NOTHING like the old velvet bag at the FA to get the fans’ euphoria well and truly going again at the Albion.
After the dark days of Sami Hyypia and David Burke, with relegation almost a formality, rather than a possibility, new manager Chris Hughton has hit the ground running – starting off his Albion managerial career with a very creditable FA Cup victory at Brentford.
The subsequent fourth round draw threw up an intriguing visit to the Amex of cup holders Arsenal and has clearly helped almost transform the mood of the supporters overnight.
Before Hyypia and Burke departed, many supporters I had spoken to were seriously considering not re-newing their season tickets next summer, regardless of what league the Albion would have been in.
But get a creditable manager in, the kind of candidate who should have got the job in the summer, and the whole thing turns on its head.
As Albion fans, we all get carried away to a degree. I was out at a do on Saturday night and a long-time supporter, who I have a lot of time for and knows his stuff, was talking about Hughton getting us into a play-off finish, despite currently being 17 points adrift.
Even for the eternal optimist like myself, I think that’s probably pushing it. Had Hyypia gone before firework night and Hughton come in then, it might have been a possibility but that’s a huge gap to fill.
For what it’s worth, I think we will finish just inside the top ten, probably seven or eight points away from the play-offs, which in itself will be all the more frustrating, given the farce we had to endure under the hapless Hyypia.
But, regardless of missing out on the top six, the most important thing will be the feel-good factor.
Hughton will have the fans loving the club again, to the point that when the renewal letters hit the doormats, it won’t prompt some big ‘shall I or shan’t I?’ debate.
With a great end to the season and a full pre-season preparation, plus being his own man in the respective transfer windows, Hughton will have everyone singing from the same hymn sheet.
But, more importantly, everyone will actually be looking forward to next season with genuine and not misplaced expectation.
n The term ‘Albion legend’ is frequently bandied around but, in the case of Sarah Watts, who sadly lost her brave fight earlier this week, it is a truly fitting title.
A stalwart of the supporters’ club for more than 30 years, in desperate times, like many others, Sarah fought hard so the club remained in existence. Her fight continued with the quest and subsequent campaign for the new stadium.
I had been fortunate enough to have been in contact with her over the last few weeks and I was humbled at the dignity she showed in her illness.
She was neither angry nor bitter and had found great comfort with her faith at this very dark time.
Goodnight and God bless, Sarah, you will never be forgotten and, on the day the Albion finally make it to the Premier League, your contribution will certainly be remembered.