A tale of hero and villain
A many of many masks was Georges Santos, not least the protective one that he had to wear after he and Andy Johnson had something of a coming together on the field during a Tranmere versus Nottingham Forest game, Johnson’s stray arm fracturing Georges’ eye socket. Of this, more later.
The masks to which we refer are of the metaphorical kind, those of hero and of villain as far as his relationship with the Throstles is concerned. And it all started so well too, when the imposing Frenchman made his rendezvous with Monsieur Megson on deadline day in 2000.
Georges was one of the famous five firemen, come to Sandwell to put out the blazing wreck that was Albion’s 1999/2000 season. You remember the one, a bit like the Towering Inferno only more incendiary and more hopeless.
And then Steve McQueen came riding over the hill on his bike – ok, we’re mixing films, but you get the drift – in the shape of Garry Megson. Megson came hurtling towards the disaster with buckets of water in tow, Frank Burrows behind him, busily trying to pump up the water pressure and get the hoses working, while also trying to fan the flames out with his flat cap.
Leaping from the fire engine ready to help put out the blaze were Neil Clement, Desmond Lyttle, Tony Butler, Bob Taylor and Santos, a mixture of permanent signings and loan moves, all designed to bolster a flagging squad and keeping the Baggies from taking the unthinkable drop back into the third tier, a drop that was coming closer by the day.
Santos signed until the end of the season, £25,000 going to Tranmere in return for his services, and it turned out to be money well spent. Santos stepped straight into the midfield and began shoring things up from the outset, giving us a little more defensive insurance to allow the likes of Richard Sneekes to do their work further upfield.
Albion collected ten points from those last eight games, nothing special, but enough to unleash scenes of rapture on the final afternoon of the season when we defeated Charlton Athletic to remain in Division One.
That, we thought, was that, for Georges left The Hawthons in the summer, going to Sheffield United on a free transfer. Just another footnote in the silk stocking of history, a player who had done his bit and would barely trouble our minds again.
Then, on the 16th of March 2002, Albion headed north for a game at Bramall Lane. A tricky fixture and one that we needed to win if we were going to keep the pressure on Wolves in the hunt for automatic promotion, and one which started beautifully, United’s goalkeeper getting himself sent off for handball outside the area just nine minutes in, Scott Dobie giving us the lead nine minutes later.
Albion were in cruise control deep as we passed the hour mark and Neil Warnock made a double substitution, bringing on Santos and Patrick Suffo in the 64th minute.
Did I mention that by this time, Andy Johnson, serial eye socket interferer had joined the Albion? Well, he had, and this was the first time he and the somewhat aggrieved Santos had shared a football pitch since that moment.
It’s at times like this that you find out who your friends are. Forty seconds after Santos came on, Derek McInnes rolled a pass towards Johnson, a pass that needed a bit more weight, a hospital ball of a pass, almost literally.
Let’s simply say that Jonno was so swift in getting to the ball that Santos was late in his robust tackle.
Johnson flew so high in the air after the tackle that he came down carpeted in a light dusting of snow, following which he tried to get up and have a quiet word with Santos, only to find his team mates holding him down as the referee dismissed Santos after a minute on the pitch.
Meanwhile Patrick Suffo head butted McInnes, probably because he was the only Albion player who was his height, and was also swiftly reminded where the dressing room was.
Legend has it that Santos’ 15 minutes of fame came to an end with him trying to force his way into the Albion dressing room, Johnson grabbing a crutch to defend himself, but such scurrilous accusations are surely nonsense…