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TWAcademy.Org Tour To West Bromwich Albion

It was a chance phone call at the start of the season that set up this weekend to West Bromwich Albion on the last weekend of the Premiership.  Rewind to August & we had organised our Academy tour to London to see our friend Hugo Langton & his academy along with playing a game against Fulham.  Through Chelsea being awkward & West Brom being so accommodating we finished the season with the Baggies!

TW Academy outside the Academy Dome

We had tried to organise tickets for the Chelsea v West Brom Premier League game at Stamford Bridge.  Although Chelsea would not offer any tickets for less than £75 per person!  No child discount, no group discount & stuck up in the second tier of the Matthew Harding stand.  They suggested contacting West Brom.  I remember to this day phoning West Brom & selecting the foundation at 5.20pm to get the most helpful & accommodating woman called Jan.  It was Jan that offered us a fantastic match day experience at the Hawthorns along with great assistance & hard work by Rich.

West Bromwich Albion

The club is also known as West Brom, The Baggies, The Throstles, Albion or WBA.  They are an English professional football club based in West Bromwich in the West Midlands.  The club was formed in 1878 & have played at their home ground since 1900.

Albion were one of the founding members of The Football League in 1888 & have spent the majority of their existence in the top tier of English football.  They have been champions of England once, in 1919–20, but have had more success in the FA Cup, with five wins.  The first came in 1888, the year the league was founded, & the most recent in 1968, their last major trophy.  They also won the Football League Cup at the first attempt in 1966.  The club’s longest consecutive period in the top division was between 1949 to 1973, & from 1986 to 2002 they spent their longest ever period out of the top division.  The 2011–12 season is their sixth season in the Premier League since 2002.

The team has played in blue & white stripes for most of the club’s history.  Albion have a number of long-standing rivalries with other Midlands clubs; their traditional rivals have always been Aston Villa, but more recently their major rivalry has been with Wolverhampton Wanderers, with whom they contest the Black Country derby.

The Hawthorns

The speed with which the club became established following its foundation is illustrated by the fact that it outgrew four successive grounds in its first seven years.  The first was Cooper’s Hill, where they played from 1878 to 1879.  From 1879 to 1881 they appear to have alternated between Cooper’s Hill & Dartmouth Park.  During the 1881–82 season they played at Bunn’s Field, also known as The Birches.  This had a capacity of between 1,500 & 2,000, & was Albion’s first enclosed ground, allowing the club to charge an entrance fee for the first time.  From 1882 to 1885, as the popularity of football increased, Albion rented the Four Acres ground from the well-established West Bromwich Dartmouth Cricket Club.  But they quickly outgrew this new home & soon needed to move again.  From 1885 to 1900 Albion played at Stoney Lane; their tenure of this ground was arguably the most successful period in the club’s history, as they won the FA Cup twice & were runners-up three times.

The boys behind the goal on the Stadium Tour at the Hawthorns

By 1900, when the lease on Stoney Lane expired, the club needed a bigger ground yet again & so made its last move to date.  All of Albion’s previous grounds had been close to the centre of West Bromwich, but on this occasion they took up a site on the town’s border with Handsworth.  The new ground was named The Hawthorns, after the hawthorn bushes that covered the area & were cleared to make way for it.  Albion drew 1–1 with Derby County in the first match at the stadium, on 3 September 1900.  The record attendance at The Hawthorns was on 6 March 1937, when 64,815 spectators saw Albion beat Arsenal 3–1 in the FA Cup quarter-final.  The Hawthorns became an all-seater stadium in the 1990s, in order to comply with the recommendations of the Taylor Report.  Its capacity today is 26,272, the four stands being known respectively as the Birmingham Road End, Smethwick End, East Stand and West Stand.  At an altitude of 551 feet (168 m) above sea level, The Hawthorns is the highest of all the 92 Premier League & Football League grounds.

Club Badge

Albion’s main club badge dates back to the late 1880s, when the club’s secretary Tom Smith suggested that a throstle sitting on a crossbar be adopted for the badge.  Since then, the club badge has always featured a throstle, usually on a blue and white striped shield, although the crossbar was replaced with a hawthorn branch at some point after the club’s move to The Hawthorns.  The throstle was chosen because the public house in which the team used to change kept a pet thrush in a cage.  It also gave rise to Albion’s early nickname, The Throstles.  As late as the 1930s, a caged throstle was placed beside the touchline during matches & it was said that it only used to sing if Albion were winning.  In 1979 an effigy of a throstle was erected above the half-time scoreboard of the Woodman corner at The Hawthorns, & was returned to the same area of the ground following redevelopment in the early 2000s.

The badge has been subject to various revisions through the years, meaning that the club were unable to register it as a trademark.  As a result of this, the badge was re-designed in 2006, incorporating the name of the club for the first time.  The new badge gave Albion the legal protection they sought.

The teams line up before kick off

Saturday night friendly in the Academy Dome

The success of the Academy teams reaching finals meant our scheduled game against West Brom had to be cancelled.  Although through the special effort of Rich he managed to organise a game against his own team that finished the season as league runners up & cup winners.  Another bonus was he secured the Academy Dome to play the game in!

