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STARS IN STRIPES: 1999/2000

2 November 2015

Wembley winners

No, well spotted, that’s not the first team from 1999/2000 but given the way that season went, there aren’t that many photos of them knocking around for us to use.

Instead, this is Albion’s youth team, coached by John Trewick and featuring luminaries such as Adam and James Chambers, Mark Briggs, Max Iezzi, Tamika Mkandawire and Elliott Morris who together formed part of the last Albion team to win a game at Wembley Stadium.

They carried away the Youth Alliance Cup at the old stadium on April 17th 2000, a game played in the wake of the Football League Trophy final that same afternoon – Stoke beat Bristol City 2-1 if you’re interested.

Our gallant lads were the better side in a 0-0 draw with Scunthorpe United before the game headed into the trauma of spot kicks, Albion coming out on top, 3-2, after Morris made two fine saves during the shootout.

To be honest, we needed a bit of cheering up because at the time, the first team, under new management in Gary Megson, was trying to fight off the threat of relegation, a fate that lay in the balance after we’d just drawn 4-4 with Bolton Wanderers 24 hours previously, leaving us 21st on 42 points from 42 games, two points from the drop zone. 

The enveloping madness of that afternoon was characteristic of a season of chaos. Pre-season had been handled by Denis Smith only for him to be removed in a footnote to a statement about a change in catering arrangements some 11 days before the season kicked off - all this and a summer EGM that had seen a challenge to chairman Tony Hale’s leadership. 

Brian Little was parachuted into the job on the Tuesday before we kicked off and, in fairness, he took us through nine unbeaten games at the start of the campaign. Sadly we only won two of them and though we were in mid-table, there were clearly plenty of issues with the beleaguered team.

Just before Christmas, we headed to Grimsby Town, only for Kevin Kilbane to be sold to Sunderland while he was still on the bus, Albion’s spiralling debt demanding drastic action to keep the club afloat. Hale stood down shortly after was replaced as chairman by Paul Thompson, Thompson moving to slap further ointment on our weeping financial wound by selling Enzo Maresca to Juventus. 

Little tried to defend our way to safety, but on the first Saturday in April, a collective collapse against the attacking might of Birmingham City saw us hammered 3-0 at home, in the wake of which, Little was gone and into town rode Sheriff Gary Megson. 

An opening win at Stockport offered hope but a trio of defeats to Huddersfield, Portsmouth and Manchester City had us in deep trouble and pinning our hopes on the famous five we drafted in on transfer deadline day ahead of that game at City. 

Des Lyttle, Neil Clement and Tony Butler arrived as defensive reinforcements, Georges Santos provided some midfield steel and up front, an old hero returned, Bob Taylor lifting the entire club just by being here.

Super Bob did far more than that though, scoring in a 2-2 draw at Barnsley, then again in that 4-4 epic with Bolton. It all looked futile though when we lost 2-1 at Walsall a week later to drop behind the Saddlers and into the bottom three. Three games to save our season and, quite possibly, the football club. 

Taylor duly obliged with both goals as we beat Grimsby and, after a real grinder of a 0-0 at Loftus Road, we knew that a win on the final day would keep us up. The opponents? Charlton Athletic, already promoted, already league champions. What kind of threat would they offer? 

As it turned out, the day was to be about the Albion, not the Addicks. Despite the nerves that surrounded The Hawthorns, we produced perhaps our best display of the season, running out 2-0 winners courtesy of goals from Richard Sneekes and Bob Taylor as we let out a huge collective sigh of relief. 

Along with the promotion of 1993 and that of 2002, that survival Sunday was one of the most critical days of the modern era for the Albion. Without that, it’s almost certain we would not be in the Premier League today. 


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