match text commentary
with only 2600 tickets allotted to the supporters of west bromwich albion football club for an away day at villa park, i travelled to england knowing that i would not be attending this particular derby. even as a membership subscriber to the club's ticket scheme, i was not given a chance to buy a ticket.
this was, in fact, the first match that i have missed following in real time either through listening to online, watching on TV or attending live - and that includes all major competitions - in over four years.
on my second trip, two seasons ago and going for promotion in the championship, i saw the baggies play three times at home and once away to swansea, all in the space of two weeks. the match at liberty stadium was won 0-2, on a penalty by graham dorrans and a late goal by ishmael miller and all but clinched automatic promotion for the baggies. it was a match that was highly symbolic of the albion's success that year and a defining moment of the season. i remember the experience vividly... how time stood still for a moment as miller deftly cut back around swans goalie, dorus de vries, and fired home to emphasize the victory.
what i don't remember is having any particular difficulty in obtaining a ticket for the game.
this year - and with both teams in the almighty, bloody premier league - it was reported that the same trip to south wales was sold-out as 3000 baggies supporters travelled to the liberty stadium to witness their team's worst performance of the season to date, as the baggies conceded three goals and dropped all three points.
knowing that the swansea trip had been sold-out, i knew i would have to be online the moment that the ticket office opened if i was to get a ticket for the villa. however, after finding out that tickets would be available to season-ticket holders for a full 9 days before i would get a crack at it, i was not hopeful. especially after i learned (much to my chagrin) that only 2600 tickets were going to be made available to travelling away supporters.
in any case, on the day i woke myself up at 4 AM EST in order that i would be online as soon as the ticket office opened, and whatever tickets might still be available were scheduled to be released for purchase by those with club membership, like myself. this also coincided with tickets to the home game with liverpool going on sale to both season-ticket and membership subscribers. i logged into my account, clicked on the BUY TICKETS tab, which delivered me to the EVENTS SCHEDULE page from where one makes their selection and proceeds to CHECK-OUT to complete their purchase.
however, there was no link posted to tickets for aston villa (away). there were links to tickets for the bus trip from the hawthorns to villa park and the upcoming home match with liverpool, but nothing for the ticket i wanted. i sat for a few minutes, refreshed the page and waited for a link to appear. ultimately, it never did and i went back to bed knowing that i was not going to get an away ticket for the match against the villa.
by the time i woke-up again at 8.30-9.00, a link to tickets for the villa game had appeared on the EVENT SCHEDULE, but this only led to a message saying that the match was sold-out.
what is really bugging me at this point, is that villa park holds 42000 some-odd, while liberty stadium just barely scratches a capacity of 20000. how had there been 3000 tickets made available for a match in south wales and only 2600 for a game to be played barely four miles away? on top of that, villa's attendance is down by an average of 3000 seats per match this season. this is a loss of about 10% of their regular home support and i thought west brom would have at least 5000 spots allotted.
while i will never know the truth, it turns out that the villa is not particularly interested in accommodating away supporters.
for example, there is no real "away" end at villa park. visiting opposition supporters are shunted into two sections in a corner between the doug ellis and north stands, facilitating cut-price tickets to home supporters in the lower tiers of the north stand and ensuring that there is exclusively home support behind both goals. while the smethwick end at the hawthorns is shared, it is a significantly smaller stadium and visiting supporters are, in fact, given a traditional space behind the goal. under the present set-up, the smethwick can accommodate just over 2500 away supporters for regular league matches.
so, while there were plenty of tickets still available to the general public in the "home" sections of villa park on the day of the match, the two "away" sections were listed on the villa website as "0% availability". i'm sure there were more than one or two baggies who zipped up their jackets to conceal their shirts, hid their scarves under their coats and bought tickets to sit in hostile territory, but that is something i just wouldn't think to do.
in other words, i wasn't about to travel to birmingham without a ticket. neither would i have wanted to buy a ticket that would necessitate me concealing the fact that i am a west bromwich albion supporter, might put me at risk of being denied entrance or possibly even removed from the ground. not to mention having to sit in a section of the stadium with people i don't want to be with!
having promised myself that i would miss no opportunity to watch live football during my time in england, i had already implemented a contingency plan and bought a ticket to watch cardiff city at home to barnsley. however - and no matter how hard i try - i do not like cardiff city football club, and barnsley are only remembered with some faint and long past fondness on my part for having beaten liverpool in the quarter-finals of the FA CUP a few seasons back. i was hoping that with michael chopra gone i wouldn't hate the bluebirds as i once did. while this was indeed the case, i could still find no real sympathy with them, and i wish i had stayed in chilcompton and listened to the villa game on the ALBION RADIO. but then, i can stay at home in canada to do that - and watch it on TV too!
with the bright, blazing mid-afternoon sun at cardiff city stadium uncomfortably in my eyes and half-time just set upon us, i heard the first news of the albion/villa match announced on the PA system along with other scores of the day:
"aston villa 1, west bromwich albion 1..."
i clenched my fist and stabbed covertly at the air.
