Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

West Bromwich Albion

West Bromwich Albion FC are a football club based in the industrial Black Country five miles north west of Birmingham. The club were formed as West Bromwich Strollers by workers of Salter's Spring Works in 1878, before they adopted their current title two years later. The Strollers in their original title was derived from the fact that no footballs were on sale in their home town, so they had to walk to nearby Wednesbury to purchase one. 'Albion' was chosen as it was the name of a district in West Bromwich where several players lived.

The club joined both the Birmingham and Staffordshire FA's and began to draw attention with their fine performances in the county cups. In 1885 Albion turned professional and were runners up to Blackburn Rovers in the following seasons FA Cup. The next season saw another final appearance, this time going down to local rivals Aston Villa. However, they were not to be denied as they won the trophy in 1887 after defeating Preston North End 2-1 in The Oval showpiece.

1888 also saw the formation of the Football League, with Albion becoming one of the twelve founder members. 1892 saw the clubs second FA Cup win, this time over Aston Villa, who revenged that defeat by winning the 1895 final. In 1890 the club moved to The Hawthorns after earlier playing home games at several local pitches, The Birches and then Four Acres. However, their new surroundings didn't bring immediate luck as they were relegated in their first season there, before correcting that at the first attempt.

In May 1902 the nineteen year old Fred Everiss became the club secretary/manager, going on to hold the post for the next forty six years. The 1910-11 season saw a return to the top flight after a previous relegation as well another FA Cup Final appearance. On this occasion Barnsley defeated 'The Throstles' in the final. The nickname had come as the club had changed at the Plough and Harrow pub before games where the landlady kept a pet thrush in a cage.

The goals of Fred Morris helped Albion to be crowned League champions in 1919-20, but by 1927 the club once again found themselves in Division Two. The 1930-31 season saw promotion and a third FA Cup win, as Birmingham were defeated. They were beaten after reaching the 1935 final by Sheffield Wednesday. By the outbreak of World War Two Albion were back in the second tier.

In peacetime the club appointed a proper football coach in Jack Smith. Everiss had previously delivered a team talk after the board of directors picked the team. This paid immediate dividends as the team were promoted. Smith was replaced by Jesse Carver who introduced football into the training for the first time, which no doubt benefited the likes of Ronnie Allen. Vic Buckingham built an exciting footballing side after Carver was seduced back to Italy.

The 1953-54 season almost saw Albion complete the League and Cup double. Unfortunately league form dipped at the vital time with local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers pipping them to the title. Solace was sought with an FA Cup Final victory over Preston North End at Wembley. The team were consistent over the following seasons until Buckingham was lured to take over at Ajax. Derek Kevan scored plenty of goals during a steady decline until Jimmy Hagan took over as boss in 1963.

A young striker was signed from Notts County the following year by the name of Jeff Astle. Hagan began to produce an excellent side, with the team winning the League Cup of 1966 over two legs against West Ham United, before falling to a huge shock as Third Division Queens Park Rangers defeated them in the first Wembley final the following year. Hagan's side had Astle leading the line with Tony Brown, which was complimented by John Kaye, Bobby Hope and Clive Clark.

Hagan was replaced by Alan Ashman who led the team to the FA Cup in 1968 as an Astle goal defeated Everton.

To see action of the great day, click on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtKhZupeJRw

1970 saw another Wembley visit but this time it ended in defeat as Manchester City lifted the League Cup. Don Howe replaced Ashman as boss in 1971, but couldn't prevent the team from being relegated a couple of years later. The legendary Astle departed in 1974 and a failure to win promotion led to Johnny Giles being appointed as player manager. He was a popular choice and he took the team back up in 1976 before handing in his resignation. Giles was also the manger of the Republic of Ireland and he decided that he needed to dedicate more time to that role.

Ronnie Allen and then veteran centre back John Wile had spells in the hotseat before Ron Atkinson was attracted to the role from Cambridge United. Atkinson was another very popular appointment as he set out an attractive team including several star youngsters such as Peter Barnes, Gary Owen and Bryan Robson as well as the famed 'Three Degrees' of Cyrille Regis, Lawrie Cunningham and Brendan Batson who challenged the racism in the game at the time. It was around this period when the alternative nickname of 'The Baggies' became popular. The source of this title is unclear with several local theories being mooted.

To see a wonderful performance of this era, click on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTAMsgAdsII&hl=en-GB&gl=GB

Sadly the talent was sold off under the conservative chairmanship of Bert Millichip before Atkinson took the vacant job at Manchester United in 1981. Managers Allen (again), Nobby Stiles, Ron Wylie, Giles (again) and Ron Saunders tried to halt the inevitable slide without success, despite some promising but cheap signings coming in. In 1986 the club were relegated to Division Two.

Atkinson returned in 1987 and was doing well until he was tempted to take the head coach role at Atletico Madrid. Brian Talbot took over, initially while playing, but he couldn't carry on the good form. This was a real time of depression around the West Midlands and the football clubs suffered like every other industry. Talbot was sacked after a 4-2 home defeat to Woking in the FA Cup in January 1991. Bobby Gould took over but at the end of the season Albion were demoted to the League's third tier for the first time.

