Adrian Chiles: My fear: post-traumatic Baggies disorder

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The Independent Football

I wrote my valedictory piece about West Brom's season last weekend. I did so because I assumed or hoped or dreaded that last Saturday's results would finish us off. But no, we lived on, poorly but stable, to worry through another long week.

I wrote my valedictory piece about West Brom's season last weekend. I did so because I assumed or hoped or dreaded that last Saturday's results would finish us off. But no, we lived on, poorly but stable, to worry through another long week.

A Palace fan I work with moaned to me that there was just too long to suffer between last Saturday's games and tomorrow's. He was right, and it got me thinking what a great idea it would be to play all the season's 38 fixtures on consecutive days. That way, if the Premiership started on Saturday 6 August the whole ghastly business would be done and dusted by Monday 12 September.

Obviously, the players would be completely cream-crackered but think of the advantages: they'd have a full nine months to prepare for the World Cup and, more importantly, all the fans' trauma would be telescoped into one horrendous 38-day orgy of football. All issues would be resolved before the leaves on the trees were turning brown.

As it is the trees are as green today as they were the day the season began, for us, at Blackburn Rovers. That day sticks in my mind because we didn't lose; Kanu was sublime and there was a bloke standing next to me, stripped to the waist, covered in tattoos, who spent the whole game trying in vain to get us to join in with a chant he'd obviously just invented. It went like this: "Car. Noo." But the way he delivered it was spectacular. For the first syllable he craned his neck back and then eased it slowly forward as he let out a long, long "caaaaaaaaaaaaaar...." The longer it lasted the louder and higher in pitch it got. He was a fit-looking bloke so I suspect he could have sustained this "caaaaaaaaaaaaaar" for as long as Bill Withers sustains "day" in "Lovely Day". However, he didn't have that much breath to spare as all the time he was letting forth this "caaaaaaaaaaaaar" noise he was using both arms to encourage the rest of us to join in. He did this by flapping them vigorously like a bird trying to take off, only in reverse.

Upon reaching the end of the "caaaaaaaaaaaaaaar" he craned his neck back to the original starting position and then, with a magnificent, thrusting movement using all his upper body and both arms, he let forth a deep and passionate "nooooooooooooo". His lips described a perfect "O".

It was the same "O" shape formed on the lips of every Albion fan in the world when they saw Kanu's geometrically impossible miss against Middlesbrough a few months later. And it's the same "O" we, and fans of Palace, Saints and Norwich will utter at about 10 to five tomorrow: "oh yes" or "oh no".

A bizarre feature of this season for me has been that I've watched much of it unfold at work, alongside various football legends, most notably Gordon Strachan. At first he was frankly unsympathetic. As I sat grumbling next to him in the production office watching us lose one of our early Sunday fixtures he suddenly shouted: "Will somebody get this bloke away from me? It's like sitting next to the Grim Reaper. He's sucking all the life out of me."

Since then he's gradually become more emotionally involved. He was sitting next to me at The Hawthorns the night we went behind to a 10-man Palace. We equalised in the 89th minute; went ahead in the second minute of injury time and then contrived to concede an equaliser with the last kick of the game. I knew things were serious when Strachan, who has experienced footballing highs and lows most of us can only imagine in our dreams and nightmares, looked up at me and said: "Adrian, I just don't know what to say to you."

One Saturday I was in Television Centre watching our away game at Norwich on the feed. Having led twice, on the stroke of half-time Russell Hoult completely fluffed a straightforward header: 2-2. I shambled around during the interval and bumped into Peter Schmeichel. He looked at me full of pity and shrugged apologetically. "Sorry," he said simply, as if, as a former goalkeeper, he was somehow partly to blame.

But that it should come to this. It's not as if we don't know what misery awaits us. Last Sunday's drama at the bottom of the Championship was like a gruesomely realistic dry run. A good friend of mine is a Gillingham fan. I imagine that my feelings as I watched him suffer approximated those of French aristocrats watching some distant cousins get the guillotine. Their time would come. Yikes.

In another sense, though, we at West Brom have no experience to fall back on. No one can remember the last time we went into a crucial game like this without the situation in our own hands. A win was always enough for us. Not that we always got it: in 1991 a win against Bristol Rovers at Twerton Park was all we needed to save us from the drop into the old Third Division. We drew, which meant we were down unless things went wrong for Leicester.

Nobody who was there will forget the short, tragic celebrations that erupted when word went round that the ball was in Leicester City's net. Unfortunately, the "goal" which would have sent them down instead of us, was disallowed. I am still, 14 years on, extremely disappointed to the core of my being that that goal didn't stand. I am not over it. By that reckoning, if it goes pear-shaped in any similar way tomorrow, I will still be smarting from it in May 2019 when I will be 52 years old.

It was just before kick-off that day that one of my broadcasting heroes, Malcolm Boyden on BBC Radio WM, delivered one of my favourite-ever lines of radio commentary: "I'm next to the Albion directors in the main stand here," he shrieked, "we're sitting on hard wooden benches. Let me tell you: we'll all be sitting on a lot more come five o'clock."

Just to mix things up a bit, Shakespeare also comes to mind. King Lear: "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; They kill us for their sport."

adrian.chiles@btopenworld.com

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