A Forgotten Rivalry Or A Return To The Dark Ages?

I’m normally one to try to write blogs like articles, taking note from my journalism and media writing lectures at University, trying to be as unbiased as I can regardless of topic. It’s not always easy, and I’ve battled against myself at times when writing about West Brom, the club I support. For this, though, that approach would seem off.

It’s been an awful week for the Albion. We’ve gone to Villa Park twice, just 4 miles up the road, and got beat twice. This isn’t a great Villa team we’ve lost to, it’s a pretty awful one…but both times, they deserved it. The Tuesday evening game was a shambles; we went there for a draw, nothing more. I heard the BBC commentator talk of how we dominated the second half and were desperately unlucky but I didn’t see that at all. Villa wanted a win, we wanted a draw. Villa won.

On Saturday, we travel 4 miles up the road again, this time in the FA Cup. First half, we are in control. Brown Ideye, a player I have supported through thick and thin, misses a glorious chance after just 8 minutes. At that point, I said to my other half “We’ve lost this.” We are so utterly predictable. Ideye barely had a look in after that, Berahino didn’t do much…and as for creativity in midfield we may as well give in. Going in at half time with the score at 0-0 I tweeted that we could live to regret those missed chances, and boy did we.

With all the usual typicality of Albion, we came out for the second half and within 6 minutes we are 1-0 down. Villa’s first proper chance, and it goes in. That right there is the difference. It doesn’t matter how ‘in control’ you are, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the better team overall, if you don’t take your chances you lose. Football is not a difficult game, but we love to make it so.

The second half saw Villa come at us. We had to open up after the goal, so it’s inevitable that more chances will come against you, but we were poor. Like the first half on Tuesday night I felt a distinct feeling of ‘Villa want to win, we want to draw’ coming over me. It looked like we wanted the replay. And then came the Yacob red card.

As bad a decision as I think I’ve seen in a long time. Bacuna comes in, Yacob stops. I’m of the opinion that had Yacob knocked the ball forward, Bacuna would have taken him out and probably injured him. In the end, it’s a block tackle from Yacob, Bacuna actually hurts himself. Play carries on for a few seconds, then ref calls a halt, and a red card.

If the referee seriously felt the challenge warranted a red, why did he hesitate? It wasn’t advantage that saw us play on for 5 seconds. It was a poor decision. Did it cost Albion the game? No. As much as I love Claudio Yacob, he isn’t a game changer, and if anybody could honestly say we looked like we were going to grab an equaliser then I wish I was watching the same game. We were out by that point. Scott Sinclair’s goal, the same Sinclair that was so dire at Albion last year, was just icing on an already very poor cake.

Grealish’s red card, also, was a shambles. If a man the size of Joleon Lescott dives in front of you when you are running at full speed how are you meant to stay on your feet? But it’s irrelevant, the game was won for Villa.

I won’t sit here bemoaning Tony Pulis and his tactical decisions. Had Ideye scored, we’d have won on Saturday…but games are turned on those missed chances. We saw that when Mowbray managed us in the Premier League. Before this week the overwhelming view across Albion fans was that Pulis was a saviour. He still is. He’ll keep us up, same way that Sherwood will keep Villa up; but I can’t help think what little that says for the “best league in the world” that two teams so poor will end up surviving yet again.

Away from the shambles on the pitch, it’s impossible to miss the shambles off it.

Prior to the FA Cup game, several Albion and Villa fans had voiced concerns about the late kick off, especially when considering the fact the teams were playing each other two times within five days. But the sheer ignorance to the concern from both the police and the FA just goes to confirm my beliefs that there is a ridiculous underestimation of the rivalry between Albion and Villa across the region and the nation. Whereas my generation feel Wolves are the ‘big’ rivals, for the generation just below me, and the ones below that, Villa is the big one.

I’m not defending fan trouble by saying “we are big rivals”, but it was, just like Albion, so predictable that trouble would flare up.

The reaction to the pitch invasion is, quite rightly, one of disgust. However, it yet again highlights just how little the national media and police, and (by the lack of stewarding) even the football clubs, think of THIS local derby. Had it been Villa v Birmingham, surely the stewarding would have been better, and the policing. Had it been Albion v Wolves, you’d imagine the same. Would there be as much ‘shock’ or reaction had this happened at an Villa/Blues or Albion/Wolves game? I doubt it. But this is Albion/Villa…it isn’t the ‘biggest derby’.

On the pitch invasion, I’d also like to add that had this been at The Hawthorns, and it was Albion winning 1-0, then believe me, it would have happened there, too. I love my football club, but to say that we wouldn’t have done the same is just pure nonsense. Every club has idiots, and, unfortunately, I’ve been watching our idiots grow over time.

Running on the pitch before the game is over is awful; the threat to players’ safety is incredibly visible because of that, and, ultimately, this will play a part in speeches that are bound to come saying that football fans never learn. It’s just disrespect to the game, the players, and, in my view most importantly, the fans that paid over the odds to go and watch it in good nature. Imagine that’s your child’s first game that you’ve taken them to and that’s what they see.

And then, on to my fellow Albion fans; are we any better? Yacob gets sent off and then some mindless bunch start ripping up seats and throwing them on to fans below and on to the pitch. It’s a disgrace and I sincerely hope that they receive the same justice as the people that invaded the pitch before the game finished. And for those that will have read this and gone “We wouldn’t have invaded the pitch…” think about this with the seats.

I remember when we got to the FA Cup Semi Final and got beat by Portsmouth. I went to the toilet after the game, and when washing my hands, some guy with an Albion flag came in and started smashing it to pieces, hitting it against the walls, doors, sinks and so on. There were kids all over the place. This guy with the flag looked about 30. Do you think he would run on the pitch? Do you think people smashing chairs would run on a pitch?

The media reaction is that this was a ‘throwback’ to the dark ages. I don’t necessarily agree with that. Pitch invasions happen. Had this been Bradford, it would have been greeted as one of the great sights…but it wasn’t Bradford, it was Villa, and it was a local derby.

For me, questions have to be asked of Aston Villa and the stewarding – have they forgotten the type of game this was? If it had been Birmingham, there would have been more stewards…should they have anticipated this could have happened? And for the police and the FA, similar questions…have they forgotten just how big a rivalry this actually is?

A shambles of a footballing week from Albion; we weren’t good enough on the pitch in either game. And an utter shambles off the pitch in the end from both Albion and Villa.

Simply put; not good enough.