The Great Escape: 10 years on
THEY say that time flies like an arrow but fruit flies like a banana.
Time truly has flown for, unbelievably, we are ten years gone from the days when the Great Escape was finally achieved, when our tunnels came out across the border, when our papers stood up to scrutiny, when Gordon Jackson didn’t answer a Nazi question in English and when Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Southampton all fell upon banana skins and ended up on their backsides – you see, there was a point to that opening sentence after all.
It barely seems five minutes since the Throstles were celebrating the seemingly impossible, becoming the first team to be bottom of the Premier League at Christmas yet reach survival by its end. Even now, it’s only been done once more since, by Sunderland last term, though Leicester look as if they might repeat the feat, some achievement for Nigel Pearson who was, of course, Bryan Robson’s assistant here at The Hawthorns when Albion rewrote the rule book.
Even then, perhaps ours was the most remarkable swim for survival for if you look back to that Christmas, we were in horrendous form, looking as if we were going under for the third time. Those of you who were at Birmingham City on the Saturday morning before Christmas won’t need reminding of the humiliation we suffered there, fans marching off to do a bit of shopping before the half-time whistle had gone.
When we were then murdered 5-0 at home by Liverpool on Boxing Day, the die seemed cast – 10 points from 19 games was hardly a launchpad to survival.
As it turned out, that sturdy construction was provided by Richard Dunne for we went to Manchester City two days later, had Tommy Gaardsoe sent off early on, watched some French bloke score a free-kick before keeping his celebrations to himself and generally looked like we were going to be duffed up.
Yet we held on, held on, held on and right at the end, a long punt upfield saw Dunne and David James indulge in a gentleman’s excuse me, Dunne putting the ball past his goalkeeper and in. We drew 1-1 without having a shot on goal.
We were on our way. It wasn’t pretty, it was a grind, but we eked out three more draws before somehow losing at the death at Fulham after battering them. But on 22nd January, we beat Manchester City 2-0 at home, our second win of the season (game 24), our first victory since October 2nd.
The arrival of Kevin Campbell up front added drive, belief and experience. Kieran Richardson came in on loan from Manchester United and injected pace and directness to a midfield in which Ronnie Wallwork was suddenly alright and not…the other thing.
We took two points from three consecutive games against Palace, Norwich and Southampton, our fellow strugglers and that looked to be it. But as spring started sprunging, we got moving. Three wins in four games over Blues, Everton and, most crucially, away at Charlton, got us moving again and then a last second header from Paul Robinson at Villa Park earned a draw that sent us into raptures and out of the bottom three.
Although we had become harder to beat, three draws and no wins from the next five took us into the final day – the final half - against Portsmouth bottom of the table, and requiring a miracle. But this was a day when we turned water into Champagne and, on the final whistle, after an anxious few moments in waiting, the fates decreed that we were safe. You genuinely couldn’t have made it up.
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of that most bizarre season, you’ll find plenty to help you saunter down memory lane across our various platforms.
On Twitter, simply follow @WBAFC0405 and you’ll be able to follow the progress of that final week of the season in real time, starting with the penultimate game at Old Trafford.