West Bromwich Albion
West Bromwich Albion is a club based in the West Midlands. Established in 1878, the team was originally made up of workers at Salter’s Spring Works in West Bromwich. There being no balls for sale locally, the team walked to Wednesbury to buy one, giving rise to the name West Bromwich Strollers. They were re-christened West Bromwich Albion in 1880 and the club became a founder member of the Football League in 1888.
The club is usually referred to as Albion, but is affectionately known to fans as “The Throstles” and, more recently, “The Baggies”. Albion have been playing at The Hawthorns for more than 100 years. The ground was built in 1900, making it the first Football League ground of the 20th Century. It’s also the highest in England at 168 metres above sea level. A caged thrush was kept as a pet in the pub in which the team used to change, and the birds were often seen in the hawthorn bushes beside the ground. A “throstle” thus became part of the club insignia. Today the Albion crest shows a thrush on a background of navy and white vertical stripes.
The characteristic “Baggies Boing” is beloved by the fans, though a fairly recent addition to club history. It involves jumping quickly up and down, ostensibly to celebrate a goal being scored, but also as a useful way of keeping warm in the windswept stands! Despite early successes, including winning the league in 1919/20, Albion often struggled in the 20th century. The club’s form itself could be described as “boing, boing”, with the team yo-yoing up and down between the (old) First and Second Divisions much of the time. The worst spell came in the 1980s, when Albion were, for one season, relegated to the lowly Third Division – something the fans hope will not be repeated.
Often underachieving in the domestic league, Albion have enjoyed much more success in the FA Cup competition. The club has won the trophy five times, though the most recent occasion was several decades ago – in 1968. In Europe, Albion’s unofficial motto, Semper te fallant ("they will always let you down") has been all too apt. Despite winning UEFA Cup spots on five occasions, the Baggies have never won a European trophy and their best performance was in 1978/79, when they reached the Quarter Final of the UEFA Cup.
There has been something of a resurgence in recent years, brought about by better management, inspired signings and a healthier bank balance. A new stand was built in 2001 and has been well received. The Hawthorns can now accommodate just under 28,000 fans, and with the prospect of watching the side compete in Premiership matches the Throstle fans have been flocking back to support their club once more.
The Beginning of the Baggies
After its formation in 1878, the club enjoyed early successes. Building on a 1-0 victory over a team from a local soap factory, the team won numerous games throughout the Black Country. Emboldened, Albion joined the Birmingham & District Football Association at the start of the 1881/82 season. The side competed in the Birmingham Senior Cup, and though they failed to win, they beat respected local sides Elwells FC and Calthorpe on their way to the Quarter Finals. In 1882 they beat Coseley 26-0 in the Birmingham Cup, won the Staffordshire Cup and entered the FA Cup for the first time, losing 2-0 to nearby Wednesbury Town.
Throughout the 1880s the club consolidated on these impressive performances, and was unlucky to lose the FA Cup Final in two consecutive years (1886 and 1887). But in 1888 Albion triumphed, beating Preston North End 2-1 to win the FA Cup, and repeated the feat in 1892, seeing off Aston Villa 3-0 in the Final.
A strong local rivalry still exists between West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers, and 1893 saw the club defeat their arch-enemies by a margin which remains unbeaten. The score was 8-0.
After this early dominance, Albion struggled from the latter years of the 19th century until the start of the First World War. The club was very stretched in terms of finance, and standings suffered as a result. Albion were relegated twice, in 1900/01 and 1903/04 and failed to progress beyond the Semi Finals of the FA Cup twice during the first decade of the new century. A highlight of the period was the signing of Jesse Pennington in 1903. The local lad, twenty years old at the time, joined Albion as a left back. He would play for the club for 19 years, making 455 league appearances. But initially, even Pennington could do little in the face of Albion’s run of poor form and bad luck. The club lost 1-0 in a 1912 FA Cup Final replay, with Barnsley scoring the winner in the last minute of extra-time.
Between the Wars
The interwar era started promisingly despite the loss of young players in WWI, a tragedy which Albion at least had in common with virtually every football club at this time. In 1919, Albion won the Midland Victory League and, the following season, topped Division One. They had not only won the championship, but had done it with a record 60 points, 104 goals and 28 wins. A 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur secured the Charity Shield as well. Suddenly Albion were in need of a trophy cabinet!
In the late twenties Albion failed to live up to expectations. Though the club was runner-up to Huddersfield in the First Division in 1925, Albion were relegated to Division Two just two seasons later. By 1930 they were in better form, with a highlight being Jimmy Cookson’s six goal spree against Blackpool. The match finished 6-3, and Cookson set a new club individual scoring record. There were goals aplenty that season – another club record was made as the team scored 105 League goals.
In 1931 Albion won the FA Cup, and were simultaneously promoted to Division One – a unique “double” which has never been repeated. They were runners-up in the Charity Shield the same year. Albion’s reinstatement in the top flight attracted new blood, both players and managers. In 1933 Alan Everiss joined the club, and would be closely linked with the club until his death 66 years later. Everiss served as clerk, assistant-secretary, secretary, director and life member and his influence on Albion was immense.
