By Matt Rowson
When it comes down to it, it's all about choices. The choices you make as you go through life define you as a person, as someone famous, like Jamie Theakston, probably once said. I could tell you about where I was born, how old I am, my height, the colour of my eyes, where I went to school. You'd still barely know me at all, maybe just hazard some guesses based on stereotypes. And actually, yes, school in Essex really is how you imagine it, but I digress.
Far more revealing, perhaps completely revealing, is the detail over the choices I have made. That I chose to study at University, what I chose to study at University, why I chose to finish my first relationship, why I choose to spend my spare time as I do, why Tsega and I are choosing to get married next summer. Far more useful, far more defining.
Choices can change things as well, and they have the potential to do so more frequently than you'd imagine. On Monday morning, you have a choice. You can go in to work or college or wherever as usual, or you can say "Stuff that", walk out of the door, turn the other way and keep walking. Your life could change forever. Difficult, yes; scary, almost certainly. But there. Your choice. Precious - not everyone has such potential, so cherish it. You can choose to go in to work after all. I will. Probably. But surely not because you have to. Because you choose to. Big difference.
And it's not too fanciful to argue that choices imposed upon you or inherited from family or friends can be revealing also. If you accept that a person's perspective on life can be adjusted by the influences to which they are subjected in their formative years and the company they keep, surely it follows that inherited choices can tell you a lot about a person as well.
And that's the thing about West Bromwich Albion, really. Given that we've crossed paths a fair few times over recent years, it's not too surprising that some uncomfortable memories linger... a shambolic performance at the Hawthorns two years ago, and another stuffing by the same 4-1 scoreline at the Hawthorns half-a-dozen years earlier. But a similar number of encounters with any club will yield a similar catalogue, as well as some good stuff, like the improbable 4-4 draw in 1996. We've no real axe to grind with the Baggies, whatever the current league situation. And the bottom line, the defining thing, the thing that tells you so much about Baggies fans, is that at some point in the past each West Brom fan, or a member of their family, made the conscious choice not to support Wolves.
There's no arguing with that. Respect is due.
That's not to say you don't worry when "Gary Megson is God" begins to appear as a message header on club Messageboards - Norwich, Stockport and Blackpool fans would probably be particularly concerned. To some extent though, with Albion making a better fist of a promotion push than they have done for some time, it's understandable. The Baggies' good days in the past have generally been counterbalanced by an at least comparable number of bad days, but the current outfit is tenacious and dangerous, and thanks to a handy sell-on clause in Ugo Ehiogu's contract they now have some finance to back up a positive start.
In goal will be the enormous Brian "the Beast" Jensen, an imposing character but at fault for more than one of Flam's goals on Saturday and not going through the best of spells. His cover is Chris Adamson, who enjoyed a brief period as first choice between the departure of Alan Miller and the arrival of Jensen, a 6-0 defeat at the hands of Sheffield United heralding his demotion.
Albion appear to have been playing with three centre-backs, but seeing as the Albion website seems intent on spurning my goodwill by crashing my PC at every visit it's difficult to be firm on this. Tony Butler, at any rate, is one central figure, a bruising centre-half, strong in the air but a bit short of pace, he faced us with his old side Blackpool during our Second Division days. Alongside him the strong left-sided Neil Clement has proven to be a big success since his summer transfer from Chelsea, whilst youngster Jason Chambers makes up the trio. Chambers has established a place with some impressive showings this season, despite allegedly "not being able to pass wind". The leggy Matt Carbon is another option. So too formidable Icelander Larus Sigurdsson, but I've not been able to establish whether he's injured, out of favour, rejoined Stoke, on holiday....
Right wing-back is currently our old mate Des Lyttle. His liberal positional sense is slightly compensated by the presence of an extra man behind him, but he is still (accurately) summarised as "tireless but crap" by one correspondent. His place would appear to be under threat from the imminent arrival of Slovak Igor Balis.
On the left, an even less popular option is experienced clogger Jason Van Blerk. The former Millwall man, an Australian international, has been employed in midfield by the Baggies as well as on the left side of a back four, but doesn't appear to have impressed anyone much in any position.
In midfield, Ruel Fox is the somewhat unlikely current captain in the absence of the pivotal Derek McInnes. The former Spurs and Norwich man is a key figure in a side that is overall perhaps a little short of the pace he provides. His partners in midfield are the long-serving, long-haired Dutchman Richard Sneekes, and the Portuguese Jordão, an impressive summer addition to the squad. Other options include Northern Irish international James Quinn, another former Blackpool man, and Tony Grant, on loan from Manchester City.
Up front, Albion's array of weaponry appears formidable. Most distinctively the prolific ginger-haired Lee Hughes, recruited from Kidderminster Harriers two summers ago. Alongside him, another summer arrival, Jason Roberts, whose early goals have not spared him from the criticism of the home crowd, perhaps expecting more from a big-money signing. Roberts might have an easier time of it were the first-choice deputy not Bob Taylor, whose legendary status at the Hawthorns was not tarnished by his sabbatical at Bolton.
All about choices then. To call in at the pub beforehand or not, your choice. To buy a programme or a fanzine, your choice. To get behind the team should we go behind (again), or to distance yourself from it, set yourself up as different, separate, somehow not part of it, unconnected to what's happening on the pitch, that's your choice too. Your choices determine who you are.