A National Shame

One of the worst things about the abuse the black England players received, particularly Rashford, Sancho and Saka, was how inevitable it was that it would happen.

The truth is…racism in football has been growing for quite some time and, I’d argue, it feels worse now than at any other time since I’ve been going to football. Social media, clearly, doesn’t help.

As a West Brom fan, we like to pride ourselves on our history. We were the first major team to play black players and those three, Cyrille Regis, Brendan Batson and Laurie Cunningham, the Three Degrees, would go to become a symbol of inclusiveness and equality for many of our fans.

As time has passed, I’ve found myself arguing online with more and more Albion fans that have shown opinions that those three players would have been appalled by. Rather than become a symbol of equality, acceptance of diversity, they’ve become a defence. A way out. “We can’t be racist, we’re West Brom fans…we had the Three Degrees.” It happens more and more.

Going to the Albion when I was growing up and all through uni etc, I never heard any of it. In fact, I used to love the fact that I’d see several black supporters and Asian supporters at the game. That should never be an issue. I often wonder if I just ignored it and it was always happening, but it was never obvious to me. Perhaps I was ignorant to it. But social media has made it impossible to hide from it. Impossible to ignore. And I find it sickening.

When players started taking the knee it sparked conversation between people about racism in football. Debate. And it highlighted so many opinions…from those that were obviously and outwardly racist all the way to those that fully supported it. The debates, the discussions, allowed for education. I listened to black voices. I tried to understand. And, while I never will fully understand (because I’ll never be a victim to racism), I have done as much as I can online to try to always call it out. It’s what I can do…but it’s not enough.

A while back, I saw a sponsored post on Facebook for Southgate’s new book. It had a lot of comments on the post. About 80% of them, if not more, were comments about taking the knee. None of them were good. All of them were from white middle aged (and older) men. I remember seeing it and thinking, ‘if Southgate gets this abuse for just supporting his black players, what sort of abuse are they receiving?’ And, we soon found out.

There are people that sit waiting to give that abuse. Waiting for their opportunity. How sad is that? And why? Why do they do it? It’s something I’ll never truly understand but I do think modern politics hasn’t helped.

I feel bad lumping Brexit voters in this but when Farage stood in front of a racist anti-immigration poster, he legitimised racism. He put the door ajar and invited those racists to sneak in. He gave them a voice and a platform. When Tommy Robinson got involved and supported it…Britain First…and they found supportive voices from Farage and others…it legitimised racism. It validated the opinions of those who don’t deserve to have their opinions heard. It’s a shame because, although I massively disagree with Brexit and the arguments for it, I know full well that not every person that voted for Brexit is racist. It was always the Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson types that allowed for that perception.

And, then, as a nation we decided we were OK with a PM that has likened Muslim women to letter boxes and bank robbers, called black people “piccaninnies with watermelon smiles”, suggested Islamophobia is a “natural reaction” and even ‘joked’ that Malaysian women went to university to find men to marry. When you have a leader that says these things out loud, you give validation to racists and more. You allow them a voice. They have power. Because, if the guy that runs the country says it, it must be OK, right? If Farage’s Brexit campaign left the door to racism ajar, Johnson kicked it wide open.

And even at the start of the Euros, when Boris Johnson and Priti Patel defended those booing the players taking the knee, they were effectively saying “it’s OK to not stand against racism.” The cheek to call it “gesture politics”, claim they don’t do that and then, as England reach the finals, they cover Downing Street in flags, use photo ops in England shirts and then, in a final act of hypocrisy, talk about how awful the abuse is. The abuse they, 4 weeks ago, defended.

None of this excuses personal responsibility, but it goes some way to explain why it’s so prevalent right now. Those hidden voices have been given an outlet from the highest place possible. Permission to do it. And it is disgraceful. It should be our nation’s shame.

But, instead of shame, I already see excuses and cop outs. Voices that say, “Just ignore them”, “it’s just the media trying to cause a divide again”, “it’s not even English fans” and so on. The start of brushing it under the carpet is upon us.

I have a decent following of Albion fans on twitter. One thing that I started doing is screenshotting and sharing and shaming the posts. Highlighting the racism that exists in our fanbase. Calling it out. I originally blanked out names but now I don’t. It’s their words, they should live with the consequence. I do it because it’s the least I can do and because it stops us from brushing it under the carpet. We cant ignore this. Black people deserve better. The BAME community deserve better. As a white person, it should be our responsibility as much as anyone’s to help, support, educate, listen, learn and call it out.

We should, and we can, be better than this.

That England team far exceeded expectation. Gareth Southgate has created a team, not a squad of individuals, and it’s one we can all be proud of. He leads by example and we now have a team of leaders. Rashford has done so much good over the past year, for example. The way the team have rallied in support of the black players. The way the team, despite the booing, continued to protest for equality by continuing to take the knee…something I am sure (and hope) they will continue to do for as long as necessary.

What should have been a time of pride in defeat has turned in to an embarrassment. This country’s shame.

Listen to black voices. Educate yourself. Continue to learn because we all still have more to learn, myself included. And don’t stand by and let these racist voices get away with it.

I look at my kids and I keep thinking about when I should take them to their first football match. I want to. But I worry about the world I am introducing them in to. Do I want Oscar and Imogen in that environment? Do I want them to hear those things? No. And I find it truly sad that something I enjoy, a favourite memory of going to the Albion with my Dad, is an experience that I’m hesitant to give my own kids because of other people.

And, if I feel that way, how do those black and Asian fans that I talked about earlier feel?

We have to be better. We must be better.

Finding Hope In Our Hopelessness

Close your eyes and imagine, just for one second, that you wake up on Sunday 14th March and West Bromwich Albion, off the back of an unexpected turn of form, sit in 18th place with 24 points, only a couple away from safety following four wins on the bounce. Impossible? No. Unlikely? Most definitely.

The arrival of Sam Allardyce hasn’t done much to improve things at Albion. Arguably, it’s got worse. 10 league games, 1 win, 2 draws, 7 defeats. Only 8 goals scored and an alarming 28 goals conceded. Even the most optimistic fan would have a hard time believing Albion could go from that form to winning 4 of the next 5, yet this is the position Albion are in and, if staying in the Premier League is the end goal (and why woudn’t it be?), 4 wins out of 5 must be the minimum expectation.

There are a few things that Allardyce will cling on to for hope. One of which will be belief in his own ability. When he joined Crystal Palace in December 2016, Allardyce came up against similar issues. In that job, he only won 2 of his first 10 – still one more than with Albion – and many believed it would end up being his first relegation. Come the end of the season Palace finished 14th, avoiding relegation by 7 points.

The poor run of form at the start, however, is where similarities end. The Crystal Palace team Allardyce took over possessed far more quality than the current Albion squad does…the likes of Cabaye and Zaha, for example, are far superior to most of what Albion has…and he was afforded the luxury of over £30m to spend in the January transfer window, something that he would have never recieved at Albion in the best of times, let alone in a post-Brexit covid time.

There were some early signs that Allardyce might be able to work his magic. The draw against Liverpool, his second game in charge, demonstrated a very disciplined look to the squad, almost reminiscent of Roy Hodgson’s Albion, and it served some hope. However, since then – bar the win against Wolves – the Albion have seemed incapable of putting any sort of performance together for any longer than 45 minutes. The Leeds game (lost 5-0) was appalling, the Man City game (lost 5-0) felt as though we’d given up before even starting and the first half against Fulham (which ended 2-2) was one of the more abject displays I’ve ever witnessed from an Albion team.

