in the new world digital millennium, the easiest way to gauge what the supporters are actually thinking is to browse your way through the various websites which host message-boards and fan forums and have a look at what people are posting.
i have recently and regularly been following - and contributing - to several threads at westbrom.com, an independent fan site with quite active forums and a membership of about 4000. while the site is well moderated and there is some surprisingly keen local insights in the writing and contributions to posts, there is still enough ill-conceived thought and unrealistic expectation going on here to support my assertion that the PREMIER LEAGUE can do terrible things to the soul of a football club.
it has long been known that the club's intention - and indeed, its necessity - to strengthen the centre-back positions. with jonas olsson the only defender about whom there is no question as to his place and importance in the squad, the lack of two good centre-backs is otherwise a pretty glaring deficiency in the side. neither does roy hodgson appear too keen on either of the goalies it seems. this is no surprise, as the baggies were simply unable to deal with corner-kicks and set plays going into the second-half of the season, so you can bet there'll be at least a few signings made to address this situation between now and august.
what is evident on the message-boards and online forums is that the expectation of the supporters as to who a club like west bromwich albion can attract (or afford) is largely unrealistic. there's enough talk about the idea of bringing a player like christopher samba to the hawthorns, and plenty of commentary about how gareth macauley and billy jones - the first signings of roy hodgson's tenure - are adequate back-up players to the proven "top-grade" defenders that the baggies' management are apparently going to be buying; and how no one seems to rate andy lonergan as a goalie, blah blah blah...
much of fan posting is quite fanciful, to say the least. as a supporter of a large community based club, what you want is one thing; what you get is another and the truth is always somewhat mundane.
christopher samba has been linked with a move to arsenal. even the top clubs have trouble finding defenders of his quality. andy lonergan is, in fact, one of the better english goalies, and at 27, a fairly long career can still be projected for the current preston north end stopper. more than one or two PREMIER LEAGUE clubs will eventually be seriously targeting him to compete for a place in their starting eleven.
whatever is happening and whoever else the baggies sign over the summer, the club's most recent acquisitions are players being brought in to strengthen the first team and no one is being signed with the intention of playing them in the reserves or as a substitute for someone better. make no mistake, billy jones and gareth mcauley have both been brought in to compete for places in the first team.
one subject that really had me shaking my head were the discussions about danny graham. with expectations that he'd be coming to the hawthorns, the general reaction was, for the most part, pretty lukewarm-to-negative with loads of unenthusiastic assessment promoting the old cliché that a player like graham might've done well in the CHAMPIONSHIP, but is never going to be a proper PREMIER LEAGUE player; and again how he might be of some use coming off the bench for some imaginary proven "top-flight" striker.
well, the fact is that we didn't even come close in getting last year's joint top-scorer in the CHAMPIONSHIP and were out-bid (quite significantly, i might add) by both QPR and ultimately, swansea city. like the albion, these two clubs - both new to the PREMIER LEAGUE for the upcoming season - in pursuing graham, would have hope and confidence that the ex-watford sharp-shooter can be an important player in the PREMIER LEAGUE and an asset to anyone looking at the struggle for survival in the world's top football league.
the days when the big community based clubs, like the albion, could compete financially with teams at the top of the league and playing attractive football was the measure, are long gone. as the money continues to get out of hand and the gap between the top 4 or 5 clubs and everyone else gets bigger, expectations of what is possible will have to continue to change. while there is a historical precedent and the baggies are the 15th most successful side in the annals of english football, the right to claim a place as one of the top 20 clubs in the country is something the albion are going to have to perpetually battle out with 10-12 other clubs of similar size and stature.
my only answer is to have faith in our club. as albion fans, let's hope for and try to inspire a little bit of magic. it's easy to project continued success for all our proven and favourite players; like peter odemwingie, graham dorrans and youssouf mulumbu; but let's also hope that simon cox can become a consistent goalscorer in the PREMIER LEAGUE. let's hope that ishmael miller can finally come back from injury and be something like the player that we all hoped he would. let's have faith that our new signings are successful and can make significant contributions to improving the squad. let's hope that we find a good goalie and another quality centre-half. let's just hope...