Salut! Sunderland rules are clear: as matchday approaches we set aside all carping and get 100 per cent behind the team. It is an important game for both clubs (seem to remember saying the same last season) and we are delighted to welcome David Walford*, a West Brom fan found for us by his SAFC-supporting neighbour Ken Gambles …
Four defeats, one win and a draw so far and you’re second bottom of the league. But it was a tough start: do you feel optimistic or fear the worst from the season ahead?
All Albion fans are pessimists by nature so, of course, I fear the worst but would probably still do if we were top.
You caught one of our worst performances of last season (the Hawthorns early) and then our appalling home form in the second half of the season. The comment of one Baggie after the 3-2 game sticks in the memory – “physical, determined but limited”. Is that how you saw us then, and are we stronger now?
That description fits 60 per cent of the Premiership, I think. I believe now that you are in transition with a number of new players. From afar, it seems that you have not replaced Bent and could have done with hanging on to Wellbeck. Although 4 goals against the usually mean Stoke suggests you have goals in the team.
What was/is your maximum and minimum expectation from the season, and indeed the coming seasons?
I don’t know about expectation but my hope is to survive in the Premiership. It’s sad isn’t it that most supporters in the country have survival as their ambition? In the future, I can only hope that we can establish ourselves and maintain our status and maybe aspire to be an Aston Villa or Everton.
What will it take to establish you as a Premier League fixture; can Roy Hodgson achieve it or is he there to prepare the foundations?
We need to survive this season and next so that we can amass funds and a reputation that will attract the right players. I have faith in RH’s knowledge and experience – although no manager is a miracle worker if the players are not good enough – and the job he did at the end of last season was remarkable. Realistically, at sixty something, he is unlikely to be there for more than a year or two more, so someone else will need to complete the job. Perhaps Steve Bruce might be looking for a job by then!
Who are the greatest players you have seen, or would like to have seen, in Albion colours and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
We have been fortunate to have had a few good sides over my years of support and a number of really good players. The goalscorers are always remembered, of course. In chronological order – Ronnie Allen, Derek Kevan, Jeff Astle, Cyrille Regis and Tony Brown. I have never seen a more complete player for The Albion than Bryan Robson before he went to Man U. I still maintain that the young Robson had something that he lost when he became a ‘top’ player. But my all time favourite Baggies’ player was Bobby Hope – poetry in motion and could pass like a dream ( with either foot! ). I still remember Tommy Smith trying to nail him but flailing at thin air as Bobby glided away. The player I would have most liked as a Baggie would be Pele ( this is dreamland isn’t it?). If it has to be a home grown player, what about Kevin Keegan or Malcolm MacDonald?? The person who should never have been allowed near us was Bobby Gould the Manager ( he was also a wholehearted player). Absolute disaster with a style that most pub sides would have rejected as being too basic – as you know, Albion have a treasured reputation for playing football. Fortunately, he took us down so we were able to sack him. As for players, anyone who came from The Villa. Latest in a long line of ho-hopers was Luke Moore.
And what have been the highs and lows you’ve experienced supporting your club?
The usual stuff of promotions and relegations with the odd FA and League Cups. The second leg of the 1964 League Cup Final when we beat West Ham 4-1 to take the trophy was a memorable night – Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Harry Redknapp and Lampard Senior and all. The 1968 FA Cup win against Everton. The play off final when Ossie Ardilles began the repair job after Gould ( Port Vale 3-0 )and took us into The Championship was a great day. And the day Megson took us to the Premiership ( Palace 2-0 ) at the expense of Wolves who were 10 points clear of us only a few weeks before. And, of course, our 3-0 win at The Stadium of Light last year. Low point was probably losing 4-2 at home to non-league Woking in the FA Cup in the seventies.
Do you regard Wolves as your natural rivals or do you look more towards the Birmingham clubs? How intense are the rivalries compared. say, with Sunderland and Newcastle?
Albion draw their support from the Black Country area between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. Those areas closest to Birmingham – West Bromwich and Smethwick ,in particular, would have grown up with Villa fans and, as such see them as the natural enemy. Being from Smethwick, I would certainly never allow anyone wearing a Villa shirt to enter my house ( ask my daughter and various prospective boyfriends!). Villa Park is 3 miles from The Hawthorns and Molineux is 10 so they are our closest neighbours. On the other hand, those supporters from Dudley would be in an area that, traditionally, you would be Albion or Wolves. Over recent years, of course, we have spent less time in the same division as Villa which as sort of dampened the rivalry a bit. Both derbies are very important to the fans but somehow they are not as nasty as Villa – Bham and don’t seem as fierce, somehow, as Liverpool. Manchester and Newcasle. Perhaps that is because I don’t see rival supporters as much as I would have at school or work.
Having a SAFC devotee as a neighbour probably makes you give some thought to Sunderland: what do you make of the club, the city, the fans, the region?
