Why exactly do I feel a strong amount of dislike towards West Bromwich Albion?
In many ways, it doesn't make sense. I'm an American. I grew up in Indianapolis.
The chances that I've met a Baggies supporter in my life? Fairly low. (Though there was this old woman that sung "S*** on the Villa" towards me when I was in Birmingham a couple of years ago... maybe she was WBA?)
I mean, I guess there's some merit to disliking a club that I pick to go down every single year that somehow manages to stay up (and sometimes succeed!) with their horrible, horrible team but I don't think that explains it.
But nevertheless, the clashes with that pesky club that tries to pretend they're in Birmingham but aren't have been the ones I find myself rushing to check the date of when the fixture list comes out each June.
I think, however, I've kind of figured it out — and to do that, we'll take a detour to the other teams I root for. I was born in northeast Ohio, which means I have the great pleasure of being a Cavaliers, Indians, and Browns fan. (A large part of the reason I support Villa is Randy Lerner which makes me the biggest idiot in the world.)
But of those three teams, only one has a strong mutual rivalry going, and that's Browns/Steelers. Which is more of a thing for us than it is for them considering, well, how one-sided that series has been as of late. I typically dread those match-ups, rather than look forward to them.
And then the story for the Blue Jackets is the same as the Cavaliers and Indians — yeah, sure, I hate teams like the Red Wings, Celtics, and Yankees, but none of those teams' fans have the same level of vitriol towards my teams as I do towards them.
And even if we stick with my other major European football rooting interest, Hertha Berlin, I'll find a similar thing. Hertha and crosstown rival Union have only met four times in competitive matches and irrespective of whether or not the once-friendly derby is becoming a little bit more heated, I'll never be able to bring myself to dislike Union.
So then that takes me to Notre Dame, the school I pay enough money to for the right to support their sports teams, a school that certainly has a lot of historical rivalries. But of the group, there's only two schools that I really am passionate against — Michigan and USC. Those games are the best, the ones you really get up for. Granted, we won't be seeing the Wolverines any time soon, but when the schedule comes out, those are the games you're really looking forward to.
I wrote a column for The Observer a couple of months ago that started out with a comparison between European football fans and our college football fans here stateside, looking at the passion of both groups and the intense rivalries and hatred they have for nearby rivals.
And when I don't get that — or don't have an opportunity to get that — with my other football club, I feel a bit of a need to force it where there's a chance with Villa.
Here we are then, back at the Baggies. When Blues went down, it was cool and fun. But it also saw Villa lose its biggest rival, that big-time match that everyone circled on their calendars when the fixture list was revealed. And when Wolves followed (despite the fact that I've always had a bit of a soft spot for a team named Wolverhampton Wanderers), there was only one other club left in the Midlands.
So as much as anything, it's a convenience thing. It's become evident over the years that WBA fans have a certain hatred towards Villa fans. And for me, replicating that hatred back towards them is the only opportunity I have all year to engage in mutual, generally-equal vitriol as a Villa fan.
At the base of it, Baggies supporters are kind of funny. That time they fell in love with Romelu Lukaku despite him being on loan was amusing, yeah. They're generally harmless and I'm sure that if Blues were up (which honestly, I kind of wish they were — proper, big derbies are the best), I wouldn't really have strong feelings either way about West Bromwich Albion.
But when it's all set and done? Blues aren't up. Coventry aren't up. Wolves aren't up.
The Baggies are the only club I can engage in mutual hatred with in the football world. And as a fan of enough teams that don't have that? I need it.