Date: 12th March 2010 at 4:22pm
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The Hawthorns – West Bromwich Albion

WBA produced arguably the best half display against the Pool in their recent visit to Bloomers and despite a second half revival (and a dodgy pen) they returned with the spoils. Holloway’s boys will be looking for revenge against a team looking for their bi-annual Premiership promotion and The Hawthorns is a great stage for what should be a cracking match.

How to get there:
M55 East, M6 South. Keep left at J11a avoiding the toll rd and leave the 6 at J8. Join the M5. Leave the M5 at junction 1, then at the roundabout take the 1st exit onto the A41 signposted Birmingham City Centre. You can see the ground after the roundabout as it’s less than a half mile away.

For the sat navvers – B71 4LF

For the Virgin lovers amongst us – The closest railway stations are The Hawthorns which is about five minutes walk from the ground and Smethwick Rolfe Street, which is about a 15 minute walk from the ground. The Hawthorns is served by a Metro service from Birmingham Snow Hill station, whilst Smethwick Rolfe Street is served by local trains from Birmingham New Street. The Metro service takes eight minutes to the Hawthorns from Birmingham Snow Hill and trains run every 15 minutes.

The Ground
Formed in 1878 by the workers of George Salters’ Spring Works a year later they became known as the West Bromwich Strollers. They were renamed West Bromwich Albion in 1880. In 1888 they beat the Knobbers in the FA Cup final (not so invincible after all).

The Hawthorns has been home for more than 100 years. It was the first Football League ground to be built in the 20th Century and was opened on September 3, 1900 after construction work lasted just four months.
The club’s move to The Hawthorns came when the lease expired on the old Stoney Lane ground. It was sited on the old Hawthorns Estate, and hawthorn bushes had been grown there in the past, so the name was especially appropriate.

The initial capacity was 35,500 because Albion only had a 14-year lease on the ground. It wasn’t until 1913 the club bought the freehold for £5,350. With that secured, development work really got into gear. In 1918 concrete terracing was installed for the first time.

By 1924, the capacity was up to 65,000, though the terracing all round the ground wasn’t finished until 1931, when seating was also put into the wing stands.

The Hawthorns was the first ground in Britain to have an electronic turnstile aggregator fitted in 1949. It wasn’t until 1957 the club erected floodlights, which cost £18,000.

The ground as we’ve known it in recent years began to take shape in 1964, with the building of the East Stand on the site of the old Handsworth Stand.

The East Stand quickly became known as the ‘Rainbow’ because of the 4,000 brightly painted seats which replaced the old terracing at a cost of £40,000.

The Rainbow side of the ground was home to the next major development too, when the terracing in front of it was replaced with Albion’s first executive boxes, 14 in total, plus 750 paddock seats in 1976/77, at the same time as the terracing at both ends of the ground was improved.

With the old Halfords Lane side falling into disrepair, Albion rebuilt the stand, a two-phase project which stretched from 1979 to 1982, adding another 26 executive boxes.
The terracing at the Birmingham Road and Smethwick Ends was replaced by two new stands, completed in 1995 at a cost of £4.15 million, though roughly half of that figure was funded by the Football Trust.

The all-seater venue was officially opened with a game against Bristol City on Boxing Day, 1995. The continual improvement of The Hawthorns came early in 2001. The Rainbow Stand saw its final match on January 1, when Albion overcame Barnsley 1-0, before the demolition crews came in and tore it down.

The £7.5 million East Stand was completed for the first home game of the 2001/02 & the ground became fully enclosed.
The new stand boosted the ground’s capacity to 27,877.

Two video screens have been installed in opposite corners of the ground, one at the Smethwick End side of the East Stand and the other in the opposite corner of the Halfords Lane Stand. We’ll be sat in the Smethwick End towards the corner room for 3000 here although I expect around the 950-1000 to make the trek.

Where to drink:
‘The Vine’ which is about a 20 minute walk from the ground. From Junction 1 of the M5 turn left towards West Bromwich town centre (opposite direction to the ground). Take the first left into Roebuck Street. The Vine is down on the left. You can also street park in this area and walk to the ground. The Park Hotel which is just off junction one of the M5 and a 10 minute walk to the ground. Alternatively if you pass the ground on the right on the main Birmingham road carry on for half a mile and there is a pub on your right set back off the road called the Royal Oak – on the corner of Roebuck Street and Roebuck Lane. From the bottom of the High Street take Birmingham Road (which will take you to the ground, if you want), then Roebuck Lane. Don’t be put off by the new houses and what appears to be the complete absence of a pub; it’s there, on the next turn. Hard by the motorway, the Vine is something of a classic football pub. It’s much bigger than it looks from the outside as it goes back a long way, so push past the throng at the bar, having picked up your pint, and keep going. The conservatory bit isn’t recommended, having something of the sweaty ambience of the tropical house at Kew Gardens, but press on for the barbecue room and the beer garden out at the back. Oh yes, the barbecue. Baggies fans in the know head here early and claim their places for the mouth-watering Indian barbecue

Ale is on sale inside the ground.

Plod & Stewards – No history between us should be a hassle free experience.

Fear Factor Rating -5. Keep the colours covered up around the ground.

It’s a hard place to visit but this is Blackpool. Played not so good but came up with the points last Saturday, Holloway’s boys are still right in there. Here’s hoping that come 5pm on Saturday that it’s the boys in tangerine that have put a spring in the step of the travelling faithful.

Onwards + Upwards