Brought forward by popular demand: this week’s Who Are You? … or maybe just brought forward by the unpopularity of my obsession with French football.
So: Sunderland travel to the Hawthorns on Saturday in the hope that John McEnroe will be left as fuming by the result as we trust he was by West Brom’s 6-0 thrashing at Chelsea. Salut! Sunderland is delighted to welcome David Law*, the BBC tennis commentator and confirmed Baggie who explains how he made Albion fans of McEnroe and, especially, Goran Ivanisevic …
This is only part one: pending a rush of powerful pieces from other Salut! Sunderland contributors, David Law’s interview has been divided into two. The second part can now be seen by clicking here…
Salut! Sunderland: Welcome back. Can it be for keeps this time or is solid Premier League status simply beyond West Brom at present?
Every time we start a Premier League season (or any other season for that matter) I am convinced that this will be ‘the one’. This season is no different. However, the facts do not really support my blind optimism. We have just lost 6-0 and we only ever once stayed in the Premier League in four attempts, and that was the Great Escape season when we did it in the last game of the season having been bottom at Christmas! The truth is that the gap between promoted teams and the rest of the Premier League gets wider every year. In 2004/2005, we acquired Kanu, Jonathan Greening and Zoltan Gera in just a week of business. We have had nothing like that sort of summer this time, and it’s very frustrating. That said, in Graham Dorrans we have the most exciting footballer at the club in many years in my opinion. And Jerome Thomas can cause fullbacks problems. I still think we’ll stay up, obviously.
You are credited with turning John McEnroe and Goran Ivanisevic into Baggies. Is it true, how did it come about and how have the allegiances been shown?
Yes, guilty. It was during the Great Escape season. I work and travel with them on the ATP Champions Tour and they got so sick of hearing me whinge about us losing week after week that they said they would support them as well out of sympathy. In return, I promised them a shirt in the unlikely event that we survive.
While McEnroe clearly didn’t know what the fuss was about, Goran, who is a big football fan anyway, genuinely became a fan. He told me that on the final day of the season he found himself in front of the television watching two games at a time (WBA vs Portsmouth and Crystal Palace vs Charlton) ‘switching channels like a freak’.
We survived, and still to this day Goran says that we survived because of him.
So, I proudly went to the Club Shop and asked for two shirts with the names ‘McEnroe No.7’ (for the number of Grand Slams he won) and ‘Ivanisevic No.10’ (the position he says he occupies when he plays) printed on them.
I presented them at a tennis press conference a couple of weeks later and Goran hardly does an interview these days without talking about ‘his’ team West Bromwich Albion. The Albion players got wind of it and sent him a signed shirt which he wore on-court during the knock-up in a match at the Royal Albert Hall.
He likes the fact that we are a yo-yo club. He says that the team reminds him of himself. ‘You never know what they are going to do next’, he says.
After the Chelsea defeat, he texted me with a number of expletives, mainly directed at the injustice of it all – lack of level playing field etc. He signed off with ‘no problem, Boing, Boing‘.
Not so long ago, Baggies were voted the country’s best fans in a poll of supporters generally. What’s so special about them?
A mixture of genuine love for the club (we’re not exactly glory-hunters, are we?), typical Black Country gallows humour, and a long history – we were formed in 1878.
More recently, we are remembered for our first Premier League season when we knew we didn’t have much chance, but we had spent 16 years in the wilderness and were just so happy to be back. Opposition supporters remember the noise we made and the atmosphere we created.
Roberto Di Matteo must have seemed one heck of a change from Tony Mowbray. But he delivered the goods. Is he the man to ensure Premier survival and further progress?
Actually he wasn’t that big a change – both believe in playing football on the ground, both seem like decent blokes, and both got us promotion. In a year’s time I might look stupid having said this, but I believe the big difference is that Di Matteo is a pragmatist, while Mowbray always struck me as an idealist.
Unless you are Barcelona, you just can’t get away with the latter.
Di Matteo’s team plays quicker from back to front and we have got quite a few quick players in, whereas Mowbray’s methodical, ‘keep-the-ball’ approach lacked a cutting edge.
I do think Di Matteo is a good manager, but unless he can add a striker or two, I fear the worst.
What are the highs and lows you have experienced as a supporter of WBA?
Walking along the road to a night game at the Albion when I was eight years old, hearing the fans and seeing the floodlights in the distance. Magical.
Cyrille Regis’s goal of the season against Norwich in 1981/1982.
Going to Wembley and watching us win. In 1993/1994 when we got promotion from the old Division 3 to the old Division 2.
Promotion in 2001/2002 after 16 years outside of the top flight, which had been more than half of my lifetime at the time. I found myself at work the next day suddenly bursting into tears with the emotion of it all. I’m in my 30s. Pathetic really.
Chris Brunt’s goal to win us promotion a couple of years ago. I remember hugging people I have never met before.
Watching Graham Dorrans play and wondering how we could have picked up such a talented player for a hundred grand.
Losing the FA Cup semifinal to QPR in 1981/1982. My Dad had promised we would get tickets if we got to Wembley. I was inconsolable when we lost.
Walking/Running out of the Hawthorns as an 11-year-old boy with my Grandad as we were chased by Millwall thugs in the bad old days of hooliganism. One of them was rugby-tackled to the ground right in front of us. My Grandad never wanted to go again.
Relegation to the second division in the 80s.
Relegation to the third division in the 90s.
Losing the play-off final against Derby a few years ago. It was such a contrast of emotions – an exciting day until about 4.45pm when it dawned on me that we were about to lose. The trip back was horrible.
* David Law on David Law: … tennis commentator for BBC Radio 5 Live and managing rirector of LawSports, a company which runs the media operations at the pre-Wimbledon AEGON Championships at The Queen’s Club in London, and the ATP Champions Tour. To listen to commentaries, and for more information, click here. And to follow me on Twitter, click here and press “follow”:
Interview: Colin Randall