West Bromwich Albion - A Brief History

Albion were formed, so the story goes, by a group of workers from the George Salter Spring Works on 20 September 1879. They walked to nearby Wednesbury to buy a ball, and were originaly called West Bromwich Strollers - changing their name to West Bromwich Albion one year later. Their first ever match was played on 13th December 1879 against Black Lake Victoria, in which they gained a 1-0 victory (the scorer is believed to have been Harry Aston). The match was played at Dartmouth Park, West Bromwich.

Their first trophy was won in 1883, and was the Staffordshire Cup. They beat Stoke 3-2 in the final after beating Villa in the semi-final, 1-0 in a replay after a 3-3 draw.

They entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1883. It took them three years before they reached the Final (1886) where they played Blackburn Rovers, losing 2-0 in a replay after a 0-0 draw. They also reached the final the following year when they also lost, 2-0 to Villa. In 1888 they reached the final for the third year running, and it proved third time lucky. They beat Preston North End 2-1.

They followed this game with a visit to Hampden Park, Glasgow to meet the Scottish FA Cup winners Renton, for the title World Champions. Albion lost the game 4-1.

In the same year they were invited to become one of the twelve founder members of the Football League. Their first league game ended in a 2-0 victory away to Stoke City. They played their first three League games away from home (winning two, losing one). The first home game was a 4-3 win over Burnley. They ended the season in sixth position.

In 1892 they reached the FA Cup final (after losing in semi finals in 1889 and 1891) where they met local rivals Villa. They won the game 3-0 gaining revenge for the earlier defeat. Three years later Villa were again their opponents in the FA Cup Final. Villa scored after 39 seconds of the game and won 1-0.

On 4th April 1892 Albion set a record which still stands for the top division of English football beating Darwen 12-0.

Albion moved to the Hawthorns in 1900, and the first game was on the 3rd September against Derby County ending in a 1-1 draw in front of 20,000 fans. However the season ended in disaster as they were relegated to the Second Division. They were promoted in the following season.

In 1912 they reached their sixth FA Cup final, losing to Barnsley 1-0 after a 0-0 draw.

1919-20, the first full season after the First World War was unique in Albion's history as they won the League Championship for the first, and so far the only time. Their record was P 42, W 28, D 4, L 10, F 104, A 47, Pts 60.

In 1931 Albion set a unique record. They beat local rivals Birmingham City 2-1 in the FA Cup final (Albion's first visit to Wembley Stadium). They also gained promotion from the Second Division in the same season, a unique 'double' that no other team has emulated. Four years later Albion were back at Wembley in the FA Cup Final, losing 4-2 to Sheffield Wednesday.

In the 1936-37 FA Cup competition Albion beat Arsenal 3-1 at The Hawthorns in front of their record crowd of 64,815.

The season 1953-54 was one of the best in Albions history. They came within a whisker of doing the League and Cup double. The League season started with nine straight wins (including a 7-3 win at St James' Park). However the season did not end as it began, and a 1-0 defeat by Wolves at The Hawthorns meant the title was gone, and to make it worse it was Wolves who had won it (Albion ending as runners-up). Albion fans could console themselves with the fact the FA Cup had been won at Wembley with a 3-2 victory over Preston North End.

Although the Football League Cup was inaugurated in 1961 it was not until the 1965-66 season that Albion entered the competition. They reached the final which was a two-legged match with West Ham United (Moore, Hurst Peters et al). The first leg was played at Upton Park and ended in a 2-1 win for West Ham. The second leg at The Hawthorns ended in a 4-1 win for Albion, who therefore lifted the trophy at the first attempt.

This victory heralded Albions first foray into European competition, the Fairs Cup (now UEFA Cup). They reached the third round losing 6-1 on aggregrate to Bologna after a win against DOS Utrecht (6-3).

The following season they reached the final again, but this time it was at Wembley. Albion were odds on favouites to beat Third Division Queens Park Rangers. QPR won the game 3-2.

