The Albionisation of Sussex

There’s been a blue-and-white revolution quietly playing out on the playing fields of Sussex.

I’ve coached kids’ football in mid-Sussex for over a decade. I now look after the young children, aged six and seven. Sessions mostly involve running around pretending to be a tiger or a gorilla, playing silly games and encouraging them to touch the ball and move into space, thanks to the magic of cones, poles and mini-goals.

When I started it was all, or for those that could afford them, replica shirts from Barcelona, Manchester City and Chelsea on the kids’ backs. They either received them as Christmas presents or they were handed down from a Dad, an Uncle or even a big sister.

When I asked about their plans for the rest of their day, and chatted to the various grown-ups milling around, I was always the only person going to watch the Albion – struggle, generally – versus the likes of Peterborough, Huddersfield or Barnsley.

Since then, in that very same park, there’s been a blue-and-white striped transformation.

At least half of the kids turn up in Albion kits, of varying designs, each week. The children talk excitedly to me about their landmark first match at the Amex, and where they are going to sit. They proudly show off signed scarves from open training days, and every school holiday involves several of them attending Albion Foundation coaching days and similar events the club holds locally.

A new lad came up to me only this week, eager to share his exciting news: “I’ve just got a season ticket, Coach Jem!” I’ve never seen anyone so impossibly excited in my life. We do, of course, also have a few Palace fans dotted about too – those poor lads don’t seem to be quite as excited generally!

Of course caring about Albion, as some of the painful and heartfelt stories on North Stand Chat illustrate, can come and go like the tides. I’m still pretty much in love – but it’s certainly changed a lot over the last 51 years. It came, it went and it came back again. But it’s always been there to a greater or lesser degree.

Today, I would perhaps argue it’s now stronger than ever. My love of the Albion has brought me closer to my kids and, in the last decade, helped me to forge new friendships – and for both of these I’m eternally grateful.

But if you need some reassurance that there are Albion fans who still care, have a walk around the parks and pitches of Sussex on a weekend, and take in the sight of the young children playing – all dreaming of being a future Mitoma, a March or a Pedro in the blue-and-white stripes.

There are now hundreds, in fact, thousands out there. For them, Roberto De Zerbi will be just a footnote in their own personal Albion supporting story. They certainly won’t be fretting about dropping a couple of points at Burnley and two more at Brentford.

These young Albion fans just want to be part of the ride, one that has turned out to be far more exciting than any of us ever expected. And, boy, what a fantastic club they have to fall in love with!

This article is taken from a North Stand Chat thread. If you’d like to share a story about your Albion life, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!

Image courtesy of Reuters