Helder Costa and the Death of Nine Volt Bob

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Bad news from down the cut. Meeting up with a few retrobates last week in the glowing embers of a late afternoon I found out Nine Volt Bob was dead. Not many people knew about Nine Volt. I think I only wrote about him to some of you lot. He got his name through the simple childs trick of daring each other to lick a nine volt battery. It’s tingly and acidy and weird. Bob went one further and he ate the whole thing to (I daresay) much chuckling. A trip to theRoyal Hospital followed where they cut it out of him and sent him home to recover. He had a scar from his groin to his sternum. We called him Bobby Pencil case for years…

There is a Wolves link of course. Swansea away in the eighties. That madness of away days back in the past is nothing like away days now. They were often chaoric and law breaking occasions. We had steamed into a service station and liberally helped ourselves to stuff while the staff ran around like lunatics. Back on the Coach we laughed and tucked into the odd Kit Kat or Mars bar. Not Bob, he had nicked a box of Bounty bars and was cheerfully trying to eat the lot. During the summer of Punk, 1977 Wolves put on a disco in the old Sports hall adjacent to the ground. It was brilliant…Bob wanted to go full Johnny Rotten and took the bog chain from his outside toilet and tied one end to the belt loop on his flares and left the handle dangling around his crotch. Further fun was made by his Uncle H steaming into the hall after Bob and the bog chain so he could flush the toilet after his early evening bowel evacuation. Unchle H wasn’t happy, chasing Bob around the dancefloor after his bog chain. Apparently Bob had a ”art attack’ and for a moment I thought of pencils and pastels, watercolours. But he had played a darts match, finished his pint, said goodbye, went to walk out and dropped dead. Fair play Nine Volt Bob, at least you finished your pint.

Helder Costa has had a lot of names since I started writing about him and Wolves. Helga, Hilda, Heldar, Helgar you name it, the full dysfunctional cornucopia of my dyslexic brain. But despite the weird nomenclature I have heaped upon his poor head I have always loved him. Of course Lamberto the Clown (may God curse his name) didn’t understand the intracacy and beauty of what Costa actually did for our team. Lambert didn’t understand Saiss or Cavaleiro either. But Lambert bought a pair of trainer shoes at some point and he wore them too, how can you expect a man to understand concepts like these three players wearing stupid footwear like that? Lambert was overheard in the maze of tunnels and corridors underneath the Billy Quiet saying, “They just ain’t good enough” when someone questioned his not picking them enough times. The fact that this comment was heard by other players and staff made me sick. When I heard that anecdote I could have cried for my Club especially after being galvanised and energised by watching Helder play his sun kissed shapes across our hallowed turf and thinking yes, this is a Wolves player, this is what I want to see. But it was a difficult thing for Lambert to understand and I think while he was watching Dortmunds training methods after he was booted out of the Villa job, well, I guess he was carrying water bottles and listening to that eternal unending monologue in his own mind…about how he could extrapolate this ‘experience’ to boardrooms of clubs desperate for some sort of figurehead Coach.

Helder gave our team ‘something else’ to a kind of football that didn’t have much of a clue about the wider more academic aspects of the footballing spectrum. I’m not going to plonk down a list of the players in that team at the time but you get my drift I’m sure. There was a lack of coherent idea, of a philosophy and a bloody end product in the final third. The only redeeming feature of dragging yourself to Molineux was Helder moving onto a ball and him jinking and dribbling past one-two-three players at a time then having a stab at goal. All of a sudden it was exciting and new, different, mad…we were amazed. Well I was at least. He would pluck a simple pass and move ball that began as a placid typical Dave ball and turn it into an exotic piece of football.

That’s how Helder moved. It was abstract at times, surreal even compared to the system we were playing at that time. He confused defences with a slight off key movement and it was a discordant note to the often predictable and dirge like Lambert approach. As Helders confidence and creativeness flourished in those strange days so did his confidence. He was sure in his own mind that his role as a ‘creative’ player among the Journeyman mentality of the majority of our squad would propel the team to some element of success. Well it did, if you see ‘survival’ as a success.

