Z on my iPod, which is sort of the whole point.
The latest section took us from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (one of those bands which many other people seem to rate much higher) to Stephen Malkmus (who deserves to be rated much higher by many other people), via plenty of Day and Dead songs.
Among them, of course, was Pixies’ Dead (the video at the top may have tipped you off on that one) from their classic Doolittle album (which may well pop up again in the next entry, as anyone with a working knowledge of its track listing should be able to work out).
They Might Be Giants popped up with a, rather different, song of the same name, while there were some more interesting Dead songs, notably Dead Letter Office from King’s Daughter & Sons (ensuring the Americana quotient was sustained) and Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.
Not just The White Stripes’ version, but also a lovely acoustic rendering from a young singer songwriter, Juliana Richer Daily.
We’ve stumbled across her before on this trip, the regular videos she used to post on YouTube having popped up on my screen when looking for a version of Arcade Fire’s Wake Up (used in the trailer for Where The Wild Things Are) to use as background music in a video and getting diverted to hers.
More established artists popped up – The Jam’s David Watts, the Guildhall-bound Wedding Present (twice) with Davni Chasy from their Ukrainian period, The Beatles, three times, with Day Tripper, which also (minus the space) reappeared by Otis Redding, and Billy Bragg’s Days Like These and its American version.
All together now… “Wearing badges is not enough, on days like these”.
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