Chance would be a fine thing
Transfer deadline day. No, I’m not going to rake over the coals of that again, for we will only reach the same conclusion that will have been reached elsewhere, for such is the nature of football – wouldn’t it have been nice to have had some more players in.
But we always feel that, however many you get – when we get the “famous five” on deadline day in March 2000, both Gary Megson and supporters were bemoaning that it wasn’t a “super six”. We always want more, and that is generally a healthy thing, propelling the club forward.
There are other ways of propelling the club forward though, and that is by doing it from within, which is precisely what we are doing at the moment. You’ll have noticed, for instance, Sam Field playing against Northampton and Middlesbrough with real assurance, looking very much the part in the centre of midfield.
Last season, Jonathan Leko gave plenty of evidence of his emerging quality, getting bums off seats with a few searing runs past full-backs and the ability to produce the kind of killer pass that was enough even to embarrass the Liverpool defence on the final day of the season.
Kane Wilson has set the pulses racing too, the proud owner of some freshly minted GCSEs excelling on pre-season with the first team squad, forcing himself into the picture and, on League Cup duty, looking every inch the part.
I’m not for one moment suggesting that these three are going to be the dominant forces in the Albion side over the course of the next nine months, nor that they are even going to be regular starters in 30-odd games. Nor would I recommend that we heap expectations upon them, rather we should let them develop and should be encouraged in doing so by all of us at every step.
But what is very healthy is that those three will, in all likelihood, be full on members of our first-team squad through the campaign and should get a fair number of minutes between them. If we had brought in a couple of fresh faces for the sake of it, just on the basis of their being a bit more experienced, then the likes of Field, Leko et al might have been pushed back down into the 23s and had their development frustrated. And not just for this season, but possibly for two or three years to come, the length of contracts given to these potential new boys.
For once, let’s try and learn the lessons of history shall we? Young players, right through the ages, get their chance not, in most cases, because they are simply to brilliant to be kept out of the team, but because they are the next cab off the rank when a team is short of numbers thanks to injuries or suspensions.
Tony Brown? Got his chance when Ronnie Fenton and John Kaye were injured ahead of a trip to Ipswich. Derek Statham, in the side at Stoke when Len Cantello had to miss the trip. Martyn Bennett, first called to the colours when Brendon Batson was injured for a home game against Everton. Paul Mariner’s prospective move to the Albion in the autumn of 1976 fell through when he chose Ipswich instead. A year later, the number nine shirt was being filled by Cyrille Regis. The list goes on, right through the years.
For years, we have been calling for Albion to produce homegrown footballers for our first team. As a nation, we are persistently complaining that we don’t give our kids enough of a chance but instead block their way with a slew of journeymen footballers from elsewhere.
Well, circumstances now dictate that in the run up to Christmas, our youngsters have the opportunity to make their case, to demand a first team shirt and show that they can keep hold of it. It may be the result of accident, but opportunity so often is. It didn’t do Tony Brown any harm.