Adventures in Football #19: The Hawthorns (West Bromwich Albion FC)
AUGUST 25, 2021
WEST BROM vs. ARSENAL (Carabao Cup R2)
West Brom are currently a team that is too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League. Historically West Brom are a team that’s too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League. It’s a slot in English football they’ve occupied for pretty much my entire life. There was a time when the Albion were a major force in English football. As recently as 1981 they finished in a “Champion’s League” position of 4th in the top flight. They won their only championship in 1919-20 but have five FA Cups including one as recently as 1968. Jeff Astle and all that! That game featured a dramatic late winner, as did their 1954 triumph. West Brom are a club that drama seems to enjoy the company of.
One of the things I wanted to sort for this trip was parking because paying on the door for parking seems to be a bit of a ballache. So I booked us in to the National Timber park and walk, which is literally across the road from the stadium. Albion has a ticketing website specifically for parking, which is a bit annoying but at least it allows you to be prepared and get that parking space before travelling. It’s been pretty easy to get into car parks so far but we’ve jumped up a level here so preparation is key.
Transportation wise, this was a complete disaster. The 25-30 minute drive meant we left home at 6.30pm, fully expecting to reach the ground around 7pm, giving us an hour to walk around and take pictures and find our seats and shit. However, the M5 was a gigantic badly designed car park so we were stuck on it for an hour. There’s a building I’ve always liked the look of right by the motorway and I’ve never had the chance to take a picture of it but seeing as we were sat there;
This is Haliburton House, formally the Kenrick Building. It’s a nice landmark by the side of the motorway as you head past Birmingham. We were parked next to it for about five minutes. One of the few highlights of the journey was watching a number four shaped balloon drift into view and then slowly pass across the traffic before disappearing behind a row of trees. Godspeed number four. We arrived at the car park at 8.05pm, yes, that’s after kick off, to discover this was a different car park that charged £5 for parking. I paid £12.50, you fucks! We turned the corner into the National Timber car park, which at least was closed during the game and therefore relatively safe.
We can hear the distant roar of the fans cheering…something. I can only assume West Brom made a bright start to the game. I managed this blurry picture of the ground as we dodged traffic crossing the road. Honestly, the trip at this point had been an absolute shocker. Anyone who’s ever tried to negotiate the West Bromwich Interchange, Satan’s idea of an island, will know it’s pain. Pain. Pain. You have to drive across the exit to the motorway to turn towards the ground but you have traffic crossing you to get to the motorway. It’s an nightmare. Take my advice on this one; take the train and walk to the ground. Or go and watch Wolves instead.
We finally got inside. Shout out to the stewards who helped us with issues at the turnstile and finding seats. They were excellent. Once we’d finally gotten into our seats I could look out at the beauty in front of us. The Hawthorns is a stunning ground inside. Before ascending to our seats on row PP we came out of the concourse into a world of magic. The ground had been spruced up by Sky and it felt like being on a movie set. It helps a lot that the Hawthorns is a lovely big ground (26,850, right in my wheelhouse) but it’s been designed with fans in mind. Every view is good and there’s decent legroom. I was happy.
The ground wasn’t quite full (17,016 declared) but there was a healthy away support and it felt like we were in for a good evening. We sat down on 15’ and two minutes later Arsenal were ahead. Aubameyang with the first of his three. The Gunners are soon in better voice. “How shit must you be, we’re winning away?”. Coming up on half time it’s nicely set for the second half and then Arsenal score two more goals in first half injury time. Pepe misses an easy chance, after doing the hard work, but the ball breaks to Auba and he doesn’t miss the tap in. Pepe then adds to the misery with Aubameyang turning provider.
The game that was “nicely balanced” and “on a knife-edge” is now an absolute hiding for the home team, which seems a touch unfair but West Brom’s insistence at playing a high line is hurting them. They’ve not fielded a particularly strong team and the gulf is quality is showing. We’re sat right by the executive area, designated by the comfy padded seats, and I’m actually leaning on the dividing rail that keeps the riff-raff out. At half time the entire section of the crowd disappears to enjoy their complimentary foie gras (I don’t even know what this is) leaving a bizarrely empty section. No one appears until after the whistle blows for the second half. What a weird experience that must be.
We were sat in the new East Stand, which probably explains the good legroom. This is a picture of the Birmingham aka Brummie Road End, which is where the more ardent Albion fans go. They did not have a good evening and they start pouring out in drips and drabs after the second half started. Primarily because Bukayo Saka scored a lovely goal on 50’ thus killing the tie off. If you look closely you can see people heading out here, backs to the action.
This is the Smethwick Road End where the away fans are and you can see them looking jolly happy with Saka here after he’d netted. The tidy 1-2 that set Saka up was well done and all Odegaard with his delightful backheel assist. On 62’ Aubameyang completed his hattrick with a sensational curling effort into the top hand corner. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who was on loan here last season, got a nice round of applause coming off the bench but promptly got an assist. Substitute Alexandre Lacazette wrapped up the misery with number six and the last twenty minutes was just Baggies fans heading for the exits. Their “boing” well and truly lost.
With the game put to bed and thousands of Albion supporters heading home we had a chance to look around a bit. The Hawthorns is an impressive ground and I’ve always judged it rather harshly on appearance but for facilities it’s actually great. In spite of the disastrous route into West Bromwich it was a lovely evening at the football. Apart from the scoreline, although I did get to see some excellent Arsenal players.
Outside the ground we paid our respects to the statue of former Albion front man Tony “Bomber” Brown, who played 20 years for the club. I didn’t get to see the Jeff Astle gates sadly, but this all added to my appreciation of the ground. As with every ground I’ve been to (apart from Tamworth*) I’ve come away with a greater appreciation for the team and the fans. It’s the kind of ground I’d happily visit again if someone from overseas or darn sarf wanted to experience some Midlands football.
The Hawthorns has been extensively renovated with the current East Stand being constructed just 20 years ago and oldest stand dating back to 1982. The ground has existed there since 1900 though and even if the history doesn’t feel apparent inside the ground, it is around it. I didn’t expect to like the Hawthorns but I kinda did. Inside for its modern stadium and outside for its historical feel. If you’re planning a trip there beware of traffic though. Once you’re stuck on that stretch of M5 there’s no escape. Our 25-30 minute journey took around 95 minutes.
*This is a joke, Tamworth is lovely (ish).