Club News

Albion 8: Big Ron's finest

Shades of Gray...and seven others

WELCOME back to Albion 8.

January 12 marks the 38th anniversary since Ronald Atkinson swaggered into The Hawthorns for the very first time.

Big Ron was to spend three-and-a-half-years with us during his first period before returning for a year or so in 1987.

Back in the day when transfers were few and far between, Atkinson didn't have much wheeling and dealing to do - certainly not in his first spell.

Even so, Albion 8 takes a look at his most important Baggies deals. And, with apologies to David Mills, we think we might have found a few others who made more of an impact.

In no particular order:

ANDY GRAY (1987-88)
Yes, Gray will forever be associated with other pretenders from the West Midlands, but for a brief spell in the late 80s he was to become our main man. Brought in by Atkinson in 1987 to help Albion's bid for second tier survival, the then 31-year-old was to score 10 goals in 35 games before a 'dream move' to Rangers. There will be a legion of fans who will shake their heads at the thought but, yes, Gray was an important figure in Albion's timeline for a very short period. Different times back then.

CHRIS WHYTE (1988-1990)
On a scale of Ron Atkinson's signings, Whyte would be at the opposite end to 'Mills'. Signed for a nominal fee from Los Angeles Lazers, the centre-half's arrival fell under the radar completely. Previous spells at Arsenal and Crystal Palace did little to suggest Albion were picking up one of the best signings of the 1980s. Yet Whyte was to make nearly 100 appearances for the Albion, being named as the Baggies' Player of the Year in 1989. He moved to Leeds for just under £450,000 in June 1990, winning the top flight title in 1992.

GARY OWEN (1979-86)
A skilful, creative midfielder, Owen was effectively signed from Manchester City to fill the void left by the departing Len Cantello. His Albion career spanned some 250 games and 26 goals, with the notable period coming between 1979-84. Injuries thereafter and his inexplicable omission from the 1982 FA Cup semi-final side punctuated his time with the Club, which came to an end during the desperate Ron Saunders' era, when he spent more times chasing the ball, rather than playing it. Owen made 22 England U21 appearances.

PETER BARNES (1979-81)
It's an oft-forgotten fact that Barnes was, for 18 years, our record signing at £748,000 following the departure of Laurie Cunningham to Real Madrid. Barnes had a patchy career with Albion scoring 23 goals in 77 games before moving to Leeds for a fee in excess of £900k. Barnes helped Albion to fourth spot in 1981, but he never really captured the heart of the Club's support as previous wingers Cunningham, Willie Johnston and Clive Clark had. Albion was just one of 30 moves Barnes made during his 19 year playing career.

Atkinson wasn't messing around when he stated that he needed more experience in his side during his second spell. Not long before his departure to Atletico Madrid, Atkinson returned to Manchester United to bring in left-back Arthur Albiston. The Scotland international, who had made just under 400 appearances for the Reds, was to make 43 for the Baggies during the next year or so, scoring twice and, with it, bringing some key know-how to a creaking defence.

BRENDON BATSON (1978-1984)
Where it all began. Batson was the first arrival of the first Atkinson era, joining for a small fee from Cambridge in 1978. Effectively replacing Paddy Mulligan, Batson was to become a key member of the side of the late 1970s, with he and Derek Statham (on the opposite side) being encouraged to overlap and support Albion's attacking players. Injury cut short his playing career.

STACEY NORTH (1987-1990)
Often unfairly maligned, but North and Whyte provided a key axis in the centre of an Albion defence during Atkinson's second spell in charge and beyond. While Whyte won the plaudits, North did well enough to play some 100 games during a three-year period - being a key member of the side that pushed for promotion under Brian Talbot. He could also throw a ball. Very, very far.

BRIAN TALBOT (1988-1991)
Thirty-five-years-old he might have been, but Talbot was recruited to bring some influence to the Albion side. He certainly did that. The one-time Ipswich Town hero was to make 74 appearances for Albion, with many of those coming as a player-manager - Albion's last one as it happens - following Atkinson's departure. Albion won nine of their first 12 games under Talbot's reign, briefly scaling the top of Division Two. Sadly, it wasn't to last, with Talbot's side losing steam and finishing ninth in quicker time than it takes to say 'Woking'. And, speaking of which, that day in January 1991 was to signal the end for him.

See you next week.