01/02: Preview: West Bromwich Albion
by Barry Venables of Westbromalbion.co.uk
What happened last season?
Last season for the Baggies was an amazing reversal in fortunes for us. We ended the previous season just one place and four points off relegation and yet after a couple of astute signings we ended up in the play-offs which is no mean achievement for a team that the bookies had made favourites for relegation. Before the season started we signed Des Lyttle on a free transfer from the Hornets and Neil Clement for £150,000 from Chelsea after both doing good jobs for us at the end of the previous season. Then out of nowhere we broke our transfer record and signed Jason Roberts from Bristol Rovers for 2.1 million pounds. Baggies fans were flabbergasted that the board had actually gone out and put their money where their mouths were and backed the very ambitious Gary Megson. Then just a couple of days before the start of the season we signed former Glasgow Rangers player Derek McInnes for £350,000 from Toulouse in France and he was just the type of hard tackling leader we crave d in the middle of the park. We started the season very badly and lost the first 3 games and were stuck to the bottom of the table. We added Ruel Fox from Spurs and Jordao from Portugal and then Gary Megson made the deciscion which changed our season from then on. Gary Megson had always been and still is a big fan of the 4-4-2 formation but decided to change it for the Home visit of QPR and went to a 5-3-2 formation. From then on we went on a good run which catapulted us up the table and into a play off place which we managed to hang onto even after a few dodgy performances when the nerves set in near the end of the season. During the course of the season we added Russell Hoult from Pompey, Michael Appleton from PNE, Phil Gilchrist from Leicester and the team looked a lot stronger than the start of the season. I think however that if you ask any opposing team what they thought of the Baggies, the first thing that they would talk about would be our front two, between them they got 40 goals and were as good as any striking partnership in the division. The play-offs were a bit of a downer for most Baggies especially leading Bolton 2-0 with just 10 minutes to go at the Hawthorns only to succumb to two late goals, up to that point the thoughts of the Millenium Stadium and the Premiership were at the fore front of many Baggies minds but looking back we were just glad to have got to the play offs after the miserable season before it. I think the one thing that sticks in all Baggies minds for the season was the tremendous support that the fans gave their team. On many occasions both our manager and the opposing manager commented that it was like a twelfth man. My lasting memory of the season was 5,000 Baggies drowning out the Bolton fans at the final whistle after we lost 3-0 and had been knocked out of the play off's. Even the Bolton fans clapped our fans out of the ground that night.
What's going to happen next season?
Next season will be very difficult to continue where we left off from the previous season but with a manager like Gary Megson then most Baggies are confident we can do it. At the time of writing this no new signings had come through the door yet we had released 4 players from the squad on free transfers, of which 3 had played a big part in the previous season. Megson said that he made the decisions to take the club to next step and get better players into the club. There is a lot of talk and speculation surrounding Lee Hughes at the moment as to whether he will be at the club for the start of the season. He is a devoted Baggies fan but is desperate to play in the premiership, preferably with the Baggies. The Dilemna that the Baggies board have is that Hughesy only has a year to run on his contract and if he doesn't sign a new contract then they will have to sell him or risk losing him on a free transfer next season. Either way the West Brom can't lose. If he stays and signs a new contract then we are guarenteed 20 goals a season from him, if he moves on and we bring in between £5-£7 million then that will all go towards team rebuilding and Gary Megson has proved already that he knows what he is doing in the transfer market. The hardest part of next season is the ammount of local derbies that we will have to play, we already have B(lose) and Wolves in the division to play then add to that the likes of relegated Coventry and promoted Walsall and already there are 24 points to play for in derbies alone. Only time will tell how the Baggies will do next season but for the first time in many years Baggies fans go into it optimistic rather than pessimistic.
Can you recommend a pub for away fans?
Going to a pub at the Hawthorns is a nightmare for away fans mostly due to the fact that all the closest pubs are home fans only and normally you need a membership card to get in. However "The Vine" or "The Old Cross" are two decent pubs for away fans where you will be made very welcome.
The Vine, Roebuck Lane, West Bromwich
½ mile from the ground and it's close to Metro station Kenrick Park, or by car from M5 junction 1 follow Birmingham Rd towards West Brom town centre, first left for Roebuck Lane.
The Vine is a very popular pre-match pub, mainly for the food. The Vine specialises in baltis, and also has a large grill area for on the spot tikkas and kebabs. It looks like a tiny Victorian pub from the front, but tardis-like, it's much bigger on the inside. A regular advertiser in the Albion programme, The Vine's very much pro footy fan, especially encouraging families.
The Old Cross, Causeway Green Road, Langley (just off Wolverhampton Rd)
It's about 2 miles far from the ground but the very friendly locals will let you follow them, take you to the ground. To get to it you go from Junction 2 of the M5 take A4123 towards Birmingham, then 3rd left along B4169. Then It's about 1/4 mile on your right.
2 minutes from Junction 2 of the M5 and manager Dee Ford likes to think they're away fan friendly too. The pub's in between The Hen & Chickens & The Merrivale Pubs. Meals are served before the match and all main meals at the time of writing are £2.99. Many away fans have gone to this pub before a game and found the pub to be very hospitable and vowed to return.
What's the nearest railway station?
The Hawthorns Holte Railway and Metro station is the nearest station and is less than 200 yards from the ground. From Birmingham the Metro is the quickest and best way to the ground they leave from Birmingham's Snow Hill station and are very frequent, every 10/15 mins. Snow Hill station is a short walk from Birmingham New Street.
The local trains also stop at The Hawthorns station. They follow the same route as the Metro, but are more infrequent.
Where is the best place to park?
On the housing estate just down from the ground (Smethwick End, away fans) the other side of the Hawthorns Holte railway and Metro station. Free and always lots of room. It's either here or you can pay upto £4 on official and unofficial car parks.
Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)
"Watford are over rated by the media"
"Alan Rogers at Forest is the best left sided English Player in the World"