There was no shortage of goals in the late thirties, with WG Richardson scoring a record 40 in the 1935-36 season, but for Albion too many were going in at the wrong end of the pitch. In a 1937 league game, they were beaten 10-3 by Stoke, their heaviest ever defeat. The trophies had dried up for Albion by the time war was declared in 1939, although their 6-5 defeat of Nottingham Forest won them the Midland Wartime Cup in 1944 and offered a glimmer of hope for the postwar period.
Post war success
Albion languished in the Second Division as normal league competition resumed in 1946. Their fortunes were determined as much by management as players for the next few years. In 1948, Jack Smith was appointed team manager, to replace secretary/manager Fred Everiss. Unusually, Albion had until then retained an old-fashioned approach to coaching and management, in which the board of directors picked the team and the coach was responsible purely for fitness training – no footballs were involved in the training sessions! The new regime seemed to do the trick, with Albion promoted in 1949. Support was at an all-time high, with over 60,000 fans turning out on match days in the 1950s. Albion enjoyed a run of form, finishing second in the League in 1953/54 as well as winning the FA Cup and drawing with Wolves in the FA Charity Shield that same year. In 1957 they failed to win the League but did beat Manchester City 9-2 at home, a score which remains Albion’s best-ever league win at The Hawthorns.
The Baggie Boom
In 1964 Albion splashed out £25,000 for Jeff Astle from Notts County. It turned out to be an inspired acquisition, as Astle went on to become one of the Baggies’ most iconic players. He helped his side to League Cup victory in 1966. It was Albion’s first League Cup appearance, and sadly they were never to repeat the winning performance! Albion’s ambitions extended to Europe in 1967, when they beat Utrecht 6-3 on aggregate in the Fairs Cup. The following year, Astle earned his place in the hearts of Albion fans with an extra-time winner against Everton in the FA Cup Final. It was the club’s fifth FA Cup win but marked the beginning of another shortage of club silverware.
In the seventies, the Baggies attracted top-quality managers, but despite having the likes of Don Howe (a former Albion player) and Ron Atkinson on hand, the club never seemed to quite fulfil its potential. 1973 brought relegation to Division Two and a year later, Albion hero Jeff Astle left the club.
The club was enjoying few high profile successes but did manage to stay in Division One for the most part and delighted the fans with some fabulous fooball. Albion benefited from its youth-team talent, including Bryan Robson, and was responsible for some far-reaching changes in the English game. Albion was one of the first English clubs to field several black players on a regular basis. In fact, the black trio of Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis and Brendan Batson was immensely effective. Their prominence and success in the Albion team did much to challenge the racist attitudes prevalent in UK football at this time. They inspired many young black men to take up football professionally. Robbie Earle, quoted on the BBC’s Inside Out website, says that
Together they paved the way for players like me. Without the inspiration provided by the likes of these players, I might never have considered football as a career.
But Albion fans were, in truth, probably more interested in trophies than social policies. In 1975, new player/manager Johnny Giles signed England’s 1966 World Cup hero Geoff Hurst, and Albion went back up to Division One at the end of the season. The manager left in 1977, replaced by Ronnie Allen, who took the club well beyond the West Midlands. In May 1978, Albion went on a three week tour of China. As the first British professional team to play in the country, their four matches were closely followed back home and were even the subject of a TV documentary by the BBC.
Perhaps the players picked up some skills in the Orient. They certainly played some fantastic football in the 1978/79 season, and the League title was theirs for the taking. But a slump in form saw them finish third. The team was thwarted, too, in Europe. They battled through to the UEFA Cup Quarter Final, but were beaten by Red Star Belgrade who went on to lose in the Final to Borussia Monchengladbach. Older Baggies fans remember the season’s real highlight as the 5-3 victory away at Manchester United. No other team has scored five goals at Old Trafford, before or since.
Clubs at home and abroad were keen to snap up Albion’s talented players, and success sadly coincided with managerial problems, not least of which was the sudden death of club director, Tom Silk. With trouble at the top, the cream of Albion’s team slipped off to other clubs. They were prepared to pay big money – Laurie Cunningham joined Real Madrid for £995,000. Despite the influx of cash, Albion was fielding an impoverished side as the 70s drew to a close.
Down and out in the 80’s
Despite qualification for the UEFA Cup in 1979/80 and 1981/82, Albion was not doing well in the early eighties. Financial crisis loomed and Ron Atkinson not only jumped ship to Manchester United, but took star players Bryan Robson and Remi Moses with him to Old Trafford. Tony Brown, another Albion asset departed and Albion slid down to Division Two in 1986 after the worst season in the club’s history: four wins and 26 defeats resulting in a meagre points total of 24.
