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BOWLER’S DELIVERY: The gift of belonging

16 December 2015

The Ghost of Christmas still to come

Christmas is nearly upon us and with it, the rush of that great footballing tradition, the seasonal fixtures.


As ever, it starts with the scene setter on the Saturday before the big day and for us, that means a visit from AFC Bournemouth, an historic event in itself given this is the first ever top flight meeting between us.


More than that, this game provides an opportunity for some of us to give a gift of forever because this Saturday is a “kids for a quid” game. As such, it is a chance to take a child to a game for perhaps the first time, and there aren’t many gifts better than that.


Now before we go any further, let’s be clear. Even at £1, it will be tough for some adults to take a kid to the game because God knows, times are tough round here. We do get it and that’s why our football is cheaper than anybody else’s in the Premier League. Even then, it still won’t be cheap enough for many, just as all kinds of other goodies that are on offer in the shops and stores this December won’t be cheap enough.


But there is a difference between a football game, this football game, and a selection box, a video game, a colouring book, a SIM card or the rest. Most of what will be handed over this Christmas are just temporary diversions that will be done with in mere moments. More than that, many of them will be solitary pursuits, and that’s something that maybe there’s too much of these days.


We are increasingly living in a world without a communal culture, one of ever greater individuality and, perhaps, isolation and fracture.


Look around the way we live now. We no longer watch TV as we did when a “Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show” would have the family gathered round and deliver 23million viewers. Instead, we time shift, we stream, we watch it on our tablets in our rooms, and there’s just too much of it to ever make communal sense anyway.


We download films, often before they’ve been released, and so we stay at home and don’t venture to the cinema together,


We don’t go to the record stores any longer – if you could find one – to buy an album on release date and mingle with the queue of likeminded heads, poring over the minutiae, because we’ve downloaded it or Spotifyed it.


We absent ourselves from the world by strapping on our headphones and immersing ourselves in our smart phones that are making us dumber.


In the midst of that, going to the football has never been more important, nor has it ever been so crucial that we pass it on down the generations, because our football club holds us together, it is a communal experience, it is of our community, our place, our home, it ties us to who and what we are.


That is why I urge you, any of you, to bring a kid to The Hawthorns on Saturday for their first time. If you can’t afford to come with them, see if you can find a friend or a relative who is willing to accompany them. You and they will not give a greater, nor more lasting Christmas gift than that.


I can’t guarantee we will win. I can’t guarantee goals or a good game. But what I can be almost certain of is that when that child comes up the steps and sees and smells the grass for the first time; when they find themselves in the middle of that swell of noise for the first time; when they see Craig Dawson or Darren Fletcher run past them for the first time, they will be sensations that will live with them forever.


That child will be getting a first taste of a brand new world, will be accessing something that is bigger than just them, will be joining a new family for the first time.


In a world where people want to divide us, where Presidential candidates see votes in setting one against another, where corporations want you to think only in terms of i this and i that, give that child another option.


Show them a world of we. A world of West Bromwich Albion.

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