The two games that followed the Fulham game, a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United that felt like a relegation confirmation and a 2-0 defeat to Tottenham, that included a poorly thought out joke throw in from Allardyce, only served to seal fate for the majority of supporters. The joke throw in felt like a bit of a kick in the teeth – while you’re struggling, losing, going down…do you really want to see your manager doing light hearted jokes? Is it a lack of care? Or, maybe, is it his way of trying to give the players something to smile at and try to raise morale? If it was the latter, it feels very much like something David Brent may do…which would be fairly fitting; West Bromwich Albion, an awkward comedy.

Many have started to compare Allardyce’s time to Alan Pardew’s time at Albion. Pardew was a disaster, managing only one win in 18 games as Albion hurtled towards relegation. Darren Moore somehow, nearly, gave Albion a fighting chance…but it was too late. And now there is that potential that history may repeat itself as, if Albion don’t win 4 of the next 5 then any chance of survival will be gone and, as some rumblings are starting to suggest, Allardyce may be gone, too.

Personally, I don’t think it’s fair to compare Pardew and Allardyce. The squad Pardew inherited was a very capable one and one that should have done better. From the starting 11, how many would deny Jonny Evans, Jay Rodriguez, Craig Dawson or Salomon Rondon a place in the current team? Would Sam Johnstone, undoubtedly Albion’s best player this season, keep Ben Foster out? Would Romaine Sawyers keep Claudio Yacob out? Give Allardyce that team, you’ll see different results. As it is, he has taken charge of one of the weakest Albion sides in years. That’s not his fault. Tactics? Failure to recognise his best team? That’s on him. But the strength of this squad? The blame lies more on Slaven Bilic, Luke Dowling and Lai Guochuan (or whoever it is that actually does own the club).

So, is there any hope? On a poor run of form, with a poor squad, 11 points from safety (with the two teams above, Fulham and Burnley, having a game in hand)…it looks bleak. And that’s being kind. The only hope can be based around Allardyce’s past history, a belief in miracles and the potential impact of the signings Albion made in January.

Robert Snodgrass gives Albion some much needed experience and when he plays well, as he did against Wolves, he can give a creative edge. The loan signings, Okay Yokuslu, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Mbaye Diagne, are the key and they all have different motivations. Maitland-Niles, an England international, will want to prove he can play consistently in the Premier League in order to help force his way in to the Arsenal team…somewhat similar to how it was for Kieran Richardson when he joined Albion on loan from Manchester United all those years ago. Yokuslu will view the move as a chance to put himself in the shop window and show how good he can be, in a hope to look for a move to a Premier League side. Diagne, at 29 years old, will see this as the final chance to secure a Premier League career. The best way for them all to achieve that is to do well at Albion. And they will get their chance. Yokuslu and Maitland-Niles should replace Sawyers and Livermore in midfield, Diagne has already shown more threat up front than any other Albion striker so far this season.

But then comes the glaring omission for a team that has conceded 28 in their last 10. No new defenders. Full backs remain an issue…Gibbs isn’t good enough anymore, Townsend has done well but isn’t of the quality needed and Furlong often feels like more of a winger than a full back…O’Shea slotted in to right back last year but he is still young, still has a lot to learn and isn’t a natural right back. Bartley and Ajayi have been inconistent and Ivanovic a massive disappointment.

What this means is that Yokuslu and Maitland-Niles will need to sit deep to protect the back four, with the risk then being Diagne will find himself isolated up front. Matheus Pereira’s performance behind Diagne will be vital, as Diagne will have to hold play up to lay on to him. Grady Diangana will need to produce far more than he has so far this season to drive forward counter-attacks. It will be route one football, it won’t be pretty…but it needs to be effective. Back to signs of hope, this is what Allardyce is good at. He finds players that make an impact, players that change a team, players that create better results. He’s done it at so many clubs. Yet, at Albion, even with those signings (of which there is no guarantee they’ll be successful), it feels a stretch too far.

But, for one second, close your eyes and imagine waking up on that Sunday 14th March. Albion have beat Burnley, Brighton, Newcastle and Palace. Just imagine.

It’s nice to dream, sometimes.


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Goodbye Slaven Bilic

There aren’t many clubs that would follow up a draw with Manchester City by sacking their manager, but West Bromwich Albion are not just any club and, if history serves to show anything, it would show that Albion are a club that should now be known for making decisions that can leave people scratching their heads. The dismissal of Slaven Bilic has done just that to many an outsider and many a supporter. But was it really all that surprising?

When Bilic joined the club, he arrived upon wave that had a mixture of optimism and pessimism. Having failed to win promotion the year prior, losing to Villa in the play offs, Albion became set to lose a number of first team players. The strikers, Gayle and Rodriguez, accountable for 46 of Albion’s goals, left. Craig Dawson left. There remained concern by the start of the season, mainly because the strike force was not good enough – Kenneth Zohore was signed from Cardiff for £8m, Charlie Austin signed for £4m…the only other recognised striker was Hal Robson-Kanu. But, despite the fears over strikers, there was optimism over the fact the club had managed to hire Bilic.

And it was an optimism that paid off. Albion played some genuinely exciting football. The concern around strikers shrunk a little as Hal Robson-Kanu seemed to discover a goalscoring streak he’d never had before in his career. The loan signings of Grady Diangana and Matheus Pereira were inspired, giving the Albion an attacking flair that had felt missing from the club for some years. There were goals from all over the pitch. It was as close to the Tony Mowbray style Albion you could get without having Tony Mowbray. Unfortunately, that also meant defensively Albion were often found out, but the attacking displays ensured it never really mattered to begin with.

But then, COVID came. The world stopped. Football stopped. And, when it finally came back, something felt different. The team struggled, players like Diangana and Pereira seemed to miss the crowd to play up to…form dipped. In the background, Brentford were winning consistently. Before lockdown, Albion were walking to promotion with Leeds. Following lockdown, and especially after losing to Brentford, it looked like Albion had fallen well off track and would be back in the pay offs.

Albion couldn’t seem to win the games that mattered. Any “must win” game would result in a poor performance. Albion drew too many games…and Brentford kept winning. The pressure told and there were real concerns…but luck was on their side. Brentford, to the surprise of many, lost their final two games against Stoke and Barnsley. Albion drew their final game against QPR 2-2. It was all that was needed. The club hobbled to automatic promotion…Slaven Bilic had a successful first season.

When Bilic joined, the club had made it clear that there was a two year plan. Promotion wasn’t key in the first season. The two year target was to achieve promotion by the end of the second year. Bilic had done it in one. In any other time, that would be recognised as a massive success and would probably give Bilic a year to just attempt the Premier League…but to ignore the impact of COVID on the “Two Year Plan” is as bad as ignoring the form of the team since lockdown.

For many Albion fans, the dismissal of Bilic is probably not as surprising as many would imagine it is or should be. In the 22 games since the return of football, Albion have only gained 20 points (4 wins, 8 draws, 10 losses). If that was a return of 20 points in 22 games in the Premier League you could argue it was a decent return…but 9 of the games were in the Championship. If you compare the final 22 games against other recent ‘harsh’ dismissals at Albion – Darren Moore (37 points), Roberto Di Matteo (23 points), Steve Clarke (20 points) and Tony Pulis (15 points) – it’s easier to understand why Bilic has been sacked. Football is a results business…and, despite a good point against Manchester City, the results haven’t been there for some time. The dip in form will have most likely been a major factor in the club not discussing a new contract with Bilic following promotion – something that, in hindsight, should have given warning sign as to what the club’s hierarchy may have been thinking about Bilic.

The argument against the results argument then falls to the “Two Year Plan”. The reality is that when the plan was put in place, it will have factored in parachute payments and gate receipts, as well as sales from the club shop, hospitality deals and more. COVID ended all of that. The reality is that promotion at the end of year one will have moved from a nice bonus to a necessity. As with all other businesses, plans had to change and the club had to adapt. Senior figures took pay cuts. Had the not won promotion, many people would have lost jobs…players would have needed to be sold. But now we find ourselves in an uncertain period. As COVID stays and Sandwell remains in tier 3, fans don’t return and the club don’t make the money they would have done before. And that creates more issues – all factors that would have played in to the decision to sack Bilic and, ultimately, hire Sam Allardyce.

