Good Bye Newcastle United, Hello to the Baggies

I am going to take a small break from World Cup 2006 to continue my series “From Ashill to Arsenal”. My last article was about Life with Keving Keegan and Newcastle United FC in the early 90s. My professional career started there and lasted for 2 ½ years before being sold to West Bromwich Albion (WBA). Keegan had asked me to his office to inform me that WBA had made a bid of £100,000 for me, but due to the fact that the club had no money they were going to take me on loan until the end of the season.

With only 11 games left of their season WBA were on the fringes of the play-offs in Division 2 of the English league and needed to put together a fantastic run in to make the play-offs. Keegan told me that Newcastle United had accepted the bid and that it was now up to me to decide what to do. I was languishing in the reserves at Newcastle and jumped at the chance to resurrect my career.

I hired an agent to represent me in my talks with Ossie Ardiles and WBA, as I felt I needed some assistance in my discussions with the new club. With Agent in tow, I met with Ossie in his office. Ossie asked the Agent to leave and told me that he would not be necessary as they would not be able to pay me much more than my previous club. Then asked what I wanted to do. I thought that was very fair of Ossie. I think he knew that I was going to be paying a cut of my salary to this guy for no reason. However I had made my mind up and the agent came back into the office to continue the discussions. Ossie was right. They were not going to pay me any more money, no matter how we tried to argue the case.

We agreed the 3 year contract and Ossie invited me to stay that evening in the Moat House hotel next to the Hawthorns, WBA compact stadium. WBA had a match that evening and so Ossie gave me a ticket to savour the atmosphere at the Hawthorns. I was very excited to be a part of a team again and quietly entered the stadium to join the throng of passionate Baggies fans. I was standing on the Terrace with the other fans, none of them knowing that I was their new Striker, anonymously watching my new team for the first time. I had butterflies in my stomach watching the game and couldn’t wait to get started.

I had let my fitness levels drop considerably in my time at Newcastle, due to a total lack of motivation and opportunity in Keegans new look squad (see my previous post). But that wasn’t going to dampen my spirit and I was so excited to be playing football again. My first game was away against Bradford. I was a substitute and made my debut late in the second half scoring with a soaring header in the final minutes of the match.

Now I was in with a chance for the next game at home and sure enough I was given the nod to start. I’m sure the fans were interested to see who the new center forward was. I made my debut with Bob Taylor as my strike partner, who I struck up a great partnership over the coming few seasons.

This game however was to prove how bad my fitness levels really were. We were losing the match by half time and I was treading water after only 30 minutes of the match. The pace was fast and furious and I was unaccustomed to this speed of play, having only seen the slow paced reserve team football for the last 2 years. I was very tired after the first half hour and I was off the pace of the game. The WBA fans soon let me know what they thought of me as I was getting booed by a large percentage of the 15,000 or so home fans.

Oh dear.

The team was losing and we could not really afford to lose any more games otherwise we would slip further behind in the race to the play-offs. Ossie Ardiles was under a lot of pressure from the fans to substitute me, and had a fans favourite sitting on the bench to replace me. If he had made that substitution I think my career at WBA would have been very different as the fans picture of me would have been very different to the one that did actually materialize later in the game and for the rest of the season.

About 70 minutes into the match I pounced on a half chance to score the equalizing goal. The crowd went crazy. We were back in the game and I had also taken some pressure of myself. Then I scored a second only minutes later. We were winning and suddenly I had gone from Villain to Hero in a matter of minutes. Then incredibly I scored a third goal. In just 7 minutes I had scored 3 goals, we had won the game and I had made my mark in Baggies history, and also gave myself a lifeline with my new club.

I remember reading the papers and the marks out of 10 the following week. I must have been the only player in history to get 4s and 5s out of ten and yet score the winning hat-rick. Yet it was fully deserved as my performance had been awful. The line between success and failure is so thin and this series of events just goes to prove it. Had I been substituted who knows what would have happened.

The remaining games of the season saw the team put together an incredible run and I was able to get my fitness back during the next few matches. I was fortunate to be playing in an attack minded team that created lots of chances, and scored 9 goals in the final 10 games as we made the Division 2 play-offs.

Next we had to endure the nerve wrecking final few games of the season to see if we could gain promotion. Including a home and away 2 leg semi final against Swansea, followed by what was the ultimate game of my career, the Play off Final at Wembley Stadium (the home of English Football), in front of 80,000 fans.

Coming soon – the 1992 play off matches and the 5 year WBA manager lottery.

Read my other Articles about becoming a Professional Footballer :

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