As yet another season is consigned to the history books, and in truth a campaign, that anyone associated with the club will, without doubt, want to forget immediately, given the disappointing but inevitable relegation to the Championship once again, it did to a certain extent have a little bit of a ‘silver lining’ following the departure of Manager Alan Pardew, with the appointment, on a temporary basis until the end of the season, of Darren Moore.
‘Mooro’ took charge of the side for the visit of Swansea, following an embarrassing defeat at home to Burnley, and although the Swansea game was another huge disappointment, throwing away a winning lead once again, a point from the game signalled the end of a near record breaking run of games without a victory. It stopped the rot, if you like, and signalled a mini-revival, with wins at Old Trafford and St James’s Park, Newcastle, with a creditable draw and stirring fight back against Champions League finalists Liverpool, sandwiched in-between, and a Hawthorns season ’finale’ victory over the might of Tottenham Hotspur, leaving just a visit to former manager Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace side on the last day of this forgettable campaign.
There are indeed many questions that need to be asked, and hopefully answered, to make some sense of this shambolic season.
As usual, my last task of any season was to catch up with club ‘legend’ and of course recently re-instated club captain, or should I perhaps say, ‘Leader’ Chris Brunt, for our annual ‘end of season’ summary, which given our subsequent relegation, was perhaps not as relaxing as the many ‘chats’ we have had over previous campaigns.
“We can only start at the beginning I suppose. You didn’t really know what was happening, especially when you look back to the end of last season when we lost a lot of games, I think we went nine games without a win, then to start this season with two wins and a draw and I suppose it was a little bit unexpected but it was good, obviously that gives you a bit of renewed hope and optimism and you try and kick on, but unfortunately it gradually went downhill from there.”
“ Chris, I do not want to get political, because this season review chat is not what that’s about, but given what did happen during the course of the season, from your point of view, it must have been really frustrating.”
“Yeah, I think obviously there is a lot of, as you say, politically charged issues that have come up against certain staff members, and of course I’m not going to mention any names, but there were obviously a lot of ‘agendas’ and a lot of things going on behind the scenes, which weren’t beneficial to moving forward on the pitch, ultimately ending up with two managers, and obviously to where we are now with ‘Mooro’ sort of steadying the ship at the back end of the season, and yes it has been really frustrating, because we have been in the Premier League for quite a long time and have worked hard to stay in it, and over the last couple of seasons, at times it has been pretty tough, not the most attractive football I suppose sometimes, but when you are going out there, knowing that you have a chance of getting a result, it makes it a bit easier, but look, I think at this stage of my career, from a personal point of view as well, I don’t want to be going down, getting relegated into The Championship, it’s more from a personal pride sort of thing. As I said before, we have been in the Premiership for a fairly long time, and have worked very hard to stay here, year on year, and the reality is, this season we have thrown that away.”
“Are you disappointed that you didn’t play a bigger part during the season?”
“Yes, it was! look I want to play every week, obviously the older you get, that can indicate a few things as well, how much you can train and things, but at the end of the day, it’s about getting yourself out in front of the crowd on a match day, when you are training every week knowing that you may not play is frustrating, I think from theend of the first transfer window, to the change of the Manager, I didn’t play really at all, especially after playing the first three games, winning two and drawing one and then being thrown out of the side was frustrating, because you want to play, and I think it goes back to your first question, there were a lot of things going on at the football club, that I wasn’t privy too or wasn’t aware of, maybe that was part of it too, but you know, when you are training Monday to Friday when Tony Pulis was in charge, we did a lot of stuff towards the games, but it was just all geared towards the starting eleven, and if you weren’t in the team, it was difficult to keep yourself fit more than anything, we didn’t really do a lot of training to be honest. So, to be in training Monday to Friday, knowing that you didn’t really have much chance of playing on Saturday, because you were being left out, it is frustrating, because throughout my career, I have never really had a period of tough times like that! Look, sometimes you don’t play well and you get left out, that obviously happens, that’s part of the game, but personally as a whole I’ve done ok this season, but to be honest, it’s not a season, I want to look back on and remember too fondly when I finish my career. I think the most you can do as a player, when you come off the pitch on a Saturday or a Sunday, whenever the game is, is look at yourself and make sure that you have done enough in that game to try and get the result. Now, to be fair, I think a lot of the season, most of the lads can probably do that, because we haven’t been a million miles away from everybody else, just that we have lost a lot of games by the odd goal, which obviously is very frustrating.”
“Unfortunately a lot games thrown away from winning positions.”
“Yeah, that’s the thing as well, If we are not defending and defending well as a team, we have a problem. There were long spells during the season when we needed to score three goals to win a game, because we were conceding too many goals, and to be honest, I think a lot of that comes down to tactical stuff, rather than the will or desire to keep the ball out of our own net. When you are playing as a team, it is important to remember that we have always played, certainly over the last few years, with players who know that if somebody makes a mistake there is always going to be somebody there to cover you. I think this season we maybe got away from that, which ended with teams counter attacking you, where we should have been seeing the game out, but conceding goals instead. To be fair as well, I know this is easy to say, but we haven’t had a lot of luck, some of the goals that people have scored against us, they have hit one chance and it has gone in and they have scored from it, from an impossible angle or something, silly things like that at the moment, but again that’s part of football.”
