So I’d like to tell you a story - one that involves a rock superstar, football, malfunctioning technology, severe gastric upset and a peculiar mix of tragedy, comedy and thwarted triumph
I can tell you’re fascinated
already. After all, I normally write about palpable things, like black pudding
or pork scratchings - anything, basically, that is likely to get me sent free
pub snacks by grateful food retailers. This time, though, I’m aiming for drama.
Disaster. A metaphor for imminent glorious failure. All that kind of good
I’ll warn you now that it involves Wolverhampton Wanderers, so if you’re a Baggies fan, or maybe a Wolves fan who can’t take any more tales of woe after the season we’ve just had, then maybe this story isn’t for you. Which would be a shame because it’s absolutely chuffing hilarious.
The date is August 15 2009. It is the first day of the new Premier League season, and Wolves, having returned to the top flight after a half-decade away from the big time, are playing at home to West Ham United, because, well, everyone has to start somewhere.
Being a prominent journalist of considerable note (ha!) I had been invited to the game by the kit sponsors, Sportingbet, to enjoy the game from the rarefied environs of an executive box, complete with lunch and all of the wine I could drink.
All very nice for me, as I’m sure you can imagine. As I recall, the main course was lamb with some kind of fondant potato thingy. They put on a very good spread in the Wolves hospitality area, which is perhaps why we can never afford to hang on to our best players. That discussion, though, is for another time.
I didn’t get to enjoy the lunch as much as I’d have liked, sadly, as that day I was stricken by an upset stomach that can only be described as ‘volcanic’. I won’t go into too much detail but, suffice it to say, a great deal of the run-up to Wolves’ return to top tier action was spent with me excusing myself to an amused PR person called Andrew, and then walking extremely fast to the toilet.
After one particularly harrowing spell of alone time with the porcelain god, I returned to the box, sweating and trembling and half a stone lighter, to find that Steve Bull had turned up to say hello. He did not, it’s fair to say, see me at my best.
Despite the periodic lavatorial eruptions, I was still very excited by the approaching match, and eventually my dicky belly un-dickied itself and kick-off time got ever nearer.
Understandably, it was a packed house that day, close to 29,000 fans in fact, and I’m pretty sure every last one of them will remember what happened to get the season rolling.
At about 2.45, Sir Robert Plant was brought out onto the pitch. Led Zeppelin Robert. Lifelong Wolves fan Robert. Whole Lotta Love Robert. Obviously, the club had decided that the right way to get the metaphorical ball rolling before the actual ball got rolling, was to have this monster of rock folklore deliver a rousing, troops-rallying speech to the massed thousands. Whip ‘em up into a frenzy to cheer their team to glory.
If you were there, you know what happened next. Basically, as Robert whooped and inspired and summoned the thunder of the metal gods, his microphone started cutting out. And the more animated and loud he got, the worse the malfunctioning got. Gamely, he soldiered on, but after about one minute, his words of triumphalism were reduced to a garbled soup of isolated, meaningless syllables.
In the 1970s, there was an inexplicably popular club comedian called Norman Collier, whose act pretty much consisted entirely of pretending that his microphone wasn’t working properly, reducing him to delivering a stream of nonsensical quasi-phrases and words.
This was exactly what was now happening to Robert Plant. Rock demigod Robert. Stairway To Heaven Robert. Stood in the middle of a huge football pitch, bemused and increasingly annoyed, looking more alone than anyone I’ve ever seen, random words hiccuping into the ether.
It was a wonderful, terrible episode and, I like to think, somebody somewhere got an almighty rollicking for not checking if the microphone was working properly before this cri de coeur. They were hoping for “Once more into the breach, dear friends” and they got “..ET’S… IT…….. OLVER…… DERERS!”
Wolves lost 2-0, kicking off a long season of attritional skin-of-the-teeth survival. I reckon, if that microphone had worked properly, we’d have finished top six, no problem.