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IT was 40 years ago today that John Giles taught Albion to play. Ok, so it doesn’t scan as well, but we can’t afford Paul McCartney.
Back in 1975, the Throstles were at a low ebb, certainly in our worst state in 70 years, since the great financial crises of the early 1900s when the very future of the club was called into question. In the post-war world, Albion had been a top flight fixture until relegation gathered us to its bony bosom in 1973 and after two fruitless seasons in the Second Division where we had never threatened to enter the promotion race, it was time for a change.
Don Howe was removed from his role as manager towards the end of the 1974/75 season and that summer, he was replaced by the Leeds midfield general, John Giles, the added bonus being that Giles would also carry on playing, a substantial boost to our ranks given that even at 34, he was still a genuinely world class performer.
The level of Albion’s disarray should not be underestimated for we were a club where hope was dissipating, despair setting in and, according to Tony Brown, the prospect of dropping further down the Football League a real one.
It wasn’t merely a question of steadying the ship. We had to completely turn it round and quick because crowds were plummeting and, amid the economic crisis bequeathed by the Heath Government, money was a commodity in very short supply in the Black Country – plus ca bleeding change eh? Failure to bring the disaffected back to The Hawthorns could have seen us heading to oblivion.
Yet Howe had left Giles the foundations on which to build. His obsessive attention to defending had seen John Wile and Alistair Robertson develop into as good a central defensive partnership as there was anywhere in the land, top flight included, and with the best part of a decade left in both of them.
We had Howe’s greatest single moment as an Albion boss to enjoy too for it was he who had signed the magical Willie Johnston. Tony Brown, seemingly on his way to Crystal Palace, had been rescued more a fate worse than Croydon, and was available for rehabilitation. Len Cantello was continuing to develop as a gifted all round footballer. And the Albion youth policy had just delivered two very impressive prospects in the shape of John Trewick and Bryan Robson.
Stir Giles into that mix, add a spoonful of experience in Paddy Mulligan and Mick Martin, men that Giles knew well from the Irish national side and you had the beginnings of a handy side. Allow them to enjoy their football again, for the first time in three or four years and you had a unit that was going places.
The places they went will be recounted on our special twitter feed @wbafc7576
which begins to properly kick into gear this week. Some 40 years on, that remains a remarkable season, one filled with drama and one which pointed us in the direction of one of the most enthralling Albion teams of all time just three short years later. Come and join us.