Terry Wills looks back, and forward.
April 15th 1989. I was sitting in the Hawthorns East Stand watching the Baggies playing Plymouth Argyle in a run of the mill division two game that finished in a 2-2 draw. At the same time I was listening on a small portable radio to what was happening up and down the country, little realising that one story would dominate. Indeed, it has dominated football ever since. 23 years on it has dominated this week’s media and forced every other football story to take second place.
Hillsborough, and an FA semi-final FA Cup between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Breaking, worrying reports that Liverpool fans had been caught up in a potential devastating disaster. As every football supporter knows, 96 ‘Pool fans were to lose their lives amid awful horrific scenes. Initially the police blamed the fans and some of the press, notably the Sun, joined in the condemnation. Now the truth HAS been told and although nothing can be done to bring back the innocent victims at least we know that as a result of the tragedy, due to the recommendations of the Taylor Report such a horror couldn’t take place in today’s game.
The game has moved on. Grounds, or should we call them stadiums, are now unrecognisable. Posh seats with equally posh prices. Supporters labelled as customers and clubs doing their very best to convince fans their ‘product’ is one that can’t be missed. What’s that got to do with Albion’s visit to Fulham this week? In truth it’s probably a tenuous link but if there’s one ground that has retained its image of the 1980s yet can still be enjoyed it has to be Craven Cottage. Small, friendly, a taste of the past, to be enjoyed by supporters of all clubs. And the Baggies record when playing there can only be described as one to be instantly forgotten.
Steve Clarke takes his new-look Albion to the edge of the River Thames ground hoping to stem this dismal run and climb another rung on his impressive starting ladder. It won’t be easy – Fulham are a very good home side and if Albion are to win, for me that would be a massive bonus. I’d take a point here and now if offered.
But the team are playing well. Solid in defence, a constructive midfield and forwards, sorry strikers (!) who can put the ball in the back of the net (No doubt that’s put the kibosh on it).
Again, the media’s current love affair with West Bromwich Albion (It can’t possibly last) is riding high and here’s hoping they have cause to carry on as present, starting as Zoltan goes back to his previous club hoping not only to play, but to leave knowing he’s played a part in gathering what would a tremendous useful point, or points.
But whatever happens, for me the eventual truth of the Hillsborough disaster, has rightly dominated the current news and not only on the back pages. Again it has made me realise that while we love supporting our teams, some events put these feelings into perspective.
23 years has been an awful long time to wait. But mercifully David Cameron’s speech in the House of Commons has made those who remember this disaster feeling lucky it wasn’t their team that had reached the semi-final to play at a ground that at the time hadn’t even got a safety certificate.
Come on you Baggies.