There’s a perceived view around the club that the board did not support Bilic on promotion to the Premier League in the transfer market. The squad isn’t good enough and will always be in the relegation battle (at best). It still lacks a quality striker. Defensively it’s not good enough. But, play Devil’s advocate. The club spent more this pre-season than they have done in any other. In signing Diangana, the clubs transfer record was broke. Karlan Grant was signed for £15m. Bilic made it clear that he wanted Krovinovic – the club signed him back on loan. The ‘lack of support’ is not necessarily the excuse it could be. The argument should, perhaps, be around whether the money could have been spent wiser. You also have to factor in the reality that those in charge of the transfers at the club will recognise we needed more than most, but with the uncertainty of COVID – if it’s still a factor come the end of the season, as well as however much it has impacted finance already – will have likely prevented those in charge from wanting to spend more.

Away from transfers in, one big example of the board and Bilic falling out came over the sale of Hegazi. Prior to the sale, Hegazi was on the fringes of the squad despite being one of the top earners at the club. Arguably, the impact on the finances through COVID and tranfers in will have made selling a necessity. Selling Hegazi removed a reported £70k per week off the table. In a business sense, it made perfect sense…but the signs were absolutely there that this meant issues with Bilic. To not inform him of the sale was absolutely shocking – regardless of whether Hegazi was playing much or not.

There’s then the added factor that the club is up for sale. When you look at the impact COVID has had outside of the Premier League, it doesn’t take much to understand the impact relegation would have on the value of the club. For Lai, he’ll want to make his money back. Relegation would see the value of the club decrease dramatically. Bilic isn’t getting the results…so, enter Sam Allardyce.

Allardyce brings a few certainties. It will be boring football…but he will make Albion harder to beat. The reality is, without a goalscorer, Albion’s only option is to become hard to beat and play on the counter. The team have shown against Manchester City and United, Chelsea and Tottenham that they can be hard to beat…but, in the games that matter (Crystal Palace, for example), they’ve fallen apart. This has been the Bilic curse since lockdown and the hope will be that Allardyce will stop that from happening. He may not be what Albion want, but he may be what Albion need. If Allardyce succeeds, Albion maintain value. Lai will sell and the club will look to move forward. Does Allardyce stay? Time will tell. The only certainty is that Albion are not a football club to a community in the eyes of Lai, but a business commodity – and one that he will want to make money back from.

Bilic has been a bit of a revelation at the club. The passion has been contagious and it’s been a pleasure to have him at the club. Prior to COVID, Albion were playing some of the best football I’d seen at The Hawthorns for many years. The signings of Pereira and Diangana introduced a flair not seen in the team for probably even longer. To say he won the fans back to the club, I feel, is harsh on Darren Moore following the work he did after Pulis and Pardew, but Bilic certainly helped keep those fans and gain a few more.

Bilic took a club and achieved. He leaves with the fans on his side, the players on his side and a reputation that will remain strong. But now the club moves on. And, for any doubts the fans may have, if Allardyce leads the Albion to a win against Villa in his first game then perhaps, just perhaps, the mood will start to lift again.


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Thanks For The Memories – An (almost) Retrospective Look At Chris Brunt

SOCCER - EFL - Sky Bet Championship English Football League - West Bromwich Albion v Stoke City

The Madejski Stadium isn’t one that’s been favourable to West Bromwich Albion over the years. It’s one of those grounds where the form book always seems to fly out of the window and one of those grounds where, even if Albion are winning 2-0 with 10 minutes left…there’s a feeling that Reading may still win 3-2.

On Saturday 16th February 2016, the Madejski Stadium is the venue for the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Reading and Albion. Reading, in the Championship, have been inconsistent all year, while Albion are doing fairly well in the Premier League. For most on the outside, the expectation was an Albion win. For the most ardent Albion fans? We’ve been here before. The league tables do lie, sometimes.

After an uneventful first half, Albion take the lead in the second. Could it be? Could Albion finally get that win – their first since 1995 – against Reading?

No. Of course not. It’s Albion. It ends 3-1 to Reading, Albion out of the FA Cup.

There was understandable frustration. This period at the club felt like a time when a cup run could happen; a real possibility of maybe, just maybe, having a go at some silverware. The fans were unhappy. Chris Brunt heads over to the away fans to give his shirt away and say thanks to those that travelled down to London to watch them when one of the darker moments of Albion’s recent history happens.

A fan throws a coin at Brunt, hitting him in the face just below his eye. Brunt, in his ninth season at the club, reacts angrily. Fans scuffle amongst each other. Some argue with Chris Brunt, some tussle amongst themselves. Darren Fletcher ends up having to pull Brunt away. The focus of the game is no longer the result, but a shameful act from a supporter to a loyal player…a player responsible for several brilliant memories in the years before.

The response from the majority of Albion fans matched that of Brunt. He spoke after the game saying he was “disgusted” and “ashamed”, said that he wouldn’t want his children to be around that environment. Fans worked to try to help identify the person that threw the coin. But they also did something else.

The next league game was against Crystal Palace. Buckets were in place asking for Albion fans to throw in some loose change. Over £4,500 was raised and then given to Chris Brunt for him to donate to whichever charities he saw fit. A fan movement, a way to say sorry. A rarity in football. The worst of us seemed to bring out the best.

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Even back then, four years ago, the fans appreciated that Chris Brunt was somewhat different to the usual player. In his ninth season, may understood that the loyalty he had shown was no longer seen so much in the modern game…he was as much Albion as some of those sitting in the stands. Perhaps even more than some.

I remember when Brunt joined the Albion. A Sheffield Wednesday fan spoke to me about how great he was, commenting that he had an amazing left foot. I personally didn’t know too much about him other than that quick review…I was more impressed by the signing of Jimmy Morrison, another who would go on to stay at the club for a long time.

Brunt’s first season was a spectacular one at the Albion. Tony Mowbray’s team were playing fantastic free flowing attacking football; the midfield were immense, the strikers phenomenal…the defence…well, it was there…but we were on fire. The season prior ended with Play Off Final heartbreak against Derby and then a mass clearout. The feeling amongst many fans was that we’d blown our chance but, in reality, Mowbray was making the changes he wanted. The 2007/08 season resulted in Albion getting to the FA Cup Semi Final and then winning the Championship.

The match that effectively sealed promotion is a key moment in the history of Chris Brunt at the Albion. Southampton, struggling in the league, visited the Hawthorns on a night where anything other than defeat would see Albion either confirmed as promoted or ‘as good as’ promoted. Albion do what Albion do and, in a season where they’ve scored for fun, can’t fid the back of the net. The game rolls on and Southampton take the lead in the 77th minute. Groans all round…”typical Albion”.

The team continue to throw players forward and create chances when eventually a cross comes over towards Luke Moore…but it goes past him and lands at the feet of Chris Brunt, who came on as a sub halfway through the second half. Brunt steadies it, hits it with his left foot…pandemonium. The equaliser, the goal that effectively sealed promotion and the first Chris Brunt ‘moment’. If he’d have only had that season at the club, his name would have been written in the history books. As it is, he’s now finishing his 13th season, his final one at the Albion.

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Thirteen seasons that have seen two promotions and two relegations, 417 games, 48 goals, countless assists and chances created. Thirteen seasons that have seen spectacular free kicks and long range goals. Thirteen seasons that have seen 10 different managers (excluding the caretaker managers). Thirteen seasons that have seen the club sign 75 players and sell or release 94 players. Thirteen seasons that have seen Chris Brunt be a major part of the club for the majority of it.

