Saturday 10th January 2015 – WBA 1 – 0 Hull City AFC
Premier League @ The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Saturday 23rd February 2008 was my favourite ever day as a Hull City fan. Better than the play-off final a couple of months later. Better than the FA Cup Final. c. 1,500 of the most devoted fans in the away end going mental as City scored a crucial 2-1 victory over The Baggies. It was at that point promotion to the Premier League, for the first time in our history, felt real. We had beaten arguably our biggest rivals that season, who themselves had put through three past us just 6 weeks prior. It was at that moment we really started to believe that the seemingly impossible was now looking possible.
I like going to West Brom. It is probably due to a lot of things. Having lived in the Midlands for 4 years, it is always a good opportunity to meet old pals, supporters of both clubs. As well as the victory in February 2008, we also beat them six months later, 3-0, to climb 2nd in that dizzying first 5 months of playing Premier League football. But enjoying a ground is not just about past glories. West Brom fans are in the most part genuine and realistic, but at the same time, optimistic. Like all Midlands supporters, they do have a slightly inflated sense of status – but hey, if Villa can win the European Cup, why can’t West Brom?!
Most football pub quiz boffins will know that The Hawthorns is the highest ground in England. But it is also noisy, has decent views of the pitch, and is an all round great venue for watching a game, in an era of soulless bowls and lego brick monstrosities.
So it is fair to say I was looking forward to it!!!
Unfortunately however those past glories were not to be repeated. It did feel as if the script was already written; this was chief relegation avoider Pullis’ first game in charge for West Brom, and though it was scrappy and not the prettiest, it was the home side that took maximum spoils, as per the tradition of new managers starting with a win (not sure the 7-0 gubbing of Gateshead the weekend before really counted…)
The day started at what is arguably the best matchday pub in England, The Vine. A ten minute stroll from the ground, from the outside this looks like any other local boozer. This theme continues when you walk in. However there is a hidden twist; the food! The Vine has an extensive Indian menu, however on matchdays they serve delicious chicken tikka kebabs for a fiver, which fly out. The Vine is already in ‘Worth a sup…‘, but I can’t emphasise enough its greatness. The kebabs are so good you will probably have two! And the atmosphere is very friendly.
The above view doesn’t appear to be shared by a number of West Brom fans though. Tradition was broken with on this visit to West Brom, with The Vine exited by 1pm. It was to the Haveli next to meet a baggies mate who refused to meet us in our favoured watering hole; I am told when the bigger clubs visit, The Vine gets taken over by away fans and can often take on a more unpleasant tone. Man City and Chelsea were named as chief culprits. A real shame, but thankfully not something that seems to happen when Hull City visit.
The Haveli was nothing special; it is a curry house that is converted into a bar for matchdays, and which also has Sky Sports on. It is about a twenty five minute walk to the ground from here, and was popular with home fans. Wouldn’t rush back, but not a bad place for a pint.
The Hawthorns is sandwiched between a number of road and rail lines, and it feels a little like walking down the hard shoulder of a motorway when getting there. It is a great day out though; tickets are £25, the stewards are relaxed and the atmosphere friendly. The only criticism would be the size of the bar, which results in very large queues, but that is not at all unique to West Brom…..
We were allowed to stand for the full 90 minutes that day. And for once the City fans were tremendous. Previous write ups have criticised the lack of singing and tourists in the away end at the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool. This breed of fans doesn’t however travel to the likes of West Brom. So it was noisy, which was great!
The same can’t be said of the West Brom fans, which surprised me as previously they were one of the noisier sets of home fans. Post the humorous Liquidator played at the start (“Fuck of Wanderers, WEST BROM”), not a lot was heard from them until they scored, when the “Boing Boing Baggies” was given an airing.
The match itself was not a great spectacle, and was a bit of a demonstration as to why both clubs are battling it out at the wrong end of the table. Hull operated with no strikers after half an hour, with both Jelavic and Hernandez going off injured, adding to the ever lengthening injury list. It will be interesting to see how Bruce decides to operate in the transfer window; backup is surely needed to see us through the season.
Baggies scored the only goal of the game late on, from a free kick inside the area following a backpass. That was enough. West Brom took the points. City were rewarded with a position in the drop zone. It was cold anyway that afternoon, it suddenly felt a whole lot colder as we filed out into the Midlands evening.
West Brom should stay up; the energetic Pullis (who characteristically spent the afternoon dancing down the touchline) knows how to survive inside out. I have my doubts about City however; it is West Ham next, and it is difficult to see where we might start picking up points again.
Post match we stopped off at the Jewellery Quarter to meet friends where we sampled the wonderful Red Lion. definitely worthy of ‘Worth a sup….‘ given it is one stop away from the ground – highly recommended, with a great range of ales and Sky Sports.
Barring the result, another great day out at The Hawthorns. Fingers crossed for a return visit next term!