"yes!!!" i hissed to myself.
with the score 5-2 and just going into injury time, i decided i'd get a head start and see if i couldn't catch the 5.30 train from cardiff central.
i saw the third barnsley goal on the TV screen by the burger and pies stand.
that is surely that, i thought to myself, and hustled outside back in the direction i had come from.
i ran up the stairs onto the platform at grangetown and just barely made the train back to cardiff central where i caught the 5.30 going in the direction of bristol temple meads. i settled into my seat and called my mother on the cell phone to say that i had managed to get the early train and would be at bath spa within about an hour and a half.
"west brom won!!!" she said excitedly in answering, "west brom won!!! i just heard it on the news."
i was stunned by what my mother was trying to tell me. her excitement had taken me aback and i was almost speechless.
"that's great... wow... that's the best news all day... oh, that's just so great!!!"
when i got off the phone i smiled to myself and kicked at the floor to emphasize my joy at hearing that yet another old hoodoo had been dispelled and fallen by the wayside.
"BAGGIES!!!" i could only just contain myself.
i was happy enough in the moment knowing that i would see it on MATCH OF THE DAY.
it turned out to be a great day for the baggies despite the loss of shane long with a speculative knee injury that might see the young striker out for as much as six weeks. it was a dirty game played by the villa, and manager, alex mcleish, had told his defenders to get out and intimidate the opposition... hurt them, so to speak. alan hutton's tackle on long was shamelessly brutal football by today's standards and could easily have been justified a red card.
hutton wasn't even warned. however, there was an incident away from the play in the villa penalty area that saw villa midfielder, chris herd, dismissed for a stomp on jonas olsson. the baggies had a man advantage and a penalty. albion troubles with penalty kicks continued, as captain, chris brunt - normally a penalty taker of the highest order but having a poor run of form as of late - sliced the ball yards wide of the mark, wasting albion's first opportunity to equalize.
luckily, the baggies captain made up for it only minutes later with a perfectly delivered corner kick that saw jonas olsson heading the ball into the villa goal for honours even at the half; and another chris brunt corner kick in the 57th minute produced the opportunity for paul scharner to smash home the winner.
i've been to st. andrews to watch blues play. i've also bought tickets for and been to walsall, brentford, millwall, swansea, leicester city, bath city, yeovil town and bristol city. i was even at the old highbury stadium and stamford bridge in 1976 and made a single trip to the old wembley for an international friendly in 1974. while there are more than one or two of these experiences that have left me cold and without any feeling for the clubs involved, cardiff city was a low-point and the first time i have ever left a football ground before the final whistle.
travelling to see the baggies play in the championship two seasons ago was great fun. i saw them play six games in two visits, including the away match at swansea. not to mention that i could have made it to a seventh game if i had been enterprising enough to make the twelve hour return train journey to middlesbrough and back. truthfully, and with west brom now in the premier league, the championship provides much better opportunity for someone travelling from abroad with the intention of supporting their favourite football team live at the stadium.
i returned to canada too late (by just a few hours in fact) of even seeing the aston villa game repeated on TV and have only seen the footage offered on MATCH OF THE DAY and the 10 minute highlight video on the baggies website.
i am still fuming about this, and i probably won't get over it until my next trip to england sometime later in the new year. in my frustration, i have also promised myself that anyone seen wearing an aston villa jersey is going to get a hassle for it. even though it's not really my style, any villa supporter who crosses my path on this side of the atlantic will leave my presence understanding more about the historical animosity between their club and mine.
while i am thankful that the premier league has given us live TV coverage and repeats of all top-flight matches played over any given weekend, i shall have to wait until my beloved baggies are once again established as a major force in the top-flight and competitive european games have returned to the hawthorns on a regular basis before they'll be playing enough football for my convenience.
i won't be expecting that to happen too soon. i guess i can always hope for a cup run... a good home draw? hey, you never know!!
until then - and if you live in toronto and support the villa - you better stay out of my f**king way!!!