Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Albion's 1993 Play-Off Final win | Dave Bowler

Albion's 1993 squad celebrate the Play-Off final victory at Wembley

Highly-respected West Bromwich Albion author and historian Dave Bowler looks back on Albion's historic Division Two Play-Off final win over Port Vale at Wembley, 30 years on. 

Never before, never since - and almost certainly never again - have so many members of the Throstletariat converged in any one place beyond The Hawthorns in the numbers in which we convened beneath the Twin Towers of the old Wembley Stadium on May 30th 1993. 

A year earlier, the season had ended with supporters carrying a coffin to Shrewsbury’s Gay Meadow as that campaign ended in failure. Twelve months on and 42,300 Albion fans were in rather better spirits at Wembley, there not for a wake but a rebirth, there to watch the Second Division (as was) play-off final as the Club tried to end a two-year exile to its lowest ebb, the third tier of English football. Port Vale were the opposition, their support a meagre 11,000 who had descended on the capital from the Potteries. 

The importance of that game in the context of Albion’s history cannot be overstated. The season itself had been a healing balm, the mercurial football of Ossie Ardiles’ team giving irrefutable proof of the truth of the proverb, ‘all that glitters is not Gould…’

That exciting football had helped to close the wounds of the previous couple of years that had seen the Woking disaster, relegation to the third tier for the first time in over 100 years of league football at Twerton Park and the failure to even reach the play-offs in the first Third Division season. 

While the English elite were galloping off over the hill with the advent of the Premier League, that failure left us languishing in misery. But the Ardiles season had raised spirits, and that earthquake of a night at The Hawthorns against Swansea City in the play-off semi-final reminded us all of what primeval power still lurked beneath the years of decline, what potential lay untapped.

Which was all very well, but if Albion then blew it at Wembley, that season of progress would count for nothing. A third season marooned in the third tier? What might the consequences be of that? A great club, one of towering history such as this one, will always come back, Lazarus like, for history is the one footballing currency that never loses its value and which can always be used as security against an eventual resurrection. 

But how long might we have had to wait for that had Port Vale won that day? Might we have had a near quarter of a century of underachievement like Nottingham Forest have just endured for instance? Thankfully, we did not have to find out for Albion prevailed, but 30 years on, just remind yourself about the scale of those stakes that Taylor and Strodder, Reid and Raven, Lange and Lilwall faced that day. 

In all the football club’s long history, I don’t think the Throstles have ever played in a game with so much riding upon it, with such an absolute existentialist pressure as its backdrop. Winner takes all perhaps, but that phrase ignores the darker side of the coin - losing costs everything. 

That under those circumstances the team played at Wembley Stadium with such freedom is a miracle of the kind that makes the loaves and fishes trick look like an outtake from ‘Nazareth’s Got Talent”. The combined skills of Ardiles and his assistant Keith Burkinshaw pitched preparations perfectly. When they arrived in north London, Albion were ready, as ready as they have ever been for a big game. Moving Port Vale around the chessboard with mesmerising, metronomic passing play, victory looked a matter of time from the outset. That nervelessness so transmitted itself to the support that it was actually possible to enjoy the occasion long before the game was settled. I can count the number of times that's happened in 50 years of Albion watching on the fingers of one thumb.

Nicky Reid’s exultant celebration of his goal was the moment that encapsulated the day. For him, the outburst was that of an athlete who had, literally, achieved his goal, all the sweat and toil expended in training made worthwhile. But for the Throstletariat it represented ecstatic release, the realisation that after seven years where everything that could go wrong - and plenty that couldn't - had gone wrong, something was going right, that a corner had been turned, that the shovel had been laid down and we had finally stopped digging. If that wasn't worth thumping out a good expletive, what was?

It finished 3-0, promotion was secured, the homecoming celebrations raucous as chairman Trevor Summers proclaimed the rise again of the Black Country nation. There was still plenty left to do, and fate was to inflict a sharp kick to the prairie oysters with the almost immediate departure of Ossie Ardiles. Complete recovery to a place back among the elite was still a while away, but that first step, the most important step, had been taken. It is often the hardest step too, but it’s a hell of a lot easier when you've got 42,300 people on your side…