Albion’s founding father
Billy Bassett was, without doubt, the first truly great Albion player, if not our first international. But his emergence coincided with the first real era in the club’s history, a period where we went on and won the FA Cup for the first time, putting down our marker alongside the likes of Preston North End, Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa as powers in the land.
It was that first FA Cup win that catapulted Bassett onto the national scene. Playing against Preston’s imperious XI, the side that would become known as “The Invincibles” a year hence, a side so confident of victory that they wanted to be photographed with the cup before the game, Bassett was an inspiration to his team.
Instead of sliding to inevitable defeat, Albion were the better side, Bassett wreaking havoc on the right flank with his pace and control. By the end of the afternoon, he was a cup winner. By the time he went to bed that night, he’d been chosen to play for England a fortnight later.
That trip across the water to play in Ballynafeigh was about as far afield as his England career took him, for these were the days when we considered ourselves to be the best on the planet, without ever bothering to prove it, though admittedly travel was far more arduous back then.
Even so, if England could play cricket in Australia, why couldn’t we play football in Belgium? Because “Johnny Foreigner” wasn’t worth it, or so we thought. That isolationism ultimately put us years behind the rest of the world, a key reason why we’ve only won one competition, and that on home soil, in our international history.
During Bassett’s tenure as an England international, England were, by and large, the big fish in the four corned world in which we fought, taking on Wales, Scotland and Ireland – all Ireland in those pre-partition days.
His debut saw England smite the Irish by five goals to one, then in his next international, fully ten months later, he scored his first England goal. That was against Wales, very nearly on real home turf, the game played in Stoke.
The big game was against the Scots of course and he came out on the wrong aside of his first encounter with them, England losing 3-2 despite him scoring again. He wasn’t on a winning side against Scotland until April 1891, a 2-1 scoreline at Ewood Park, then the following year, perhaps his crowning moment as an England man, a 4-1 win at Ibrox.
Bassett continued as a regular for his country until 1896 when he scored in the 9-1 rout of Wales in Cardiff, then got England’s consolation goal in the 2-1 defeat to Scotland at Parkhead. By the time the next season came round, he was out of favour, Athersmith of the Villa replacing him.
Century nor in a competitive game at The Hawthorns.thBassett played for the Baggies through to the end of the 1898/99 season, neither playing for us in the 20
Yet in many ways, he was the father of the modern day West Bromwich Albion, appropriate for a man who played in our first FA Cup winning team and in our first ever Football League game.
After retirement, he returned to the club as a director in 1905, then took over as Chairman in 1908, piloting the club to another FA Cup win, two more finals and our only League Championship.
Bassett died on the eve of the 1937 FA Cup semi-final, a game we lost. More than 100,000 people lined on the streets to pay tribute as his funeral procession, starting from The Hawthorns, passed through West Bromwich.
A true Albion great.
You can read more about Billy Bassett in our special book, “300”, dedicated to the 44 Albion men who have played 300 games for us. It’s available in the club shop now for £4.99 or as a double deal with “Albion News” on Saturday, £7.50 for the two, a saving of 99p.
Alternatively, you can buy it online here: http://tinyurl.com/p9x4qw5