In 1968 Albion reached their third Cup final in a row, this time it was the FA Cup. They played Everton at Wembley, wining 1-0 with a goal from Jeff Astle, who became the first player to score in every round. The Cup Winners Cup campaign in the following season was ended in the third round by Dunfermline Athletic, 1-0 on aggregrate after victories against RFC Bruges (3-3, won on away goals) and Dinamo Bucharest (5-1).

The following season saw Albion going out in the FA Cup semi final, but in 1970 they were back at Wembley in the League Cup Final. They lost 2-1 to Manchester City.

The last half of the 1960's have so far proven to be the last real years of success for Albion. They have had their moments since, FA Cup Semi Final in 1978, both FA and League Cup semi finals in 1982, third place in the League in 1979, and fourth in 1981. During this period they also played three times in the UEFA Cup. In 1978-79 they got to the fifth round losing 2-1 on aggregate to Red Star Belgrade, after wins against Galatasary (6-2), Sporting Braga (3-0), and Valencia (3-1). In 1979-80 they lost their first tie, in the second round, 4-1 on aggregrate to Carl Zeiss Jena. They went out in the first round in 1981-82 losing 4-1 on aggregrate to Grasshoppers Zurich. A Wembley appeareance in 1993 for the Division 2 play off final (a 3-0 victory over Port Vale) has been their only actual "big win" since.

Recent History

From topping Division One briefly in 1980, Albion have had a succession of incompetent managers coupled with an unambitious board. This saw the club drop into Division Two in 1985, and then Division Three in 1991, for the first time in their history. Despite being pre-season favourites, Albion could do no better than 7th, missing out on the play-offs. Manager Bobby Gould was replaced by Osvaldo ("Ossie") Ardiles, who re-introduced a passing short-ball game back to the Hawthorns. Albion finished 4th, and won promotion by beating Port Vale 3-0 at Wembley in the play-off final. Unfortunately, Ardiles was tempted back to manage Tottenham Hotspur, and assistant manager Keith Burkenshaw took over. His first season ended with West Brom avoiding relegation by virtue of the fact that they had scored one more goal than local rivals Birmingham City - that goal being scored on the last day of the season in the 1-0 win at Fratton Park in front of one of the biggest away followings since that day at Wembley.

The season that followed was yet another one of disappointment and struggle against relegation. After two months, Albion were rooted firmly to the bottom of the table, and looking odds-on for relegation. The board decided enough was enough, and sacked Burkenshaw. Alan Buckley, who had worked wonders at Grimsby Town was chosen to replace him. From that moment, things started looking up. With a new sense of self belief, Albion started grinding out victories at home, although away wins were still elusive. In the end, of the top 6 teams, only champions Middlesbrough won at The Hawthorns, the other five being beaten. Albion eventually finished 19th, two places above the relegation places.

The 1995-6 season was a bizarre one indeed. After starting well for a few months, Albion had only to win one game to go top of the table. They failed to do so, and there followed the worst losing streak in the club's history; a run of eleven straight League defeats was finally halted by a 0-0 draw against Wolves, and the only man to come out of it happy was Buckley, who was awarded an extension to his contract. The closing stages of the season marked a stark contrast to that losing run, with the signings of Richard Sneekes and Peter Butler leading Albion to eleventh place in the table, their best finish in years, and above local rivals Blues and Wolves.

During the close season Buckley finally closed in on the midfielder he had been chasing since taking charge; his Grimsby Town captain Paul Groves. Big things were expected of Groves, but he never settled and Buckley's insistence in playing him regardless of performance saw Albion slide down the table towards the relegation zone again. After a humiliating double defeat by Wolves, one not aided by the capture of another ex-Grimsby player - goalkeeper Paul Crichton - the club decided that Buckley had done all he could and dismissed him to begin the search all over again.

