From Bescot to promotionIt was the summer of 2003 and the great global chair shortage had reached West Bromwich ahead of the club’s photocall for the 2003/04 season, a season that saw Albion back in Division One after our first brief flirtation with life in the Premier League under Gary Megson.
Heroes of the revolution such as Bob Taylor, Derek McInnes and Igor Balis had all moved on, making way for a fresh intake of footballing horseflesh including the likes of Rob Hulse, James O’Connor, Thomas Gaardsoe, Bernt Haas and Artim Sakiri who, legend had it, scored from corner kicks and had some fairly fruity opinions on David Beckham to boot.
One that had apparently got away that summer, Paul Merson, turned up at Walsall of all places and, on an unforgettable first day of the season, proceeded to trash the Baggies at Bescot, Albion slumping to a 4-1 defeat on a blazing hot day, though probably not as blazing hot as the dressing room was after the game.
Albion swiftly got their minds focused on the job in hand however. Sakiri scored a glorious goal in the 4-1 defeat of Burnley at The Hawthorns as the Throstles reeled off five straight wins to go top. We even beat Stoke City, Scott Dobie getting the only goal of the game, while in the League Cup we were progressing nicely, going so far as to beat Newcastle United on Tyneside, then Manchester United at The Hawthorns with another wonder goal, this time from Haas.
November when, defending like particularly unimpressive drains, we found ourselves 3-0 down to West Ham inside 18 minutes, looking as if we could go on to lose by double figures. Somehow we clawed two goals back before the break and when Jermain Defoe got himself sent off on the stroke of half time, West Ham cracked. Albion completed the comeback of all comebacks, winning 4-3 and going top of the league.thYet the day of days came at the Boleyn Ground on 8
That was to be the high watermark for a time. We stumbled to just two wins in the next nine games, yet so strong had our start to the season been, we remained in the top two. But things were getting rather fractious, skipper Sean Gregan reacting to some stick from the crowd in rather robust fashion after he score in the 2-2 draw with Crewe just before Christmas.
We lost at Coventry in our final visit to Highfield Road a week later, got a last minute equaliser against Derby on Boxing Day then played out possibly the dullest 0-0 of all time against Wimbledon in Milton Keynes. Even the concrete cows started giving milk just to entertain themselves.
Cup defeats to Arsenal and Nottingham Forest further deepened the gloom, rather unfairly given we were still in the top two. But we were still living on the glories of the previous promotion season when we had overhauled Wolves – then doing the decent thing by getting themselves comprehensively relegated from the top flight – and nothing could ever live up to that.
The foot was returned to the gas in February and March as we won eight and drew one of ten league fixtures before promotion was all but secured at Sunderland with a typical “1-0 to the Albion” smash and grab, Lloyd Dyer losing his bearings in a last minute breakaway and setting up a goal for Jason Koumas rather than running and hiding the ball in the corner as he’d been bid. Promotion was secured somewhat anti-climactically as we warmed up for the Bradford game, Wigan and Sunderland drawing 0-0 in an early kick-off.
The final week and the last three games were something of a blur as the Throstles might possibly have done a little early celebrating, while the Throstletariat donned Viking garb at Reading to celebrate the role of player of the season Thomas Gaardsoe. Albion were back in the Premier League.
Walsall and Paul Merson? They got relegated.