The Birthday Effect- ( Part 3 or` Lets All Laugh at Crewe !') by A Man in a Hat.
Last time out, in the epic story of The Birthday Effect, the 80th birthday had just been announced at The Racecourse Ground on Boxing Day 1996, with County trailing 2-0 at half-time, thereby ensuring that The Hatters ran out 3-2 winners.
The birthday’s record was played 13, won 9, drawn 4, lost none, thus securing a cult following amongst the travelling Blue Army. Furthermore, County had been beaten in the only 2 games when The Birthday wasn’t read out (probably down to the host club having rumbled that the dedication was bogus).
We now pick up the tale away to Stoke City in the third round of the FA Cup on Wednesday 15th January 1997. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday 4th January, but was postponed due to bad weather, along with many other ties.
However, the 81st birthday was still duly declared & County defeated the in-form Potters 2-0. Given City’s appalling record in the Cup, this was hardly surprising. Having The Birthday read out almost seemed unfair. Yeah, almost……
Thanks to the weather, things were getting messy. County were supposed to play Gillingham Saturday 11th January, but this was also called off. The 82nd birthday request had already been sent to Priestfield of course, but the group administering the scheme, decided not to interfere & to simply let nature take its course.
Then disaster! The Birthday Effect sequence was finally broken, after 15 games, away at Birmingham City in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday 25th January 1997. The Hatters went down 1-3 at St. Andrews, despite the 83rd birthday being clearly pronounced.
1 defeat in 15 wasn’t bad though, & the decision was made to keep the project going.
That proved to be a great call, as on Wednesday 29th January 1997, County conquered Southampton 2-1 at the Dell in the League Cup Quarter-Final Replay.
Predictably, The Hatters were trailing at half-time to a Matt Le Tissier goal, but recovered in the second half following the announcement of the 85th birthday (no, not 84th - read on….).
Confidence oozed out of the players after the break, safe in the knowledge that The Birthday had been announced & that therefore, they still had a fighting chance, nah, they couldn’t lose!
In the dying minutes, the County Faithful took great delight in singing to Le Tissier when he came over to take a corner. “You’ll never play for Stockport, You’ll never play for Stockport”. A taunt that he took in very good humour, it has to be said.
The 84th birthday had already been requested for the Football League Trophy clash with Burnley, but the League Cup Quarter Final replay had to take priority.
But, on Tuesday 4th February, the 84th birthday wasn’t declared at Turf Moor. Despite this, a County side significantly changed due to a rapidly mounting fixture list, still managed to beat the Clarets 1-0. In addition, The Hatters gave away a penalty & decided to play with 10 men!
This was the first win for the “non-birthday”, i.e. the first time The Hatters had managed to win when The Birthday wasn’t announced, so both sequences had now been broken.
Undaunted, the instigators of The Birthday Effect pressed on.
Friday 7th February 1997 - the 86th birthday was announced at Ashton Gate as The Hatters managed a 1-1 draw against Bristol City. Once again a people-carrier had to be hired, in order to ensure that everyone could get home after the match.
Tuesday 11th February 1997 - there was no surprise amongst The Faithful that the 87th birthday wasn’t declared at Bury during the Football League Trophy tie, as the 79th birthday had already been pronounced at Gigg Lane at the League game played in December.
However, County still went through 2-1 thanks to a “golden goal” scored in extra time. Controversially, the result was recorded as a draw by the instigators of The Birthday.
Saturday 22nd February 1997 - the 88th birthday was not read out, & a tired looking County crashed to a 1-2 defeat at Blackpool.
Tuesday 4th March 1997 - one of the season highlights for The Birthday. Whilst declaring the 89th birthday prior to the League Trophy tie, the announcer at Gresty Road game came over to the end where the Blue Army were housed, & invited the birthday boy onto the pitch, in order to be acclaimed by the masses!
After a considerable period of time, the man with the microphone eventually sussed that it was a wind up & gave up, muttering “I think I’ve been made to look a bit of a charlie”. He had!
You’ll recall that for some reason, the more effort put into The Birthday by the host club, the better County do. Such exertion by the hapless Railwayman could only lead to one outcome, i.e. The Hatters knocked Crewe out 5-3 on penalties after the game ended 1-1 & a period of extra time failed to split the sides.
Then, yet more controversy regarding The Birthday Scheme. The result was recorded as a win for The Birthday, despite the 87th at Bury being recorded as a draw for the “non-birthday”, when County had progressed via a golden goal!
Surely this was bunkem?
Not so insisted the instigators of The Birthday. The golden goal rule was a load of old pants & therefore that didn’t count as a proper win in their eyes (although they were very happy for County to progress in the competition as a result of it!). However, winning on penalties was a well established method of deciding a game of football, so that was a genuine win.
Even your humble narrator has to concede that this was stretching it a little.
Wednesday 12th March 1997 - surely the 90th birthday would be read out at Middlesbrough, what with being a major milestone & all that? Any self-respecting 90 year-old County Fan wouldn’t miss a League Cup Semi-final! Well, in order to be consistent with the way County fans were treated that evening, the 90th birthday wasn’t read out.
Whilst County won 1-0 on the night, they failed to reach The League Cup Final 1-2 on aggregate. This was chalked up as a loss for The Birthday. Outrageous!
The Birthday’s record at this point was: played 18; won 12; drawn 5; lost 1.
The “non-birthday” record was: played 6; won 1; drawn 1; lost 4.
A worrying trend was developing. Namely, that The Birthday was being announced less & less as the age became increasingly incredulous. Just 1 of the last 4 dedications had been read out, albeit Crewe was highly entertaining for all who were present.
Would this scupper County’s season? Find out in the fourth & final part of “The Birthday Effect”, coming soon (well before the season starts anyway).
A Man in a Hat