What an experience for our boys to play in a Premier League Academy facility.  It was also great to have the Academy Dome, Foundation & The Hawthorn Stadium all in the one location.  This was something I liked at Stoke City & previous visits to the likes of European giants, Barcelona & Ajax.  I think it adds as an extra motivation to really make it as a kid developing through the ranks when you see the stadium every day from where you train.

We played 3 periods of 25 minutes.  The first period was very close with both teams playing some attractive football.  A well taken goal from young Ryan McCrory put TW Academy 1-0 up.  His finish was a quality lob over the keeper.  The second period seen another 2 well taken goals from TW Academy through Reese & Curtis Ritchie making it 3-0.

It was also encouraging seeing Rich, like ourselves, insuring that all players were involved & received similar playing times.  The changes that were made seen TW slightly stronger in the third period with John-Lee grabbing a hat trick, Connor Maxwell getting on the score sheet along with Ryan McCrory adding to his tally.

It was a game played in terrific spirits & I was very impressed with the organisation.  Not only did Rich organise the Academy Dome & referee but supplied us with equipment to warm up along with plenty of water & cups for the players.  Although to have a physio present was crucial after Andy McIvor had a bad fall & needed extensive treatment.  It was reassuring that he could be checked over by her.  Again these are all things that people take for granted, but believe me, I know how much planning & organising that has to go in to bring it all together & I can’t thank Rich enough!

Here is some highlights from the game – watch the video!

Match Day Experience

The teams meet before kick off; West Brom v Arsenal

What terrific value West Brom offered us.  For only £25 we received a match ticket to see West Brom play Arsenal, a stadium tour, fun training session & small sided games in the Academy Dome along with a packed lunch!

After a cooked breakfast in our hotel we enjoyed the short stroll over to the Hawthorns to meet Rich.  He welcomed us & placed all our bags securely away in an office so we didn’t have to worry about carrying them all day.  We started the morning with a tour around the Hawthorns.  The highlight was to get pitch side & sit on the bench!  Rich was very informative but insured he kept interesting for parents & children.  After the tour we had an opportunity to see around the club shop & purchase some West Brom goodies!

We then transferred back over to the Academy Dome.  Rich took the boys for a fun warm up & kept it very light after the game from the previous night.  He then soon divided the boys & operated small sided games.  We then seen first hand to what level the club works in the community.  The Dome was packed with other clubs & teams doing the same package.  Not forgetting that they had to be split, so while we were all playing football there was another group doing the stadium tour…there must have been several hundred children on the match day experience!  We were even treated to a display of talent from Connor’s dad – watch the video!

After the session we all received a packed lunch.  This included a sandwich, drink, piece of fruit, chocolate bar & crisps.  We were able to eat this before taking our seats for the game.  What great seats we received as well!  We were in the third row & touching distance of the players.  It really was a special atmosphere as it was the final day of the season & many West Brom supporters came in fancy dress (Batman& Robin insured we got across the road safely & into the stadium!)

West Brom wanted to finish on a victory as Roy Hodgson was leaving for his new role as England Manager, while Arsenal needed the victory to guarantee Champions League football next season.

It was a terrific start to the game.  After an early mistake by the West Brom keeper Arsenal went 1-0 up.  Then the Baggies fought back to go 2-1 up!  The atmosphere was electric!  Arsenal equalised before half time making the score 2-2.  It really was an unbelievable half of football & such a treat to see these Premiership stars live & be so close to the action.

TW Academy Director, Tim Wareing, with Darren Moore

The second half started well & Arsenal went 3-2 up.  After a lengthy stoppage West Brom offered everything going forward & forced what seemed to be 5 or 6 corners in a row but couldn’t find that equaliser.  We had to sneak away just before the final whistle so that Rich could grab our bags for us & we transferred back to the airport for our return flight to Belfast.

We captured highlights from a special day at the Hawthorns – watch the video!

On returning to the Academy Dome to collect our bags we bumped into Baggies hero, Darren Moore, who signed autographs & was happy to have his photo taken with us all.

Clubs don’t receive enough credit for opportunities like these.  People sometimes take things for granted but to receive what we did for such a low price is special.  To head to an Irish League game can cost in the region of £10-£12 per adult & £5-£7 per child.  To think what West Brom offered us for only £25 really does show you the lengths they work too.

Thanks

Our thanks goes to West Bromwich Albion FC for such a fantastic experience & for their hospitality – especially to Jan & Rich.  Also to all the parents & children that supported the tour.  A lot of organising goes into these great opportunities & pro club visits & shouldn’t be taken for granted.  The Academy was launched in 2010 & boys have had the opportunity to travel to Holland to play PSV Eindhoven & Helmond Sport including playing in an all seater stadium along with visits to PSV & Ajax’s stadiums.  We then travelled to London & played against Fulham before having a bumper April & May.  This offered opportunities to players from the academy to travel to Premier League side, Stoke City, for training & a game before a visit to Carrington & Manchester United.  Of course we can’t forget about the terrific game & clinic against SC Braga in Belfast!

For those that want more information about the Academy & to request a trial please contact Tim Wareing on; 07740120788 or email.  Remember this does not effect the club you play for.  We offer additional training to develop your child’s technique & game understanding helping to offer the all important 10,000 hour theory – 1 or 2 sessions per week is not enough.

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