After what seemed an age the former Luton, Wimbledon and Blackburn Rovers manager Ray Harford was appointed, and despite some distinct nonchalance at the choice from many fans he soon started to turn things around. A moderate finish to the 1996-7 season was followed by a terrific start to the 1997-8 season; Albion went straight into the top three and after a 1-0 home win over Reading at the start of September they hit the Number One spot. But, yes, it was too good to be true and after persistent rumours of his impending departure, fuelled by his refusal to sign a contract, Harford left Albion in early December to take over at QPR. Harford's reasons for the departure vary according to who he was talking to: to us it was the travelling to and from his home in Hertfordshire coupled with his wife's refusal to move to the Midlands, but to the QPR fans it was the fact that they had a squad which was better equipped to gain promotion to the Premiership. QPR ended the season one place above the relegation zone, much to the joy of Albion fans who made Harford feel extremely unwelcome on his return to the Hawthorns with his new club (which, somewhat ironically, took place on Valentine's Day)

Meanwhile, the search for a replacement was made all the more urgent by a worrying dip in Albions form (although to be fair, the rot had set in before Harford left, with a 1-0 defeat at home by eventually-relegated Manchester City one of the lowest points of the season). On Christmas Eve the then Oxford United manager Denis Smith was given the job. Again, distinct nonchalance from some fans greeted his appointment, although a 3-1 victory in the FA Cup against Stoke City started to win him some friends (Stoke, also eventually relegated, were one of Albion's main bogey teams having denied them a single win out of their last 18 encounters).

Some intelligent signings by Smith, including Derby County central defender Matt Carbon and the loan of former Liverpool midfielder Steve Nichol, saw Albion's form eventually start to return and some impressive performances against promotion favourites Middlesbrough and Sunderland started to hint at prospects for the future, and Albion finished the season in tenth place, their best for many years.

But, as sure as night follows day, disaster began looming once more on the horizon. Albion's steady rise through the old Second Division, renamed League Divison One since the formation of the Premier League, began to slow and they managed a finish of only twelfth place in the 1998-9 season - a situation not helped by the fact that the club seemed to be living consistently on the financial breadline. The club's largest shareholder, Paul Thompson, made plain his unhappiness at the way the club was being run and with it's lack of progress under Chairman Tony Hale. An acrimonious campaign began, culminating in a sweaty night at the Gala Baths in West Bromwich where an EGM was held for shareholders to vote on Thompson's proposal to remove Hale from power. Hale survived, but only just - making what seemed to be some errors of judgement along the way. He claimed that he had been given "irrevocable pledges" of cash from people he couldn't name at the time, that he was going to be putting more of his own money into the club and that it would be used to back the manager, Denis Smith, who was assured of keeping his job. However, Smith was sacked and replaced by former Villa man Brian Little, and the promises of cash never materialised. Results didn't improve either, and then fans making the miserable journey to Grimsby in snow and rain on a Tuesday night in December were amazed to learn that Irish winger Kevin Kilbane had been withdrawn from the squad and packed off to Sunderland for transfer talks behind the managers back. Kilbane was sold for just over £2 million, well below the value most people would expect to have received - but it turned out that the money was needed to pay back a loan to the club from Hale, who resigned three days later when he admitted that he had libelled Thompson during the runup to the EGM. Paul Thompson was subsequently appointed Chairman of a club facing relegation and said to be losing £30,000 a week.

Once again, supporters were looking forward to a few more seasons of the financial hardship and flirting with relegation that had characterised Albion through the mid-1990s, and not even the most optimistic would have predicted what was to come. Thompson sacked Little and appointed Gary Megson as Manager - formerley a tough midfieler, who had been sacked from managerial spells with Norwich, Blackpool, Stockport and Stoke. As the transfer deadline approached, Albion made five signings - including Albion legend Bob Taylor, who had been released two years previously and was now with Bolton Wanderers - and they survived relegation thanks to a 2-0 victory over promoted champions Charlton Athletic on the last day.