That goal against Southampton is always one of the moments I remember most in football, but you could easily take a pick of Brunt moments…the free kick against Everton, for example. The screamer against Villa. The 40 yard goal against Middlesbrough.

Or, you could look off the pitch. The work he has done with the Albion Foundation has been superb. The stories out there for the way in which he interacts with fans are examples of how good and modest a man he is. I’ve read snippets of examples of acts that he carried out for a family going through a period of massive grief.

Chris Brunt isn’t just another player. He’s one of us.

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I remember when Brunt joined the club, not long after Morrison, it was Morrison that excited me the most. He was he player I wanted to see at the club. The Albion were incredibly fortunate enough to land two players that showed immense loyalty and saw both complete 12 and 13 years service. But the feeling around Brunt leaving is so different to the emotion felt over Morrison.

Morrison was a great player, another with several moments etched in the history of the club, but it never felt the same for me. Injuries plagued him towards the end and consistency was not always there. He clearly cared, but (and perhaps this is just because of the type of player he was) I never felt it was the same passion and emotion as Chris Brunt. You saw that passion in Brunt, he wore his heart on his sleeve, and I think that’s another reason why seeing him leave the club will hurt more than most.

It’s not always been easy for Brunt. Over the years, there have been many times where fans have said that his time is up. Arguably, they were right. It pained me to see Brunt moved to left back under Tony Pulis but, as time goes by, I understand why he did it. There have been times since Pulis was sacked where I’ve even wondered whether Brunt should have been picked at left back…but it wastes his key attribute, his passing, and leaves him open to so much critique as the game has got faster and, unfortunately, age does slow you down.

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This season, Brunt’s final one at the club, has only seen him feature in a handful of games. It’s a factor that will have no doubt played on his mind when considering the future, regardless of whatever Albion decided to do with his contract come the end of the season. Yet, despite the fact he’s barely featured, he’s a player that so many want to celebrate on the final game.

A banner currently sits in the Brummie Road End saying “Thank You Brunty” – it’s a far cry from the coin throwing incident, and a show of how much he means to the fans. Twitter has started to become awash with Albion fans changing their profile pictures to images of Chris Brunt – many actually pictures they’ve had with the man. Even those that have been critical of him in recent years are appreciating him. There is a real understanding that every one of us knows – every football fan knows.

We won’t get another like him.

Chris Brunt loves the Albion…there is no doubt about it. There will be 20 year olds going to the Albion that won’t be able to remember much of a time without Chris Brunt at the Albion. To many, Chris Brunt IS Albion…and it will be a sad day watching him go.

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The final game of his first season at the club, the game that followed Southampton and THAT goal, was against QPR. A free kick on the edge of the area, he took it and scored to make it 2-0 and put confirmation on Albion becoming champions. On Wednesday, we face QPR with a chance to gain promotion. The romantic in me clamours for a final Chris Brunt goal, a third promotion, the perfect farewell. The Albion fan in me, naturally, fears the worst.

But, whatever happens, I hope we do get one last sight of Brunt in an Albion shirt…and I hope Wednesday is the last time we ever see him in one. In this case, more than any other I can think of, he deserves that moment.

Thirteen seasons. Many memories. One Chris Brunt.

Thank you, and good luck.

brunt trophy

 


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Black

It’s easy to change a profile picture and write a hashtag…but it will take more than that to change anything.

I spent a great portion of my younger life growing up in a large multicultural area – an upbringing that gave me a good understanding of race…but also a good understanding of racism.

I can look back and think of friends that came out with things like “if she wasn’t black she’d be quite fit but I just don’t like black girls” and say that I deeply regret never challenging those people back then. For not challenging, it means I was complicit. It’s a guilt I have, a guilt I must own and a guilt I have to learn from…and, I think, I’ve done a lot to do that.

I will never know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of racism but I can make myself aware enough to see it and be willing to challenge it where I can.

Looking at what is happening in America is absolutely heartbreaking. And it’s ultimately very scary when you think it could easily happen here. There are still so many institutions that are blatantly rife with racism, there are still so many opportunities that are clearly blocked for black people – if you don’t believe me, look at football and black managers. Look at major business and count the number of black CEOs.

We live in an age where you can be lazy and still learn about racism and the history of racism in the States and the world. Sit on your sofa and watch 12 Years A Slave. Stick some headphones on and listen to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. It’s not hard to find a way to educate yourself that little bit more.

The looting and riots in the States are terrible. But these are the results of years of oppression, years of hate, years of anger and years of social and racial injustice. A footballer takes a knee and nothing changes. They march and nothing changes. So now they riot. They make noise. They get noticed. But the message begins to get lost and the division grows, driven on even more by their lunatic President. Trump will continue to push the narrative of the “thugs” on the streets, ignore the acts of police brutality we are seeing…and keep causing division. He stands with a Bible and preaches about the second amendment to get the support of a specific type of group…and they will be as far away from BAME as possible. It’s terrifying.

We are in a political landscape where, in this country, we seem happy to knowingly let our government lie to us and just carry on. Their response to the reaction to what is happening in the States is to postpone revealing information about Coronavirus and the higher death rates in the BAME community…and, even though they deny that information, Matt Hancock says “Black lives matter” and the rest of the country carries on. Equality, eh? How many outside of the BAME demographic actually care? Division exists.

It’s easy to change a profile picture. It’s easy to write a hashtag.

But, rather than do that, take an action. Do something that can bring change. Educate yourself. Educate your children. Listen to black voices. Talk to each other. Watch documentaries, read books, listen to music. Realise that black lives do matter…and move forward, together.

There surely would be no better way to pay tribute to the likes of George Floyd, Stephen Lawrence and countless others than by doing that. Together, as one.

A Sad Time – Some Rambling Thoughts

I feel like it would be almost remiss of me to not write about Coronavirus. As a planet we’re all fighting it and, as with Influenza (Spanish Flu, if you must), this is something we will see in history books in the future.

I’m normally pretty up to speed on news. I try to keep myself in the know. You can’t always catch everything, though, and the rise of Coronavirus was actually one thing I’d not noticed. In fact, the first time I heard of it I thought it was a joke. Even then, when I read up on it, I wouldn’t have predicted what has happened.

I apologise in advance for if this post is a bit all over the place…this is all just a bit off the cuff.

I work in food retail. Due to this, I’m now classed as a ‘key worker’ in the UK. Someone that, if my kids were old enough, could still send his kids to school. Someone that has to keep working. That’s fine. I agree with it. I totally understand it…people need food to live. People need to shop.

I’ve been off work this past week due to holiday time. The week prior was when panic buying started. When I finished up for the week on the Saturday I left saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” I was, and still am, incredibly proud of my team during this time and proud of my friends in other stores working equally as hard…this is absolutely unlike anything any of us have ever seen. I’ve been in retail for nigh on 15 years. Going in to the shops this week has been eye opening and has made me think that, potentially, I’ve ended up being off for the worst week of panic shopping.

But what will next week bring? Who knows? All the retailers have been asking shoppers to stop panic buying, think of others. They’ve put restrictions on. But people are still panic buying. People are still buying far more than they need to. Today’s government press conference included a member of the retail consortium. The message? Think of others and stop panic buying.

I fail to understand how that message will change public behaviour any more than retail bosses have by saying the same thing. The mentality of people now is “We need to get this before they run out”…not everybody would have been thinking that way but the behaviour of others will have definitely forced it. Even for myself, I sit here knowing depots have got stock – I know some of the plans that will be put in place…can probably guess at others – but I worry about things my kids need. Thoughts of “if I see the correct size nappies for them I’d best get them before they’re gone”…it’s fear, anxiety and panic not bought on by the retailers, but instead by the actions of the public as a whole. The government message today does nothing, really, to alter that.

