Close but no cigar1906/07, our 19thseason in the Football League since becoming one of a dozen founder members, saw us playing out only our fourth campaign in the lower reaches of Division Two. The Throstles had first suffered such indignity in 1901/02 when we won the title and promotion at the first attempt, but the financial crisis that engulfed us at the start of the 20thcentury and threatened our very existence was to see us drop back down a level in 1903/04 and briefly struggle to keep our heads above water.
The intervention of the great and the good in 1905 began to put Albion back on an even keel, Harry Keys returning as chairman, Billy Bassett joining the board, the side responding by finishing fourth and giving reason for optimism ahead of the 1906/07 season, not least because a young full-back called Jesse Pennington was already proving himself to be an exceptional footballer.
Freddie Buck had returned to the club after three years away and, in harness with the prolific Fred Shinton, the Baggies could boast a potent attacking force too, the pair going on to notch 48 goals across the league season.
Albion started the season in the right vein and set the pace through the first half of the campaign and beyond. After 21 games out of 38, Albion were top of the table with 31 points, having dished out a six goal drubbing to Grimsby Town and smashed five past Leeds City, Leyton Orient, Glossop North End, Chesterfield and Burton United, some long forgotten names redolent of a different age.
But as 1906 passed into 1907, Albion had hit the high watermark as far as their onslaught on Division Two was concerned. Consecutive league defeats at Leeds City and Chelsea – who ultimately won promotion – knocked the Throstles briefly out of their stride although they responded well in February to reel off three straight wins against Gainsborough Trinity, Hull City and Blackpool, scoring 11 goals without reply.
By then though, the Baggies were playing catch up as the fixtures piled up, concentration slipping away from league chores as the focus moved towards the FA Cup, the competition in which the Throstles had already earned widespread repute with two competition wins and a further three final defeats, though we had not made the last two since 1895, more than a decade before, something seen as a scandalous omission by all connected with the Albion.
It looked as though we might remove this blot from the escutcheon in 1907 however. In the first round of the competition, we were paired with Stroke City, not quite the death sentence it seemed a century laters. Even so, it was a punishing cup tie at The Hawthorns where Tommy Broad’s goal wasn’t enough to see off the Potters.
A replay in Staffordshire ensued, this one going into extra time, the sides still inseparable after another 120 minutes, Bruce Rankin and Arthur Randle on target for God’s team in the 2-2 draw. The sides trooped across to Villa Park for a Monday afternoon fixture on neutral ground, the Throstles finally prevailing 2-0 thanks to a strike from skipper Ted “Cock” Pheasant and a penalty from Tommy Dilly.
Second round duty saw us take on Norwich City at The Hawthorns, their existing journey across country entirely in vain courtesy of Chippy Simmons’ only goal of the game. Derby County were despatched here in God’s country in round three, Willie Jordan and Freddie Buck scoring in a 2-0 victory, and cup fever really began to tighten its grip as we prepared for a quarter-final at home to Notts County. Jordan got two and Buck the other in a 3-1 win, setting us up for a semi-final with Everton at Bolton’s Burnden Park.
The Toffees were top of the First Division as the teams met and sadly, that extra class told as they won through 2-1, though they were beaten in the final by Sheffield Wednesday, a result they avenged at Wembley Stadium 59 years later, which is taking the dish served cold thing a bit far.
For Albion, it was time to concentrate on the league, but the cup had left them with too much to do, trailing leaders Chelsea by nine points, with a massive five games in hand, enough scope to overhaul them, but too heavy a workload. Albion played their last 11 league games inside 30 days and could muster the energy to win just three and draw three more, ending the season fourth, 10 points from promotion. Close, but no cigar.