Firstly, I see Sunderland as a ‘proper’ football club in the tradition of those that founded the league ( even if you were 4 years behind the rest of us ). I have a problem with the likes of Wigan, QPR and Norwich none of whom have the same feel as long established top clubs. I see the region as a football area where people care about their teams and spend a lot of time talking football. In some ways the region has a similar industrial history to the Black Country and images of thousands of working men finishing work on Saturday lunchtime, putting on their flat caps, kicking the whippet and setting off to walk a mile and a half to the ground must be common to both areas. It’s about history, I suppose.
Who will; be your key player/s this season, where are you still weak and Is chere any one player you’d dearly like to take from us?
The goals of Peter Odemwinge were the difference last year and he will be key again. If he and Shane Long click then I would be confident we could do ok again. Defensively, we rely a lot on Jonas Olsen. Our inability to keep a clean sheet ( only 1 last year after the Sunderland game in the 2nd week of the season) is our weakness. A combination of mistakes by defenders and midfielders who can’t or won’t follow runners are the main poblems. The player I would take is Wickham for his potential, although I suppose I should look at one of your centre backs. As it is, Man U cast offs and Titus Bramble don’t appeal that much. Is Charlie Hurley still available?
Club versus country: where do you stand on this – WBA before England any time or more of a patriot?
The Barton Question: which form of cheating in football most annoys you, what would you do about it or do we just have to accept that it is now part of the modern game and will probably end up in coaching manuals?
I detest all forms of cheating. I think we have to thank the Leeds team of Don Revie for introducing us to new ways of bending the rules ( otherwise known as cheating ) but I can’t really blame him for the scourge of diving, which predates him. However, it has now reached epidemic proportions. Minimal, or sometimes no, contact results in honed athletes falling in a heap. The resulting free kicks, penalties and cards seriously affect the result of any match.I do not believe that we should accept it. We had a player sent off retrospectively last week, so the practice of reviewing video evidence is well established. I accept that some dives are harder to judge than others but, in cases where the video evidence is clear, diving should be seen as a retrospective sending off offence and attract a 3 match ban in the same way as serious foul play. I would not restrict it to just major incidents, such as penalties, but any offence anywhere on the pitch. It would not eradicate it but I think it would be a start.
What single measure, by WBA or the football authorities generally, would most improve the lot of the ordinary supporter?
A salary cap would make for a more level playing field and reduce costs and, with it, admission fees.
Is all the money sloshing around the game, but concentrated in relatively few hands, good or evil or a mixture?
As with most things in life, there are pros and cons. However, by and large, the establishment of an elite is extremely negative. The days when the likes of Derby and Notts Forest could win the top flight and, even, The European Cup are gone forever. Or, for that matter, the likes of Albion, Sundeland, Wolves et al never going to mount a significant challenge. Added to that, players have become mercenaries and the days of one club servants are also gone. Sooner or later all this has to have an impact but I’m not sure what it will be.
Name this season’s top four in order, the bottom three and the main trophy winners.
Top four – Albion, Sunderland – no only joking!
Man Utd, Man City,Chelsea, Liverpool
Bottom three – Albion, Sunderland – no only joking!
Norwich, Wolves and Wigan
FA Cup – Man Utd
Carling Cup – Chelsea
Johnsons Paint – Newcastle Utd
Where, if not already mentioned (in either list!), will our two clubs end up?
Albion 16th, Sunderland 15th
WIll you be at our game and what will be the score.
Afraid not. I’m hoping for 1-1
David Walford on David Walford: In 1954 Albion reached the FA Cup Final ( the year after The Matthews Final ) and my mom suggested that, if they won, I should support them and, if they lost, I should support Villa like my dad. Albion beat Preston 3-2 and the rest is history. My first Albion shirt was, in fact, a Blackburn Rovers shirt. Obviously cheaper to buy in Smethwick than a treasured Albion shirt and, as far as my mom was concerned, close enough. Not close enough for the kids up the park who condemned me to play for the rest against the Albion shirts ( scarred for life or what?). Up until I left school I saw all home games and a good smattering of away ones. After I left school, I played competitive football every saturday afternoon until I was 50, so that limited visits to midweek games and those Saturdays I was injured or we didn’t have a game – probably a dozen or so. Between then and me moving north to Knaresborough 4 years ago I was able to attend most home games. Since being here I am restricted to following The Baggies mostly by TV and radio. My 2 friends of 45 years still have season tickets and, along with Sky, I get a pretty good idea of how we are performing. Personally, I have spent most of my working life as a sales manager ( latterly in Laboratory furniture) and now am semi-retired, working 2 days a week as a ‘consultant’ for an erstwhile competitor. I moved to Knaresborough and now live with my second wife, Anne. I reckon in about another 30 years os so I will be accepted as a Yorkshireman. By then, I shall still be a baggie – a cross I shall carry to the grave. Photo attached of me wearing a replica shirt of the 1954 Cup Final – the one my mom should have bought back then ( a present from my friends for my 50th birthday, so everything comes to he who waits) taken a couple of years ago on my way to see Albion lose to Liverpool.
Interview: Colin Randall