There is nothing quite like a deadline to sharpen the mind of a journalist. A combination of the Christmas break and a tendency to leave things to the last minute, I was hanging on for West Brom to produce a great result. A point against Liverpool, perfect. For some reason I prevaricated. Then came Leeds and then Arsenal….
Which got me thinking about heart and commitment, both players and supporters. Why does it matter so much? I cannot claim to be a Baggie from birth, nor a glory hunter. I was born in Chorley, raised in Herefordshire. My love for Albion was sparked in an unorthodox fashion, my brother’s wallpaper. Those of a certain vintage may have had their bedroom decorated in football team badges. Goodness knows why it was on Ed’s wall when he is keener on the oval ball. For some reason I was drawn to the throstle. My fate was sealed.
Fast forward a couple of decades to the Hawthorns. I was at working for the BBC, one of the very few female sports journalists. First at BBC Radio, then TV. My role as presenter and correspondent took me to numerous events including the Olympics, Wimbledon and cricket world cup. West Brom fully came into (football) focus when I met my husband Duncan. He is a lifelong Albion supporter, you can see it in his face. Unlike me, his family is rooted in the Black Country. We got together in 1998, I went to the Hawthorns as often as possible, but a season ticket was not practical, I was working most weekends, fine excuse. We were married December 2000 I may be wrong but I think my vows included “to love, honour and go to The Hawthorns on a regular basis.”
Which brings me back to heart and commitment. The Megson days. The likes of Bob Taylor, Derek McInnes, Darren Moore, Russell Hoult , Andy Johnson and (pardon me while I bow down ) Igor Balis. Their passion was infectious. What they lacked in star quality they more than made up for in team spirit, guts and determination. When I could get along to games I became part of the Albion family, swept along by the chants for ‘Super Bobby Taylor’ and urging on AJ as he chased every ball down. Little did I know then that some years later I would be hosting events for The Albion Foundation with some of the greats from that era.
So what about the Great Escape? I was still living and working in London, but for THE game I was in the Isles of Scilly. It was for my Mum’s 70th birthday. Not great timing. Survival Sunday I was on a small boat, clutching a tiny radio to my ear. It then emerged there was a Southampton and a Portsmouth fan on the same boat, surprisingly no punches were thrown, but how we didn’t capsize at the final whistle is a miracle. I think my Mum was slightly mystified at her daughter adding to the salt water below.
After moving back to the Midlands and no longer working weekends, I could finally get a season ticket. It was 2008, newly promoted we were full of renewed optimism. I don’t mind admitting I shed a tear on the last day of that season too. Of course I have renewed ever since.
On January 30th 2018, I joined around 2000 others inside the Hawthorns to say goodbye to Cyrille Regis. I never got to see the great man play, but had the privilege of meeting him, what a gentleman. His wife Julia and daughter Michelle were very gracious and generous with their time, giving me a long interview for a Midlands Today special programme from the ground that evening. It was one of the hardest programmes I have ever presented.
What we wouldn’t give to have a morsel of Cyrille’s passion and commitment now.