Albion pay tribute to a fallen hero
The new year has already claimed its first Albion hero as another link in the chain between the present and the past is lost with the sad passing of Brian Whitehouse.
Brian was one of those men without whom no club can possibly survive, one who toiled in the background, rarely grabbing the limelight, but doing his bit, his best, day after day in service of the colours.
While contemporaries such as Ronnie Allen, Bobby Robson and the great Ray Barlow harvested the headlines, Brian was there each day, testing then and pushing them in training, joining them from time to time on the park on a Saturday, never letting the side down and, from time to time, stealing the show even from such luminaries.
It’s testament to how good Albion were in the late 1950s that Brian’s first team career spanned just 46 games for us. But if you were a young forward trying to make your mark, getting past the likes of Allen, Robson, Johnnie Nicholls and Derek Kevan is pretty much the dictionary definition of “thankless task”.
But the West Bromwich boy stuck to it, relishing the opportunity that had been given him after coming to the club in 1950 for a £10 fee from Vono Sports. And why wouldn’t he, after being struck down by rheumatic fever as a child ad left unable to walk for a time.
It was his love of football that got him off his sick bed and back into the fresh air as a kid, and that love never left him through a lifetime devoted to the game.
His Albion debut came on April 14th 1956 down at Portsmouth’s Fratton Park as injury to Nicholls gave manager Vic Buckingham a chance to assess him across the final three games of the season.
He clearly liked what he saw because Brian was in the number 10 shirt in Nicholls’ absence when the next campaign opened, scoring his first goal for the club in the season’s second game as we beat the Villa 2-0.
He clearly enjoyed playing against them for later in the 1956/57 season, he popped up to score both Albion goals against them in the FA Cup semi-final at Molineux. Sadly, the game ended in a draw and we lost the replay and with it, Brian’s only chance of playing in the FA Cup final.
1956/57 was to prove the pinnacle of his playing days here, scoring 10 times in 21 games before joining the Albion touring party that headed off to the Soviet Union that summer.
He also toured Canada with the club in the summer of 1959, but the season ahead was to be his last, figuring just four times in the side, despite scoring three goals. His final Albion appearance came on November 14th 1959 in a 3-2 defeat at Ewood Park, Brian scoring in a 3-2 defeat to Blackburn Rovers.
Accepting that competition for places was simply too fierce here, he left to join Norwich City, going on to play for Wrexham, Crystal Palace, Charlton Athletic and Leyton Orient before hanging up the boots in 1968.
From there, he joined Arsenal’s coaching staff, guiding their youngsters to the FA Youth Cup in 1971 while assisting his old Albion colleague Don Howe who was taking the first team to the league and cup double.
In the immediate aftermath of that, Howe was given the job of Albion manager and he brought Brian back to The Hawthorns with him as part of his backroom staff.
These were not successful times, Albion relegated to the Second Division, Howe paying with his job towards the end of 1974/75. Brian stepped in as caretaker boss for the last handful of games of the season, taking the opportunity to give a first team debut to young Bryan Robson.
Brian remained on the coaching staff under John Giles, Ronnie Allen and Ron Atkinson too, playing his part as a backroom boy as the Throstles crawled back from the depths and into the top flight, taking on all-comers at home and abroad with some of the most dazzling football we’ve ever seen here.
He moved on to Manchester United as part of Atkinson’s coaching team and spent the bulk of the 1980s at Old Trafford, later going on to be chief scout at Coventry City.
Later on, he was a diligent member of Albion’s Former Players’ Association, often to be seen at The Hawthorns. A warm and generus man, besotted by football to the end, he will be sadly missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.
Rest easy Brian.
A full tribute to Brian will follow in Saturday’s edition of Albion News.