Ahead of what should be a good game of football against WBA, True Faith met up with Mark Thomas of the Independent online site, Albion Till We Die. An excellent set of answers given from one of the best set of supporters in the PL (in my humble). Here’s the rundown from the Black Country.
TF: Like NUFC, WBA have done comparatively well this season against the top 3rd sides yet struggled for consistency against more modest opposition. What do you think has been behind this?
I think it’s quite simply that when we have gone into games as the ‘underdog’, the opposition understandably tend to attack us a lot more than the ‘lesser’ sides do. With our defence being pretty solid so far this season (with the exception of the Liverpool game), it enables us to play on the counter which we’ve been pretty good at the last few seasons. When the onus in a match is on us, such as it was against Crystal Palace, we do tend to struggle.
TF: WBA seem to pick managers with a good fit for the club in Mowbray, Di Matteo and Clarke. Do you agree and what do you think is the “West Brom” way?
I think historically Albion have always been seen as a team that play football the ‘right way’, and Mowbray, Di Matteo and Clarke all encourage their teams to play that way. The problem we suffered under Mowbray, and to a certain extent under Di Matteo, was whilst we scored plenty of goals, defensively we weren’t great. That all changed when Roy Hodgson took over and he has to take credit for improving us enormously defence-wise during his 18 months at the club – he more than anyone else got us established in the Premier League and the foundations he laid are being built on pretty well by Steve Clarke.
TF: What new additions have impressed you this season so far? How much of a miss will Lukaku prove to be or has he been adequately replaced?
Lukaku is a massive loss for us – the majority of fans around the country perhaps don’t realise what a talent he is. I like most other Albion fans continue to be amazed that Chelsea are not using him. As for the players we have signed the pick of the bunch has been Morgan Amalfitano. Most of us had never heard of him before he joined but a number of impressive performances have made him a fan favourite already. Ex-Sunderland man Stephane Sessegnon has also impressed and it’s easy to see why the majority of their fans were unhappy to see him leave. It was certainly a strange decision by Di Canio to let him go but we are definitely benefiting from it.
TF: Bobby Robson was a hugely popular manager and was a great ambassador for NUFC and the NE generally. How highly do Baggies/Throstles regard him?
He’s definitely very highly thought of and remembered fondly down here. Whilst the majority of current Baggies’ fans probably didn’t see him play during his six years with the club we’ve all heard stories of how good he was and he couldn’t have been too bad seeing he was a regular in our side during the late 50s and early 60s. As a child of the 1980s my memories of him are limited to his managerial career which perhaps reached its pinnacle at Italia’ 90. Away from the football he also seemed a genuinely decent man. It was a sad loss indeed.
TF: WBA appear a very well-run club with a very low net debt of £500,000 as of 2012 accounts. What are your thoughts on the ownership of West Brom?
The ownership of the club is a very sore point amongst Baggies’ fans. The majority shareholder Jeremy Peace is a pretty unpopular figure, mainly due to the lack of financial backing he tends to give his managers considering the money the club has received over recent years. He also made enemies with the club’s small shareholders with many accusing him of taking their shares off them on the cheap. Added to that he didn’t help himself when he gave an interview in the summer claiming that Albion are basically a Championship club in stature and questioned whether the club would be spending big money on transfer fees ever again. On the other hand we’ve become an established Premier League side doing it his way, and I respect him for that, but I’m certainly not a fan of his.
TF: Is Europe a realistic target for WBA. Would you view, say the EL as a trophy opportunity (NUFC reached the QFs last year, Fulham the Final recently) or a hindrance to the PL money spinner?
I’d love to see Albion in European competition – being just 7 years old when we last played in the UEFA Cup I don’t remember anything of it really. I think it definitely is a hindrance to clubs’ league form though and I think results do back that up, Swansea being the example this season. I think given the start we had last season that was our big chance to qualify, really can’t see it happening this season but it’s definitely something we should strive for.
TF: As WBA are a Black Country team, what differentiates you from the Birmingham clubs? Is there a different Black Country culture both within the club, fan base and the town itself?
As someone who lives in the Black Country and has worked in Birmingham for many years I feel there’s definitely a difference as do many other people. In my experience, and at the risk of getting myself into trouble here, Brummies are far more brash and unwelcoming compared to Black Country folk. I think that shows in a certain club’s supporters in terms of the arrogance they have despite no longer being the top team in the West Midlands.
TF: The Hawthorns is closer to Birmingham than Wolverhampton. Why the great rivalry with WW or is there just as big a rivalry with AVFC and BCFC?
Historically Villa have always been our biggest rivals, aided by the fact that so many important games have been played between the two teams over the years. The Black Country derby with Wolves has always been pretty big but the rivalry didn’t become really intense until the late 1980s and 1990’s when Albion stopped playing Villa due to relegation but started playing Wolves more. Sadly the moronic elements have tended to attach themselves to this derby more than the others and for most fans it’s not the most pleasant of games to attend any more. Location is also a factor in terms of which is the most important derby to fans. Baggies’ that live in Birmingham or its surrounding areas understandably see Villa as the big one whereas fans that live in the areas between West Bromwich and Wolverhampton see the Black Country derby as most important.
TF: Is the Fanzine scene in the West Midlands a healthy one?
Whilst written fanzines are clearly dying out – Albion’s last one ended in 2005, I think the number of online ‘blogs’ are multiplying rapidly. At one time it seemed to be only the larger clubs that had numerous bloggers but these days most clubs have a number dedicated to them, Albion included, helped in no small part by the likes of Twitter and Facebook which provides a perfect advertising platform.
TF: What is your view of the leadership of NUFC? What is your opinion of an Ashley-run Newcastle United?
I think to most outsiders it seems a bit of a shambles, especially with the Joe Kinnear situation fresh in the mind. I don’t think anybody in their right mind would have brought Kinnear in for that role unless of course it’s a case of nepotism, very much like what happened with Dennis Wise a few years back? Like Albion fans have found out though there seems to be very few people about willing to pump in the massive amounts of cash needed to buy a large football club so like us with Jeremy Peace I fear you may be stuck with Ashley for sometime yet.
TF: Who do you rate as the main NUFC dangers for WBA on Saturday and the weak points to exploit?
I think Remy and Cabaye are the most obvious dangers, both very talented players and I’ve always liked the look of Tiote too. Not too sure about any weak points because I haven’t seen a great deal of United this season but looking at the league table only the bottom three and Norwich have conceded more goals this season which perhaps gives us hope that we can grab a goal or two, especially with how we have been playing away from home this season.
TF: Score prediction?
I think it’ll be a tight game. Trips to St James’ are always difficult but we are pretty decent away from home and are more than capable of returning with a point. I’ll go for 2-2.
Many thanks to Mark for his time!