Another side of an unlikely yearon this very site yesterday sent the mind back to the season of 2001/02, a campaign that still sits vividly in the memory, day by day, far more so than probably any other, certainly since I began working here back in 2000.Andy JohnsonTHE “Catch Up” with
We all know how it ended, and the fact that we produced the best comeback since Lazarus decided to get out of kip after all obviously heightened the memories and the emotions, but it was a season that, right from the outset, was special in all kinds of ways.
Trawling through it all would take forever, so I’ll chuck you a few impressions of it instead if that’s ok? If it isn’t, click now.
You could tell it was going to be weird when the press office – there were two of us – got a frantic phone call while we were in Ikea buying a new desk – we hadn’t got one between us – to tell us to get back to the office quick because Gordon Strachan had offered £5,000,001 for Lee Hughes.
There was the night at Cambridge when we discovered Igor Balis could take a great penalty, only to immediately forget about it for the next eight months. That night, we became the first team to take part in a televised game that had more people in the crowd than watching at home – and there were only 3,363 there. I later got a rollocking from an Albion fan for having blocked his car in – we were parked three deep by stewards – because I’d been hanging around waiting for Gary Megson to dispense words of wisdom.
Gary, as you may recall, could be a trifle volatile at times. Never was this better demonstrated than at a press conference when we were trying to sign Danny Dichio. One journalist, who covered a multitude of sports, got into an ill-advised debate over player wages, Gary taking such umbrage at questions about Dichio’s salary that he advised said correspondent to go forth back to his tennis. Only not in those exact words.
Industrial language is something you have to get used to in football. Often it comes from players and coaching staff but, dear reader, occasionally the rest of us let standards slip and invoke the Anglo-Saxon. And rarely have I heard such magnificently fluent use of the vernacular than in the aftermath of our Friday night visit to Nottingham Forest.
It was a tense affair, the table delicately poised at the time, but, as you’ll recall, Bob Taylor popped up at the death to poke home the winner. That was the moment I knew we were going up. Myself and my co-commentator, who I won’t name, headed into Nottingham for a celebratory pizza. You’ll understand that keeping it clean on air isn’t easy when following your own team, and the strain of it all was too much for my colleague who, now freed from those constraints, spent the next hour swearing with extraordinary verve and gusto, earning himself a very unPC nickname in the process.
The Battle of Bramall Lane was a belter of course, not helped by the fact that we were commentating in an enclosed space, behind glass, with the Sheffield United press officer sitting next to us. I suspect he took exception to some of the unParliamentary descriptions we lobbed in the direction of Neil Warnock that day, but fortunately, he had bigger things to worry about. As, it turned out, did I.
Adrian Chiles was doing 606 on BBC5Live at the time and I got a frantic call from him at about 5.15 saying he needed somebody on the programme from the Albion to talk about events, but he couldn’t get hold of anybody. Having finished scraping the barrel, he’d looked underneath it and found me.
So I was primed to go on air at ten past six. But this was long before hands free kits in the car, and we needed to get back to The Hawthorns quick to deal with press statements, so I jumped in the car, drove at speeds which may have exceeded the precise statutory limits, to a services part way home and awaited the call, only to hear that I had been spared the ordeal because he had finally flushed out somebody of importance and there was no longer any need for the village idiot.
And then there was Bradford. Greeted at the ground by a local radio personality who informed us, in conspiratorial tones, that he’d been “Out in the town already, buying guitar music”, it could only get better. It did, as you all know.
We celebrated by stopping off at Ashby-de-la-Zouch – ancestral home of Russell Hoult - on the way home, where the club photographer brought the day, and possibly himself, to a climax by spotting up in the sky, the Plough. It was some year.