Adrian Chiles: Baggies' local difficulty is too close to home for me

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The Independent Online

If i presented a weekly television programme about family politics I wouldn't, I hope, be expected to comment on my own family. So why, on a football programme, should I find myself broadcasting about my own team? It feels just like family, after all.

If i presented a weekly television programme about family politics I wouldn't, I hope, be expected to comment on my own family. So why, on a football programme, should I find myself broadcasting about my own team? It feels just like family, after all.

Match of the Day 2 on Sundays goes out live but most of its elements are pretty well rehearsed, even if it doesn't always look like that. The one exception is the following morning's sports headlines. We don't get the papers until well after 10pm so I don't have chance to prepare myself, which is fine because they don't usually say anything interesting anyway.

Last Sunday, however, was different. We were approaching the end of the show and I was sitting on a sofa heaving with famous football figures of the last quarter of a century: John Bond, Kevin Bond, Gordon Strachan and Alan Curbishley. Incidentally, I must be one of the very few people in the country who has shared a sofa with four people all of whom he once owned as Soccer Star stickers.

In fact, I tell a lie, for in Hagley Middle School in 1978 everyone had the full set of stickers bar John Bond. There was a shortage of John Bonds. One friend of mine opened a packet with a John Bond in it, but in the ensuing punch-up with another friend the sticker got torn and we were all John Bond-less again. I should have taken a picture of him on Sunday night, put some sticky stuff on the back of it, and finally completed the book.

I digress. The producer's voice in my ear intoned: "Newspaper headlines next, Adrian. There's one about referees; one about Keegan being under pressure and another one's just come in from the Daily Mail about there being a punch-up on the West Brom team bus on the way back from Liverpool."

He said it like that. All casual, as if the last story was just another one to wash over me. He might as well have said: "There's one about refs; something in the Mirror about Keegan and one in the Mail about your dad being caught swimming naked with ladies' underwear on his head in the River Severn."

I gathered my thoughts. "Megson Mayhem" was the headline. Oh super. Disgracefully, given that I'm supposed to be completely impartial, I injected as much scepticism in my voice as humanly possible as I summarised the story. I haven't watched the tape back but I doubt if anyone has ever squeezed the word "allegedly" as many times into one sentence.

The story was written as if everyone on the bus was brawling. This conjured up an image of fists flailing; faces being pressed up against the glass; valuables being thrown out of the skylight; the bus weaving all over the road while children in passing cars looked on in alarmed wonder until their parents, staring straight ahead, accelerated away from the "Baggies Bus from Hell".

Well, it wasn't quite like that. Two blokes had a bit of a scuffle; it was all sorted out and now they've shaken hands and it's all forgotten. That's the club's line anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

Not that even I can deny a little local difficulty at West Brom in the past couple of weeks. Reading about the disagreements between the manager and the chairman in the press has been a bit like, I imagine, watching my mum and dad have their marital rows in public. So my thoughts are with Romeo and Brooklyn at this difficult time.

My message to our manager and chairman, though, is quite simple: my mum and dad have been getting on each other's wicks for as long as either of them care to remember and they're still, just about, rubbing along OK. So stick at it if possible.

All week I've been getting into taxis and in the short space of time between telling the driver where I want to go and sitting down, the driver has asked the same question: "What's going on at your place? They've been fighting on the bus, haven't they? Megson's leaving, isn't he? You don't want to lose him."

"It wasn't a brawl!" I scream through the glass, my feet and bottom momentarily becoming airborne. "The manager's a minor genius who's worked a miracle to get us where we are now. If he's honest, like all managers, he'd prefer a chairman who popped in once a week, left a few signed blank cheques lying about, and then purred off again in an ageing Roller."

By this time, the taxi driver has slid his window across and turned the radio up. I am talking to myself.

"The chairman's an excellent businessman who, in the absence of an Abramovich-Gold-Walker-size fortune, has worked so we're spending as much as we prudently can on players to give ourselves half a chance. If he's honest, like all chairmen, he'd prefer a manager who did exactly what he was told; presented himself once a week tugging his forelock in gratitude, and delivered three points more or less every Saturday."

They're both bright enough to know that they'll never find their hearts' desires but at the moment the gap between them is about as wide as it has ever been. And in that gap sit tens of thousands of worried fans; hundreds of hungry journalists; 50-odd players and dozens of staff.

The two of them met on Thursday and while I wouldn't say anything is exactly sorted out, at least the gap between them is no wider than it was on Wednesday. For the small amount it's worth, I think it will sort itself out. Gary Megson's too good a manager not to put a string of results together. And love and peace will flow from that.

The only way any of us - fans, manager and chairman alike - want to see the relationship end is amicably, with Gary going on to manage one of the biggest clubs. Thirty thousand of us would show up to wave him off. The chairman would be there too, probably smiling more broadly than anyone.

For the moment, though, being in a room with them must be a bit like sitting in on a meeting between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Come to think of it, I live in a country managed by two people who don't get on; I support a football club where the same is true and, as I said, my mum and dad had a terrible ding-dong the other day about redecorating the kitchen.

Perhaps it's me.

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