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STARS IN STRIPES: 1913/14

4 April 2016

The end of innocence

THESE gentlemen here represent the end of the age of innocence. 


This is the collection of Albion players and officials who piloted the club through the campaign of 1913/14, the final year before carnage broke out across the globe and mechanisation and technology was really brought to bear in warfare, making it far quicker and more efficient to conduct wholesale slaughter in the name of a flag.


The “war to end all wars” – it didn’t work – broke out on 4thAugust 1914, which didn’t prevent the Football League shuffling onwards for another season, ostensibly to keep the home fires burning and lighten the appallingly heavy load during a conflict that, it soon became apparent, was not going to be over by Christmas after all.


But it was 1913/14 that was the last “normal” season of the Edwardian golden age, a time when we could still believe in age old values and verities.


And yet even those were under threat when, in November 1913, Albion skipper Jesse Pennington was approached by a man named Pascoe Bioletti, who offered him and his team mates a hefty bribe in order to fix the result of Albion’s game with Everton. Pennington immediately informed the Albion board who contacted the Police with Bioletti subsequently spending a period at His Majesty’s Pleasure, without the option.


It was the Throstles’ third campaign back in the top flight after the promotion winning season of 1910/11, and a very handy young side was beginning to take shape. They started the season in good heart, dispensing a 4-1 thumping to Burnley at The Hawthorns on the opening day, Alf Bentley helping himself to all the goals, a little selfish given we also sported the highly talented youngster Freddie Morris in the forward line too.


Those two enjoyed a prolific start to the season and through the first 19 games of the 38 fixture campaign, the Throstles were never out of the top five, a stirring start built on particularly impressive home form. We did not suffer a first home defeat until 24thJanuary 1914 when Liverpool stole away with a 1-0 victory, the only time we were beaten in God’s country.


A midseason slump, of which that was part, saw Albion win just one game in nine, a spell which saw the chances of winning the First Division for the first time fall by the wayside as Blackburn Rovers extended their lead at the top of the pile. But the Throstles regained their composure in mid-February and embarked upon a strong finish to the season, the side getting stronger as the games ticked away.


They finished the season in the finest of fettle, taking 10 of the last 14 points on offer to climb the table, eventually finishing in fifth, bottom of a clutch of three sides of 43 points, just one behind runners-up Aston Villa.


More important perhaps, under the wise leadership of chairman Billy Bassett and secretary / manager Fred Everiss, Albion were constructing a team that was ready to challenge for the glittering prizes.


Of the players that appeared regularly in 1913/14, Hubert Pearson, Joe Smith, Jesse Pennington, Bobby McNeal, Claude Jephcott, Alf Bentley and Freddie Morris would go on to be every bit as influential in the side that did finally grasp the First Division crown, the all-conquering, record breaking combination of 1919/20, the side that infused that first post-war season with a bright, thrilling football that deserved the game’s highest honour.


One member of the 1913/14 side was not as lucky as his colleagues. Harold Bache, who played as an amateur and who represented Worcestershire in the County Championship, was brought to the club from Eastbourne in mid-season and swiftly impressed in an attacking role. Once war broke out, he joined the Lancashire Fusiliers and reached the rank of Second Lieutenant.


He was killed at Ypres, a savage reminder that really, football is just for fun. It’s not the real world.


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