Helder didn’t become a poor player overnight. Nuno wanted progression and learning but Helder had a new problem, one which would throw him back to relearning everything he knew. That ankle injury. It was very nearly career ending. I’m not going to bore you wiyth the physiological aspects of it but the fucking thing needed rebuilding basically. I saw Helder on crutches after one game and he was still smiling, still our Costa but underneath that smile was pain, worry, the anger at not playing the game. But Helder was still there still fighting.

If you had suffered an injury like he did then it’s a bloody long way back. A nightmare journey in fact which alters and manipulates the way you have played your game for all those years. You have to relearn everything. Of course on his return that learning had to be done on the pitch, the mental learning as well as the physical. With the advent of new players and new tactical shapes Nuno didn’t really have the time to nurture Helder as much as he wished. We got promoted a year before time, now we had Premier League opponents and soon Helder would start to be benched, left out for certain games. Wolves advanced at a rapid rate, Helder was still getting there. But the games he did play he was targetted for sure. He was still dangerous and opposition defences didn’t like him. So the odd mistimed tackle, the studs down the bad ankle, the bullshit all served to heap more shit onto his head and yeah, I suppose he did have times when he must have though bollocks to it. But picked himself up to throw himself back into the fray.

Helder took all the crap. Often he was the camouflage for the new arrivals. Other teams didn’t really understand Ruben Neves, Moutinho etc,. But they knew Helder of course, they knew him very well indeed.

Playing Colin Wankers Cardiff one evening I watch Helder get basically assaullted by one of the Cardiff necks. Helder flies up in the air holding his bad ankle, he hits the advertising hoarding and for a moment he’s on all fours trying to get back up for the corner. Trying to gather the energy through the pain. He looks up at the Southbank and we look at him. There is the odd comment, the odd voice shrill and attention seeking. Costa is down and the jackals are circling. But those eyes of his that night. Pained, destitute and for a moment lost. I could have wept to be honest. One minute a Hero and the next a Villain. But give it a few seconds and he was back throwing shapes and confusing the hysterical madness of the Warnockians.

As Nuno impressed his Philosophy on the team Helder was always going to be playing catch up. Now it was all about total control. It was about skill and learning on an unprecendted scale. There was no room for error here. Everybody had a role to play and Helders became less and less as the side started to wrestle big games to exactly the place they wanted. There was no more room for Costa, no way he could catch up with the groove.

This is hard to write. I still feel that Helder is part of what makes me support our clubs new ethos and success. But that’s the way things are now. Players get shunyted from club to club as a skillset and as a commodity, for financial and tactical reasons. Players get increased wages, sign on bonuses, the Louis Vitton wasg bag, the Monclur coat to wear in hot weather, the slick cars…we moan, but some of us are also sad.
But if Leeds United are his new destination then those dirty bastards are getting a hell of a player. If you take a look at the algorithms and the zeitgeist surrounding Leeds at the moment then they are a team that will be promoted next season. The addition of Helder into their ranks tells me they mean business but more importantly that they have some clue about what football actually is and how to break out of that Championship shit pit to the money league and playing bigger games. Bielsa the Leeds Coach must have his own sort of twisted Philosophy the owners have decided to let run it’s course at that club. Helder going there tells me there is a plan of sorts. I don’t mind Leeds coming up to the Premier League. We need their colour and angst, their madness abhorrent though it is will be a welcome refreshing change from the litany of dullness we have experienced from opposition fans this year. 

1 Comment

  1. “This is hard to write. I still feel that Helder is part of what makes me support our clubs new ethos and success.” Agree completely. I am saddened by his departure, and had hoped – in the maelstrom of Europe – that he would have a part to play. Alas! Not to be, and the club will always be bigger than the players, so bring on the next chapter. As for Helder, I hope he becomes Leeds best player, and shines like the star that he can be.

    Liked by 1 person

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