A major campaign of rebuliding started, both on and off the pitch - a Rights Issue was made, which funded the purchase of a Training Ground, something Albion had lacked since selling off the old one, and work began on replacing the old Rainbow Stand with a complete new club headquarters with vastly improved commercial facilities; a move that raised more than a few eyebrows when spending on players was felt by many to be more important than providing more seats and executive boxes. But results on the pitch improved just as spectacularly as the construction work, and Albion finished the 1999-2000 season in sixth place - but threw away a 2 goal lead against Bolton in the home leg of the playoff semi-finals and lost the away leg to miss out on a chance of promotion.

That chance didn't take long in coming, however - although as the next season progressed Albion found themselves well behind the runaway league leaders, Fulham and Wolves, but looked certain of a playoff spot for the second year running thanks to Megson's defensive tactics producing a record series of 1-0 wins. But as the season drew to a close, Wolves' form began to dip alarmingly and Albion's did just the opposite. By the penultimate game, the two clubs were neck and neck and stage was set for one of the most memorable games in many years, away at Bradford City. Being Bradford's last home game of the season, especially for departing captain Stuart McCall, they were determined to go out on a high and with only a few minutes to go, the score was still 0-0. Enter Albion legend Bob Taylor, once more, to make a run into the box only to be tripped by defender Andy Myers. Albion fans screamed with delight as the referee pointed to the spot - then fell silent as they realised that Albion's performance from the spot during that season had been, at best, miserable. But a new hero was born as Slovakian International Igor Balis - Megson, perhaps jokingly, claimed afterwards not to have known that he took the penalties for his country - remained completely unfazed by the emotional overload being suffered by the thousands of Albion fans (many of whom had been sat quietly and nervously in the home stands) and struck the ball home. Albion won the game and ended the weekend ahead of Wolves on points with one game left to play.

Words can barely describe the feelings as Albion won that last game, against Crystal Palace, to clinch promotion at the expense of their local rivals. Although even experienced writers of fiction would have struggled to come up with a storyline like that, knowing Albion's unofficial motto - Semper te fallant ("they will always let you down") - they'd have been sure to put another helping of disaster and chaos just around the corner. Surely enough, within a fortnight of the last game, Paul Thompson announced that Gary Megson had told him he would no longer run things the way Thompson wanted him to - and that, rather than get rid of Megson, he was resigning. The news came as a major shock, and polarised many supporters into those who felt Thompson had been responsible for the club's renaissance, and those who felt it was all down to Megson. Clive Stapleton was appointed as acting Chairman while the club began to look for a replacement for Thomspon, until fellow Director and major shareholder Jeremy Peace decided that he should be given the job against the wishes of the majority of the other Directors. Another acrimonious EGM looked to be on the cards, at a time when Albion should have been celebrating their success and planning for the future, but things never got that far as it was agreed that Peace should take over after all. Despite rumours suggesting his imminent departure, Megson stayed on as Manager for Albion's first ever Premiership season.

But, to be honest, the odds were stacked against Albion from the start. The introduction of the contentious Transfer Window, coupled with the summer's upheaval, led to a mad scramble to sign reinforcements by the end of August, and the new signings - few of whom even reached Megson's demanded level of fitness - made little immediate impact. All the pundits confidently predicted Albion's relegation, much to the annoyance of their supporters - and Albion started the season with a game away from home at Old Trafford. Although they battled hard and looked like drawing 0-0 until skipper Derek McInnes was sent off, they lost by a solitary goal; a bright start against Leeds in the first home game wasn't enough to avoid a further defeat, and their third - away to Arsenal - resulted in a 5-2 mauling. Although they followed this with three wins and climbed to eighth place in the table, it was only a temporary respite and points became hard to come by, though many argued that Megson's defensive tactics made it virtually impossible for them to win games anyway. Sure enough, Albion were relegated along with Sunderland and West Ham - but while those two began shedding players like crazy to balance the books, Albion's established financial prudence meant that they were under no pressure to do the same.

As things stand, the new season is about to kick off and an encouraging number of players have come in to replace the eight or so released at the end of last season - including Macedonian skipper Artim Sakiri, the man famously responsible for scoring against England directly from a corner kick last year. Being Albion, you can be sure it's going to be an eventful ride....

 - Finbarr
   August 2003