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The Hawthorns
  West Bromwich Albion v Norwich City
Premier League & FA Cup 4th Round
Saturday 14th & Saturday 28th January 2012, 3pm
Mark Knowles

(Norwich City fan)

Due to the luck of the FA Cup draw, Norwich had ended up with two trips to the Hawthorns in the space of a fortnight – in both cases we made the trip feeling pretty positive about our prospects of a win. The fact that West Brom is one of the easier away journeys from Norwich (though still a 300 mile round trip!) also meant that there was a big away following.

In terms of navigation, if you can fall off a log, you can probably manage to find your way to the Hawthorns. Once we came off the M5 there were plenty of options for parking – on our first visit for the league game we paid £4 to park in one of the industrial estate car parks; when we returned two weeks later in the FA cup we had more time so street parked for free a little further away from the ground.

As recommended in the guide, we headed to the Vine on Roebuck Lane for lunch and a pre-match drink. The place is a real Tardis – poky boozer front room, then an atrium bit, then a formica-tabled back room with barbecue and finally a large covered patio out the back. It was absolutely packed with a good friendly mix of home and away fans and several TVs to watch the early kick-off. They had a couple of quaffable local ales too, if fizzy lager isn’t your thing.  The choice of food was particularly massive and deserves a mention– a normal pub menu and a blackboard full of curry specialities from the main kitchen, plus a kiosk in the back room doing pies, burgers and chips, then a separate barbecue kitchen with reasonably priced chicken tikka, naans and so on.

The ground itself is smart and modern, and the Astle gates add a touch of class for anyone who appreciates football from before the Premier League era. Entering the ground was quick and easy, with the barcode scanning turnstiles working well, although searches of away fans seemed to be routine. Once inside, the concourse is clean but a little small for the size of the stand.There were lots of TV screens scattered about inside.  Our seats had decent leg room and a good view of the pitch, although on our second visit the jumbo screen to our right was partially obscured by a girder.

Football-wise, the league and the cup game followed a similar pattern, with Norwich scoring late to run out 2-1 winners on both occasions. It must have been a bit of a Groundhog Day feeling for the Baggies fans!
During the league game, the noisiest section of home fans seemed to be in the same stand as us (to the left of the away fans), and managed to engage in a bit of banter. However, as the entire stand was given over to away fans for the cup game, this unfortunately meant these fans were displaced. As a result the atmosphere suffered, with no “core” to the home support – with 3000 loud away fans, it actually felt more like a home game in terms of atmosphere. Stewards were very hands-off and didn’t seem worried about standing.

At half time the queues for refreshments were pretty long, with only four kiosks serving the whole stand as far as I could see. For some reason they had post-office style security screens, which seemed unnecessary, and just meant you had to shout to get your order heard. The toilets were clean and spacious though, very good indeed for a football ground.

After the league game, the large gate separating home and away sides at the rear of the stand was closed, so away fans had to make a long trek down a path to the south-east of the stadium and onto Middlemore Road. This is fine if you’re travelling on the away coaches or returning to the station, but as we were heading back to our car near the M5 it added half a mile or more to our walk. Thankfully for the cup game we had the whole stand so were able to exit straight onto Halfords Lane. Once back at the car the queuing was not too bad and we were on the M5 quickly.

Obviously the fact we won both games helped, but overall we very much enjoyed our visits to the Hawthorns. The fact the ground is so easy to get to (and from) makes a real difference, so this is definitely a trip we’d be happy to make again.

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