THERE are many, many candidates for the title of saddest film ever made: Bambi, Watership Down, The Lion King, Leaving Las Vegas, Requiem For A Dream. Well, I’ve got another one to add to the list. It’s shown before every single West Brom home game. And I just can’t get it out of my head.
I’ve no idea if the film has a title, so I’m going to call it: The Birth Of Eternal Disappointment.
In the film, which only lasts for about a minute or so, a young lad in a blue-and-white bar scarf excitedly leaves a new-build Barratt home with his dad and set off together in a Ford Focus to go and watch their team.
It’s not stated, but we can assume the team are West Brom, and the boy’s sense of wonder and excitement suggest that it might be his first-ever game. He clearly can’t wait to see his heroes in action, having been brought up on tales of the great Albion sides of the 1960s and 70s. Indeed, it’s entirely possible that the boy’s first words were ‘Tony Brown’, ‘Laurie Cunningham’ or perhaps even ‘Garth Crooks’.
But oh, this is not to be the boy’s day. For not only are dad and lad shoved in a corner of the ground, but they have the misfortune to be stuck behind a group of inconsiderates who insist on standing up throughout the game.
We see the match through the boy’s eyes, with occasional flashes of pitch blotted out by large silhouettes. Then, suddenly, there’s a huge roar. The son turns to his father and, a waver of lament in his voice, asks: “Daaaaaad, who’s scored?”
The film’s intended message is directed at the silhouettes, a plea to stay seated while the game is in progress. But there’s a clear subtext – intentional or not – and that is this: That the father has failed his son by not getting him better seats. Thinking of saving a few quid by going behind the goal? Don’t! Your child will never forgive you!
All of this is accompanied by a keyboard melody so haunting and melancholic that it makes Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No.1 sound like Kelly Marie’s Feels Like I’m In Love. It’s a piece of music taken straight from the CD marked Now That’s What I Call Film Scores For Scenes In Which The Lead Character Tries To Maintain A Brave Face While In The Final Throes Of An Incurable Illness. It’s a tune so sad, that it would leave even Spongebob Squarepants feeling lost, desolate and hopeless.
The film ends at this point, but I think we can all see how things pan out. The boy goes home disappointed, thinking slightly less of his father than before; no longer seeing him as the all-knowing voice of authority, but just a normal, flawed human being. In this sense, he is experiencing, perhaps, the very first awakenings of adolescence.
Back at home, mum is keen to hear about the game, and the boy tells her that he didn’t see much of it. Later that evening, mum tells dad that he should have bought the more expensive tickets in the main stand, because at least the boy would have been able to watch the game properly. Irritated, dad says that money is tight at the moment, that work isn’t going particularly well and that all his money is going on keeping up the mortgage repayments on the Barratt home. Mum and dad end up arguing, something they’ve been doing a lot recently. Even the boy has started to notice.
Mum feels herself growing away from dad, and begins to wonder why she ever married him. She starts having an affair with Nigel in accounts. Eventually, dad finds out, when he discovers saucy text messages on mum’s phone. He is devastated.
After much toing-and-froing between solicitors, it is agreed that dad will move out of the Barratt home, and that he will be allowed to see the boy at weekends. Dad moves into a pokey, sparsely furnished flat at the cheaper end of town, while Nigel from accounts eventually moves into the Barratt home with mum and the boy.
On Saturdays, dad and son meet up to go to the football. But he still can’t afford seats in the main stand, so they always sit in the corner, where the fans in front continually stand up. And so each week, the son misses every goal scored.
This goes on for years. One week, Nigel from accounts – a Manchester United fan – suggests the boy comes with him to Old Trafford, where his boss has a private box. For the first time, the boy has a clear view of the game, and is able to see every goal. “This has got to be better than watching that dross down at the Albion, eh?” he laughs.
But for the boy, something is missing. He quite likes the atmosphere at The Hawthorns, the familiar grumbles of the supporters, the taste of the half-time pies and the feeling that despair is never too far away, even when all is well. And he misses his dad.
The following Saturday, Manchester United aren’t playing. So when dad asks the boy if he wants to come to the Hawthorns, even though the seats aren’t the best and the view will be obstructed by the fans in front, he jumps at the chance.
“You might not be able to see the goals,” the dad warns.
“That’s OK,” says the son. “We’re playing the Villa. There won’t be any goals.”
Last on MOTD: West Brom 0 Aston Villa 0
Commentator: Martin Fisher
At this point, I’d like to tell you my favourite Richard Dunne story. In 2009, I covered Manchester City’s UEFA Cup quarter-final home leg against Hamburg for a local paper.
