Monday, 13 August 2012

Northern Wilderness – West Bromwich Albion

An enjoyable excursion to the Midlands, which marked the departure of Andre Villas-Boas from Chelsea – a great moment for any South West Londoner.

A pleasant Saturday in early March; a very reasonable mid-morning train journey to the Midlands; a decent ground to visit. It was a mood of contentment and optimism that filled the air as my brother and I set off for a much anticipated trip to the Hawthorns. Results for the Chelsea faithful had been patchy of late, but there was a 3-0 home win to build on and this was not Blackburn away in mid February.

London Midlands did its upmost to dampen the mood with a 40 minute delay. “Late arrival of an inbound train” was the designated excuse, but no matter – there was time to spare and sustenance from M&S to enjoy (including the nice contrast of a roast beef sub alongside a sushi snack pack). This was not just an in-and-out job either; a full on football weekend had been arranged, with an evening foray into Birmingham supplementing the afternoon action. No wonder excitement was high...

Thistle Birmingham City was the selected lodging, and at under £50 for a twin room, it was hard to dispute the choice. Following a straightforward check-in procedure it was time to make the short journey west. And suddenly the atmosphere cranked up a notch; the laid back, pan-regional train from earlier was replaced by a smaller, local offering, jam-packed with raucous Londoners. The chanting concerned vodka and charlie rather than beef and sushi.

All very enthralling it was though. Plus it had passed 2pm and it was therefore time to put vocal chords into serious use. As we roared into West Bromwich it felt like a proper away day. Loud songs marking your arrival at new territory, with the home followers retorting impressively.

An important factor in the analysis of any away trip must be transport and the approach to the ground, and West Brom scores well here. The commuter train was relatively hassle free given the numbers involved, and the walk-in was short and straightforward. It seemed like a decent stadium too; not the most grand, not the most distinctive; not overly remarkable. But a good spot to watch football and certainly not a soulless Lego Bowl.

It must be noted that the Brom faithful created an excellent atmosphere too. This was no doubt assisted by a home win and a woefully disjointed display from Chelsea, typical of the Andre Villas-Boas era (which mercifully ended shortly after this very game). Nonetheless, given the corporate environment that so often epitomises football these days, this was an impressive amount of noise.

So overall a poor result and performance for the travelling fan, but an appreciation that this was one of the better trips in the calendar.

The Brom boys produced some decent repartee on the trip back to Birmingham too – giving out some warranted abuse but in a good hearted manner. It really was a shoddy on-pitch effort from the Blues, but with the imminent arrival of reinforcements for the evening entertainment in Birmingham, our mood remained positive. It had been an agreeable day and with the prospect of a Broad Street beverage or two to come, who could complain?

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