Mike Rowbottom: I'm full of hopes and fears - could that be an omen?

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The Independent Online

I was making a curry the other day and bits of burnt onion kept coming to the top. I thought: just like serial killers, asking to be caught. But that is not what I want to talk about today.

I was making a curry the other day and bits of burnt onion kept coming to the top. I thought: just like serial killers, asking to be caught. But that is not what I want to talk about today.

Today is going to be difficult, and tomorrow more so, because tomorrow could be the day when Trevor Brooking, bless his little claret and sky blue socks, ends up feeling very sad. And I would really hate to see that.

West Ham's former favourite is due another afternoon of head clutching and arm waving on the touchline tomorrow as he watches his temporary charges attempt to earn their third consecutive victory under his supervision.

If they can win at Birmingham, and Bolton fail to beat Middlesbrough at home, then it means...

No. I don't want to say the words.

By the same token, if West Ham only draw at Birmingham, but Bolton lose, then... no, don't think it.

If, though, West Ham lose at St Andrew's – not certain, but distinctly possible – then they are doomed to spend season 2003-04 at least in the Nationwide First Division.

Unless of course Bolton collapse dramatically to something like an 8-0 defeat. A 9-1 defeat would do. Or 10-2, I'd take that.

Alternatively, if Bolton win, the boys from Upton Park could still hang on to their Premiership status with something like an 8-0 win. Remember Sunderland in 1968, boys? Who's going to be Geoff Hurst and score six? Jermaine? Paolo?

Okay. The likelihood of that happening at a ground where West Ham have not won since 1975, when Brooking himself opened the scoring in a 5-1 victory, is a tad nil.

Soon, I fear, West Ham followers could be playing the "if only" game. If only they'd picked up form earlier. If only they'd managed to equalise at Bolton. If only the Premiership was judged on matches drawn – West Ham would be in fourth place!

Brooking, meanwhile, has been doing his best to put a spin on the unhelpful results which accompanied his team's victory against Chelsea last weekend, when Bolton earned what could be a crucial point at Southampton, Fulham beat Everton to confirm their safety and then Leeds took themselves out of relegation danger with their bravura performance at Arsenal.

"Other results have been very unkind to us this week,'' he said. "So perhaps that will change.''

Yes. Perhaps West Ham are due a turn of luck. Perhaps it is written thus.

Mind games have begun in earnest this week as sides across the country have prepared for their weekend of destiny.

John Madejski, Reading's chairman, has been putting himself about in the media stressing just how much of an underdog his team is compared to the three other contenders in the First Division play-offs that get under way today – Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest and his side's initial opponents, Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Despite the fact that Reading have finished above two of these famous names this season, Madejski attempted to take some of the pressure off his players by making a point that had historic merit at least.

He also found time to try to put the skids under the man he refers to as his "old mate'', Wolves' 79-year-old chairman, Jack Hayward, who has invested millions in trying to regain top-flight status. "Poor old Jack,'' Madejski told The Independent. "He has tried so hard over the years.''

As for poor old Jack, he has been attempting his own version of mind games with an approach that has been, how shall we say, less subtle.

"I'm confident we can stick six goals past Reading,'' he declared. In psychological terms, it's forcing the patient into a cold shower and shouting: "Get a bloody grip, man! Pull yourself together!''

Who knows? It might work.

What may turn out to be more effective, however, is the pressure Bolton's manager, Sam Allardyce, brought to bear this week on his "old mate'', the Birmingham City manager, Steve Bruce.

Birmingham's players were apparently ordered by Bruce to steer clear of booze at Thursday night's Player of the Year awards dinner in order to be in tip-top form for the visit of... who was it again? Oh yes, West Ham.

Ideally, I would like to keep my mind off tomorrow's match for as long as possible. But it is like deliberately not thinking about a pink elephant.

I saw two magpies down by the river this week. First one, then another. Could that be an omen?

How about this then? It was on this very weekend 13 years ago that Brooking's diving – OK, falling – header against Arsenal won West Ham the FA Cup. Could that be an omen?

Yesterday I caught a can falling out of a cupboard. Could that be an omen?

Oh for God's sake, let's get it over with...

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