Billy, Baldy & Tom
IT'S 1892/93 and the sharp eyed among you will have noted that this is not an Albion team group – you try finding team pictures for every year there’s ever been – but instead a Football League group from that season.
For our purposes, we alight upon the faces of Billy Bassett, seated far left, John Baldy Reynolds on the ground in front of him and Tom Pearson, also sat upon the ground. Three good Albion men and true, deservedly winning representative honours in those early days of the Football League itself.
It was little wonder that we made up such a chunk of the team given that the season before, we had carried off the FA Cup by beating the forces of Aston Villa 3-0 at The Oval. We hadn’t endured a vintage league season that time it’s true, but hopes were high that the cup win would act as a springboard to better days and a more consistent season in 1892/93. This was all the more important with the expansion of the Football League to a second division and the possibility of dropping down a tier at season’s end, the bottom three involved in Test matches against the top three sides from the league beneath.
Such hopes were put on hold on the opening day when we were defeated 3-1 at Bolton Wanderers, but that was merely the precursor to a very encouraging six game unbeaten run that took us into the top four of the expanded 16 team league.
After a narrow 2-1 win over Wolves, we started to look a real threat in front of goal, beating Villa 3-2, winning 4-2 at tiny little Newton Heath – whatever became of them? – then turned over Everton 3-0. Pearson helped himself to five goals in that spell, on his way to becoming the first Albion man to 100 league games for the club, a milestone achieved at the end of November 1892.
Dreams of a glorious season ahead were ended abruptly with an 8-1 shellacking at Sunderland and though we recovered to win three of the next four, that run was ended by another 8-1 thumping, this time at the hands of Notts County while in the middle of those three wins, we’d also succumbed 5-2 at Villa Park.
Clearly we had defensive issues to resolve, but they were rather more troublesome to deal with than they have been in recent months, no Tony Pulis on hand to waterproof the back line.
From the Notts County hammering onwards, we lost eight out of nine, including a 5-4 defeat at Accrington then back to back thrashings at the turn of the year, 5-0 at Burnley and 6-0 at Sheffield Wednesday. We had conceded 33 goals in nine games, enough to make you jump up and down on your baseball cap.
We had slumped to 12th and though there were surely three teams worse than ourselves - earliest known use of the phrase - so that the end of season Test matches looked unlikely, there was much consternation among the Throstletariat.
At least we had the FA Cup to look forward to and we warmed up for our opening defence by taking revenge on Burnley with a 7-1 win at Stoney Lane before we were beaten 1-0 by Everton. That should have been a warning to us because a week later, we returned to Goodison in the FA Cup and were beaten 4-1, our misery compounded the following week when we lost at Blackburn to boot to put us as low as 14th and suddenly, locked into the bottom three, we were in deep trouble.
Foul weather and the FA Cup combined to ensure we played just once in February – a 2-1 win at Stoke - but it appears the rest was as good as a change, for when we returned to action in March, we were a side revitalised.
We reeled off five more unbeaten games, including a 4-3 win at Nottingham Forest and 3-0 and 3-1 victories over Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County respectively to complete a four game winning streak after Stoke, to carry us to safety.
When the season was duly completed and the points were totted up, Albion had taken 29 points from our 30 games and ended the season in a very comfortable eighth place, some five points clear of the bottom three. But for all that gap, those that knew their football recognised that it had indeed been a very close run thing…