The future of the past, explained today
Over the last few months, we’ve been trying to gradually introduce the concept of “Download Albion” to you all, with the occasional piece on the club’s website, as well as in the pages of Albion News.
Download Albion is the all embracing name for a project that will, over the next years, bring together all of Albion’s history in one digital, online place that will become a one-stop shop for our fans and for archivists, historians, genealogists, casual observers and statistical geeks.
Everything you wanted to know about the Albion but were afraid to ask, we’ll have it there. And it’s going to be a broader, deeper, mightier sweep of Planet Albion than any of you would ever imagine possible.
It’s an idea that has been several years in the thinking and planning, one which will begin to take real flight next season when we will be able to start laying out the fruits of our labours for you all to enjoy.
It’s an idea that has come into being largely because of the advance of the digital world. In years gone by, the history of anything, even a football club, was always hemmed in by physical restrictions.
If you were going to write a book about it, you had maybe up to 200,000 words to play with – which, to give you some idea, is equivalent to nine editions of Albion News. In which to put nearly 140 years of existence? Or you could make a DVD but again, you’ll get about three or four hours to play with, tops.
So if you really want to do it properly, if you want to get into the nuts ands bolts of it, to shed light upon the nooks and crannies, if you want to make proper use of the wealth of information that is available about this football club, then you’ve got to think again. And that’s where the internet comes in.
One of the great strengths of the internet is the concept of “infinite inventory”. Or, put in a less fancy way, you can just keep on bunging stuff into it forever and a day and it’ll keep on taking it, like a bottomless cupboard.
And so anything we have about the Albion, however big, however small, it can go into that endless library, the internet. And, bonus of bonuses, it means you can access it from wherever you are in the world as long as you have an internet connection. You don’t have to visit an Albion library or an Albion museum, we are going to bring it to you.
Which brings us to an oft-asked question. Why isn’t there an Albion museum? Truth is, for the simple reason that there isn’t enough demand for it to make it financially viable – they cost a lot to open and run, and they need the kind of constant footfall we cant generate.
So as it is, The Hawthorns itself, particularly in the East Stand, is our museum of sorts. We do run stadium tours so you can get up close to some of our memorabilia but, again, that is just scratching the surface.
Because the fact is, not even The Hawthorns is big enough for us to display all the myriad wares that we have collected down the ages. Over the last 15 years in particular, the club has made a concerted effort to collect all kinds of everything relating to our story, so much so that we have far more items than we could possibly put on show.
We’ve got coffee pots and pennants, we’ve got medals and ticket books, we’ve got shirts and clocks, we’ve got scrolls and boots and statuettes and plenty else besides.
So that is going to be one of the starting points for Download Albion – the creation of a virtual museum. Every last piece of memorabilia that we hold has been, or will be, photographed and then turned into a brief film, giving you the chance to look at it from all angles and to hear about what it is, what it represents and where it fits in our story.
It’s the audio visual offspring of the “History Of The Albion In 100 Objects” series that we’ve been running in Albion News these last two seasons and if you want a taster here it is:
Beyond that, we have a pretty comprehensive set of the Albion’s minute books culled from the board meetings where the decisions were made, its own life story in many ways, the source material for the most comprehensive of autobiographies if you like.
And then we’ve got Albion News going back to the year dot. Or 1905, which, strictly speaking, wasn’t called dot, but you get the idea. We’re looking into digitising all of this material and, one way or another, making it available as part of an extended Albion library.
Of course, being the deliriously ambitious bunch that we are, we’re not stopping there. We’re going out into the Albion community to try and tap into the Albion goodies that many of you out there might have in your possession, as well as those held by players past and present themselves.
Already we have photographed collections belonging to His Holiness Tony Brown and the family of Stan Wood, winner of the unique double with the Throstles back in 1930/31.
This very week, we were able to photograph a collection of medals, caps and Albion kit worn by one of the pioneers, the great Joe Reader, back in the 1890s. True fragments of the Albion cross and no mistake, all of which are going into the burgeoning archive, all of which will find its way onto a computer screen near you soon.
Of course, that’s just a start…
Many of you will be frustrated that, if you want to find out the details of an Albion game from more than half a dozen years ago, you will have to look in places beyond our official website and that if that game took place more than 20 years ago, you’ll have a devil of a job to find anything beyond the scoreline online. Well, we’re not having that any more.
Work is on-going behind the scenes to compile a comprehensive and accurate list of all senior Albion first team games. That’s not going to just be a simple scoreline though, oh no.
We’re going to give you the date, the venue, the goalscorers, goal times, who got booked or sent off, the team line-up, the opposition line up where we can find it, the attendance figure if there is one, the referee’s name and the varieties of hot drinks served behind the goal. Ok, not the drinks, but all the rest.
On top of that, we’re going to furnish you with a match report, a gallery of photos from the game if such exists, video, audio, anything that we can lay our hands on as we trawl archives here, there and everywhere.
From that basic database of games, we will populate an overall statistical database that will give club records, competition records, player records. Want to know how many times Gareth McAuley has played against Liverpool? Click here. Our record against Everton. Click there. Has Chris Brunt ever scored against Arsenal? Click here.
