You’d better not mess with Ginger Tom

THERE’S something reassuring about a trip to Oakwell. About an hour after Barnsley’s match with Coventry on Saturday, a handful of journalists were finishing off their reports in the press room when a ginger tom cat sauntered in, leapt up on a chair and made itself right at home.

It fitted in with the general ambience. Going to Oakwell is a bit like visiting your nan. She may not have Sky – or even Freeview – and the wallpaper’s a bit old-fashioned, but she’s always pleased to see you and you know you’ll get a nice cup of tea.

I should perhaps qualify this before I get too far into Michael Parkinson/Hovis ad/Pros-of-today-aren’t-fit-to-lace-Skinner-Normanton’s boots territory. Three-quarters of Oakwell has been rebuilt since 1992, and looks like a standard modern football ground; all angular stands, red plastic seats and executive boxes. It’s the main stand, the one that has been around for something like 100 years, which gives the ground its character, with its sloping corrugated roof, its struts and pillars, its uncovered seating and its outside toilets.

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Barnsley’s outdoor loos

A few feet behind the stand is a turnstile wall which must be 12ft high, topped with broken glass to stop people climbing their way in. (There was nothing, though, to stop that ginger tom – presumably a resident of one of the houses neighbouring the ground – sneaking underneath one of the turnstiles once the crowds had dispersed. He didn’t seem to have a ticket, either.)

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That cat must have sneaked in through here somehow

The press room is a white cabin placed between the glass-topped wall and the back of the main stand, about 20 feet from the outdoor gents toilets. It’s homely enough, but it caused a bit of a stir among the national press reporters when Barnsley beat Chelsea in the FA Cup a couple of seasons ago. The story goes that a reporter, looking to find somewhere to recharge his laptop, found a plug socket – only to be told by a club official that he couldn’t use it, because it was needed for the kettle to boil the half-time cuppas for the press.

I’m not sure how much of that story is true. When I was there on Saturday, a reporter from the Coventry Telegraph needed to recharge his laptop before the game, went to the press room, unplugged the kettle and had no problems whatsoever – and the press still got cuppas at half-time.

Coventry’s stadium could hardly be more different – the main entrance at the Ricoh Arena is all glass walls, polished floors and echoing voices; a cross between a car showroom and an airport departure lounge. Yet Barnsley and Coventry are two teams with similar ambitions in the Championship this season – mid-table stability is the priority, and anything more is a bonus.

On Saturday’s evidence, Coventry are more likely to achieve that target. After the teams had run out to a mysterious synth-pop number pitched somewhere between a 1983 New Order B-side and the backing track to a corporate health and safety video, the visitors settled down to play the better football.

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Oakwell old and new

Leon Best’s thunderous eighth-minute free-kick, which seemed to go through the Barnsley wall, set them up nicely. (“He’s been practising them in training all week,” said Coventry manager Chris Coleman in his press conference afterwards, moments before the ginger tom made his entrance.)

Barnsley failed to manage a single shot on target for 75 minutes, and weren’t helped by an attacking formation which seemed to bamboozle their players. Someone on the Barnsley coaching staff had clearly told wingers Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Adam Hammill to keep swapping flanks in order to confuse Coventry’s full-backs. But the two men swapped wings so often – sometimes every couple of minutes – that they ended up getting caught in the central midfield battles as they crossed over.

As a result, Barnsley had no width, and Coventry’s Dutch left-back Patrick van Aanholt, on loan from Chelsea, was frequently left unchallenged to make attacking runs.

To make matters worse, Barnsley’s Maltese striker Daniel Bogdanovic (actually born in Libya to Serbian parents, but a Malta international nonetheless) seemed to have forgotten the art of staying onside.

This game was no fun to watch for a home fan, and Barnsley’s players didn’t enjoy it much either. Left-back Rob Kozluk’s frustration got the better of him, as he was booked twice in three minutes – first for clattering Stephen Wright, then for sending Aron Gunnarsson flying through the air like a Total Wipeout contestant. Barnsley manager Simon Davey had no complaints about the red card.

