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STARS IN STRIPES: 1948/49

11 April 2016

Post-war promotion

ON the face of it, post-war Britain could be a pretty grim place, the nation in the grip of austerity, recovering from the rigours of conquering Hitler yet still having the optimism and the self-confidence to construct the new Jerusalem of the National Health Service and the welfare state. And, more important, to see the Throstles win promotion back to the top flight.


The 1948/49 campaign was always likely to be a watershed season for the Albion. Once football had resumed after the hostilities had ended, it was important that the club returned to the First Division from whence they had come in the relegation season of 1937/38, for although the game enjoyed boom times once it resumed on a proper footing for 1946/47, the post-war feelgood factor would not last forever. If Albion were to continue to attract huge crowds to The Hawthorns, they’d need to win promotion and win it quick.


Two middling seasons had seen them finish in seventh spot both times, but those had not been wasted years as the side was rebuilt, a necessary process confronting many teams after such a long hiatus had seen many pre-war players leave the game.


Secretary / manager Fred Everiss had been tireless in his efforts to find new footballers, his talent spotting especially brilliant when he crossed the Irish Sea to find prolific goalscorer Dave Walsh and the peerless centre-half Jack Vernon, men who became the backbone of the side along with the decorated war veteran Jim Sanders in goal and pre-war Albion stalwarts Billy Elliott and Len Millard, captains present and future.


Everiss had hung up his clipboard - or whatever it is that managers hang up when they finish – at the end of the 1947/48 season and the Throstles appointed our first ever manager as we would understand the term today – Jack Smith.


Albion’s start was steady if unspectacular but as September turned to October, they began to hit their stride, their spirits doubtless buoyed on their travels by entertainments manager Jim Sanders, pictured here holding the club ghetto blaster, from which many banging tunes were doubtless heard in the hood. Or something.


Albion reeled off seven wins out of eight in those days when they would board the train at Snow Hill and head for away games, the players huddled together in the third class carriages, some way removed from others at the club who travelled in rather more luxury.


Those long journeys enabled the players to talk football at length and clearly it paid dividends in a big way, for Albion were both watertight at the back, conceding a mere four goals in those eight games, and lethal at the front, Walsh and Jack Haines a devastating combination.


That incendiary run saw Albion top the Second Division for a lengthy spell, but it was a competitive league that year and Fulham, Southampton, Tottenham and Cardiff were all heavily involved in the chase. A draw at home to Queens Park Rangers with nine games to go saw Albion drop to third, the Saints and the Cottagers in the box seats. But cometh the hour, cometh the man. The next fixture, a stultifying game at home to Leeds United, required a penalty to settle it. It had to be scored and up stepped the great Ray Barlow, just 22, to place the ball into the onion bag.


From there Albion really hit their stride and after 38 of 42 games, Albion were third with 51 points, one behind Fulham who’d played 39 and three shy of Southampton who’d played 40. Our next game was at The Dell, where Arthur Smith, who’d missed almost the whole season, scored a priceless goal in a 1-1 draw.


A week later, Southampton ended their season on 55 points after losing at Chesterfield as Albion were winning at home to Barnsley. Two points were needed from the last two games, but we did it in one, smashing Leicester 3-0 at Filbert Street.


The Second Division could have been won at Grimsby in the final game but defeat meant we ended second to Fulham. The reason? It’s quite possible drink had been taken in the two days between the games... 


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