I’ve found myself walking around the stores this week when I’ve been getting food and found myself on a few occasions feeling almost emotional. Massive greed and selfishness will have hurt people. When I am shopping and thinking about the food my kids like but those shelves are empty…what do you do? I feel fortunate that I’ve seen some great generosity this week otherwise, potentially, I’d also be panicking for the weeks ahead.

As I’ve stated before, I’ve been in retail for about 15 years…both food and clothing/home. In that time, I’ve had the chance to get to know so many people – people I wouldn’t normally talk to – and you get to see a side of humanity, both good and bad, that you don’t see in any other job sector. Looking at the bare, empty shelves has me thinking of a customer I used to serve years ago when I was a part time deli assistant. His name was John.

I have no idea if John is still alive. He was getting on a bit and clearly had some issues. He’d come in, pretty much, at the same time every day. Albert Einstein hair style, an old blue coat that had tears in it and patches of dirt. His facial expressions used to remind me of Wallace from Wallace and Gromit. Anyway, he’d come in every day and ask for “two slices of honey roast ham on one and a half. I don’t have a fridge so this way I don’t throw it away.” Every day. Without fail. I found John quite an interesting character. He had a good job before retiring, but once he retired he slipped. Clearly had signs of dementia, clearly very lonely. The trip to the shop was as much a social thing as it was a necessity for food.

I look at the shops now and think of John and the countless other John’s I’ve met, served and got to know over the years and it genuinely saddens me. It saddens me because I don’t know how he would survive. Food counters have shut to allow supply chains to focus on key deliveries – a correct decision – but for John that would probably mean spending more on pre-packed items. And, even then, it’s only if he could get it. I’ve noticed how, in several areas of stores, the cheaper and average priced items have all sold meaning only the expensive alternatives remain. If you shop at the wrong time, you’ll spend more and, probably, for less. For people like John…could they even afford that? I worry that, for those people, it won’t be Coronavirus that kills them…it’ll be malnutrition. And, again, it saddens me because that’s not the fault of the retailer as there is stock at depots…there was just no need to panic buy and put depots in a position whereby they simply can’t get enough of the stock out quick enough. We’ll undoubtedly see shoplifting increase, too, as people find only expensive alternatives and find they can’t afford it.

And what about when people do find themselves in a place of not being able to afford food? Food Banks? Well, no…because people aren’t donating. Some are being stolen from. Help from the banks? Unlikely, unless you’re a business affected by things. So, bankruptcy? Unpaid rents and rise in homelessness? Maybe. Anxiety? Depression? Further mental health issues? Most probably.

The behaviour of people has lead to this. That is why Supermarkets are now having to put in place designated hours for vulnerable people, NHS workers…but, the reality is that it should never have really needed to get to that point.

Even if the country goes in to lock down – which, you’d believe looking at others, it will – Supermarkets will still be open. I’ll still be going to work. People still need food. My brilliant team, myself and others will still be working to provide for the people. We have online deliveries. To repeat what the retail bosses, and the government, all say…there is no need to panic buy, there is a need to think about others.

But what is the answer? Honestly…I don’t know. We’re asking people to change. There is a likelihood that these past two weeks will change some people’s shopping habits for good, anyway. I don’t know what the future will look like.

Are the government doing enough? Again, I don’t know. Hand on heart, I couldn’t say if I think they’re doing the right things or not. I think today felt like a checklist press conference – a way to say, “we’ve talked about it.” I think offering to pay 80% to workers that find themselves out of work due to Coronavirus is admirable. I think the negligence to the self employed and zero hours contracted people – plumbers, freelance journalists, PR people, writers, musicians and so on – is shambolic. I think we’ve been slow to respond to the virus…still think there’s an element of people underestimating how serious it could be…but I think we’ve eventually got to doing the right things, such as closing pubs.

I still don’t think information on the virus itself is clear enough. We don’t do enough testing. How do you know the difference between a cold and the coronavirus? What makes a “persistent cough”?

I don’t pay for Spotify premium. Don’t really use it enough to warrant it, plus I love physical copies of CDs etc too much. But, during the Brexit talks, there were public service announcements about the changes coming. For Coronavirus, I’ve heard none at all.

We have to trust in those above us and believe they are doing the right thing by us…even if I think, you think, or anybody else thinks more could be done…we have to have faith in them.

And then we have to look at ourselves, too. We have to think about other people. Not just look at the news, read words online and say “That is a shame, isn’t it? How sad.” but seriously look at ourselves, our behaviours and ask if we are doing the right thing, too.

Eventually Coronavirus will pass on and go…but it is our actions that will dictate just how damaging this pandemic is for people in the years to come.

Wrestling For The People

Let me take you back to 1997. The WWF (as they were known back then) were due to be hosting their first UK show in years, ‘One Night Only’, in Birmingham. My home town. The headline match was Shawn Michaels vs The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith for the European Championship.

I’d started to get in to wrestling. It was having a bit of a revival and, aged 10, I was swept away by the characters. Larger than life, yet, at that age, completely believable. I was incredibly excited to find out that Shawn Michaels and The British Bulldog were doing a promo event at Birmingham Town Hall on August 31st…and my Dad was going to take me to it.

But, then…tragedy. Princess Diana dies in a car crash overnight. The country comes to a stand still. I still remember getting up early, seeing writing crawling across the bottom of the TV when watching Nickelodeon advising to put on the news and going to wake up my Mum and Dad to tell them. I look back now and think they must have been fuming with me for waking them up at 7am on a Sunday for that.

The Michaels and Bulldog event is postponed out of respect. My opportunity of seeing these people in real life is gone. Or so I think. A week later, they do the promo event in some run down industrial estate on the back of a van. From the Town Hall to that. All just to make sure the fans had that moment. That little bit of entertainment while promoting their event.

I remember when I saw The British Bulldog. He was massive. He looked more like a super hero than a real person. Even Shawn Michaels, regarded as fairly small in those days, looked huge. They were larger than life in character, larger than life in person.

The first match that truly got me addicted to the WWF was a few months prior to this event. It was at Wrestlemania 13. Bret Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin. They’d had quite a rivalry and this was the key moment in it. Hart entered as the babyface (good guy, for those not in to it) and Austin the heel (bad guy). It was a submission match, the winner would be whoever made the other quit. It was fast, it was hard hitting…it was incredible story telling.

In trying to win, being so desperate to win, Hart started to do things associated with heels. He used dirty tactics. Austin wouldn’t give up. He showed determination and grit. He kept getting up, kept going. The fans started to change tact. The final shot of the match was Bret Hart holding his sharpshooter finisher on Austin, Austin screaming in agony with blood pouring down his face…but he still never gave up. He passed out. The match was ended. Hart won, but Austin never quit. After the bell, Hart tried to attack Austin again…the crowd fully turned against him. The hero had become the villain, the villain became the hero.

Obviously, this is all planned. Whisper it quietly…but wrestling is fake. However, that really doesn’t matter. The story they told was unlike anything else. It was convincing, it felt real…and it created a superstar in Steve Austin.

It was the storytelling that got me hooked. I loved seeing how the stories unfolded and then how those stories transpired in to the ring. Austin would go on to have a legendary rivalry with the owner of the WWF, Vince McMahon. Disgruntled colleague vs terrible boss. It worked because so many people could relate to it. McMahon, when behind his people, would be abrasive to Austin…but when Austin broke through and got to him alone, he’d cower. Character based stories.


When they came to the UK for One Night Only, the British Bulldog was the champion. He got a heroes welcome due to being from England…Michaels, on the other hand, booed. In the end, through cheating, Michaels won and became European champion. The crowd threw bottles, programmes, food…Michaels (and the rest of his group) just fed off it. They embraced it. It was amazing heel work, amazing character work. As a viewer, you genuinely hated him…and he wanted you to.