City were 3-1 down from the first leg, against a Hamburg side who were just a little bit too good for them. But they gave it a go, taking a 2-1 lead at Eastlands and looking as if they might force extra-time.
Then, with a few minutes to go, Dunne mistimed a challenge on Mladen Petric, picked up a second yellow card and was sent off. And that was that, really.
Afterwards, I joined a crowd of other journalists in the mixed zone – an area set aside at European games where players walk through and reporters try to stop them for interviews from behind a barrier. Some players are happy to stop, some do it with a degree of reluctance, some pretend to be on the phone, some just walk past and reject all requests for a chat.
Mixed zones aren’t required under Premier League rules, so most clubs don’t bother with them. But they are compulsory for any games in UEFA competitions. Players and managers do know about this, but I guess it’s easy to forget. And I guess that’s what happened with Dunne that night.
At Eastlands, the mixed zone was in a corridor between the dressing rooms and the players’ car park. I was dashing between there and the main press conference room – down another corridor – where the managers were giving their post-match thoughts.
During one of these dashes, I saw Dunne appear through a set of double doors with his wife and young children. He took one look down the corridor, saw a huge crowd of reporters in the mixed zone and muttered to himself: “Oh, f***ing hell.” He then turned round, ushered his family back through the doors, and looked for another way out of the stadium. I couldn’t blame him for that, really. It hadn’t been his night.
Dunne’s own goals record suggests that he is a defender with a capacity to be in the wrong place in the wrong time, but that would be unfair. Yes, he has scored a record nine Premier League own goals, and one or two of them have been a touch odd. Indeed, perhaps the oddest was scored for West Brom during his City days in 2004, when he somehow steered a hopeful punt past a bemused David James with no Albion player anywhere near him.
But in many cases, Dunne’s own goals have been a result of throwing himself into defending dangerous cross, or attempting to make last-ditch clearances. He’s not afraid to lead, and so sometimes he ends up catching the flak.
Yesterday, he proved his leadership qualities in playing his first Aston Villa game for two-and-a-half months. Having declared himself fully recovered from a broken collar bone, he was restored to the Villa defence by a grateful Alex McLeish.
Within minutes, Dunne was diving amid flying limbs to head away a dangerous Chris Brunt free-kick, then blocking Jonas Olsson’s far-post volley from the resulting corner. He was clearing crosses at one end, and setting up a chance for Chris Herd – well saved by Ben Foster – at the other.
Dunne’s defensive abilities may be crucial in keeping Villa in the Premier League. With two games left, they are far too close to the relegation zone, and still show no signs of scoring freely. Gabriel Agbonlahor and Charles N’Zogbia passed up good chances, and their lack of conviction in attack was clear for all to see.
Even so, there could easily have been goals in this game. That there weren’t was down partly to Villa keeper Shay Given – who made a brilliant injury-time save from Peter Odemwingie – and partly to the fact that referee Mark Clattenburg seemed to be watching the game from behind a pillar.
Clattenburg’s view of the match appeared to be even more obstructed than that of the poor lad in the pre-match film. He didn’t see two decent Villa penalty appeals – when Chris Brunt and Olsson both appeared to handle – or a clear Albion one, when Alan Hutton diverted Liam Ridgewell’s goalbound header over the bar with his arm.
There’s only one explanation for Clattenburg missing all three incidents – the players were standing up in front of him. Perhaps for their next home game, Albion can produce a film imploring them to sit down as well.
1. Aston Villa: 9 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
2. Fulham: 8 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
3. Sunderland: 7 (2L: 7, 3L: 0)
4. West Brom: 6 (2L: 6, 3L: 4)
5. Stoke: 6 (2L: 3, 3L: 8)
6. Norwich: 6 (2L: 3, 3L: 5)
7. Wigan: 5 (2L: 8, 3L: 6)
8. Swansea: 4 (2L: 7, 3L: 6)
9. QPR: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
10: Wolves: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 7)
11. Blackburn: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 6)
12: Liverpool: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
13. Tottenham: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
14. Chelsea: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 6)
15. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
16. Everton: 1 (2L: 10, 3L: 4)
17. Bolton: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 6)
18. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
19. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
20. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2L = On second last (Stoke 1 Arsenal 1)
3L = On third last (Norwich 0 Liverpool 3)
(Teams receive one point every time they are last on Match of the Day. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)