Over two years on from their relegation from the Premier League, things are finally looking up for West Brom.
The Baggies are currently top of Championship and two points ahead of Leeds following their win against Derby County last night; Marcelo Bielsa’s side take on Stoke City later today.
With just four league games left to play, Slaven Bilic recently praised the club’s owners for their leadership and for laying the foundations for promotion.
“The club is very well managed – I don’t mean on the turf with me – I mean the club, not the team, the club,” Bilic said.
While the club will no doubt have promotion on their minds, their two seasons spent in the Championship have arguably given them a certain tenacity that comes with playing in England’s second tier of football.
Lifelong West Brom fan Roberto Marrocco, 23, believes that the club’s relegation from the Premier League was inevitable.
“Being relegated in 2018 felt horrible, but we knew our time would come in the Premier League if we stayed. We would have been another Derby where we would finish with hardly any points the next season,” Roberto told the Sports Gazette.
“It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to us in a sense, because it got rid of some of the old squad – our average age was like 29 at that time and now it’s come down to around 26.”
Although the Championship is home to fewer big names in football and has had a reputation for being less exciting than the Premier League, West Brom fans such as Roberto see things differently.
“The Championship is the best league in the world for competition. The past two seasons with West Brom being in the Championship, it’s been the most fun as a fan.
“When you’re a smaller club in the Premier League, like West Brom, you know you’re not going to break into the top six or seven. In the Championship, you can literally go from being relegation candidates like Derby and Cardiff, to now pushing for the playoffs a few seasons later.
“Every game is hard in the Championship. There’s no game you go to where you think ‘we’re going to easily win that game’.”
The West-Midlands club secured fourth place in 2019 and earned a play-off semi-final, but lost to Aston Villa, prolonging their stay in England’s second tier of football.
While this was a huge disappointment for the club and fans at the time, Roberto, who held a season ticket at the club for 12 years from the age of four to 16, recognises the silver lining.
“It’s probably done us a favour because we would have just gone up, spent a bit of money, and then become relegation candidates to come back down, similar to Norwich City.
“Darren Moore got sacked just before that, we still didn’t have a manager and we had a really old squad and we just weren’t that good of a team.”
The decision to sack Darren Moore in March 2019 with West Brom sitting in fourth was controversial, but not all that surprising for the fans.
“He kind of made people fall in love with West Brom again, but he was out of his depth,” said Roberto.
“Slaven Bilic is a class manager and he just makes all the right decisions. If we had him last year, we would have finished top-two with that team.”
West Brom’s title rivals Leeds United go into their match against Stoke City tonight on a good run of form, having only lost one of their last six matches.
Roberto says that many West Brom fans do not mind finishing as runners-up, so long as they can secure automatic promotion.
“In 2008/09, we lost to Derby in the play-off final – I went to that game and it was terrible.
“It’s just a lot of nerves and it’s not worth it, especially after what happened last year against Villa.”
The Baggies no doubt have promotion in their sights, but Roberto believes that the team will have to adapt if they are to avoid becoming another Norwich City.
“Between 2003 and 2010, we were literally the perennial yo-yo club – we’d go up and down, up and down,” he said.
“I think if we get promoted this year, we’d have the most promotions to the Premier League [since 1992].
“To stay in the Premier League you need to have either a really good system or really good recruitment, and I think we need to go down the good recruitment route.
“We need to invest in a striker and add some depth in midfield and a couple of players in defence.”
West Brom’s remaining games will not be a walk in the park – they face a Fulham side on 14th July who will be aiming to secure a play-off place.
However, with a manager who is backed by the owners and loved by the fans, the future is definitely looking bright for the Baggies.