Did Jeff Astle have a good record against Manchester United, how many goals did John Wile score, how many penalties did WG Richardson take, how many clean sheets did Jimmy Sanders keep, how many times was Jason van Blerk booked? It’s going to be a click away.
All of which is well and good but well, it doesn’t quite get to the heart of the matter does it? Because in the end, Saturday afternoon – or Monday night, or whenever – is all about the footballers isn’t it? Each one of them – and we’ve had just shy of 900 men make an appearance in league games – will get, for want of a better description, an Albion Wikipedia page.
Into that will feed all of their details from the stats / game engine, so you get a picture of what they did during their time here. We’ll add a biographical sketch as well as including any written material that we can find about them.
That will include previous programme interviews, anything we have done with them online, whatever we can find of them in old magazines, newspapers, anywhere, any place, any time. There’ll be photos, video and audio too if such exists.
On top of that, if we can get the first hand story, we will. So we are going to get out and about, our trusty tape recorders at our side, trying to track down the former players that have built this club, getting their thoughts and recollections of their time at The Hawthorns.
And it’s not going to be quick and easy chat show fare, we want the whole nine yards. For example, we’ve done a couple of hours with Graham Williams already and got as far as 1961, just shy of halfway through his career. Tony Brown hasn’t made his Albion debut yet and we’re an hour into our conversation with him.
We’re going to make these interviews available in a variety of ways, via the individual player wiki page as larger chunks, woven into documentaries about great games or seasons, disseminated in podcasts. However you can think of hearing it, we’ll be doing it.
Then we come to you, the Throstletariat, the supporters, because in the end, none of this makes any sense without you. In truth, football doesn’t make much sense, not the way we devour it, absorb it, are guided by it these days especially. It is, after all, only a game. Rationally, why should we care if the representatives of West Bromwich defeat the representatives of Burnley, Hull, Watford or Swansea, not least because a large percentage of us don’t live in West Bromwich any longer, if we ever did.
Yet that’s exactly why it does matter, because whoever we are and wherever life takes us, this football club, specifically this little rectangle of ground right on the far edge of the town, this roots us, it tells us who we are, where we came from.
We come here and yes, we want to see Rondon and Brunt, Chadli and Foster, but really, we come here because our parents, our grandparents brought us, because our children’s eyes go that bit wider and that bit brighter every time they walk into the stadium.
We come here because we see friends and acquaintances we’ve known for donkey’s years and the only thing that actually gives us the excuse to see one another these days amid busy lives is the game.
Take a look at the rantings on social media and you might think that the result is the be all and end all of everything. But if we pause for a second and really think it through, there’s a much bigger truth than at work. What matters is we are here, together, with a lot of the people that matter most and, often, with the memories that mean everything.
And we’re coming for you and for those memories.
Early days yet and we haven’t fully formed this bit of the story, but we want to ensure that the archive features just as many stories from supporters as it does from the players. Not so much about the games and the goals, but what was it like to go to Wembley in the ‘50s or the ‘60s, how did you get to the game at Galatasaray, how did you survive Twerton Park, what kind of a ground was this when you first started coming. How did you get your information on games and players, who did you come to games with, why did you start coming?
You know, it’s more than 20 years since we had terraces in this stadium and there’s a large chunk of people here today who don’t know what it was like in those days when you could stand on the Brummie or the Smethwick. These things pass into history in the blink of an eye and we forget to stop and capture those moments and suddenly, they’ve gone. In a football crowd, in a club’s support, all human life is here. This is not just sporting history that we have made – and continue to make every single day whether we realise it or not – but it is social history too. So we will be coming to get your stories as well, to ensure that we download you as we download the rest of the Albion experience.
So there it is, that’s the start of a very new movement for this football club, for any football club. And we want your support with it, not just in the elements that are covered here, but more generally. I know it’s easy to be cynical about football, especially amid the money of the modern day, but where does cynicism get us?
As far as Download Albion goes, please, leave your cynicism at the door. We are trying to run this project out of the best motives, to secure our history for its telling tot the future.
If you are on board with how important it is, please, get out there and evangelise about it. Tell your mates who don’t read the programme, talk about it in the pub, on the coach on the way to games, in the supporters’ clubs. We’ll come and talk to you about it as well if you want to hear more.
Look for Download Albion articles in Albion News, look for them on the website, for mentions on Facebook and Twitter. If you see them and you enjoy them, RT, share, like, that’s the currency of today and that’s the currency we need for this project, not your money. All we need is love. Yours.
Download Albion isn’t just about the past, and we’re not doing it purely for the present. We are setting this down now so that a century from us, Albion fans then will have a link to a century before us. The great-great-grandson and daughter that you’re never going to see. But they will be able to find out what you used to watch, what your passion was. They might even get to hear from you, first hand.
We are uncovering the past to help build the future. We’re doing it now, but this ark is for the ages, not just for a rainy day. It’s for as long as this football club exists, maybe even beyond.
No other club has done this, but we are the Albion. This is how a club in touch with its soul should behave. We’re going out there to find out who we are, how we got here.
Come with us.