A tribute to an Albion half-back of the 1950sIt’s a cliché that we have employed in similarly sad circumstances in the past, but it is nonetheless true that they also serve this football club who do not grab the limelight, score the winning goals, lift the trophies or clock up hundreds of game.
Equally valuable are those who serve in the background, who play a supporting role, are there and prove thoroughly dependable whenever and however they are called upon.
Such a man was Billy Brookes who passed away at home in Lichfield earlier this month at the age of 85.
Billy’s name is not writ large in the Albion record books, for he played 20 times for the first team – not that such an achievement is ever to be sniffed at, for it’s 20 more times than most of us have ever managed. More than that though, he was good enough to be here during one of the Albion’s golden periods, through 1947 to 1958, a decade when we not only reached the pinnacle of the English game but pretty much stayed there.
If fate favoured Billy in that sense, in others it did not for he had the luckless task of understudying the great Ray Barlow for much of his time here and, as one of the finest players in our history, if Ray was fit, Ray played, simple as that.
But Billy worked away in the reserves, played his part in training and, whenever required, slotted into the first team at left-half or, on occasion, centre-half, and never looked out of place.
1953, with Barlow away on international duty, Brookes took the number six shirt for the first time at The Hawthorns, playing his part in a 4-0 trouncing of Huddersfield Town in front of a crowd of 47,043.thAfter joining from Erdington Albion as a 16 year old, signing as an amateur in June 1947, turning professional two years later, Brookes had to bide his time before making his first team debut. When the chance finally arrived, it was in the celestial season of 1953/54 when on October 10
From there, it was back to the reserves, deputising for Barlow again in February 1954 as we beat Sheffield Wednesday 4-2, again here in God’s country. He had to wait until the 1954/55 campaign for his next opportunity, coming in pretty impressive circumstances as we travelled across to Molineux to take on Wolves in the Charity Shield on the penultimate day of September 1954. In an epic encounter, the Shield ended up being shared as the game ended 4-4.
Billy’s first extended run in the side came at the end of the 1954/55 season when a string of injuries saw Barlow pushed into Albion’s forward line. Billy had a run of a dozen games through to season’s end, playing alongside Jimmy Dudley and Joe Kennedy in the half-back line. It was a mixed bag of results encompassing six wins and five defeats, enough to see Albion clear of the drop zone after a troubled campaign.
1956, a game in which the forces of good triumphed by two goals to nil – not a bad way to sign off on an Albion career is it?ndWith normality restored to the team selection for the following season, Billy returned to his role as understudy, getting four more games in 1955/56 before playing his final game for the Throstles at centre-half against Aston Villa on August 22
Injuries then began to play a part in his story, a string of five knee operations putting paid to any hopes that he might finally nail down a first team place. At the age of just 26 in November 1957, his career at the top of the game was over to be followed by spells with Lower Gornal Athletic and Stourbridge, as well as a coaching role at Kendrick & Jefferson.
Billy returned to the Albion not long ago for a tour of his old haunts and charmed everyone who met up with him that day. The Club was deeply saddened to hear of his loss and our thoughts are with his wife Patricia, his family and friends.
Rest easy Billy.