Ossie Ardiles took the team up via the play offs in 1993 as Port Vale were swept aside at Wembley as Bob Taylor's goals were too much for several opponents. Ardiles was appointed as boss by his former club Tottenham Hotspur soon after. Keith Burkinshaw was next to try his luck at the helm, but he was replaced after just one stuttering season by Alan Buckley. He lasted a little longer but couldn't bring success. Ray Harford and Brian Little also failed to find the magic ingredient despite local lad Lee Hughes banging in regualr goals.

Gary Megson was appointed in March 2000 and he led the team to safety after making some late astute signings. He led the side to the play offs the following year as he built a hard to beat side. In May 2002 Albion won promotion to the Premier League as runners up in the league. Chairman Paul Thompson departed soon after following a falling out with Megson to be replaced by Jeremy Peace. Albion were relegated after just one season, but won promotion at the first attempt.

Megson wasn't faring too much better the second time around and he was replaced by former midfielder Bryan Robson. The team found themselves bottom of the table at New Year 2005, but for the first time in the history of the Premier League they survived at the end of the season from such a position after beating Portsmouth on the final day of the season.

The 2005-06 season wasn't as successful and ended in relegation, with Robson leaving soon into the new season to be replaced by Tony Mowbray. He took the side to the Play Off Final, but the game was lost 1-0 to Derby County in the clubs first appearance at the new Wembley. In 2008 Albion reached the FA Cup semi final where they were defeated by Portsmouth. Mowbray took the side up at the end of the season, but yet again their spell in the top flight lasted just one season, at which point the manager left to join Celtic.

Roberto Di Matteo won promotion in his first season in charge, 2009-10 as the team played some splendid football. It came as a major surprise when he was sacked during the following season to be replaced by Roy Hodgson, who admittedly did a tremendous job before being given the job as England manager at the end of the 2011-12 season. Former Chelsea and Liverpool coach Steve Clarke was appointed in his place and immediately impressed as his side including Chris Brunt, Shane Long, Peter Odemwingie and Liam Ridgewell beat all comers.

Clarke led the side to an eighth place finish in 2012-13, but he was sacked midway through the following season to be replaced by Pepe Mel. The Spaniard departed in the summer of 2014 with Alan Irvine coming in.

Irvine was sacked in December 2014 as his new signings such as Brown Ideye failed to gel and starlet striker Saido Berahino showed signs of going off the rails. Tony Pulis was announces as the new West Brom boss in January 2015. Results immediately improved as the side finished in thirteenth place.

West Bromwich Albion FC will play in the FA Premier League in the 2015-16 season.

My visits

Wednesday 21st October 1987

Scarborough were away to Hereford United in their debut Football League season and I was heading to the game in a car with our grand prix standard driver John 'Doomy' Dyer, Mick Young and Dave 'Crusher' Johnson. We had set off early to have a look at some grounds along the way and had already called in at Burton Albion, Aston Villa, Walsall and Wolves. After parking up outside we saw a groundsman coming out of a corner gate, and he was most kind in letting us inside.

We were in the corner with the all seated single tiered Halfords Lane Stand to our left. Raised seated corner stands were at either end. At the far end was the Birmingham Road covered terrace with room for ten thousand fans. To our right was the Smethwich End, a large terracing with a roof at the rear, which continued around the corner to the Handsworth Side where the Rainbow Stand was located. This had two tiers of seating separated by the later addition of a row of corporate boxes at the rear of the lower section. Finally was the uncovered Woodman Paddock in the far corner, with the Woodman Inn  directly behind it. At the top of this enclosure stood a traditional half time scoreboard topped with a large golden throstle.

We said our thanks and headed off for a visit to Kidderminster Harriers before continuing for pre match beers in Hereford.

West Bromwich Albion 1 Fulham 2 (Tuesday 1st January 2013) FA Premier League (att: 25,436)

It had always been a relief to finish my night shift on the tube after New Years Eve and this one had been no exception. It also gave me great satisfaction that between my colleague and I we'd dealt with things professionally and as well as possible. Heading to a top flight game at a new ground the following morning also helped me along.

The Megabus, which cost just £5 from Victoria was packed, but it would matter little to me, as going past Lord's Cricket Ground was the last I knew about anything for the best part of two hours. I awoke from my slumber as we approached Coventry, and after a drop there we were soon heading into Birmingham from the M6 past Villa Park.

I was in good form as the bus dropped me ten minutes ahead of schedule on a cool but beautiful morning. My next job was to find a pub to fill in some time and to toast the new year, as I knew the area around The Hawthorns was pub free and I didn't really fancy hanging around inside the stadium concourse supping overpriced lager. Birmingham city centre was extremely quiet. A pub that was advised on the CAMRA app on my IPhone was closed and I was about to give up when I spotted a man down an alleyway sat at a table with a pint. I entered the back door of the establishment and walked into a veritable Aladin's Cave of a real ale pub.