The 1990s began on a low for Albion, with the team relegated to the (old) Third Division for the first time in 1991, despite the best efforts of the new manager, Bobby Gould. By 1993 Albion were back in Division Two and finally scoring goals, with Taylor becoming the first player to net 35 goals in one season since Astle in 1968.
Boxing Day 1994 saw the opening of the refurbished Hawthorns. Albion beat Bristol City 1-0 in this opening fixture and the £7.2 million investment in the ground was widely lauded, as the club’s fortunes seemed to take a turn for the better in the mid-90s. The 1995/96 season, though, witnessed Albion’s worst ever losing streak – eleven League defeats in a row ending in a miserable 0-0 draw against Wolves. The late nineties were marred by managerial madness. Ray Harford arrived in 1997 and ex-player Cyrille Regis joined his coaching team. By December, another new manager was installed, only to be replaced in 1999 by Brian Little.
Signs of revival
After all the managerial musical chairs, Albion finally found stability and a measure of success under Gary Megson. Despite the loss of Enzo Maresca to Juventus in January 2000 (for a club record £4.3 million fee), the new millennium heralded a change in the Albion’s fortunes. Megson arrived in March, and engineered a relegation escape. Summer signings strengthened the team and the club qualified for the end of season play-offs in 2001.
2001/02 was a nail-biting season for fans. Albion eventually secured promotion to the Premiership, making up an 11-point deficit in the last six weeks of the season to reach the automatic promotion spot occupied by Wolves. The most dramatic day of the season came on March 16 2002 – known in club annals as the Battle of Bramall Lane. Albion were winning 3-0 away to Sheffield United after 82 minutes when the game was abandoned because United had lost five players, leaving less than the statutory seven needed to complete the game. Three players had been red-carded, but the other two had been unable to continue due to injury. Albion desperately needed the win, while their opponents were safe from relegation and out of contention for the play-off places. Baggies fans and team accused Sheffield manager, Neil Warnock, of faking injuries to end the game. In the rumpus that followed, the FA determined to let the result stand, helping Albion on their way to the top flight.
Albion’s first success in the Premier League came on 31 August 2002, with a 1-0 win over Fulham. But despite new signings, the club was relegated. A 6-0 drubbing at home to Liverpool only rubbed salt into the wound. In 2003 Albion acquired a lot of new talent, which helped them secure promotion once again in 2004. Megson was undoubtedly having a positive influence on the club, but then he walked in October 2004, with Bryan Robson taking on the role in November. Despite being bottom of the League on Christmas Day, the Baggies fought their way back up, with an emphatic 4-1 win against Charlton in March 2005 – their biggest every Premiership win. A nail-biting final day of the season saw Albion beat Portsmouth and avoid the drop. This made Robson’s side the first in Premiership history to be bottom at Christmas and still avoid relegation.
There was to be no dramatic comeback in 2006, however, as the Baggies failed to win a single game from February onwards. They were relegated to the Championship, and lost ten of their best players including Andy Johnson, Kevin Campbell, Kanu and Junichi Inamoto. The 2006/07 season should have seen Albion return to the top flight. But the boing back to the Premiership was not to be, as Albion suffered a harsh 1-0 defeat to Derby in the first-ever Championship play-off final at the new Wembley stadium. “Disappointed?” said a long-time Baggies supporter “I’m distraught”! Fans are hoping for better results as the centenary of Albion’s solitary League win approaches.
1887/88 – FA Cup Winners
1891/92 – FA Cup Winners
1901/02 – Division Two Champions
1910/11 – Division Two Champions
1919/20 – Division One Champions
1920 – FA Charity Shield Winners
1930/31 – FA Cup Winners
1953/54 – FA Cup Winners
1954 – FA Charity Shield Winners (shared with Wolves)
1965/66 – Football League Cup Winners
1967/68 – FA Cup Winners
Biggest League win: 12-0 vs Darwen (h), April 4, 1892
Biggest FA Cup win: 10-1 vs Chatham (a), March 2, 1889
Biggest League Cup win: 6-1 vs Coventry City (h), 1965/66 and 6-1 vs Aston Villa
Biggest League defeat: 10-3 vs Stoke City (a), February 4, 1937
Biggest FA Cup defeat: 5-0 vs Leeds United (a), February 18, 1967
Biggest League Cup defeat: 6-1 vs Nottingham Forest, 1982/83
Biggest League attendance: 60,945 vs Wolves, March 4, 1950
Biggest FA Cup attendance: 64,815 vs Arsenal, March 6, 1937
Record seasonal league goals total: 105 in Division Two, 1929/30
Record seasonal league goalscorer: WG Richardson, 39 in 1935/36
Record career goalscorer in all games: Tony Brown, 279
Record career league appearances: Tony Brown, 574 (561 and 13 sub)
Record career appearances in all games: Tony Brown 720 (706 and 14 sub)
Oldest player: George Baddeley, 39 years, 345 days vs Sheffield Wednesday, April 18, 1914.
Youngest player: Frank Hodgetts, 16 years, 26 days vs Notts County, October, 1940.