On the threshold of greatnessEvery pre-season has its own air of optimism about it, but at The Hawthorns, the one that preceded the 1949/50 season had a particular atmosphere all its own.
With the country emerging from the war years, with assorted commodities gradually coming off the ration, with the NHS slowly becoming established, it was only right that amid that mood of national rebirth, God’s football team should be preparing for life back in the First Division after winning promotion the previous season.
The fulcrum of that successful side had been the goals of Jack Haines and Dave Walsh – 42 between them – and the defensive solidity offered by the hugely impressive Irishman Jack Vernon. Those three were present and correct once more along with other older heads such as Billy Elliott and Jim Pemberton.
But as our picture shows, a new, vibrant Albion was beginning to emerge, the nucleus of the 1954 “Team of the Century” starting to crystallise in the form of Len Millard, the great Ray Barlow, Joe Kennedy and George Lee, while Ronnie Allen, Jimmy Dudley, Reg Ryan and Stan Rickaby would be added to the mix as the season progressed.
position after 21 games, Albion scoring pretty freely and inflicting four goal defeats on Everton and Fulham, knocking three past Birmingham, Stoke, Burnley and Portsmouth.thEight wins and six draws through the first half of the campaign saw the Throstles entrenched in 10
But the winter weather took its toll on the team and a run of nine league games without a win – during which time they were dumped out of the FA Cup by Cardiff too – saw the side tumble down the tale and begin to flirt with relegation.
1950, an especially auspicious day as The Hawthorns hosted its record league crowd of 60,945 who watched the Throstles draw 1-1 with Wolves, Allen getting the equaliser.thThe arrival of Allen helped assuage those fears, the former Port Vale striker making his debut on March 4
That was fortuitous in the extreme given that an over zealous gateman spent an age refusing Allen access to the ground, refusing to believe that he was actually Albion’s new signing.
How important was that goal? Not only did it deny Wolves the win on the day, it denied them the title. They ended the season level on points with Portsmouth, and lost the title on goal average by 0.4 of a goal. How sad.
A strong end to the season saw the Baggies unbeaten in the final six fixtures, winning four of them, all 1-0. Fourteenth place with 40 points was the reward for a campaign of honest toil under manager Jack Smith as we re-established our rightful place at football’s top table.
Walsh top scored with 15 goals in his last full season at The Hawthorns before he was transferred to Villa Park but our success was built on a sold back line, goalkeeper Jim Sanders an ever present through the season, Len Millard making the number three shirt his own across 41 games and Jack Vernon and right-back Jim Pemberton only missing two games apiece.
The next two seasons thereafter were a little disappointing truth be told, for the Throstles continued to bumble around in mid-table without the thrill of an FA Cup run to further ignite the passions and Jack Smith moved on to Reading towards the end of the 1951/52 season, ushering in a new, thrilling era at The Hawthorns under Jesse Carver and then Vic Buckingham.