June 19, 2013 by backofthenetjl
Another piece in the series, this time Jack Bradley explains what it’s like to support West Brom.
I never knew anything other than blue and white. Being a West Brom fan was the only option from day one, in a small town called West Bromwich, where we strived to distance ourselves from Wolves in terms of the league table, whilst we desperately try to stamp out any suggestion we share any part of Birmingham with Aston Villa or Blues. They can keep their city, because this little town in the heart of the Black Country is home. It’s modest and passionate: an embodiment of the football club itself.
The glitz and glamour of the Premier League wasn’t always a reality for the Albion. It took a lot of rebuilding after a fall from grace in the 80’s, where the club slipped down the English footballing pyramid following the golden generation featuring the likes of Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham, Brendan Batson and of course, Tony “Bomber” Brown. With the inception of the Premier League in 1992, Albion found themselves gazing up at the stars from the lowly Second Division – today’s equivalent of the nPower League 1. A famous victory for the club, where we defeated Port Vale 3-0 at the old Wembley Stadium, saw us move up to the First Division via the play-offs. Still, the Premier League was a far away as it had always been in one sense, as the club couldn’t make that final push to the Premier League. That was until the arrival of Gary Megson in the spring of 2000, however.
A fondly-remembered day out at Bradford and a home victory over Crystal Palace saw Albion steam past local rivals Wolves and into the Premier League, getting promoted in the 2001-2002 season and making the dream a reality. Hard years followed, as Albion become a ‘yo-yo side’ and struggled to retain Premier League safety, with the exception of the original ‘Great Escape’ season where the club battled onwards after being bottom at Christmas and survived on the last day of the 2004/2005 season with a win over Portsmouth.
A few relegations and promotions later, we have just finished our third consecutive season in the Premier League. For many supporters, it is still hard to believe. We’re little old West Brom, defeating the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea in the 2012/2013 season, and putting on an instant classic with Manchester United in Alex Ferguson’s last ever game as a manager, as loanee Romelu Lukaku scored a hat-trick to see the game through at 5-5.
Sure, it’s a somewhat feel-good story. I’m proud to say that before I’ve even hit the age of 18, I’ve seen my club play at Wembley Stadium twice, reach an FA Cup Semi-Final and beat some of the biggest names in football. But presently, a tinge of worry is started to loom around the blue-laden stands of The Hawthorns. Supporters are looking at the last three seasons and wondering ‘how on earth do we move forwards from here?’. It’s understandable, I feel.
A lack of investment is the big issue, here. Not one to spend, Jeremy Peace has forked out very little by the way of transfers and wages in recent years – even with the money the Premier League brings. Free transfers such as Claudio Yacob, and bargain signings like Youssouf Mulumbu and dare I say it, Peter Odemwingie, have proved to be fantastic pieces of business. But for every Youssouf Mulumbu, there is a few players you will sign for less than £1 million and still feel like it was a massive waste of money. These days, the cheap – and even free – Premier League-quality players are barely out of a job for 5 minutes. The lack of willingness to have one season where we spend about £15 million in transfer fees – totally affordable with record money coming into the division next season – could ultimately be the downfall of the club.
The club never seem to take advantage of their options. It pains me to see the young and talented Jores Okore move to Villa for £4 million, when we need to replace an againg centre-half partnershp. Okore will no doubt be worth double that soon enough. A great piece of business by Aston Villa, admittedly. We have one young centre back by the name of Craig Dawson, who will be a big player for us. Unfortunately, it seems his sole purpose right now will be to gradually replace Player of the Season and resident old timer, Gareth McAuley, who still has time left in him, whilst Jonas Olsson continues to make mistakes. If his form from this season continues, I will carry Jonas Olsson to a London club of his choice. Part of me feels the club are going to make a costly mistake with either a.) Dawson’s development or b.) the defensive set-up.
The lack of width in the side and the departure of Romelu Lukaku will also be a big blow for the club this summer if we do not spend to fix these issues. Wilfred Bony was once touted as a possible replacement, but things have fallen quiet on that front as many believe we have been priced out of a move. We have the money, but we don’t have the willpower to spend it. Instead, the club has been linked with Carlton Cole on a free transfer: make of that what you will. Hopefully, the club will force a move for a decent striker in the mould of Bony, who will get you goals and is a direct, powerful lad. It’s what we lack with Lukaku going.
A goal-grabbing winger would be beneficial with Peter Odemwingie’s meltdown booking him a one-way ticket out of the Black Country, but it isn’t the main priority yet. Scott Sinclair from Manchester City has been touted as a target, as well as Lisbon’s Andre Carillo. I’d go for the versatile and sure-to-be-cheap Alexander Esswein from Nurmberg, who no doubt has a point to prove after a hard time getting the goals in the Bundesliga, with only a year left on his current deal. But that’s a different story altogether…
Not an astute tactician, Steve Clarke also needs some maturing at this level. Naivety at this level cost us last season, on his behalf. But he is still learning as he goes into only his second term as a football manager, and he will undoubtedly get better in due time. Hopefully, he has learned from his mistakes of last season.
If the club improve in the areas we need to – and by that, I mean the ones that stare the owner and other assosciates of the club in the eyes – then we will be fine and the top half of the table is not unrealistic next season. If we don’t, then we will be very lucky to get in the top 12, which will be a big shame. Nothing will ever kill our passion for the beautiful game and our humble little club, however. Nothing. We Baggies will always be Baggies, and will always show up in numbers to support the boys, rain or shine. Let’s hope we are rewarded with some of the great moments we’ve had in recent seasons, next season. So, with that, adios from little ol’ West Brom – WKWWA!
Follow Jack on twitter: @theerealjackbradley
Follow me on twitter: @DisguisedPass