Disastrous days a century ago
THE 1909/10 season was a year of woe for the Albion, for by its end, we had dropped to the worst position in our history, 11th in the Second Division, depths to which we had never imagined we would plummet.
This was to be our sixth consecutive season at that level, horrific fare for founder members of the Football League, twice FA Cup winners, five times finalists. It wasn’t as if we were short of good footballers either.
The peerless Jesse Pennington was there at the back, as was goalkeeper Hubert Pearson, while Sid Bowser and Freddie Buck were scoring goals at the other end of the pitch.
But his was to be a year of misfortune with Bowser, Pearson and Pennington each missing around half the campaign through injury, Buck the only one of that golden quartet to play consistently, scoring 16 goals in 37 appearances.
Across the season, we employed six different centre-halves – teams only employed one a game in those days - and six different centre-forwards, hardly a recipe for success.
And yet it had all started so promisingly. We went to Stockport County on the opening day of the season and came away 2-0 winners, thereby embarking on a thunderous win of seven wins out of the first nine, a sequence which had us clear of the field and looking good for a run at promotion back to the top flight.
But from there, a defence that had conceded a miserly seven goals in those nine fixtures suddenly began to crumble. We let in three against Wolves and Gainsborough Trinity to slump to defeats and that was the catalyst for a gradual slide down the table as we simply could not recapture our early season form, especially at the back.
When we were defeated 1-0 at home by the Wolves on the morning of Christmas Day, it completed a run of eight defeats in ten, sending us tumbling to the middle of the table as we shipped 21 goals and kept a single clean sheet in that season destroying spell.
We found a little form at the turn of the year, doing the double over Birmingham on successive Saturdays, setting ourselves up for a tilt at the FA Cup and our first round game at home to Clapton Orient.
The Hawthorns didn’t exactly have cup fever as only 7,339 turned up to view the game, but those that were in attendance saw the Throstles edge past their Second division rivals, Bob Pailor scoring both goals in the 2-0 win.
That earned us a trip to Bristol City, then in the division above us and so a major test for the ailing Albion. With Hubert Pearson restored to full health between the sticks after missing 21 games, we rose to the occasion and another goal from Pailor got us an encouraging draw and a Hawthorns replay.
Despite the fact that it took place on a Wednesday afternoon, the crowd was double that we’d had for Clapton Orient – presumably a lot of grandmothers were being buried that afternoon – and that crowd urged their side on to an impressive 4-2 victory, Charlie Hewitt scoring a brace.
On we went into the last 16, the draw giving us another away tie, this time at Barnsley, a side we had already beaten 4-3 at The Hawthorns in the league. There were no such high scoring shenanigans this time around though as we succumbed to a 1-0 defeat – no good ever comes of a trip to Barnsley for us.
Back to Second Division life and the rest of the season was something of an aimless chore. A flurry of three wins and 11 goals as we vanquished Burnley, Gainsborough trinity and Leeds City breathed a little life into things but in truth, by now we were treading water in a season that was going nowhere.
It ended with a clunk as the final five games yielded but a single point, a goalless draw at home to Derby County, a result which, ironically, stopped them going up on goal average – had the Rams won the game at The Hawthorns, they would have been promoted to the top flight instead of Oldham Athletic.
We were left lagging 16 points behind that scrap, and seemingly going nowhere. How quickly things can change though…