There was a time when the only authentic way of gauging the collective mood of my fellow Albion fans was to be amongst them.
For most managers, there is always a game, a moment within a game, when the tide finally turns irreversibly. The supporters have had enough – the chairman forced to act, before they turn on him.
No manager, as in life, can please all of the fans all of the time. There has, and will always be, dissenting voices, no matter the success. Yet the wisdom of the crowd kept such voices muted.
Then, there was Twitter.
Those few, malcontent voices, once stifled, were amplified, their message of doom spreading, infecting.
I have hitherto defended West Bromwich Albion fans as more patient than most. Failing managers rarely hounded out, brattish players quickly forgiven.
But, I was wrong. Twitter has opened my eyes – these naysayers are everywhere, their number far greater than I could ever have imagined. My club has as many of them as any other, as many even as Wolverhampton Wanderers, a club infamous for its vexed and reactionary supporter base.
At the game, in the ground, among my fellow Baggies, I hear very few dissenting voices. But then I log on, and the criticism is deafening. Tony Pulis, far from being the most successful and experienced manager we’ve had in a decade, is in fact, no good at all. He doesn’t pick the right players, his signings are all wrong, we aren’t winning enough games, it’s boring to watch, and the gravest sin of all, he isn’t playing the ‘West Brom way’.
This, by the way, is a manager who arrived at a club in January 2015 following the sacking of three managers in 24 months. A club plummeting, head-first, towards the Championship. A club with a patchwork playing squad built by a committee of directors so inept that not only were they all, like the managers, subsequently sacked, but almost every player they signed also sold (in the Summer of 2014, Albion signed 11 players, by the Summer of 2015, 9 of them had been sold).
This was Tony Pulis’s inheritance. On arriving at The Hawthorns, he described keeping Albion up as his toughest job in football to date. He wasn’t exaggerating.
Despite all of that, Tony Pulis kept West Brom up. He did so, because he is a very good manager. He is a manager that has never been relegated in fact, now managing a club that is well known for being relegated, a lot.
Yet consult the ‘fans’ on Twitter, and all of that is an irrelevance. In fact it’s worse – it’s as if they are being punished for having such a man in charge of their football club, as if they ‘deserve better’ – their club has been hijacked by a heretic. How dare he change the ‘way’ we play – as if a) we ever had a definable ‘way’ in the first place, and b) that ‘way’ was in anyway successful.
West Brom have been a club on the brink of relegation for years. Barring a spell under Roy Hodgson, every manager the club has appointed in the Premier League era has either got the club relegated or been sacked before he had the chance to.
Tony Pulis is our first real hope of ending that cycle. They moan it’s not exciting, they say it’s dull. Dull is knowing your team isn’t good enough to hang on to three-goal leads at home. Dull is watching your team concede a corner knowing a goal will soon follow. Relegation is dull. Staying up until 11:30pm on a Saturday night to catch your teams only goal in a 1-1 draw away at Leyton Orient on the Football League Show – that’s dull.
The most exciting days I’ve had as an Albion fan have been under Gary Megson and Roy Hodgson, two of the most conservative and cautious managers in the game, very much cut from the Pulis cloth. I saw us draw sometimes, sometimes against teams we perhaps should have beaten. I saw us win, often in games we didn’t deserve to. Most enjoyably, I saw us lose a lot less than under any other managers.
I want to see us play in the Premier League, against the world’s best players. If that means drawing at home to Southampton and away to Watford, that’s fine by me. Pulis’s is a tried and tested method, and their is nothing in our recent past that suggests we, or anyone else who wants to manage us, have any better ideas.
If you want to see a team play fast-paced, expansive football and win most weeks, go and support Manchester City or get real. Supporting a club like West Brom is a compromise. You can have Premier League football, but that means knowing your limits. Pulis gets that, and I for one am delighted we have him.
So if you really ‘can’t watch this rubbish every week’, then don’t. But stop moaning about it on Twitter, because your moaning will just ruin it for those of us that go, and will always go.