After the disaster of the soggy trip up to Sunderland (on my birthday, too), I was eager to get back on the road with the Royals. The trip to the Hawthorns on Saturday afternoon was my 5th visit to the home of the Baggies, and was also the shortest journey I’ll make to a league game this season – 60 miles there and back.
The Hawthorns has always been one of my favourite grounds. It’s easily accessible by all modes of transport, being only a mile from junction 1 of the M5, and with good train and tram links to Wolverhampton and Birmingham from the Hawthorns station, and Smethwick Galton Bridge station is also within walking distance. There are plenty of car parks around, which are all reasonably priced; the one I parked in on Saturday was only £5.The only downside is that the traffic is always horrendous after the game because of its location, in between a housing and industrial estate.
To fill the void of no Royals football a couple of weeks ago, I dragged a friend along to West Brom when they defeated Everton 2-0. I was seated in the home end and the difference in the way home and away fans are treated was apparent from my visit on Saturday. When I was sat in the home end, my handbag was merely peered into when approaching the turnstiles. When visiting the ground as an away fan, my handbag was dug into as though they were purposely looking for items that could be deemed ‘dangerous’. I was also frisked, and the pockets of my coat AND cardigan were searched. I always find that slightly over the top at a football match, but I always remember the Hawthorns looking like they have an excessive amount of stewards around and about the away end on a matchday.
It has been recently publicised in the local and national news that arrests at football matches in the West Midlands have decreased since 2009, thanks to a ‘new police approach’. A BBC article published on 22nd September suggests that ‘low profile policing’ at games has contributed to the 30% drop in arrests at the top six teams in the region (Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Coventry City, Walsall, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers). The article also highlighted that of the approximate 2 million fans in attendance of games at these six clubs last season, only 250 people were detained. Being more friendly and approachable to ‘regular, law-abiding’ fans were some of their main aims, and I found this apparent whilst walking around the Hawthorns. We were asked if we knew where we needed to go and told to enjoy the game by two passing officers. It put me at ease and definitely helped with the whole atmosphere of the day.
Once inside, the concourse in the away end was narrow and slightly cramped, especially when people were queuing for food, as there was one hatch with only 4 or 5 people serving. However, there was a wide selection of hot food on offer, including sausage rolls, cheese and onion slices (my absolute favourite football food) and the usual selection of pies. Most of the pastries were priced under £3, and several different ‘meal deals’ were also available.
I was located 3 rows from the back of the stand, and although I was right in the corner, I had a great view of the whole pitch. My only qualm was that I could not see either of the big screens (one was too far away and one was around the corner). I’m obsessive about the time, especially at a football match, so not being able to clock watch was a bit of an annoyance. Every West Brom fan I spoke to after the game was very friendly. To start with they were confused by my local accent, but they felt our pain and managed to sympathise with us as they have been in our position many times before. They’re quite proud of their ‘boing boing’ reputation. I even had a Baggies fan point out whilst driving on the M54 that I was travelling ‘the wrong way home’. I think we would have probably noticed by then if we had taken a wrong turn, but it was very considerate of them anyway.
In regards to the game, it was easily a day to forget. Too many simple mistakes effectively cost us the game. However, we are still only four games into this very long Premier League season, and I am hopeful BMac can focus on the positives and pick us up for our game against Newcastle.