A treasured Hawthorns friend

He sat behind me in the Halfords I’d say for many years,
Sharing Baggies’ ups and downs, the good times and the tears,
A nod at ten-to-three as he sidled to his seat,
“By how many goals today do you think this lot will get beat?”

His favourite players were out of reach by a generation or more,
And over the years their names have passed into Albion folklore,
“Allen, Barlow, Griffin – they took on and beat the best,
Until a team wins trophies – they haven’t passed the test”

And his eyes would assume a wistful look, a smile not far away,
He’d be at Wembley ‘54; he’d never forget that day,
“Oh Astle was good and Tony Brown too” he’d agree as I stated my case,
For a later team of winners the club found hard to replace,

We’d both look over to the Brummie End, the scene of Astle’s glory,
Then after a while he’d lean over again to relate another story,
“Of course my father brought me here, way back in 31,
That year we won the FA Cup and then got promotion,

My father said that WG was the greatest he had seen,
But Allen, Barlow, Nicholls, Griffin; that will always be my team”
His eyes would almost dare me to challenge his intimation,
He knew that I’d take up the cause for a later generation,

“Come on” I’d say “the team of 78 and 79,
Their attacking flair and passing game were utterly sublime,
Cyrille, Laurie, Bomber Brown, Statham and John Wile,
A team to beat the greatest with grit and flair and style”

And younger eyes observing a seat or two away,
Would rave of Di Matteo’s team, the players of today,
At three o’clock we’d settle down for our roller coaster ride,
Condemn the opposition while shouting up our side,

Exasperation, anger, joy they were there in equal measure,
Annoyance, fury, rage and passion and sometimes even pleasure,
At poor displays the old chap would shake his head and yell,
And under Bobby Gould, shout obscenities as well,

We saw some memorable games together, my old friend and me,
Promotions and the Great Escape, play-offs at Wemberley,
We saw off really useless players and managers come to that,
It always looked so simple from where we were sat,

But inevitably the match came when his seat remained untaken,
I remember hoping desperately my fear was just mistaken,
I miss his rants, his joy and his views on team selection,
His optimism, pessimism, his expecting of perfection,

No minute’s silence for the fans who support through thick and thin,
Just an upward smile from us down here with every Baggies win,
I recall the smile he gave me at the end of his last game,
His forthright views then followed – as ever, just the same,

And as he waved his goodbye, his final words to me?
“This Albion team - it’s going places, just you wait and see”.

©Paul Hayward