WEST BROMWICH ALBION -v – WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS.
Match preview – Sunday 16th October 2011.
It is of course a matter of fact, that the Premiership campaign is won and lost over the course of 38 games. However for all fans in the black country, there are two games that mean more than any other, to the respective followers of the ‘blue and white stripes’ and the ‘black and gold’. They are of course the ‘derby’ games between Albion and Wolves. Both clubs founder members of the Football League of course, but the rivalry goes back much much farther than the first meeting of Mr McGregor and friends in a the upper floor of a London tavern. Many heroes have come and gone since those halcyion days, but on the ‘eve’ of yet another historic clash between the famous old foes, I was privileged to catch up with a ‘legend’ in every sense of the word. A stunning player who not only wore the famous old stripes with pride, but also the colours of midland neighbours Wolves, Albion’s opponents next Sunday, Aston Villa and Coventry City, in his illustrious career.
Cyrille Regis, scored 112 goals in his 302 match career at the Hawthorns, and well over 200 goals in his amazing 700 plus career appearance total. Some of course in ‘derby games’ against the Wolves, I reminded the former Albion and England leader.
“That’s right. Actually, I’ve got a bad memory but I do remember a few Albion Wolves clashes. I remember beating them 3 – 0 at Molineux back in 1978 when Ally Brown got a couple and Tont Brown finished it off. I remember I chested the ball down to Bomber and the great man finished it off with great aplomb. Mind you that was just one big game amongst many big games when local ‘derbies’ were local ‘derbies’. It was always a war of attrition physically, certainly for the first half an hour or so anyway. Everybody wanted to gain the upper hand in terms of a physical presence, it was always high tempo, and I think part of the appeal of the local ‘derby’ was, in my day, that a lot of the players were at the club for years, Bomber, Ally Brown, Ally Robertson. They all lived in the area and they really understood that the local derby was for the fans, and they certainly didn’t come any bigger than the games against the Wolves.”
Cyrille continued. “Those players realised that ‘Black Country derby games’ were all about the bragging rights for the fans. That on the Monday morning, or whenever it was, they could go back to their offices, in the local foundries, the work place, the factories and say ‘my team beat yours’ and they could hold their heads up high and puff their chests out. It was that important to them, and we of course, as players, understood that.”
“I remember you used to meet the fans in the street, see them in the pub, and they used to come up to you and say ‘ You’ve got to beat them down the road’ or whoever it was you were playing. It was that important to them and you knew it. You knew what it was like for them to go back to workplace or the golf course or wherever, with that chest puffed out. We understood the personal pride of beating your neighbours and local rivals.”
“Now with regards to next Sundays clash make no mistake it’s going to be a great contest, but do you know, I’m really not sure that the modern footballer understands that feeling. Having said that, there are different levels of achievement and expectation. Understandably the biggest level, is that we have to stay in Premiership, that’s the main thing, but there is also another level, that we want to beat our neighbours, because that win will be for the fans. We also understandably want to be top dogs in the neighbourhood. The fans want to go back to the workplace, and enjoy the banter, but not to be ribbed all the time because we lost to the Wolves. I don’t think the modern player truly undestands that concept, especially what it is like to have the ‘bragging’ rights.”
“For me, its what makes football tick. The fans make football tick. They will be discussing the game long after the players of today have forgotten it. You know, ‘what about that game, what about that goal, that move, the referee decisions, was it a penalty’. The fan re-lives the game, all the major talking points long after the modern player, has casts his thoughts and energies into the next match.”
Cyrille remarked with some humour.“You have to remember that the fans want it all don’t they. They want to beat their local neighbours. They want to stay up, and they want to be top dogs. Last season’s ‘derby’ at Molineux would have bitterly disappointed most Albion fans for sure. Because it enabled to Wolves fans to have the bragging rights, and given the history between the two clubs, and the ‘spice’ that generates in their games together, many would not have been happy at the outcome. However, I’m sure most of the fans take it in the right way, and whatever the outcome on Sunday, I’m sure that will be the case again.”