I watched the WWF/WWE religiously in those days, starting to tail off from it all around 2004. I’d still buy the games – just always enjoyed them – but rarely, if ever, watched the shows. I’d normally just end up playing one of the games, feel nostalgic and seek out specific matches on YouTube.

Through doing that, I eventually got sucked back in to the world of sports entertainment and WWE. I became hooked on WhatCulture Wrestling’s YouTube channel…Adam Blampied, Adam Pacitti and others all created content I found hilarious…and also became almost addicted to Brian Zane’s YouTube channel, Wrestling With Wregret. I would watch list videos, get nostalgic over it all, and end up seeking out more videos of matches and promos. Before long, I started to pay more attention to the modern era of wrestling. Without really knowing it, I’d reached a point where I knew about every key character…without actually watching Raw or Smackdown. I still watch those YouTube channels now, along with Cultaholic and Inside The Ropes, and I would honestly recommend supporting them all.

It felt a bit like a dirty secret at first as I started to watch the WWE YouTube channel, watching every highlight video from the previous shows. I kept thinking, “I’m not a kid anymore…I should be past this”…but there I was, spending my days off watching recaps of shows. Now I look at it and think that, maybe, that’s why I watch it. It takes me back. That little bit of child left in me comes back to life when I watch WWE. I can forget about other things by watching something completely ridiculous. I can be the big kid again. From a mental health perspective, the WWE works wonders. It’s almost like a fantasy world at times and it enables you to switch off.

When I was younger, I watched the wrestling for the matches. I wanted the stories but, really, I wanted to see people like Jeff Hardy jump off 30 foot tall ladders more. Now, I rarely watch a full match. There are a few…most recent ones I’d recommend to anyone are any of the AJ Styles vs John Cena bouts, Tyler Bate vs Pete Dunne on NXT Takeover and, away from WWE, Okada vs Omega for New Japan…but mainly I watch the promos, the build up.


There are a few stories I’m invested in currently, but the biggest one is that of Bray Wyatt. Over the years, Wyatt has consistently been one of the best at talking on the mic and building a story. You get sucked in by him. Leading the Wyatt Family, he played a cult leader that would use his horror to scare opponents. The issue was…he’d always lose. It made it difficult to believe his storylines because you could guess the outcome every time. Regardless of how dominant he was as a character in the build up…his character lost believability because he’d never follow it up.

Last year, Wyatt went away for a while. On his return, he came back as a completely new character. He wasn’t in the ring, he had a video promo segment. As a kids TV presenter. It was surreal. It was creepy. It included nods to his previous characters and character arcs. He cut a cardboard cutout of his old character in half with a chainsaw. He presented himself as a deranged child’s TV host and it was incredible. Eventually, he started to portray himself almost as having schizophrenia. We then got introduced to an alter-ego, The Fiend. Over the months that followed, The Fiend targeted Wyatt’s old rivals, overcoming them with ease and getting revenge. After each win, the loser would change – often change back to an older version of their character. As we approach Wrestlemania, The Fiend faces John Cena, another person that beat Wyatt…and the storyline tells itself.

It’s unlike anything else on TV at the moment, unlike any other sport. It’s a complete escape from reality. It doesn’t matter that the ending is pre-determined. If you watch a film, it doesn’t matter that the ending is scripted…you can still enjoy it. You can still escape in it. And that’s exactly what wrestling is about…the escape. It’s a soap opera, of sorts, with a sports element.

As the world becomes affected more and more by the Coronavirus, most sports are closing their doors. Seasons have been postponed. Tournaments postponed. Yet WWE continues to go on without a live audience, giving people something to escape in.


At a time where people could do with something to take their minds off the real world, you could do far worse than start watching WWE. It is ridiculous. It often knows it is. Watching Stone Cold Steve Austin ask an empty arena to shout “Hell Yeah” shows that. It mocks itself. It takes itself seriously, but isn’t afraid to lighten up. The promos and acting are as good as anything you’ll see on a soap (watch Bray Wyatt and John Cena on Smackdown from Friday 13th March and tell me otherwise – I dare you) and the stories can take you away.

Much like they gave us something to take our minds away from the death of Princess Diana and the national mourning around that, the WWE are now giving us some kind of sport – even if it does have fixed endings – some kind of story…to take our imaginations and thoughts away somewhere different to Coronavirus. That can’t be a bad thing.

It still has the power to make you feel like a big kid and suspend your disbelief.

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Thanks for reading!

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A Retrospective Look – Tony Pulis At The Albion

Soccer - West Bromwich Albion Press Conference - The Hawthorns

Growing up as a West Brom supporter it was never really that difficult to find a reason to dislike Stoke. For years, Stoke would always win against Albion, even prompting the words, “We always beat West Brom”, to be sung by Stoke fans at any game between the two clubs.

The first time I saw Albion beat Stoke was in 1998 in the FA Cup. One of those moments that I always remember. Prior to that, Albion hadn’t beat Stoke since 1988. When people talk of ‘bogey’ teams, Stoke were definitely that.

In the background of growing up as an Albion fan in the Nineties were the changes that were starting to happen within football. Arsene Wenger had taken over at Arsenal in 1996 and, with him, he bought change to the English game. From the scouting to the dieting to the way it was played. As a youngster, as a football fanatic, I loved it. I loved watching those teams play fluid football. As years went by, the Albion took their own style of fluid football under Tony Mowbray and my favourite era at the Albion had started.

40 miles down the road, however, Stoke were playing the complete opposite style of football. Far from fluid, they settled for sitting deep and playing long ball. They used Rory Delap for his long throw ins as if they were corners. It was effective. It made them hard to beat. It made them a comfortable Premier League team. However, this wasn’t just Stoke City. This was Tony Pulis’ Stoke City.

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The football was largely terrible to watch. Stoke would grind out results and always create issues for teams. They were strong and weren’t scared to put in hard challenges. They played as though they were from a different era…and they were, in a way. Tony Pulis is an era defining manager. Stoke were in the Pulis era. Second time round, they seemed the perfect fit. The supporters were louder than most, if not all, and Stoke maintained a good Premier League position throughout.

From a football perspective, it gave another reason to dislike Stoke. Not only could Albion seemingly never get a result against them, they were now playing the most boring, difficult to watch football. I couldn’t imagine Albion ever playing that way. Eventually, Stoke fans wanted more. Patience began to wear thin with the playing style and what felt like a lack of ambition…and Pulis and Stoke went their separate ways.

As this was happening, Albion were just finishing their best ever Premier League season. Steve Clarke had seen the club to 8th in the league and it seemed as if Albion had cemented themselves somewhat as the ‘best of the rest’. The 8th place finish masked a run of poor form in the second half of the season, however, and the year following it saw the poor form continue. Clarke got sacked, Pepe Mel came in, Albion survived – just – but damage had been done.


At a time when Albion needed somebody strong, somebody who could take the club forward following Pepe Mel…the board hired Alan Irvine. To say it was badly received would be a huge understatement. The club seemed to be falling apart in the 2014/15 season. The famous blue and white stripes had been replaced with pinstripes, there were multiple issues behind the scenes…and it was ultimately no surprise at all when the Irvine experiment failed and he was dismissed halfway through the season. We were only going one way.

So, then, who to appoint as manager if you don’t want to be relegated? Easy. Pick one that’s never been relegated. Enter, Tony Pulis.

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The appointment made sense, but it always felt like a deal with the devil for me. This manager that had helped produce football that I detested, for a team I detested – largely because of that style of play – was in charge of my team…and for as much as I couldn’t stand the man’s football I knew, deep down, he was the right man at that time.

The club had lost 10 games in the league during the first half of the 2014/15 season, only winning 4. The second half of the season, under Pulis, saw a turnaround. Albion won 7 games, lost 6, drew 6. Defensively Albion had improved, too. From looking like a team destined for relegation, Albion ended the season comfortably mid-table…even beating the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United at the end of the season. Results wise, the Pulis appointment was a success.

