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BOWLER’S DELIVERY: Kings of the mountain

18 May 2016

Nobody told me there’d be days like these

WE'VE been knocking around as a going concern for a long time now, stretching away back to 1878. Ten years later and we were founder members of the Football League, then running to a single 12 team division with no relegation – but let’s not be giving “the elite” clubs any ideas eh?


That’s nearly 130 years of league competition given a couple of breaks for a different and somewhat more lethal game on the continent. In that century and more, not once have we been the only team from our patch flying the flag in the top flight.


In every top division season we’ve had, Birmingham, Wolves or Villa – often two or all three – have been up there with us.


Just reflect on that for a second. I know it’s been mentioned a lot of late, but with Villa so long relegated, we’ve probably allowed the actual moment of history’s arrival to slip into anti-climax. So it bears repeating.


In 2016/17, West Bromwich Albion will be the only top flight club from the West Midlands area for the first time ever.


Even in the past, there would have been something very significant about such a moment. But in the modern game, a part of the Premier League behemoth as we are, it’s positively ground breaking.


We all know about the money that is about to come flooding in from the media – though let’s not forget, 19 other clubs are getting it too. It doesn’t give us a competitive advantage over them, not even Burnley and Middlesbrough, but where it does give us a head start is over those teams now languishing in the Championship.


To them, it will be devastating, just as it was to us when we happened to have the worst spell in our history at precisely the moment the Premier League came into existence. It took us probably 20 years to make up that lost ground, but as we stand on the brink of next season, we are faced by another challenge – to make the most of the advantage we have now.


No, of course you can’t convert Villa, Blues or Wolves fans, any more than they could convert us. But there are people out there in our heartland, even, dare we say it, over the border in Brum, who have no allegiances as yet, who haven’t made up their minds. And it is essential that we do all we can to go and grab them because we simply have to expand our supporter base. Ours is too small and, don’t I know it, getting on a bit.


Added to that, I know as supporters that we are instinctively questioning to the point of hostility about the tourist fan, the half and half scarf brigade. But we’d better get used to it because next season, if those tourists are in the Midlands and they want to see Premier League football, there is only one game in town. And if Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte go on their expected spending sprees, The Hawthorns might be the only place in this area where you get to see Neymar or Pogba or even Messi. Next season suddenly sounds a whole lot more interesting doesn’t it?


That possibility was hard won. We all know that this hasn’t been an exactly scintillating season, the results in the run-in in particular taking the shine off what could have been a 50 points plus tally for the first time in the Premier League.


But what we have to recognise is that ours is a squad in transition. We’ve lost some big players over the last couple of seasons, some moving on to other clubs, some lost to long term injuries like Foster, Brunt, Morrison. There’s been a need to make changes for a while and that process has begun – Fletcher, Rondon, Evans, Chester, the arrival of Dawson as a regular, perhaps Leko too now.


But a club like ours cannot make all those changes in one transfer window cycle. It takes a season or two to see a new side rising from the ashes of an old one. Doing that while retaining your top flight position is no mean feat and the coaching staff and players deserve plenty of credit for the job they’ve done.


Our natural sentiment as fans is to always see us as the greatest club in the world – which, of course, it is. But go beyond that and when you look at the respective resources, there is no logic behind us finishing above Villa, Newcastle and Sunderland. But we did, and two of those have fallen off the cliff at exactly the wrong moment. We haven’t. That matters, more now than ever.


We are about to really dig into the nuts and bolts of the Albion Archive, preserving our history for all time. At one and the same time, we have an opportunity to create some extraordinary new history of our own in these coming years, and we’ll do it by sticking together.


As far as our area goes, we are on top of the mountain. We should do all we can to stay there. But we should also, you know, enjoy the view. Because if the climb is hard work, staying at the peak without getting blown off is harder still. 


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