West Brom's once-popular FanZone bouncing again
When the financial downsizing of relegation hit, Albion decided they could no longer run the FanZone outside The Hawthorns.
But it was kept alive thanks to two Baggies-mad fans and their start-up brewery Blind Monkey, and now, after a slow start, it is flourishing.
Last Saturday saw the largest number of people in the FanZone this season, as supporters lapped up live music as well as Blind Monkey’s Albion Pale Ale, which is not available in the concourse.
Fans can feel good about drinking that beer, because roughly 30p of every pint is donated to The Albion Foundation.
And as Blind Monkey’s Ian Bradshaw, a season ticket holder from Oldbury, reveals, the Gregg’s car park is becoming a vibrant pre-game meeting place.
“We’re really pleased with how the FanZone’s going,” said Ian. “Since the reintroduction of live music there’s been a spike in numbers. We got the management contract from the club two days before the first game so we didn’t exactly have lots of time to plan it!
“We had to do quite a lot of things at the start ourselves. We learned some pretty steep lessons early on.
“We had a couple of bad games in October when the weather was wet.
“But we decided to bring the stage back for the Leeds game. We pay for the stage and the screen.
“Since then, it’s flourished. The Norwich game was the biggest one in numbers I’ve seen. The capacity is 2,000 and it probably got pretty close to that.”
Ian reckons the FanZone’s two main draws are the live music and the real ale sold from cask.
“We’re a small ale brewery, we’ve been partners with the Foundation for 18 months,” he said. “We serve real ale in there from cask. We’ve got mainstream products like Heineken and source the lagers and ciders through the club.
“But we also get people coming over for the Pale Ale. It’s not available in the concourse.
“We give the Albion Foundation back a donation per unit to what we sell. You see quite a lot of charity beers these days but it’s way above the market average. We give them back 30p a pint, the average is about 5p.”
As well as a proper pint, fans can also enjoy live music while keeping one eye on the early kick-off on a big screen. “We came across a local band called Wounded Spirit,” said Ian. “We thought ‘What have we got to lose, let’s give it a whirl’.
“We have to pay for everything that goes on in there which I doubt people would understand.
“But we’re now booking other bands as well. We try not to have the same bands twice.”
Ian has been running Blind Monkey for 18 months with Will Stephenson, who is from Halesowen.
Lifelong Baggies, the company are also shirt sponsors of Albion Ladies, who are currently top of the FA National League Division One Midlands.“They’re six points clear of the Wolves!” boasts Ian, who also wants the FanZone to be a meeting place for fans.
“Proud Baggies (the LGBT supporters’ group) use it as their meeting point every game,” he added. “We’re hoping to do something with Baggies Buddies, we’ve spoken to the club.
“We want it to be as family friendly as we can while keeping to the ethos of good live music.”