Adrian Chiles: Think I'm mad? You're not as mad on your team as I am on mine

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The Independent Football

Have you missed club football terribly this summer? Did you see your team's colours on the inside of your eyelids this morning before you woke up? Have you been aching for this day, the first of the Premiership season, to dawn? If so, you're a lightweight. I'll scratch the word next to your name on the teamsheet.

Have you missed club football terribly this summer? Did you see your team's colours on the inside of your eyelids this morning before you woke up? Have you been aching for this day, the first of the Premiership season, to dawn? If so, you're a lightweight. I'll scratch the word next to your name on the teamsheet.

Yes, if you stretch out your arms in welcome at the start of the season, and rejoice in the feeling of the ghastly material of a new replica shirt stretching across your frame, then you must be a lightweight. No serious fan of any club can be ready for the start of the season just yet.

Because if you're truly passionate about your club, if it really does rule your life you will have blessed each precious football-free day of summer for the relief it has allowed you. And you'll mourn the coming of the new season and all the trauma it's sure to bring.

Because, if you're truly passionate, you'll admire a summer breeze whispering through the trees and realise that in the time it takes for all those leaves to fall and grow back again next spring your life won't be quite your own.

On top of all the other worries you have in your life about your spouse, your children, your work, your health or whatever, you'll have to draw upon extra reserves of emotion to deal with whatever your team throws at you this season.

If you read this and think I'm mad, then the fact is you're not as mad on your team as I am on mine.

The summer, however many signings you have or haven't made, gives you a chance to recharge your half-empty glass and make it half-full again. Whatever dismal noises you make to others about your team's chances in the coming season, deep inside you, in a truly miraculous triumph of hope over experience, a little seed of optimism will have started to grow.

You'll have begun to believe that your manager has, over the summer months, acquired the skills of an alchemist to turn the rusty old knackers of last season into precious metals. The striker who couldn't score goals won't be able to miss. The goalkeeper who couldn't keep a clean sheet on his honeymoon won't spill a single thing all season. You will have started to believe.

But this first day of the season is the day the giant football boot of reality comes stomping down on your germinating seed of hope. It will have been better to travel than to arrive.

Having said that, West Brom at least always do me the kindness of disabusing me of my summer hopes as quickly and painlessly as possible. None of that fantastic-start-to-the-campaign stuff for us. We always lose the first game. Usually at Walsall.

Last year, which, unlikely as it seemed at the time, turned out to be a promotion year, we lost 4-1. And for the first game of 2001-2 we were also at the Bescot. That day we were mourning the loss of, of all people, Lee Hughes. He'd just moved to Coventry. Before long we were losing and, to make matters worse, word reached us that he'd scored on his debut at Highfield Road.

At half-time I went to find my friend Kev, an amputee with only one leg. He'd had to sit at the end of the row to stretch his artificial leg out in the aisle. He wasn't there so I assumed he'd gone off to drown his sorrows, but five minutes into the second half he'd not reappeared. "Where's Kev?"

"Oh, his leg fell off," said someone, without taking their eyes off the game.

"Well where is he?" I demanded.

"In the first-aid room", said the bloke, with the air of a man who'd just answered the daftest question he'd ever heard.

For the first and only time at a West Brom game I lost interest in the match. I got past the steward and ran up the touchline to the first-aid room. There sat Kev with a bewildered St John man quite unequal to the task of reuniting my poor friend with his leg. "This is great", announced Kev, "we're losing, my leg's come off, and he," he said, nodding at the first aid man, "hasn't got any talc."

So while the Albion's season got off to its customary dismal start we sat in the first-aid room puzzling over what we could use instead of talcum powder to help ease the artificial limb back on.

Amazingly, flour, sourced from the Bescot kitchens, did the job just fine. Equally amazingly, we got promoted at the end of that season.

My wife once said to me that my clearly unhealthy obsession with the Albion is down to the fact that my life has been too easy and that nothing bad enough's happened to me to put the Albion in perspective. I couldn't disagree with her.

But when I mentioned this to Kev he thought for only a moment before responding, "No, that's crap. I had my leg cut off. Lots of really bad things have happened to me and I'm as obsessed with the Albion as you are."

On this day I'm reminded that I hate this obsession as much as my wife hates me for being so obsessed.

Having said that, by the time you read this I'll be in a pub somewhere in Blackburn (we can't lose to Walsall this year as they're two divisions away from us) thanking God for football, the Albion and the whole ghastly business.

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