The one bright spot for Barnsley was the return as a second-half substitute of Iain Hume. The striker fractured his skull nine months ago in an horrific collision with Sheffield United’s Barnsley-born captain Chris Morgan, and needed emergency surgery in Manchester to save his life. Saturday’s match was his first competitive appearance since then, and the standing ovation he got as he entered the field was heartfelt.

He couldn’t help Barnsley find an equaliser, though, and with nine minutes left, Clinton Morrison swept in Isaac Osbourne’s right-wing cross to seal a 2-0 win for Coventry. As the only team to win their first two Championship games, Coventry top the league. Not that Coleman was getting carried away.

“We’ve won two games, Barnsley have drawn one and lost one, but we’re both in for a tough season,” said Coleman, with justification – Coventry’s squad is so stretched that all seven of his substitutes on Saturday were aged 18 or under. “The Championship is so tight that a few good or bad results at the crucial time can dictate whether you’re pushing for the top six or being in the bottom six. It’s two games. We’ve got another 44 to play.”

Davey was honest about Barnsley’s shortcomings, insisting that they will have to play better. The ginger tom, meanwhile, declined to comment.

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8 Responses to You’d better not mess with Ginger Tom

  1. Eeee thas not mentioned t’creche where wi all tek us whippets !

  2. R.Tiverton says:

    Why can’t people just charge up their laptops before they go to a match ? Have they no sense ?

  3. mikewhalley says:

    Fair question. Maybe you’ve got a really good laptop battery, but mine only lasts for about 45 minutes, even when fully charged.

    If you need to write your report during the game – as many journalists do – this can be a problem if you’ve got nowhere to plug your laptop into. And in the written press box at Oakwell, there are no plug sockets.

    (There are some sockets in the radio press box, though, and one or two of the written press managed to sneak in there on Saturday. But there aren’t enough for everyone.)

  4. R.Tiverton says:

    We charge our batteries up on a Friday night and our agent does our match report in her head. At least you don’t get stewards coming to tell you off about waving cameras about up there in the press box.

  5. tyke1982 says:

    Did your laptop run out of battery then Mike? It would seem that you have had to write your report after the match and seem to have forgotten what actually happened. Therefore you have had to write a load of rubbish about the state of one of the stands in our ground!

    I also find it shocking that the appearance of a ginger tom cat in the press room dominated your report. You are either an extremely sad individual or just a tosh journalist!

    I’d advise purchasing a copy of the free ads and get yourself a new job!

  6. shaftonred says:

    LOL!!!! thats a very good report mike, nowt like a bit of stick to give ya chuckle! Like the pic of the loo though you should have taken a pic of the other side with moss growing on the wall!!!

  7. mikewhalley says:

    Hello, Tyke82 – your optimism has been rewarded! You’ll be glad to know that I got my report filed in plenty of time on Saturday evening for the Sunday newspaper I was working for – and that there wasn’t a single mention of a ginger tom cat in it anywhere!

    (I centred that report around Iain Hume’s comeback instead, which I felt was the big story of the game given the seriousness of his injury.)

    I enjoyed my visit to Barnsley on Saturday rather more than you seem to have enjoyed my blog entry (fair enough – you’re entitled to your opinion), and I actually think it would be a shame if the West Stand was ever rebuilt, as it gives Oakwell a sense of character sadly lacking at some of the ‘new-build’ Championship grounds.

    The appearance of the cat in the press room afterwards was, to me, another sign of that character – something that makes Oakwell stand out, and makes a visit there a bit more enjoyable than the average league ground. It’s a shame that you took that as straight criticism.

    It’s a shame too that you felt the need to hide behind a username when calling me a ‘to$$er’ on the Footymad messageboard – I’ve been called a lot worse, I can assure you, so don’t be so shy next time!

  8. Donna says:

    Speaking up in your defence here Mike, though it’s a bit late! Tyke1982, I’ve read this blog for a while, and always liked the anecdotal nature of it, with a good football report at the end. IF I wanted straightforward soccer reports I have the web, print and news networks. Enjoy this blog for what it is – a celebration of football that recognises life outside the Premiership, from a true enthusiast lucky enough to earn a living writing about the best sport going. So have a browse round the site, have a go at the Gubbometer and stick to Sky for the rest.

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