Cyrille continued. “It’s the banter that keeps the game going. The Albion fans can look towards the Wolves supporters and say, ‘OK you had the laugh last season but next seaon its going to be different’. That keeps the momemtum going. That’s what football is all about. The community spirit, a bit of laughter, a bit of banter. That’s what brings you closer together. I honestly believe that.”
Do you also believe as I do, that it was Important for the Wolves to stay up last season. Important for the game in the black country? I asked the former Albion ‘legend’.
“I make you 100 per-cent right. Everybody who plays for a football club or supports a football club, will want the local teams around them to do well. Obviously you want your team to do well, but your club derives a lot from teams around you doing well. We can harp back to the late 70’s and 80’s where every football club in the West and East Midlands was in the top flight. We had a local ‘derby’ every month. Blues, Leicester, Coventry, Derby, Forest, they were all up there with Albion Wolves and Villa. The atmosphere was fantastic in the midlands. It was wonderful. The local ‘derbies’ were the mainstay of the game and brought the whole area together. So it was great for the Wolves, another of my old clubs of course, to stay up there with the Albion. For me, it makes the game of football much richer. That tension of having your local neighbours around, and the banter we spoke about, that makes the game locally much much richer. I think its great, I really do.”
Uniquely, you played for Villa Coventry Wolves as well as Albion Cyrille. What was it like for you as a player reared at Albion, hero worshipped by all ‘Baggies’ fans to go on to play against your old Club later in your career.
“What you have to remember is first and foremost you are a footballer, but before that, you are a professional footballer. Once you cross that line you have to do a job, and be focused on that job, for your team, your team mates, who you play for. No matter what you may feel from the past, in your career, you have to put that behind you, and do your job well, and with excellence. I’m certain that most professional footballers do just that. I fully understand that fans don’t change their clubs, their team is for life, but you have to also understand that for ‘pro’ footballers, it is a job, their job at that moment in time for whoever they are playing for. Make no mistake it’s a great job, but as I said once you cross that line, then everything in the past is forgotten. Having said that you will always remember the good times and of course the bad times you have had at those clubs, its natural, you are only human.”
Cyrille continued. “I for one appreciate the physcology of the Midlands football fan. I understand that the black country fans, have their own factory culture from the foundries, the car works and the factories. They all work hard, and like most fans, as a player who also works hard it is a ‘given’. The fans appreciate that. What they don’t like as a player, is if you don’t work hard. They can’t forgive that. They hand over a ‘hard earned’ £30 or £40 per week to watch their tream and they expect the same work ethic from the players in return. That same effort that they put in, in the foundries and the factories. When they see a player representing their club, not working hard, then they will voice their opinion and rightly so. For me it is your ‘God given’ duty to give it your best at all times. “
Cyrille I want to finish with probably one of the most memorable moments I can recall in all my years of watching and photographing football, and I’m equally sure you will remember it well. Your final appearance at the Hawthorns as player, albeit in the gold and black of Wolves, when Albion beat their close rivals back in 1993.
“Laurie, I remember it very well, how could I ever forget it. I came on as sub against Albion, as you rightly say for the Wolves. That was a real humbling moment in my football career. I have been really privileged to have the hearts of the fans from all my clubs. I don’t know what the reasons were, even now, I really don’t know why. From the day I made my debut for the Albion, the Albion fans, the Coventry fans, the Villa fans and the Wolves fans, I didn’t play well sometimes, but the fans of all my clubs have just taken me to their hearts. To this day I can’t understand why, and I am very, very humbled that they have done so. I will never forget that day when I came on as a sub for Steve Bull, I think I was 35 and the whole Stadium at West Brom stood up and applauded. I can tell you, that was very humbling, I’ll never ever forget it. Let’s hope that there are a few good memories to re-live after next Sundays clash.”
Cyrille Regis/Laurie Rampling – October 2011.