There are some who reckon that history teaches us nothing, but I suspect that that’s merely a reflex action to cover up their own ignorance. Because if you want to know where you’re going, you’ve got to have a good idea of where you come from and how you got to where you are now.
In footballing terms, history is, in fact, pretty much everything. Don’t believe me? Then let me point you in the direction of some fine work carried out by the good people of statto.com, who have recently published an all-time top flight table, covering the old days of Division One right through to the Premier League of today.
A little look at the top eight is ridiculously instructive. Despite the fact that this covers nearly 130 years of football, seven of that top eight currently make up the top seven in the Premier League, the missing link being Aston Villa, rocking up in fifth place behind Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United, with Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City following hard on the heels.
THEN: The boys of 1888
When you then note that the top ten is rounded out by the north-eastern giants Newcastle and Sunderland, it’s pretty apparent just how big a role history plays in the present day. Once a giant, always a giant.
Why? Because great history is the oil that fuels the engine of the virtuous circle. Had success in the past? Then you probably created a good fanbase haven’t you? That then perpetuates itself downs the generations because a shrewd football club, one that understands why it exists – and it exists for reasons far more complex than simply the stuff that happens at 3pm on Saturday – will do its best to nurture that support, to expand it, to draw fresh faces in, to welcome new people to the bosom of the family.
Football’s greatest truth is that fanbase, which springs from your tradition, matters. It matters more than anything because the thousands that back a club home and away are the lifeblood of it all, the drivers of future success. Yes, they generate money through ticket sales, but they also attract investment, more important than ever in the modern game, as we ourselves have proved this season.
NOW: Albion are eighth in the Premier League
That’s why we come in at number 11 on the all-time table, in spite of all the ups and downs that we’ve endured, particularly in the 1990s. The founding fathers of the football club, the George Salter lads that took that stroll to Wednesbury, those that followed in all sorts of capacities like Billy Bassett, Fred Everiss, Bob Roberts and the rest, they set up the road down which the club has travelled all those years hence. They created a football club that even a century on had all the tools at its disposal to be at the top of the tree.
Of course, it isn’t quite that simple. Following us, the rest of the top 20 is littered with giants who have fallen away from the pinnacle – Sheffield Wednesday Blackburn, Bolton, Wolves, Forest, Derby. That is a timely reminder that while our inheritance set us on our feet, you have to keep standing up and walking forward.
So it is that once again, we have to pay tribute to the Albion Class of 16/17 and remind ourselves just how much they are achieving. Nigh on 130 years of football says that we are the 11th best football club in the country. Some 25 games of this season tells us that just now, we are batting above our average, up there in eighth position.
FOREVER: Champions of England, 1920
In the modern game where plenty of clubs above us and below are awash with far greater resources than ours, there we are, beating them, beating history. Messers Foster, McAuley, Rondon, Nyom, Brunt, Dawson, Morrison, Evans, Fletcher, Chadli, Pulis et al all deserve our thanks for delivering that achievement and they’ve also earned our patience on the days when it doesn’t go right, just as you have earned the right to expect them to go to the wire with your support. As they showed at West Ham, they won’t let you down.
Now, then, forever, we are all Albion. You know it makes sense.