• Fear of Flying

    Incredible times to be an Albion fan right now, but disorientating too. Since when did the Albion make multiple seven-figure bids for potential signings, appoint glamorous, world famous personalities as manager or commission the building of state of the art stadia?

    Like everybody, I'm desperately excited about the imminent debut visit to the promised land, and revelling in sharing news of big signings with friends who follow other clubs. I share the common insatiable hunger for the next transfer scoop, and for the next raft of titillating pictures of cushioned seats, swirly carpets, video scoreboards and cases of Peroni. Despite that sense of excitement though, it's always tinged, just that tiny tiny bit, with something else. It's difficult to define, but it might even be fear.

    You see, in the thirty years I've followed this wonderful club, although the words of the song would have you believe different, we were far from the greatest team the world has ever seen. For the first few years we were a club clinging desperately to the last vestiges of a brief and unsustainable shot at the big time. For the last twenty five, however, we've been a second rate yo-yo club, alternating between the real lows, when we have been utterly hopeless, and the comparative highs, when at times we've reached the giddy ranks of average.

    Of course, in those years there have been many fleeting moments of glorious respite. Take 87-88. Runners-up in the third tier- sealed at the Goldstone with a defeat of Bristol Rovers, then joyously celebrated in the Directors' Box by the full squad in various states of undress, joined on one flank by the tough lad from school, flouting a stadium ban in full fancy dress. Other clubs have their rich histories, crowned with title triumphs and European glory - none involve a gorilla and Adrian Owers in his underpants.

    Even when we were doing well though, we were often still somehow mediocre. Witness the run to a play-off place in 1991, with a negative goal difference. In stripy shorts.



    There were other successes, of course, including back to back lower league titles, and a great day out in Cardiff, as well as some stirring, though often fruitless, relegation dog-fights.

    We've had the same nervy season finales as fans of other clubs, but I find that since coming through the darkest of times - since Doncaster, Storer, York, Reinelt, Hereford and all - that my emotions have run on a slightly restricted scale. For some of the years since, purely existing was a huge victory, but frankly that is all we were doing, and even then, only thanks to the great benevolence of a few, as well as the bloody-mindedness of the rest of us.

    The glorious promotions have always seemed somewhat transient - they were to be celebrated for the great seasons that they were, but never did they genuinely feel that they were the start of anything bigger. The flip side of that, was that the inevitable relegations never seemed that big a deal either - the fourth tier never seemed that different than the third, to me. Just a different grade of tinpot.

    The net result of this situation, was that many fans became comfortable in this role of lower league triers. I'm not referring here to the inner circle, who actively embraced that tinpot status, for the elevated sense of comparative importance they enjoyed. Tinpot certainly wasn't what the majority aspired to, but there was undoubtedly a lot of comfort in it - if nobody else wants your players, the transfer window holds no fears. With a suitable nod to the respective achievements of Adams, Coppell, Taylor, Slade et al, I don't recall too many people worrying when the Aston Villa job came up for grabs.

    This brings me back to that sense of fear. Everything just seems to be going so incredibly well, right now, that its almost like following a different club altogether. Decades of false hope and disappointment have left me sub-consciously waiting for the inevitable collapse of the house of cards, most probably heralded by a Sky Sports News headline announcing Gus Poyet's upward career progression.

    Its not going to happen any time soon though, and much as I trust Gus to grow the club (at an astonishing rate, it must be said), I also trust Tony Bloom and the board to make further wise choices when the time comes. I think it will only truly sink in how far we've come, and just how solid that progression finally is, when I watch the team run out against Doncaster, at our wonderful new home. I can't wait.



    Progression - concrete.
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