The Birthday Effect- Part 4 ( Unbridled Joy !) by Man in a Hat
So here we are at last, the final part of The Birthday Effect, the chronicle of an intrepid band of County Supporters, not only determined to get to every away match during the 1996 / 1997 season, but also attempting to get a phantom birthday announced at each ground, adding a year to the age each time.
Advocates can re-read parts 1, 2 & 3 by clicking on these links:
However, to save you time, you will recall that the record of The Birthday Effect up to this point (having just beaten Middlesbrough away) was: played 18; won 12; drawn 5; lost 1, the only loss having been for the 83rd birthday at St. Andrews, with County bowing out of the FA Cup.
The stats when The Birthday wasn’t read out were: played 6; won 1; drawn 1; lost 4, the only win occurring at Turf Moor when the Hatters knocked Burnley out of the League Trophy, despite playing with 10 men, conceding a penalty & the 84th birthday not being announced.
Highlights to date had included:
§ 68th birthday printed in programme at Millwall 2nd October 1996
§ 71st birthday displayed on giant scoreboard at Blackburn 22nd October 1996
§ 80th birthday proclaimed on Boxing Day at half-time at Wrexham with County 2-0 down, who then went on to win 3-2
§ an invitation from the announcer at Crewe for the birthday boy to come onto the Gresty Road pitch before the game to mark his 89th on 4th March 1997
The chap at Crewe had looked sillier that the old Stockport Express Mascot from the early 80’s!
And, you’ll recall that this tale is true in its entirety. All details of The Birthday Effect can easily be checked & verified by anyone who wishes to do so.
Saturday 15th March 1997 - 91st birthday read out at Peterborough, actually during the game (85th minute)! County cantered to a routine 2-0 win, all but relegating their hosts.
Tuesday 18th March 1997 - 92nd birthday not declared at Carlisle. 2 minutes of undisciplined madness saw the Hatters lose 0-2 in the League Trophy, leaving them a mountain to climb in the second leg of the Northern Final.
Saturday 22nd March 1997 - Dave Jones’ team won 2-1 at Notts County, courtesy of 2 own-goals, despite the 93rd birthday not being pronounced.
The instigators of The Birthday Effect were getting worried. Requests were being announced less & less often. Not surprising really, given that the age increased by 1 each time, thereby amplifying the improbability factor.
But, it was too late to turn back now, the plan had to be seen through to its unnatural conclusion. County’s whole season could depend upon it!
Gaining promotion without help from The Birthday Effect seemed about as likely as getting Pete Winkelman to pose for a photograph wearing my top hat!
However, the band of travellers overseeing the initiative, did take heart from the fact that the lads on the pitch seemed well able to graft out good results, birthday or no birthday. So, perhaps not all was lost?
Bizarrely, they’d worked out that if The Hatters ended up in the play-offs, the 100th birthday would be celebrated at Wembley. This would surely expose the fraud, leading to trouble for all concerned?
Tuesday 1st April 1997 - 94th birthday proclaimed! County battled to a 0-0 draw at Bournemouth, on a night when other results went their way, leaving them 4th in the Division.
Tuesday 8th April 1997 - 95th birthday announced at Plymouth. Another battling 0-0 draw for The Hatters.
Wednesday 16th April 1997 - Gillingham. The 82nd birthday had been requested over 3 months ago (you’ll recall that the game should have been played 11th January), so it came as no surprise that it wasn’t read out. Predictably, County lost 0-1.
The playing squad was starting to feel the strain. Well, they had already played 62 games, so some fatigue & injuries were inevitable.
And, the effect was also being seen amongst the merry band of supporters who set out to attend every away game. Supporters were falling by the wayside at an alarming rate.
Just consider the grueling schedule above. Bournemouth, Plymouth & Gillingham, consecutive weeks - all mid-week!
One had missed games due to a toe operation, another due to suspension following disciplinary problems, another due to a knee operation. One even had a heart attack! All true, gentle reader. All perfectly true......
Saturday 19th April 1997 - 96th birthday not announced at Preston. The Hatters lost 0-1 again!
Had the wheels come off the wagon? Would the birthday ever be announced again? Would County even make the play-offs?
Monday 28th April 1997 - following Preston, The Hatters had won 2 home games & therefore a win at Chesterfield would ensure promotion to Division 1 for the first time in many generations.
The wisdom of not instigating The Birthday Effect at the very start of the season was now clear. Had it been so, surely a birthday would already have been read out at Saltergate when County played Chesterfield in the first round of the League Cup back in September 1996.
And by that logic, the chances of getting a further birthday read out later in the season, at the same ground, would be zero, wouldn’t it?
Hopes were high that the 97th birthday would haul The Hatters over the line.
And so it proved, with the 97th birthday clearly announced as the players left the pitch at half-time, with County leading 1-0. So loud was the declaration, that the players also heard it. Some players punched their fists into the air, rightly realising that now there was no way they could lose! Go watch the video - now!
The reaction amongst the Blue Army was also unbridled joy. County were going to do it! They could now enjoy a final day out on Saturday for the final game of the season away at Luton (the plastic hatters).
County defended like demons during the second half. Chesterfield could have attacked all night & not scored.
County were up, thanks to The Birthday Effect!
That’s right, The Birthday Effect. Promotion had nothing to do with excellent man-management, good organisation, gritty defending & players going the extra mile in a 67 game season. It was The Birthday Effect that got County promotion.
For the record, the 98th birthday wasn’t announced at Luton on Saturday 3rd May, or at least if it was, none of the organisers of the scheme heard it!
So, the final record of The Birthday Effect was: played 22; won 14; drawn 7; lost 1.
Figures when the birthday wasn’t read out were: played 11; won 2; drawn 2; lost 7.
Quite remarkable when you consider that by definition, all of these games were played away from Edgeley Park.
And your narrator promises you, that everything contained within these lengthy journals is true!
Thank goodness the new season is nearly upon us, so that you can get back to watching The Hatters, instead of reading this drivel!
Man in a Hat