666: Book review: Brum's the word b
by : Dave Thrilling
Season 2002-3 brought passion, colour and excitement back to West Midlands football with new arrivals West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City joining archenemies Aston Villa in top-flight football for the first time in 16 years. This journey is encapsulated in Brum’s The Word, a diary of events, interviews, nostalgia and humour viewed through the eyes of the locals.
Author Malcolm Boyden may be best known to some as the man who starred in pantomime alongside Julian Clary and Frank Bruno. Yet, Boyden should be more recognised as a legend in West Midlands broadcasting. A former sports sub editor on The Daily Star and Sony award winning presenter, Boyden was a stalwart radio broadcaster on BBC West Midlands radio.
Originally published as a weekly series for The Times, Brum’s The Word provides the collection of short stories in one book and also includes responses from readers and some entertaining additions with the value of hindsight.
All three teams get a fair share of the pages as Boyden catches up with current and ex stars in some unfamiliar surroundings such as former European Cup winning captain Dennis Mortimer pictured in a bingo hall. There are also snippets for other Midland supporters with an interview with Walsall fan Pete Waterman and a visit to the family of Wolves legend Steve Bull. Indeed, Waterman offers some hilarious material when questioned on the bid by Ron Atkinson to reach the top of the Christmas Pop charts, suggesting his record label was “tone deaf records”.
Boyden focuses on several aspects of football from the serious to the ridiculous. There is an emotional interview with Jeff Astle’s wife, a piece on the racial taunts experienced by the “Three Degrees” of the great West Brom team of the 70s and a moving insight into the rise of Aliou Cisse to World Cup star despite personal tragedy and tough childhood. On a more light hearted note, the reader will learn about Dion Dublin’s offer of a part in the ballet performance The Nutcracker Sweet, the origination of West Brom’s “Boing-Boing” chant, the match-day superstitions of violinist and Villa fan Nigel Kennedy, the bizarre funeral service on offer to Birmingham City fans who wanted to “show their loyalty and passion in the ultimate way”, and the efforts of some Birmingham fans to get the word Enckleman added to the Oxford English dictionary after that remarkable own goal in the Birmingham derby at St. Andrews.
Some of the responses from The Times readers clearly illustrate that many supporters could relate to the pictures Boyden aims to paint. The fervour and excitement of a unique season is brought to life, not least in the events of the opening day of the season as West Brom and Birmingham quickly realised they were playing amongst the big boys with visits to Old Trafford and Highbury respectively.
Boyden’s writing style is entertaining and easy to read, while the format enables the reader to pick up the book for just a few minutes at a time if needed. It is debatable whether supporters of clubs outside the West Midlands will find as much to enjoy, although Manchester United followers may be interested to hear the views of a Walsall Taxi driver called Phil Neville. Yet, there can be few publications that chronicle the influence of Jeff Astle and Larry Grayson in the same paragraph and also provides the opportunity to read poetry about Robbie Savage by another cabbie.
Boyden wrote Brum’s The Word columns in a cupboard underneath his stairs. As Birmingham and Villa battle for European football, Wolves fight to retain their Premiership status and West Brom look a strong bet to regain it, season 2004-5 may be even more exciting for West Midlands football. Those stairs may soon provide some more inspiration.