Despite this, the warning signs of discontent had already started to show. Albion’s style was changing. A soul destroying week where the club were beat twice in a week by Aston Villa didn’t help him win support. The Jeff Astle Day defeat was so disappointing. But they were, in the grand scheme, singular events. The fact that Albion were staying up was enough to please the majority of fans.

The following season saw the start of a Pulis trend at Albion. The team were solid. They’d made some good additions. Jonny Evans was a superb signing. Alongside Darren Fletcher, who joined in the February of the previous season, it gave an increased sense of quality within the spine of the team. Premier League winners…and it told. The experience of those players, the leadership, oozed throughout the team. Salomon Rondon signed for a then record £12m, adding a different strength up front. James Chester also signed for £8m – more expensive than Evans – with Serge Gnabry, a young talent from Arsenal, joining on loan.

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The club were never in any danger of relegation. They were also never in any danger of challenging for anything else. Albion were just there. But the playing style had now changed completely. It had become Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion. This was the Pulis era, definitively. This was also the season where it started to become too much for me. The frustrations were huge, and I could sense myself falling out of love with it all.

In the seasons that Pulis was at Albion, the team did well. Mid-table finishes, they were hard to break down…Albion were no fuss, defensive and hard to beat. But the Pulis theme was this. Albion got to 39/40 points, results then stopped. In the 2015/16 season, Albion got to 39 points after beating Manchester United on the 6th March. They didn’t win another game all season. The following season, Albion hit 40 points after beating Bournemouth on the 25th February. In the 12 games that followed, they won only once and lost nine times.

It was disheartening. As a fan, you felt that the target was always 40 points and nothing more. As soon as the club hit that target they switched off. In both of Pulis’ full seasons, you were left wondering what the point was in even going to the games from March onwards because it was clear the team you were watching was not playing with the same intent as the one a month or so prior. It was dull, it was boring…it was unbelievably difficult to feel passionate about.

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I found myself so frustrated, also, at the use of the signings made during the Pulis reign. Salomon Rondon had the makings of a great powerhouse forward – we later saw that in full effect when he joined Newcastle United – but the style of play Pulis implemented didn’t benefit any striker. Robson-Kanu, flourishing this season, has never been known for his goals but his work rate…and he looked lost. The signings of Nacer Chadli, Ollie Burke, Matt Phillips all felt like signals of intent – but none fitted with how a Pulis team plays. (However, looking at how things have gone for Burke since, maybe Pulis was right on that one.) Callum McManaman was another that did nothing.

Defensively, the signings of Darren Fletcher, Jonny Evans, Gareth Barry and Jake Livermore made sense and they all, for the most part, did well. Yet James Chester, a defender that cost £2m more than Evans, was played out of position and deemed too small by Pulis, who eventually sold him to Villa where he went on to do extremely well. The loan signings also made no sense. Serge Gnabry was a waste of time (though, to be fair to Pulis, that was more because of Gnabry than anyone else at the club). Alex Pritchard pointless. Brendon Galloway, too. Young players that would have never fitted in with the Pulis ideology.

We became an old team. Possession wise, we would often struggle to even reach 40% against any team. For fans of statistics, we must have left them completely confused. How could this team maintain security in the Premier League whilst going every game with only 35% of the ball and struggling to have any shots? Somehow, we did. But that in itself was an issue. Against the big clubs…Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool…you could forgive sitting back and hoping for a counter. Although that even went too far in one game against Manchester City when we failed to register a single shot. The biggest issue was that even against teams of a similar ilk, Albion did the same. Sit back, constantly.

There was no ambition. The club didn’t play to win, they played to avoid defeat. Because of that, there was no excitement. There was no enjoyment. For the first time in my life, I gave up on Albion. I lost interest. I couldn’t bring myself to attend games. I could no longer tell people who we had next in the league. I couldn’t tell people how many goals a striker had scored. I was bored of it. I couldn’t even put on Match Of The Day because I’d lost the passion for the game.

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Growing up, I started supporting Albion during the Alan Buckley days. They were bleak. We were so much poorer than we’ve ever been since. Denis Smith wasn’t great but was infinitely better than Buckley. Brian Little was a disaster. None of them, however, drove me away from the club. Throughout all the poor seasons, narrowly avoiding relegation to Division Two (League One, as it’s called now)…I was still there. I still enjoyed going down the Hawthorns. Pulis and the football he made us play changed that. We were beyond boring. The atmosphere was, at times, toxic. Why would you spend money on it?

Not all of what Pulis did was bad, though. As I said earlier, after Irvine he was absolutely the right man for the job and I don’t think anybody else would have kept the club up. When Saido Berahino let his ego get the better of him, Pulis dealt with it well and managed to protect Saido and the club as well as he could. He developed Craig Dawson in to a Premier League player. I’ll even begrudgingly accept that he maybe prolonged Chris Brunt’s time at the club by moving him to full back. He gave the club security and, in the end, when results really did go downhill, I remember reading that it was actually the board that stopped him from leaving as he was prepared to let somebody else try to move the club forward. A rare selfless act.

Despite that, my memory of Pulis at Albion isn’t one I look back at fondly. Tony Pulis made me hate football. Tony Pulis made me stop going to watch the Albion…even when we were getting the results – and I wasn’t alone as average attendances dipped continuously. The Pulis era was uninspired, boring, frustrating, devoid of all ambition and not a lot else.

But, on the plus side, at least we can beat Stoke now.

 


 

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Dear Mum

Dear Mum,

It’s been five years since I last said goodbye to you. In some ways, that’s felt like a long time. In other ways, it feels like no time at all.

This is a time of year that I’ve come to hate. Flashbacks of you in Papworth Hospital. Flashbacks of phone calls on the day you fell. Constant flashbacks. Only the other day I heard a Led Zeppelin song that took me back to sitting in the car with Mark as we parked at a hotel preparing for another night of very little sleep before going back to you at hospital.

I regularly think of the last time I saw you before you had the operation. I have no idea whether you actually knew I was there. You looked at me as if to say, “Bloody hell, what are you doing here?” As daft as it may sound, that thought makes me smile. I got it. You didn’t want me worried about you. I’m sure that had you come through and woke up you’d have gone mad at Dad for even telling me that you were in hospital. But, for as short a time as that was, I’m glad I have that little memory. One last little laugh.

Memories…there were a few weren’t there? I laugh out loud whenever I think about the phone call where you told me Dad got you an air fryer instead of a hair dryer (because you’d been after one for so long…). I remember when we looked at moving to Lowestoft and we had the boat hired on the broads. You were essentially captain. I sometimes think that you were sold on East Anglia by that boat hire, visions of riding the waves in a small boat…it makes me wish we’d done it more.

I will never forget the karaoke/BBQ party we put on at the house. A multitude of disasters. Eyebrows singed, choosing not to eat but instead cook for everybody else, still drinking a lot of gin, breaking the microphone in half…and eventually “Me drunk, me sick”. Going through uni and in the immediate years following uni I found myself and others in various bad, drunken states…but that is still the standout “bloody hell you were drunk” moment.

It’s these little memories that I cling on to and try to think of when I start thinking to those days at Papworth. Thoughts of you picking us up from school, having mates round and talking of your amazing food…memories of you looking after us. Memories of you laughing.

I find myself sometimes down because I struggle to remember your voice. I feel like five years shouldn’t be long enough to forget such an important voice but I fear I have. I can just about hear you saying “Roy!” when moaning at Dad. I can remember you groaning at me when seeing me at Papworth…but that’s it. I hate that. I wish I could remember it more.

I blame myself for that, too. In those final years we’d sometimes see each other only a couple of times a year. I should have gone home more. I’m sorry.

