We extend our welcome to the players, staff, officials and supporters of the Lilywhites; to Sky Sports who are broadcasting tonight’s match live; and also, of course, to our new head coach Roberto De Zerbi and his staff who will be taking charge of their first home match in front of another full house at the Amex.
Our last Premier League outing here was the 5-2 win over Leicester City on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the beginning of September. Since then, Graham Potter and his coaching staff have moved on to Chelsea, Roberto and his team have joined us, and our country has both a new Prime Minister and a new Monarch, King Charles III. Incredibly, we played just once during this historical period for our country – last weekend, securing a point away at Liverpool in Roberto’s first match as head coach.
And what a first match it was! Two really good strikes from Leandro Trossard saw us race into a 2-0 lead inside the first 20 minutes of the game before the VAR made a narrow offside call in favour of the hosts and provided Liverpool with a lifeline just after the half-hour mark. Within 20 minutes of the second half starting we found ourselves 3-2 down, but a further strike seven minutes from time secured Leo’s hat-trick – the first from a visiting player at Anfield since 2009 – and a very well-deserved away point.
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We have had some very good days on the road in the past few seasons in the Premier League, not least from our efforts at Anfield on a few occasions, but Saturday’s performance once again showed not only the very high levels our players are now reaching in the Premier League on a consistent basis, but also their determination and resilience against one of Europe’s best teams, to help us secure a point in a difficult game, while also helping to maintain our very good start to the new season.
This evening’s game back on home soil will be no less of a challenge. Despite last week’s 3-1 reverse at Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur have also enjoyed an excellent start to the new campaign, and they arrive at the Amex a place above us – third in the Premier League table – and also three points ahead of us having played one more match. In the 12 months since Antonio Conte was appointed as head coach, Tottenham have secured Champions League qualification, and have added real quality and depth to their squad.
One of those new Tottenham players who will no doubt be hoping for an opportunity to show Antonio Conte, as well remind Spurs and Albion fans what he can do, in very familiar surroundings, is of course Yves Bissouma, our hugely popular former midfielder, who joined the north London club last summer, and to whom we extend a special welcome back to the Amex today. Yves made a total of 124 appearances for us in all competitions, scoring six goals in his four-season spell on the south coast.
The train strike originally led to our match with Crystal Palace being postponed last month, while HM Queen Elizabeth II’s passing saw us unable to rearrange this match at short notice when the strike was cancelled. All Premier League fixtures were also postponed as a mark of respect over the weekend we were due to face AFC Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium, so we now await new dates for these matches to be played, which is most likely to be after the break for the World Cup finals.
Off the pitch, our new away ticketing policy will coming into operation at next Friday’s visit to Brentford. It’s really disappointing that our ticketing and security staff have felt the need to introduce a new policy at all. However, facing systematic and repeated abuse of the loyalty points system, an escalation in unacceptable behaviour, and with previous warnings ignored, we had no other option.
Unfortunately, as in most walks of life, the selfish actions of a small (but not insignificant) minority of people will now, on occasions, inconvenience a small number of fans at each of our future away games. We apologise to those fans – which are by far the vast majority who have respected the club’s policies, ticketing terms and conditions, and the law – but the entirely understandable frustration at the inconvenience the changes may cause should not be directed at the club’s staff.
We have a responsibility to ensure those attending away matches are entitled to receive tickets, and also that everyone in our loyalty point programme has a fair chance of attending games. We also have a duty of care to our colleagues at other clubs who have been on the receiving end of a range of abusive, threatening and anti-social behaviour, and to all travelling Albion fans, many of whom are equally fed up with the actions of people who shouldn’t have had tickets to our away matches in the first place.
As such, we will now take all necessary steps to prevent those not entitled to away match tickets from accessing them (and subsequently damaging the club’s reputation), and we will similarly take all necessary steps to identify those fans ‘gaming’ the loyalty point system to secure tickets only to pass them on, from continuing to do so. Again, we fully appreciate this means we will occasionally inconvenience those not responsible, so we are heartened by the messages of support we have received for the new policy.
We fully appreciate that entirely legitimate situations arise, meaning fans cannot attend matches they previously thought they could. However, the often short timeframes and specific selling conditions for processing tickets to away matches makes it very difficult for us to offer fans the ability to return tickets to us or to offer refunds. We will, however, always try to help where we can and time allows. In future, a move to digital ticketing for all away matches will likely make life easier, and tickets more secure, for everyone.
Back on the pitch, we are going from famine to feast! After the best part of a month without a game, we now have no less than six matches during October alone, and a further three matches in the first half of November before what will be the highly unusual, and lengthy, mid-season break ahead of the World Cup. We then return to Premier League action on Boxing Day for the visit along the coast to Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium, and a home match against current league leaders Arsenal five days later.
As you will be aware at this evening’s game, the Premier League is highlighting its No Room for Racism message at all clubs this week.
Progress continues to be made following the launch of the Premier League’s No Room for Racism Action Plan last year, but there is still much more work to do.
As a football club, we continue to work hard to support our players and staff, and to make sure our matchdays are free from all forms of discriminatory behaviour. On a number of occasions, we have taken action against those directly responsible for such despicable actions, as we reiterate the message: racism and all forms of discrimination will not be tolerated in football or anywhere in society. It’s a message that’s abundantly clear, so if you see or hear any form of discrimination, please don’t hesitate to contact the club through the appropriate channels. Rest assured, we will act.
Away from our club, but nevertheless very much in our thoughts, has been the awful tragedy that unfolded last weekend at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Indonesia. To learn that at least 125 people died in the crush that followed the game between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya is heartbreaking beyond comprehension. We send our condolences to all those affected at this extremely difficult time.
Finally, although the period of national mourning has now passed, on behalf of everyone at our club, I would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere condolences to the Royal Family on the sad passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who served our country with such great dedication and dignity for over 70 years. On a personal level, it was a great honour for me to meet The Queen at Buckingham Palace during my time at The FA, and I will never forget her kindness on that day back in 2002.