Free coach travel a hit at West Brom

Thursday 2nd May 2013 9:24

West Brom: Celebrate at Southampton

West Brom: Celebrate at Southampton

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West Brom FanZoner Joe Chapman takes his hat off to the Baggies after they put on free coach travel to an away game for the 11th season.

West Brom finally returned to winning ways on the south coast on Saturday, convincingly defeating Southampton 3-0 at St. Mary's.

For the 11th consecutive season, the club allocated 40 coaches worth of free travel to their fans as a show of gratitude for their constant support.

It's no coincidence that Albion have been successful on the road in the last 11 years when they've been backed by their bumper following. The Baggies are unbeaten in 10 of the 12 matches played out in front of their swelled army of supporters, including trips to Wigan, Reading, West Ham and Middlesbrough. That, by the way, is without the mention of the famous victory at Charlton in Albion's 'Great Escape' season, remembered happily as the 'Robert Earnshaw show'.

Another game in recent years that will revive fond memories was the trip to Sunderland in 2011. Under Roy Hodgson, the Baggies were 2-1 down at half time, before producing one of their most impressive 45 minutes of the season in the second period to reverse the scoreline. The four-hour journey for the 3,000 Albion fans that day was made all the sweeter for it.

Fans fondly relived that day when asked about their own personal experience of travelling with Albion to the Stadium of Light free of charge.

One said: "Sunderland was my first [away match], so a personal memory was watching Wolves get stuffed at Molineux by Everton in the early kick off and we all loved it!

"The atmosphere was class. It's where the [Peter] Odemwingie chant really began, we got behind the team and we ended up winning."

Based on the success that Albion have achieved since the introduction of the repayment to fans, many will wonder why other clubs don't follow the Baggies' lead. This view was put forward to the fans, and they agreed fellow clubs should take note.

"I think a lot more clubs should get involved with the scheme especially when average attendances are so low. Fans just can't afford to follow their team all over the country like they used to with prices these days.

"It would build a positive relationship between clubs and their fans if they used the scheme to show they appreciated this."

There was, however, a debate as to whether a date change would make a difference, moving the April/May trip to the winter months. One said: "It would be a great idea as it's also a time when money is particularly tight with Christmas.

"Plus we need all the help we can get around that time, if you look at our form we always have a blip."

However, another said: "I think the free travel is fine towards the end of the season because it is a way to say thank you to the fans.

"It's important that it only happens once a season. Jeremy Peace wouldn't do it more than once and we don't want to jeopardise the record that we have."

Mark Jenkins, the man to instigate the annual gesture, talked about how it was simply a reward for fans that made the effort to attend matches nationwide in the name of West Bromwich Albion.

Upon the announcement of the continuity of the reward for fans in March, Albion's chief executive commented: "We've enjoyed some memorable victories on the road this season and our away support has played a huge part in spurring the team on.

"As a thank-you to the fans, who make a sterling effort to follow the team all over the country, we are laying on free coach travel for an away game for the 11th successive campaign.

"The stats show that the free-coach travel offer has proved something of a good omen and hopefully the supporters will head back home with another positive result to smile about."

And they certainly did. Coinciding with the demise of neighbours Wolverhampton Wanderers, the away section of the impressive, modern St. Mary's was in full voice at the weekend, something that clearly translated to the players.

After a poor run of form in recent weeks, Albion's chances when facing up to the ever improving Saints, unbeaten in six, didn't look particularly promising prior to kick off. Steve Clarke and his players, however, obviously had other ideas. Besides the three goals, both teams, making it a rather dramatic afternoon, shared three red cards.

Following the final whistle, appreciation was exchanged between manager, players and fans, bringing to an end an enjoyable and successful trip.

The atmosphere generated in the away end on Saturday was deafening at times and, with their team shooting towards them in the second period, the positive effect on the players was evident.

Much is made of football clubs nowadays, especially those in the higher reaches of the Football League, mistreating their fans, charging over-the-top prices to watch a sport that is supposedly renowned for being working-class entertainment.

The fact that West Brom have continuously repaid their fans' faith is testimony to the invaluable support offered by the Albion faithful, something that should not be taken lightly when you consider the turbulent decade the Baggies have experienced.

The scheme to date is an undoubtable success. Long may it continue.

By Joe Chapman. Follow him on Twitter at @jcwba16 - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too!

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