I also wish I could remember our last proper conversation. I watch these things on TV and people say, “We spoke about this and that. That was the last thing we spoke about.” I don’t remember it at all. I don’t know if it’s just time and me approaching middle age…whatever…I just don’t remember. But, then, does that really matter? Surely it matters more that I remember the times we all had? The time you gave us.

Memories. Good for those with good memory.

Five years. Mum…so much has changed. I could bore you with everything that’s happened in the world but I won’t. It’s probably best you don’t know some of that, anyway. But a lot has changed with me.

For a long time prior to your days in Papworth, I wasn’t happy. I think you knew that but didn’t say anything. I got engaged not because I wanted to, but more because I felt it was what I should have done. Forget the happiness aspect…can’t always be easy, can it? But there I was. That’s where I was when we said goodbye.

A year and a half later, I took the decision to put myself first. I left.

I hate it because you taught it to me in the worst way, but I think the biggest lesson that you ever taught me was to live life for now because it’s too short. I was fed up with drifting along, unhappy on a path I didn’t really want to take anymore. I think you’d have been proud of me…even if a bit worried for me as I essentially signed myself up to sofa hopping for a while.

I’ve ended up meeting someone else and, this time, getting engaged for the right reasons. Lori is a lot like you, personality wise…I wish you’d have been able to meet her because I honestly believe that you would love her. I can picture you both sat watching some terrible horror film that’s probably more comedy than horror…I can imagine you on the dance floor together after a drink. I can just imagine you having a good time together.

Another pretty massive change to my life is having children. You’d have been a Nan! Both of the kids are amazing. Our little lad is crazy, but seems so developed already – a proper little character – and our little lady is equally as cheeky. We named her after you and Lori’s Mum, giving her the middle names Mary Jean. Jean, Lori’s Mum, passed away when Lori was pregnant. We want both of the kids to know about you both…we talk about you to them…and I like to think that, by sharing your name, you’ll be with our little girl everywhere she goes.

It’s one of my biggest bittersweet feelings in life. I’d always wanted kids and felt so ecstatic when we had them but that emotion was always hit by the feeling of wishing you’d also been there to meet them. I really do wish that you were here now to see the kids, to hear them call you “Nanna”…I know you’d have loved them. I also reckon you’d have moved in with us by now to be with them!

Five years…so much change…one real constant. And that constant is you.

I always found it ridiculously over sentimental when people said “I think of them everyday”…but it’s true. I do. Every day, since January 27th 2015, I think about you. From hours of thinking to seconds…you’re always in my head.

I miss you so much. There’s so much that I wish I could show you, so much I want you to see that you can’t. So many Thursdays where, even now, I will have a moment of thinking “I could give Mum a call, it’s her day off.” I miss you.

Losing you when we did…it took it out of me. I didn’t react well, getting angry at small things. Such small things. My mood dipped. I really found it hard. This was me…I can’t begin to imagine what Joy and Dad were feeling. 55 years old. It’s not fair that we lost you at that age. You’d be turning 60 this year. I’m not sure you’d like that…but I can’t believe you never got to see it.

You sparked the change in me when you went. We started raising money for Papworth Hospital…I was never really a charitable person before that. I decided to do things to make myself happy after seeing first hand how life can just be taken away. You didn’t deserve to be that person to show me that. But you were. Nothing can change that.

Those changes that have happened in my life may never have happened without you.

Perhaps, somehow, you can see all of this. You’re probably sat by me thinking “why on Earth write all of that on there?”

The answer is simple. I wanted to write to you. I wanted to let you know that things are okay. I wanted to let you know that I’m happy. I wanted to let you know that you’d be a Nan right now. I wanted to let you know how much you have helped make me the person I am today.

But mostly I wanted to let you know that I am thinking of you. Now and always. Every day.

I love you. I miss you.

Love you, Mum.

Adam
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A Bit Of Reflection – The 2019 Election

A bit of time to reflect, a couple of plates of cheesy nachos and a good number of cups of tea. It hasn’t been a good time to support Labour.

But, truthfully, it hasn’t been a good time for some time now.

I believe in and try to see the best in people. It doesn’t always work…sometimes people perceive that you are an easy target, sometimes you miss the real agenda…sometimes it does work and people do some amazing things for you…and it’s what I choose to believe. People have the best interests at heart.

That’s a big reason as to why I vote Labour. They’re a party that have always been about bringing the best out of society, the best in people in equal measure. Sharing that optimism and well being. They pushed for a kinder politics…and that’s where it started to unravel.

People obviously know I’m against Brexit. I still struggle to see the benefits…but in Jeremy Corbyn, Labour had a leader that had always wanted to leave the EU. It went against my views and many other Labour voters. Rather than step aside, Corbyn took a half arsed approach to campaigning to remain. It didn’t work. He then decided that Labour would support a people’s vote, yet when the people’s vote march took place in London and elsewhere…he completely ignored it, instead opting to call for Labour supporters to knock on doors promoting Labour. It threw votes away. For the first time in my voting history, at the European elections I voted against Labour. I criticised Corbyn on Twitter.

The Corbyn fans went for me. A journalist shared a tweet of mine. Replies to his sub-tweet were along the lines of “Labour doesn’t need you”, “Go join the Tories” etc. The kinder politics Corbyn was advocating wasn’t on show…yet they preached it day in, day out. You only need look at Momentum’s treatment towards Tom Watson (who was at the People’s Vote march) to see how they utterly failed at practicing what they preach when talking “kinder politics.”

You tell people to sod off enough and eventually they will.

People talk about antisemitism – another thing Corbyn got dramatically wrong – but I don’t think the public are as bothered by that as some would suggest. If they were, we wouldn’t currently have a racist, xenophobic, homophobic PM. But, here we are.

I stuck up for Corbyn on the terrorist sympathiser nonsense. He isn’t one. He advocates peace and thinks people should talk to their enemies. There’s nothing wrong in that. There’s more wrong with the fact that we have a government selling arms to Saudi Arabia who then sell to groups like ISIS. But here, again, Corbyn got it wrong. When polls suggested he was building support, the London Bridge attack happened. His next press conference was to blame British Army interference for the rise in terror. He wasn’t wrong with what he was saying, but timing is everything and he absolutely shot himself in the foot. Both feet. It fed right in to the “terrorist sympathiser” story.

The media were appalling towards Corbyn, but he didn’t help himself. The reality is that any Labour leader will have a tough time with the media – Miliband got torn apart for eating a bacon sandwich wrong ffs. His interview techniques didn’t work out. He came across as a nice guy, but if pressed on tougher topics he lost it. The Andrew Neil interview, for example, a disaster. The flip side to that, however, is that he at least turned up. But even then, as Daily Mail journalists even started to turn slightly on Johnson, he didn’t capitalise. Wasted chances.

There’s a lot to like about Corbyn. His idea on socialism is fine. He does come across trustworthy and down to earth. He works incredibly hard and has done some great work to get a lot of youth support.

But this is his loss. Brexit will have absolutely played a role – how do you take a neutral stance on it?! – but there’s far more, too. Social media loves him far more than the real world.

He is a great back bencher…not so good a leader.

I voted Labour because I care about equality. I care about the NHS. I care about the fact there are so many food banks, so many struggling services. I care about mental health in the country and the fact suicide rates are increasing every year. I want a better, safer future for my kids. I will vote Labour again in the future for the same reasons.

Much like when a football team gets relegated, the party must now rebuild. I do believe they have to become more centre-left…but time will tell.

The next 5 years will be interesting. Daunting for those worse off. Many voters will have lent their vote to Tory…and the Tories need to keep those votes. The best way? To become more moderate. I’m not holding my breath.

All in all, it was a disastrous night for Labour. I could write more but I’ve already gone on too long. I’m still bitterly disappointed. I still believe that people deserve better than this government…but they also deserved a better opposition.