Chris continued, “ I think in a lot of the games, bar the last five or six when ‘Mooro’ has taken over, I think we have got a bit of confidence and belief back that we can get a result and go on and get a result in each game. There was a spell between December and March, you were almost thinking these are going to go up the other end and score, You’re thinking one chance and they are going to score a goal, or maybe one mistake, or too many bodies forward and we will get hit on the counter attack, something like that anyway, you could just feel it happening, but at the back end of the season it’s been a lot better, I suppose it’s momentum as well, momentum plays a big part in the Premier League.”
“A well-publicised dressing room dis-agreement with the manager after the Huddersfield game! Were you happy about the way it was reported?”
“I think what very much came out happened. It’s what I spoke about earlier, it comes down to personal pride to be honest. Nobody likes to lose games, and as a squad of players and a team, and you can include all the staff in that as well, we needed to go into a game, knowing how we were going to win it, what we were going to have to do to beat the team that is playing against us.”
Chris reflected, “We couldn’t just turn up because we were playing at home expecting to win. I mean, Huddersfield took six points of us this season! From my perspective, and I would say the majority of the dressing room that day, I don’t think I said anything out of order. Obviously there was a bit of anger, which was provoked by the result, Yeah, it probably came across a bit more aggressively than it might have done just talking about it. You know, if things are not going your way, and are not working and they are not being addressed, you can’t just let things slide, because you just end up drifting and drifting and drifting. Even after that game, we did change a few things, we didn’t get any results, but things started to look a little bit better, in my opinion anyway. I accept it’s a difficult job, I’m not a manager, in the future maybe, it may be something I want to do, I don’t know. I just want the football club to do well, I have spent the majority of my working life at West Bromwich Albion and for us to be struggling the way we were and the attendances to be dropping at the games, you can see that when you are warming up, a lot of empty seats around the ground, we need the atmosphere, we need the fans to get behind us and we need get people in a positive mood and to be fair in the last four or five weeks we have done that and you have seen with the result in the Spurs game, how good a place it can be to play football, and we need to get back to that, because this season hasn’t been good enough. Ultimately it’s down to the results on the pitch.”
You have mentioned the Spurs game, a very special atmosphere, would you agree?”
Chris reflected, “Yeah, it was great. Look it’s been tough obviously because the home form has been poor this year, that’s just the way it is, we just haven’t been good enough, but the same thing I spoke about earlier, ‘Momentum’, it’s been coming, I felt it during the game. I mean it was a hot day, it was hard game, it was difficult conditions, and the fans just kept us going, to be fair the atmosphere at the end, it almost sucked the ball into the net! Attacking the Birmingham Road end you can hear everybody getting behind you. Spurs are a good, good side, and you know they are going to have a lot of the ball, but you could just feel the atmosphere and it gives you that bit of confidence because you know that “I can keep grinding this out” and “I can push the team, and we can get a goal”. I know the goal came at the end of the game, but it was the similar to the Liverpool game, I always felt that we could get back into the game, you just felt that when you were playing, and that was no different.”
“Your face was and celebration summed up how you felt about that goal.”
Chris reflected, “It’s because it has given you a little bit of hope and belief and that’s what probably kept us going at the end of the day. We knew we had to win the game, and all we could do was win and then hope that everything else went our way, and then the two results go your way, and obviously when the final whistle went I didn’t know what the final results were, someone came up and said that Swansea had lost and then waiting for the Everton result. It was just a surreal moment really, probably because we have had such bad results and bad performances this season. It’s also probably that little bit of relief that you are finishing the season on a bit of a high, especially at home, because if we are going to do well in the Championship next year, we have to make sure we win our home games. To get that bit of momentum at the back end of the season and hopefully we can take that into the new season.”
“Darren Moore has been really good to be fair. Before he took over, obviously he was just another coach and he just did bits and pieces, more of a side coach, not really the main man and I think when he stepped in, he probably wasn’t too sure what he was going to be like himself. Obviously it’s something he has never had to do, but in my opinion he has come in and gone above and beyond everything that anybody could have expected. I mean, his attention to detail is amazing and the way he has conducted himself on the training field has been great. He is a breath of fresh air to be totally honest because it would have been easy to let the season just to fizzle out, not win any games, get ugly in the training, people getting angry with each other, getting angry on a match day, but the way he has conducted himself and the way he has got us playing out on the pitch has turned the atmosphere definitely. Look, at the end of the day this season we have failed, because obviously we are getting relegated but he has restored so much pride in the place, it’s frightening. He has got everyone back on board. I could have been going back this summer thinking to myself “I don’t want to be going back to that place because we haven’t done very well this year.” But he has given us all a bit of hope that things can get better. That’s credit to him, and credit to Jimmy (Shan) and Neil Cutler, because they have taken on a lot as well. Obviously Jimmy’s main job is with the under 23’s, but to take on the first team in the way he has, has been just great.”
“Jimmy Shan has done well with all the youngsters coming up through the various ages, but as you say a big step up to the first team”.
