It’s been an awkward week for football, but at least some people are able to see the bigger picture, to see beyond the self-interest that seems to be shrouded in the modern game.
While the big clubs of the Premier League try to save their face after the collapse of the European Super League, the battle further down the food chain is more real.
At West Brom, for example, degradation looms.
West Brom defender Darnell Furlong takes the air route in their victory over Southampton
The 25-year-old is well aware that he is playing for his livelihood at the club as they fight relegation
Sam Allardyce’s team recently rallied to win the last two matches against Chelsea and Southampton.
But a third win against FA Cup finalists Leicester on Thursday night may be necessary if the club really needs to think seriously about a way out.
The West Brom players have not given up. Likewise, they know that failure to survive will not only affect their own careers, but also threaten the livelihoods of the people who work at the club.
Right back Darnell Furlong said Sportsmail this week: ‘We know what real football is about, what it means for fans and the community. There is history here and we see people who count on us every day. We cannot do our job without them.
‘That’s everyone on the training ground. Physios, the kitchen staff, cleaning staff.
‘We play for them every weekend.
The Baggies are second in the Premier League with nine points to make up for safety
Sam Allardyce’s squad have won their last two games prior to a meeting with Leicester
West Brom run up
Thursday Leicester City (A)
Sunday Aston Villa (A)
3rd of May Wolves (H)
The 9th of May Arsenal (A)
11 May Liverpool (H)
15 May West Ham (H)
May 23 Leeds United (A)
Dates subject to change
‘We don’t consider it as just 25 players. We play for everyone, so that’s just an extra motivation.
‘We will do everything we can to stay up and I think we can. It clicked on the field lately. ‘
Furlong comes from a football family. His father Paul has been a striker for the likes of Chelsea, Birmingham and QPR and is currently academy coach at Loftus Road.
Darnell came through the ranks at QPR, playing over 60 league games before moving to West Brom in July 2019.
This season he has impressed, but relegation would be a huge blow to a smart, personal 25-year-old.
‘We never stopped believing in the locker room, even though I can fully understand why everyone has done that,’ he smiled.
‘I know people would say Chelsea’s result was a fluke. So we followed it up. We could also have scored five against Southampton.
‘We have to do that again now. Leicester is a great squad with talented players, but they come from a great game. We have faith in it. ‘
Furlong’s childhood was pressure free. Father Paul did not put any pressure on his son to follow his path, while his mother Anna forbade father and son to exercise in the backyard in case they damaged the flower beds.
Nonetheless, Furlong was proud of his father and remains grateful for the decision he made when a QPR academy boy was racially abused by an opponent during a match in Seville in August 2019.
Darnell’s father is former striker Paul Furlong (left), who has played for QPR, Chelsea and Birmingham, among others, in a career spanning over 700 league games.
He was the coach and took the team off the field. I don’t blame him, ”said Furlong.
‘I have to admit, I thought it would become an example for us to follow. I thought it would be a turning point in the fight against racism. But it seems it wasn’t.
‘It kind of got a check mark and that was it. More should have come of it. ‘
Furlong’s career has so far been largely free of such incidents. But he’s seen what racism does to teammates, and he’s worried about what the next tragic development might be.
He also knows what it was like in his father’s day and believes today’s players owe it to previous generations not to give up the fight now.
‘We’ve had a few guys in our locker room who have suffered and it’s hard for them to deal with and it’s hard for us as teammates to see them suffer,’ he said.
Furlong (left) celebrates with Matheus Pereira and Callum Robinson against Southampton
‘I know it could be my turn next week.
‘I think players at the time felt that it was a hopeless case and that nothing could be done about it.
It is heartbreaking to think that it was then.
So we owe those older players who have put up with it not to give up now.
And who knows what could ever cause this in a player? Mental health is a big problem.
“Imagine if racism caused something terrible to happen to a player while we got this far, but just gave up. We can’t possibly turn our shoulders now. ‘
Furlong is baffled that Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela recently received a ten-game UEFA ban for racially abusing Rangers’ Glen Kamara.
Furlong takes on Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso in West Brom’s impressive victory at Stamford Bridge earlier this month
“It doesn’t help when football is wrong, does it?” he said.
How did he get a lower ban than the players they get when they gamble?
“It just sends the wrong message.”
Furlong is the type of young player who has views on matters outside of his immediate focus and he values every second of his career.
It was almost taken from him before it started when an accident when a young boy saw him run to the hospital after a pool cue caught his eye.
“I still don’t know what really happened,” he said.
‘We were just kids rummaging in the garden. But they saved my eyesight in the hospital. ‘
The 25-year-old insists West Brom will not give up in their fight against top-level relegation
He has the date of that accident tattooed on his arm. It marks the beginning of a second chance. Whether West Brom will get one in the Premier League remains to be seen.
“When the new manager arrived in December, we had a rough patch, but that’s what can happen when you’re asked to play a new style,” he reflected.
You can get confused and it takes a while to acclimate to what he wants.
‘It took some getting used to, but the penny has dropped.
Who knows what could happen from here? Our chances have increased enormously in recent weeks. We think we can. ‘