The Wellington was the local CAMRA pub of the year, with very good reason. Sixteen hand pumps dispensed fine ales from lots of Midlands brewers. After advice from the knowledgeable barman I plumped for a pint of the hoppy Citra from Oakham Ales of Peterborough. t went down a treat. In fact it was that good that I put another couple away before following some other gents in Albion shirts back across to Snow Hill station.

I could have taken a tram or train to The Hawthorns station, and as a rail service was due I went for that option, with a return ticket costing just £2.10. The ride took around seven minutes and we were entertained by a poor bloke obviously suffering on hard times, but with a great memory of his days when he was in his prime as he recalled random names from the past at volume such as Bobby Hope, Bomber Brown and Dick Krzywicki and great games. As I said to the youngish lad opposite me "That's what taking the Wolves job does to you". "Aye" he replied, "it breaks the best of em".

We were soon alighting and following the crowds up Halford Lane, past a stall selling bags of sweets to keep the kids happy, and to the turnstiles of the Smethwich End. I was soon inside and despite the long queue I had time for a good meat pie. I was taken by the generally friendly atmosphere and good support around me.

My seat was on the very back row amongst the noisier fans and had cost me just £15 in an attempt to sell out to home fans. I was most impressed with my view and the stadium as a whole. The Halfords Lane stand was as before with corner sections added. The Smethwich End and Birming Road End were both single tiered seating, with the far end slightly larger. The East Stand was also a large bank of seating to replace the dated Rainbow Stand. The lower corner sections were filled with seating, but large metal sheeting filled the gaps to enclose the arena. In one was a scoreboard, and the other had the old throstle looking over proceedings. They were the only areas letting the stadium down and offered further scope for expansion.

To see the teams emerge, go to:


The sun shone on the pitch, but still a couple of visiting players wore gloves. One was Dimitar Berbatov and he was probably the only player on the pitch who didn't break sweat, yet he was head and shoulders above everyone else on show. His control, touch and passing had the most passionate of Baggies stood next to me (no-one sat at the back thank goodness) purring with admiration. It was good to be next to a proper fan who appreciated both teams. He wasn't so glowing in his praise of his own skipper Chris Brunt, and with good reason. He performed as though he was one of my customers from a few hours earlier.

Albion didn't close their London visitors down and the game was just drifting along. I was still starving so I went downstairs before the break and saw Berbatov put Fulham ahead on one of the TV's. The queue was large but then I noticed the doors open at the back so fans could use the burger van inside the compound. It wasn't cheap but it certainly did a job!

No doubt Steve Clarke offered plenty of advice to his team at the break and they came out looking a different team. The defence was tightened and play became quicker with the wide man attacking and getting up to support the forwards. A fine piece of play from Billy Jones led to Romelu Lukaku slotting home. As with many of the players, the Baggies faithful had a clever song for the scorer. "Lukaku whoa whoa Lukaku whao whoa, he comes from Stamford Bridge, he's bigger than a fridge." It made me laugh anyway!

Somehow the Fulham goal escaped a further breach as Albion piled the pressure on with David Stockdale in goal living a charmed life. Then out of nowhere Fulham scored what turned out to be the winner. A long ball went in from deep which saw Alexander Kacaniklic take advantage of keeper Ban Foster's strange decision to come well out of his goal, to slide the ball into an unguarded net.

That was that. Albion had the stuffing knocked out of them. The brilliant Berbatov went off to a cacophony of jealous boos and suggestions he had a self indulgient hobby, while he smiled waved and walked off slowly while milking the applause from the purists and away fans. A bloke just behind me as I stood by the exit commented "He's the best player of the park" to numerous nods and agreement.

I made a run for it on full time and within twenty five minutes of the final whistle I was back in the pub. There were plenty more drifting back to chat with fans of other clubs supping their pints, with some offering updates via their radios. "Villa are one down already, and it should be three" reported one bloke, to knowing groans around the bar. I settled for a relaxing pint before heading through the impressive city centre to New Street station. 

I had managed to purchase a cheap rail ticket, which proved to be a wise choice. I slept like a baby and felt refreshed ready to go and meet my good pal Jim Wilson for beers in Camden.

It had been a great day of football and beer. If every day out was to be like that over the following twelve month, I'd be a very content man by the time Big Ben chimed in 2014.

The two older photos of The Hawthorns have been taken from the internet.

1 comment:

  1. Hello mate, Baggies season ticket holder, for what feels like 100 years,here.
    Glad you enjoyed your trip to The Hawthorns, it's always nice to read the views of someone who has an unbiased opinion.
    I vaguely remember the game because it was our 3rd consecutive New Years day early kick off..Hope Sky give us a lie in for the forthcoming season.
    We're a friendly bunch at West Brom who are currently enjoying what is a lofty position for us...Considering we don't have a billionaire owner and all that we are proud of the fact we're run as a business not a circus.
    Good luck with your future visits here there and apparently everywhere.
    Hope to see you back at the Baggies soon.
    Boing Boing!