90 up for Les
IT will not have escaped your attention, I’m sure, that veteran Albion fan Les James, still a devotee of the stripes both home and away, celebrates his 90th birthday today.
Whether celebrate is quite the right word I don’t know, for Les is nothing if not a proper Blackcountrymon, and we don’t go in for all that fancy nonsense round here.
When I picked Les up to come and do a couple of interviews at the training ground last week, he made it clear that he couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about, thereby immediately underlining his credentials as proper son of the Black Country soil and a proper Albion fan to boot. After all, we’re not ones to get carried away are we?
After pretty much a lifetime of supporting the club, it seemed to us to make sense to ask Les to pick an XI from all the hundreds of players he’s seen in the blue and white over the years. You’ll be able to read the fruits of that in Albion News at the weekend and, believe me, there are a couple of surprises in there.
It was a pleasure to talk about games and players gone by with Les – something I hope to repeat again fairly shortly for a longer piece – not least because in an age when nobody dare speak their mind or have an opinion, there are no sacred cows in Les’ world.
He is forthright, to the point and utterly honest in his summation of Albion players past and present – and just how did the world get to a place where a mere statement of the obvious is enough to rock you on your heels?
When you hear of the life Les has led, you’re left in no doubt that he’s as tough as they come, even at 90. Coming through all of that, he’s earned the right to call a spade a great big shovel if he fancies it and he makes full use of that privilege.
Whether it’s recalling a visit to the 1954 FA Cup final, wondering if Don Howe was ever the same after his role as a shop steward in the tracksuit revolt or debating whether Clive Clark was sometimes on the selfish side, Les’ conversation crackles both with humour and with a razor’s edge that’s reserved for the real Black Country people, a group who have it tough, who get nothing the easy way, who have to make things happen for themselves.
That Les has chosen to follow this football club all these years says much about him and his loyalty to a cause that’s brought just two FA Cup wins and a League Cup triumph since he first cast eye on us in 1948. It also reminds us just whty our football club is special if it can command the tolerance of a bloke such as Les.
Home and away, he’s still a part of the crowd that follows the Albion through thick and thin, a salutary reminder that it is the supporters that matter more than anything, that the crowd was here long before any of the current players or staff and which will be here long after they’ve gone.
In spite of a slightly dodgy knee – plastic, from the early ‘70s – there’s nothing going to get in his way of coming to the game and enjoying the inalienable birthright of any man, woman or child born in West Bromwich – to be properly bloody miserable in the service of the Albion.
Les is no pussycat, no cartoon “senior citizen”, a term you can only see him using with savage contempt. The man is fully rounded flesh and blood, hard as nails and rattling good company.
I hadn’t met him until last week and it’s an oversight I’m glad I’ve put right. If he’s willing to chuck a bit more time in my direction for another chat about the Albion, life in the services, a stroke or two pulled and a fall or two taken, I’ll be only too happy to join him.
And if you get the chance to do the same on the coach to a game or at the ground, for your own sake, take it. He’s a bloody good bloke.
Happy birthday Les. Keep on going lad, we need you.