Delve into West Brom’s history and there is a lot to love and a lot to admire. A roll call of alumni ranging from Jeff Astle to the incomparable Laurie Cunningham evoke a warm smile while the more seasoned supporter will recall Vic Buckingham’s magnificent, free-flowing side that illuminated the nineteen-fifties. Then there was that yellow and green kit. You know the one, the one that rightfully still makes grown men swoon decades on.
Now though, what are they? Who have they become? After finally shedding their yo-yo status and enjoying seven consecutive years in the most lucrative league on the planet what adventures have they delighted in? What model of entertaining excellence have they aspired towards?
Well, they exist; that’s one thing we can definitely say about them. They exist and they breathe and they show up each weekend on the dot dulling whatever passes for the Premier League’s soul that little bit more with every fulfilled fixture.
Aside from that I’m done bar the occasional splendidly taken goal thrice a season and that 5-5 draw with Manchester United a few years back. In comparison to the swashbuckling sides of their past they are Fun Bobby from Friends and where once they were the party now they only deign to poop it.
Year after year the TV bonanza continues to pour in and their top flight credentials grow ever stronger yet there is scant evidence of the Baggies loosening their firm grip on caution, a strategy that amounts to safety first, second, third and so on with little consideration to contributing anything meaningful beyond survival.
The campaign that saw them promoted in 2010 also brought Blackpool up and though the Tangerines plummeted thereafter they could be said to have made more positive impact on the Premier League in that one rollercoaster season than West Brom have in seven. If you believe that to be a deeply flawed correlation, in effect counter-intuitive praise for Albion’s pragmatism given that the Seasiders are now residing in the third tier while Alan Pardew’s men have gone to-to-toe with Arsenal and Manchester United in recent weeks, then consider too other clubs who have hauled themselves into the elite in that time period.
There was Swansea six years ago, Southampton and West Ham five years ago, Crystal Palace four, Leicester three, Bournemouth two and Burnley in 2016. If I was writing about their stints in the highest echelon within a much shorter time-frame – how they have developed and progressed and took flight with ambitious verve – then even discounting the Foxes’ incredible title triumph I would be spoilt for choice, picking out exciting individual talent and memorable moments.
With West Brom nothing comes to mind unless I Google, and that would be cheating. Nothing but banal mental images of James McClean and Chris Brunt mouth-breathing like Sunday League cloggers and an endless sequence of set pieces.
Seven years is an eternity in top class football yet in that whole time West Brom’s brand has never deviated from being muscular and industrious and this perhaps isn’t very surprising when it’s factored in that former chairman Jeremy Peace loves nothing more than to employ stolid fare in the dug-out. From Roy Hodgson to Steve Clark, from Alan Irvine to Tony Pulis it is a litany of uninspiring choices that lays down a template for competency and little more. And now there is Alan Pardew, which is just perfect.
Imagine being in a pub with all of them. They’d probably line up at the bar in a 4-4-2 formation, each ordering the craft ale and paying just for their own, before indulging in a twenty minute conversation about spark plugs.
Presently rooted to the bottom of the table it’s starting to look ominous for the Baggies this term. Relegation looms and should they indeed ensure the drop will there be any regret at eking out their tenure in the Premier League without ever daring to explore what might have been possible had they rolled the dice?
Probably not, after all this is a club who have had fifteen attempts at domestic cup competitions since becoming one of the ‘big boys’ – each an opportunity to discard the suffocating pressure of league commitments and chase a dream – and with the exception of a singular quarter final appearance all have resulted in early exits, usually as a result of fielding severely weakened line-ups.
Whoever is in charge this is a club happy to get by, do enough, and all the while take up a spot in the top flight rota over a club who might have admirable ambitions to expand and enthral.
In their third most successful era, West Brom have only succeeded in devaluing their past becoming the team that deflates enthusiasm when they’re scheduled for Super Sundays or paired with your club. They’re the ad break in the greatest show on earth.
There’s no accompanying pleasure in saying this, but perhaps it’s time that West Brom boinged again.