News

Read Paul Barber's programme notes

The Albion chief executive and deputy chairman covers a range of topics in his latest column.

By Paul Barber • 22 October 2021

By Paul Hazlewood
Deputy chairman and chief executive Paul Barber.

Welcome to the American Express Community Stadium for the visit from Premier League champions Manchester City.

We extend a special welcome to Pep Guardiola, his players and staff, and to the club’s officials and supporters who have travelled from the north west for tonight’s game, which is being broadcast live on Sky Sports.

It’s a full three weeks since our last Premier League match here against Arsenal which, despite our very convincing display, in what was another live TV game, ended 0-0. Our match at Carrow Road against Norwich City ended with the same scoreline and saw us finish last weekend’s round of fixtures fourth in the table – just behind tonight’s visitors.

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PL Highlights: Norwich 0 Albion 0

Our good start to the season has certainly helped further increase the appetite for City’s visit to the Amex and the game reached a sell-out several weeks ago. Since then more than 500 tickets have changed hands on the ticket exchange, with, at the time of writing, a further 200 tickets still listed in various parts of the stadium for further exchanges.

This is a great use of the ticket exchange, which, along with the new season-ticket transfer facility and the opportunity to upgrade concession-priced tickets up to six times per season, is ensuring the maximum number of supporters have access to our matches, while Sky Sports’ excellent coverage also allows many more fans to see the game from home.

We know that tonight’s match will likely represent our sternest test of the season so far, and will be closely followed by another huge game against Liverpool at Anfield next weekend. For good measure, we travel to the East Midlands to face Leicester City in the Carabao Cup fourth round in between times!

Our five games this month, and three games during November, are topped by a very busy December and festive period, which will see us play a total of seven matches in just 28 days, leading up to another visit to Merseyside to play Everton in a Premier League fixture on 2 January 2022.

Unsurprisingly, we’ve received a few emails from fans about our Boxing Day fixture with Brentford being moved to an 8pm kick-off for live TV coverage. It’s an unusual time slot on a Sunday evening, and won’t suit everyone, but Boxing Day fixtures with lunchtime or afternoon kick-offs have also generated complaints for us, and other clubs, over the years too.

Boxing Day fixtures are, of course, a big part of our traditional football calendar (as were Christmas Day fixtures back in the day!) but, for as long as I can remember, and whilst games at this times of year are typically very popular with many fans, transport has always been one of the biggest challenges for fans as well as, on occasions, clubs too.

We will do our best, as ever, to encourage transport providers to offer the best possible service, and we will look to provide as much information as possible, as early as we can, for those planning to head to the Amex for the visit of Brentford who, despite losing to us back in early September, have started the season very well. 

We’ve got a lot of football to play between now and the festive period and, as ever, your support will be vital as we strive to maintain our healthy league position. Nobody at the club, least of all Graham, his staff or our players, are getting carried away and, even though we’re approaching the quarter-way mark, it’s still early days and there’s a lot of hard work ahead of us. 

By Geoff Penn
Will Buckley's brace ensured Albion secured all three points in their first competitive match at the Amex.

Nevertheless, as we have said on many occasions since the Amex opened, it’s important to enjoy just how far the club has come in the past decade. Taking three points off tonight’s visitors at the end of last season in a dramatic game – also shown live on TV – helped to underline the progress we’ve made since Doncaster Rovers’ visit here in the summer of 2011. 

Since that fantastic opening league match in the stadium, we can be proud of recording a club-record fifth successive season in the top flight, increasing our attendances by more than 50%, securing a record numbers of season-ticket holders this season, and selling out our 1901 Club for a third successive five-year term. 

In the same period, we’ve built a world-class training facility for our men’s and women’s teams, secured Category 1 status for our boys’ academy and Regional Talent Club for our girls’ academy, while establishing our senior women’s team in the Women’s Super League, and our men’s under-23s in the top division of Premier League 2. 

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PL2 Highlights: Albion 2 Crystal Palace 1

In short, in recent times when there’s so much sadness, worry and frustration for so many people, hopefully the football club’s continued evolution, together with our continued support for our wider community during the toughest of times, has at least provided some bright spots, light relief and some enjoyable moments to hopefully lift spirits and provide valuable distractions. 

Throughout the past decade, and not least the last 18 months, your support has been invaluable, and has made a huge difference on and off the pitch. You’ll be able to reflect on so much of the journey I’ve just described in a brilliant new picture book, ‘Where Seagulls Soar’, which pulls together a decade’s worth of great work by club photographer, Paul Hazlewood.

Finally, this evening we will play our part in the Premier League’s No Room For Racism campaign. We’ve seen over the course of the last year that racism in our game, and in wider society, continues to rear its ugly head, and the message is abundantly clear from us as a football club and throughout the game: racism will not be tolerated anywhere, and action will be taken to combat all forms of discrimination. 

Online abuse, in particular, continues to be a real issue in the game, highlighted most prominently with the abuse suffered by Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford in light of England’s Euro 2020 final defeat this summer. No player should have to face such abhorrent abuse, and it is one of the reasons why our players and those of other clubs up and down the country continue to take the knee – to highlight the fact that racism is still an issue in the game. 

By Paul Hazlewood
Albion players take the knee before every game ahead of kick-off.

Our own players have also been targeted on occasions, so we will continue to push the social media companies and the authorities to do more to tackle this very obvious problem, while the upcoming online safety bill also provides the Government with an opportunity to really get to grips with the issue. We need to be in a position where the perpetrators know that there will be very real consequences for their actions. 

There is only so much football clubs can do, and the authorities need to be clearer and stronger when it comes to taking action too. 

Our staff are also often on the end of abuse, harassment or bullying, in person, on the phone, by email, and online through social media channels and on message boards, where the abuse, ever so bravely, usually emanates from anonymous accounts or from behind obscure usernames. In recent months, we have identified and issued bans to teenagers, middle-aged men, and to women, for a range of totally unacceptable behaviour, in person and online. Some of it beggars belief, and may well end up costing some people their livelihoods as well as the opportunity to attend matches. 

For some reason, a small number of people, often the same ones, believe that the players and staff of the football club they claim to support, or those from the visiting team or match officials, are ‘fair game’ when it comes to abuse in the stadium or on social media and message boards. That simply isn’t the case. It’s as unacceptable to abuse our players and staff as it would be to abuse staff in a bank or supermarket. We have a duty of care to all employees and we will no longer tolerate this behaviour. In fact, from the chairman downwards, we have committed to take action to stop it. 

Going forward, we will be closely monitoring stadium behaviour and all online platforms, but it’s impossible for us to have eyes and ears everywhere, so we are grateful when supporters bring examples of abuse, discrimination, harassment or bullying to our attention. We get the strong feeling that the vast majority of supporters are similarly fed up with the torrent of abuse heaped on others from behind keyboards, and are often shocked by the way the club’s staff are treated at times on matchdays, so increasingly, many fans are prepared to report and help identify abusers. 

As a club, we will continue to work hard to act where it is deemed appropriate to support our players and staff, and to also make sure our matchdays are free from such behaviour. Where necessary, we are also prepared to take action against platform owners and publishers, as well as those directly responsible for the abuse – and we will also use appropriate resources to identify abusers even when they are posting anonymously. So, if you hear, see or witness any of these behaviours, please don’t hesitate to contact the club through the appropriate channels. We will act. 

Thankfully, the vast majority of our fans behave entirely appropriately and we are grateful for your great support. 

* You can purchase the Man City matchday programme at the Amex Stadium, priced £3.50, or by clicking here