Harty on Albion’s title success and Southampton

AS the fourth official put up his board to signal the added time at Walsall on Saturday, I sat in the stand waiting to film the championship celebrations.

For some reason at that moment, I cast my mind back to July of 1995 and receiving that call to say the Goldstone had been sold and the club was in the process of being asset stripped from within.

So much has happened since then, good times and bad. And I make no apologies that during the added time, I felt a wave of emotion come over me.

With the championship, the third in 10 years, minutes away, I thought about all the people who won’t see the Albion run out at the Amex in July, who before they sadly passed away, supported the club through thick and thin.

I know that despite the euphoria of the success and the new stadium, the club are going to take time when the stadium opens to remember all those who didn’t get to see it.

So on to this Saturday, and as I said last week, my own personal 38th anniversary of watching the Albion. South coast rivals Southampton arrive for a game that you certainly wouldn’t need the services of Don King to promote.

In certain quarters, I have been accused of having an issue with Southampton in this column. Well it’s hands up time, guilty as charged.

It’s called footballing rivalry and like everybody else, it goes back long before current Saints boss Nigel Adkins was very dismissive of the Albion after the game at St Mary’s in November.

You can go back 33 years to the last game of the season in 1977-78, when the Albion needed a win at home to Blackpool and hoped that either Southampton or Spurs beat each other at the Dell.

The Albion won, while the game down in Hampshire ended goalless, so the Seagulls were denied on the last day.

Was the result at the Dell contrived?

Debate will rage on. However, it was confirmed to me many years later by a former player who played that day that when he went through on the Southampton goal in the closing stages his skipper that day, Steve Perryman, shouted for him to take the ball to the corner flag (I think Perry Mason would have called that one “an open and shut case”).

Time does move, both clubs, Albion and Saints, have had good times and bad. But, as I will never forget sitting at Walsall as a 46-year-old with tears in my eyes, I won’t forget being a 13-year-old on the North Stand sharing Phil Hunt’s transistor radio pressed to our ears, almost praying for a goal flash from the Dell.

I hope Southampton give the Albion a guard of honour on to the pitch on Saturday, in the same way I hope that Nigel Adkins’ entrance is greeted in good spirits. Lest we forget, his number two is Andy Crosby, a former Albion defender and one the nicest people I’ve come into contact with in football.

In short, the Albion have been at the top of the league longer than Bryan Adams was at number one. The teams below can delude themselves but the league table does not lie.

I was amused to hear a Saints fan on TalkSport saying that none of the current Albion team would get into Adkins’ starting XI although, maybe if he did have some of our players, they wouldn’t be 16 points behind.

Let’s all enjoy the day, and look forward to picking up the trophy the following week at the last-ever game at Withdean.