Cyrille in disguise? No, he wasn't...
IN the case of Fabian de Freitas, Andy Warhol was wrong. De Freitas had two great moments of Albion fame, one at either end of the sliding scale, glorious and catastrophic. On second thoughts, perhaps each burst of celebrity lasted seven and a half minutes and Warhol got it right – he was a pretty shrewd cookie after all.
When Albion boss Denis Smith was toying with the idea of bringing De Freitas to The Hawthorns away back in August 1998, all we knew of him was his brief spell at Bolton Wanderers where he had been a colleague of fellow Dutchman, Richard Sneekes. Given that Richard had already become something of a legend amongst the Albion faithful, there was some optimism that lightning would strike twice.
Here initially on loan, De Freitas made his debut at Port Vale, coming on for the last three minutes after a Lee Hughes hat-trick had won us another game in Staffordshire. The following Saturday, Fabien took his place on the bench for a game against Norwich City. Things were locked at 0-0 after 59 minutes when Smith decided it was time to have a longer look at De Freitas and introduced him to the fray in place of the goalscoring machine that was Mickey Evans.
Thirty seconds later, De Freitas had pounced on a rebound after a Hughes header hit the bar and had put Albion into the lead. And if that weren’t enough, just 13 minutes later, our hero had got on the end of a James Quinn knock down and drilled in his second goal of the afternoon and sealed the three points.
For 18 glorious minutes, The Hawthorns rang out in tones of exultation, sure in the knowledge that we had found a saviour who would surely take us unto the Promised Land. Two chants alternated: “Sign him up, sign him up, sign him up!” was the first, but then we really got over excited. “Are you Cyrille in disguise?” Er, as it turned out, no, not exactly…
We signed him up, from Spanish club Osasuna, and sat back and waited for the goals to pour in. And waited. Five followed over the rest of the season, two of those coming in the final two games of the campaign, but by then, Fab had already enjoyed the remaining seven and a half minutes of glorious, immortal celebrity.
Perhaps it was fitting that a man who came here as a saviour should hear the death knell over Easter. The death knell perhaps, but quite clearly he didn’t hear the phone.
The Throstles were at home on Easter Monday, welcoming Crewe Alexandra for a fixture that was all but meaningless even though there were still seven games left to play in the season.
Being a midweek game, De Freitas believed it was a 7.45pm kick-off. Being a Bank Holiday Monday, the rest of the world believed it was a 3pm kick off and, on this occasion, the majority view prevailed.
While he slept soundly in his bed, dreaming no doubt of what he was going to do to the Crewe defence that evening, Albion officials were glued to the phoneline, trying to find out where our centre forward was. Legend has it that given it was a Bank Holiday, we even sent a search party to the Ikea, but this cannot be confirmed.
Not wishing to wake him as he was so deep in his preparations for the game, his girlfriend either a) ignored the phone, b) turned the ringer off or c) spent all afternoon talking to a friend so that nobody could get through, depending on which story you prefer to believe.
In fairness, I can think of a few other Albion players where I would have been thrilled if they’d overslept every week, but fortunately none of them are here any longer.
As a result, the Throstles fielded Lee Hughes and Mark Angel up front, our carefully thought out plans thrown into disarray. I can’t imagine how, but we lost 5-1 that afternoon.
Spectators rushed onto the field, doing themselves and the game no good, but finding time to throw a shirt at Smith in the dugout. After the game, there were protests in Halfords Lane, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since WMPTE changed the timetable for the 79.
Thereafter, Fabian was never late for kick off again. Until Gary Megson arrived as manager and advised him that there was no point in him getting out of bed again…