Introducing our new Al8ion feature
INTRODUCING our new feature Albion 8. Or Al8ion, if you prefer.
This will be a weekly list of eight things related to Albion - our best left-backs, our greatest promotion-clinchers, our least-favourite away kits, our best-ever Scotland internationals, our favourite managers called Ron...you get the picture.
We thought about a top 10 but, frankly, we'll probably start to struggle after six or seven. And the top five is now very much the domain of websites elsewhere.
So eight it is. And besides, you’ll notice the slightly subtle way we’ve incorporated it into onto our graphics. Clever, huh?
Today we kick-off with eight things we no longer have. Some of these we miss, others we're happy to keep left behind.
1. The Scoreboard
It was the half-time code-cracker that everyone looked forward to. It was relatively simple: you checked the letters on the back of the programme - each letter corresponded to a game being played elsewhere - against those on the Woodman Corner scoreboard and away you'd go. No matter how bad the first half, you always had the half-time anticipation of how United vs Villa (Game B), City vs Birmingham (Game E) or Wolves vs Town (Game L) were getting on. And for added value - this, of course, being the days before social media - the operator of the wooden scoreboard would often tease you by delaying the display of a number. Game B: United...1. Villa.....come on....hurry up....come on....just tell us....0. Glorious times.
2. The smell of bread
The Hawthorns is still situated over the road from a bakery but, actually, something just isn’t the same anymore. Perhaps the wind has changed direction or the bakers now down tools on a matchday, but there was a time that the smell of freshly-baked bread was as common to a Hawthorns' crowd as the stench of cigarette smoke, Bovril and pre-Taylor Report toilet blocks. How we miss those days.
3. Post-match beers in the local
Legend has it that Willie Johnston celebrated Albion's FA Cup fourth round victory over Manchester United in 1978 with a swift jar or two in the Woodman pub. And then there was Ron Atkinson's traditional post-match gathering with the media down at the Europa Lodge, which is why nobody ever had a bad thing to write about our glorious club. Time moves on. The media are kept at arm's length, the Europa has been given a lick of paint and rebranded, while the Woodman corner is a still a regular haunt of our footballers - if only because it's the players' match day car park. Nutritionists, you can open your eyes now.
4. Lettered seating
Nothing says 'Made in the 1990s' like the Birmingham Road End 'scarf' and the italicized 'Albion' in the Smethwick End. The two stands were part of a new-look Hawthorns in the mid-1990s following the enforced removal of standing areas. Both were cutting edge and, if we say so ourselves, pretty plush for the period. Or at least they were until the East Stand was built. And from that point they looked tired, dated and out of place, not least because they weren't even fitted out with navy blue seats to start with. A concept best left in the 1990s.
Back in the day it was quite simple - you came, you stood, your legs hurt from standing, you went home. And if you were really lucky you'd have a barrier to lean against and a goal or two to celebrate. Terracing hasn't been seen at The Hawthorns since the 1993/94 season when the Birmingham Road End was demolished to make way for an all-seater stand. Perhaps it's finest final hurrah came in the previous season's Play-Off semi-final with Swansea when the Boing Boing chant rocked the Brummie Road with such ferocity that structural engineers were summoned to check the synchronised bouncing hadn't caused any major damage.
6. Club shops inside the stands
Once upon a time there was no Megastore, with its copious and varied amounts of stock. Oh no. Back in the 1970s, the days before replica kits, you had to make do with a tiny outlet situated in the corner of the Smethwick End and Halfords Lane where you could buy anything. As long as it was a scarf. Or a badge. Or a scarf with a badge on it. Birmingham Road Enders weren't left out either; they had a little kiosk - emphasis on the little - underneath the terraced stand. The 1990s saw the club shop moved to a small room in the Halfords Lane before a slightly larger offering in the old Tom Silk Building (now the Academy building). And, if you had time, you could even pop to the Throstle Club for a quick pint and a chit-chat with former Albion striker and mine host Ally Brown. Cheers.
7. Keeping up with the Albion results
It was so simple back in the days before Sky and Soccer Saturday. Out at around 6pm, the Sports Argus and Sporting Star were the Saturday night oracles of choice for Albion fans. The rushed nature of publication and printing deadlines meant that mistakes were common and match reports often hurried or even incomplete. By the late 1980s supporters of all clubs could also tap into a premium rate phone-line commentary service, provided by a company called ClubCall. Served by local commentators, Albion fans - with permission of an adult - could run up a three-figure phone bill listening to Brian Talbot's men getting gubbed at Ipswich or find out the 'Big Transfer News' - which, back then, more than likely meant someone was leaving. Still, at least Albion didn't make the same mistake as Walsall - the Saddlers once promoted ClubCall by advertising the phone number across their pitch side hoardings. The problem is they printed the commentator's home number by mistake...
8. Goal music
We all do things we look back on with a little regret. It was the late 1990s and football, as a whole, was jumping into relationships with music on all sorts of levels. Here at The Hawthorns, we opted for something a little more 'sporty'. Many a dull afternoon was swiftly livened up with a goal, a cheer and a short burst of the 1970s' The Big Match theme tune as Micky Evans wheeled away in celebration. No, really. Our ears didn't have to suffer for long, the goal music experiment was swiftly abandoned. Such carry-on is, thankfully, now more the domain of lower league clubs. These days we just cheer. All natural, all instinctive. As it should be.
See you next week