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STARS IN STRIPES: 1972/73

15 February 2016

The end of an era

The summer of 1972 was supposed to usher in a brave new era for the Throstles after Don Howe had had a first season back as boss at The Hawthorns to really get his feet under the table and make the changes he believed necessary to give the club the impetus to go on from the cup successes of the 1960s and become a real force in the First Division.

Howe’s first season had been almost a carbon copy of Alan Ashman’s last as the club totalled 35 points, though they finished 16thcompared with 17tha year before. FA Cup winning stalwarts such as John Kaye, Doug Fraser, Bobby Hope, Graham Lovett, Graham Williams and John Osborne had either left or been marginalised and replaced by new signings such as Bobby Gould, Alistair Brown, Graham Smith, while comparative youngsters such as Alan Merrick, Lyndon Hughes, Roger Minton and Alistair Robertson were given their chance.


The sense of a new broom sweeping through The Hawthorns was reinforced with the appointment of John Wile as skipper at just 25 following just over a season in the first team.


Sadly, it was a masterplan that never looked as if it was going to come to fruition. In spite of the addition of new striking options, crucial given Astle’s absence with injury until the February, it wasn’t until the fourth game of the season that Albion actually hit the back of the net – Ally Brown in a draw at Newcastle – as the first seven games yielded a mere three points and left Albion rock bottom.


October through a Gould goal, the rot really began to set in as we tumbled back down the table.stA run of four wins and a draw in seven games saw something of a renaissance but, after beating Wolves 1-0 on 21


, but that was pretty much your lot as far as getting in the festive spirit or, indeed, enjoying the new year went. With Astle still well short of being fit, Bobby Gould was sold to Bristol City after scoring six goals in 21 games, leaving just as Willie Johnston, our record signing at £138,000 arrived – balancing the cheque book was clearly a key concern. Sadly, winning football matches seemed less critical and as things got worse, so Howe’s approach to the game became more negative.thWe celebrated Christmas by beating Ipswich Town to go 18


Looking to survive by virtue of an Arsenal style miserliness at the back, he simply didn’t have the personnel to do it, Albion’s personnel suited to a more expansive, attacking game. We got a 0-0 draw at Coventry on Boxing Day, one of only six points out of 26, a run that included a catastrophic 4-0 defeat at home to Crystal Palace, a sequence that all but doomed the Throstles in spite of the manager’s oft-repeated mantra, “We can still do it”. We couldn’t, as it turned out.


The fact that Norwich City and Crystal Palace were both hopeless too kept us interested all the way to the last chance saloon when we met Norwich at The Hawthorns in game 40 of 42. A win and we might just have squeaked home.


spot, on 32.thWe lost 1-0, the last two games saw us defeated too and we finished bottom of the pile with 28 points. Norwich survived in 20


A golden run of 24 years in the top flight was over – we have had just 20 up there in the intervening 43 years. Truly 1972/73 did change the perceptions, the expectations and the ambitions of this football club...


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