Yeah, Jimmy’s great, and the under23’s have also had a difficult season, for him to be thrown in as well. He is a good coach. Obviously when I was coming back from my injury, I trained with him a few times, just getting my fitness back when the lads were away on pre-season. His sessions were always great. When you are the 23’s coach or the 18’s coach, the emphasis is on development, trying to get a couple into the first team squad, so to step up to the first team where the emphasis is on getting a result, it’s probably a bit different for him, but he has taken to it really well, it hasn’t been a problem to him at all, he has been great with the lads and I think everybody has got a lot of respect for him, and Cuts (Neil Cutler) as well, because it’s not easy coming in halfway through the season as a new coach.”
“And another ex-Albion man Chris. Neil was a junior keeper at the club back in the early to middle nineties, and an England youth International, whilst he was with the Baggies.”
“I didn’t know that to be fair. I knew he was local, and I speak to Boaz (Myhill) a lot, and he says how good a coach Neil is, he says he is one of the best he has worked with. For someone who is quite young as a coach, that says something coming from the likes of Boaz and Ben Foster. They get on with him well, which is important, because you have got to get on with people. Look there are times when you are going to have disagreements and stuff in any job, but when you look at ‘Mooro’, he is such a likeable guy and when you go out there on the pitch you want to do well for him, that’s just part and parcel of who he is and Jimmy and ‘Cuts’ are no different. You just have to look at Mooro’s record and the teams he has played against. He has just given everybody that little bit of belief, positivity, and just a bit of confidence. I mean, he has restored a lot of confidence in lads that have struggled over the last few months. I think Matty Phillips is a prime example, who has struggled over the last few months, but he is back to being the player he was last season. Look you could stand here all day and pick bones on what’s gone on through the season, but I think we are coming out of the back end of it, and Mooro has done himself a world of good and if that’s the career he wants to have in management, then he has started off really well.
Look Chris, last question, on a personal note, I know you have retired from International football, but what are your personal ‘goals’ in the game from now?”
Chris confirmed, “I have triggered another year with West Brom, I am going on holiday with the family, I’m looking forward to that, getting away with the kids, because the last couple of years as well, with Internationals and stuff, I haven’t had as much of a break as I could have done, or maybe would have wanted, I’m looking forward to that. I think I’ve got five and a half to six weeks off, which is nice, and then just get back to it at the start of July. Hopefully once we get over the disappointment of not playing in the Premier League, we have got a big challenge on for the next season to make sure we hit the ground running and make it a good season, because let’s be honest, it could be a good season, it could be a successful season if the club get it right. Bring the right lads in, obviously the Manager is a big thing at the minute, but look, I hope we have a successful season, because the couple of times I have been in the Championship with the club, when I look back on my career, they were two of the most enjoyable seasons that I have had. Dropping out of the Premiership, the financial benefits from being there affects everybody at the football club, affects the players, but that’s part and parcel of the game, its part and parcel of any job I suppose. If you drop down a level in any job it affects people, but that’s life isn’t it. I’m sure there will be some lads that move on, some lads that will stay, hopefully from my point of view a lot will stay. Looking back, I think if you take away the first few months of the season, well, the majority of the season really, then look at the last six weeks, that’s probably a true reflection on how well we could have done this year. So hopefully we can keep the majority of the lads together and add to it, have a real good go at it and come back up again, because having a third promotion in my time at West Brom would be great. Unless someone comes in with some drastic ideas and decides that they want something completely different, which I suppose is always a possibility too, you never know what the Chinese owners are thinking, they might think something different, but until somebody tells me different that’s my plans for next year.”
“Is there any feedback on what players are staying or leaving.”
Chris reflected, “I don’t think anyone knows yet to be fair. Every time a club goes down from the Premier League, there are going to be payers that want to stay in that league and not go down, they want to play in the Premier League that badly, they will probably move on. It’s probably no different to any other transfer window really, the only difference is you are preparing for a completely different league, one that we haven’t been in for long time, so it’s important that we get it all ‘done and dusted’ quickly, hopefully it will not be dragged out all over the summer, so that we can come in for pre-season and do that preparation with the majority of the squad that we are going to have going forward. Like I say, it could be a good season, but you just never know, it’s a tough tough league, so you need to make sure you bring in the right people that want to be on board, be at the football club to try and achieve that, because if you don’t have that, then it could be a very long season again.”
Chris continued, “Once you get over the disappointment of relegation, and the fact you won’t be going to places like Old Trafford or Goodison Park, there are places that are great to go to. Obviously I look forward to going back to Hillsborough, I think there are still some people there from when I played there, staff members and stuff. I got a decent reception, last time we were there, so it will be nice to go back because I haven’t played there for a long time, but we need to go there and show them that we are a good team, which I think we have done for the last six weeks, and hopefully we can continue that, because the momentum we had at the end of last season sort of fizzled out around March time and we lost a lot of games, then we won a couple, then started losing again. So hopefully we can erase the bad memories from last season, and take the good ones from this one into next season, because as I have already said, momentum is a big thing in football, so hopefully we can keep that going and take it into the opening game next year.”
Chris Brunt – Laurie Rampling – May 2018.