Kevin Keegan had left me in the reserves at Newcastle United, giving me no opportunities to play in his team that was marching towards promotion in Division 1. So when the chance to join my old boss Ossie Ardiles at West Bromwich Albion came along I snapped it up. I could not have imagined the start of my career (see my previous post) going so well.
I scored 9 goals in 11 games as myself and Bob Taylor blasted in goal after goal to lead our march to the play off finals. We brushed Swansea aside in an epic 2 game semi final. The second game at home was a classic match with rain pouring down and 2 sides totally committed to victory and the chance to run out at Wembley in the final. I remember sliding in to score a goal in one of the most competitive matches I have ever played in. Tackles were flying in, players getting sent off but in the end we won the game and the semi-final. The crowd at the Hawthorns stormed the pitch after the final whistle and I made it back to the dressing room with just my boots and underwear on. Some lucky fan got a pair of stinky socks for their troubles!!
Life was very good during this period. My fitness levels had improved significantly since my arrival in the midlands and I was now playing to my potential, in a team that was creating numerous chances for the strikers. We had ridiculous goal scoring celebrations, parties to celebrate each victory, relaxed training sessions every day, reflecting Ossie Ardiles’ easy going nature.
I made some great friends during this time including Daryl Burgess, Darren Bradley, Mickey Mellon and Kwame Ampadu. 4 players who were also having a great time in a rejuvenated Albion side.
Training sessions during the last few weeks of the season had become a lot of fun, especially for the attacking players in Ossies team. Ossie loved to play little keep ball “circles” and Keith Burkinshaw often had to stop Ossies games so we could start the proper training session. They made a good partnership with Keith’s stern, serious outlook on the game, making sure the team was organized and prepared as opposed to Ossies more carefree attitude. Naturally I enjoyed working with Ossies more relaxed approach.
Preparations were underway for our Wembley Final against Port Vale. This was serious stuff. The winners would be promoted into Division 1; the losers would get to keep their memories of a day out at Wembley, the nations stadium.
I had been to Wembley before as a spectator but arriving at the stadium in the coach as one of the players was, well, surreal. Souvenir stalls, fans everywhere, hotdog stalls, the vibrant colours of the team flags all around us was just breathtaking. Our fans dominated the stadium and its surroundings. Some estimates suggested that we had 40,000 of the 55,000 fans in the stadium. (Thanks to the WBA Fans Forum for spotting my error). As you can imagine this gave us a real boost.
Driving into the stadium was also a very unusual experience. The big gate swung open and then the clamour and chaos of the Wembley walkways was behind us, as suddenly we were inside the tunnel, now surrounded by reporters who were all trying to get a sound bite for their papers. I didn’t really know what to expect, once inside. Gold paths, ivory bath taps, opulence everywhere!! Sounds stupid but you just don’t know what to expect when you enter the stadium. Actually the changing rooms and surrounding area were spacious but not very much different to other stadiums I had played at. Of course it was only when you entered the pitch that the heart started to jump a beat.
Wembley looks huge from the inside, We walked the field in our terrible Wembley suits, many of the players had got their trousers mixed up, so the trousers were an inch too long or and inch too short.
We soaked up the atmosphere. I even found my brother, Ian and friends, who although they were not Albion fans, had painted their faces with the Albion colours. They came down to the front of the stands and I chatted with them for a long while. I think they were having a great day too.
For me the game was the culmination of a tremendous period at West Brom. The field was immaculate, I felt very strong and we played some good football against a dogged Port Vale side. It took us a long time to break them down and the turning point was Port Vales main defender being sent off for a foul on my strike partner.
We scored not long after this and it was yours truly who opened the account for West Brom. Twisting like an eel, I directed a soft header into the corner of the net. WOW. Scoring at Wembley. Off I ran to the corner flag to dance my little jig, and celebrate like crazy with the team. My god. You have never had Adrenaline pumping like this unless you’ve hit a home run or sky dived from an aeroplane. The hard part was “coming down” again to cool my head and carry on the game. I did cool down as did the team and we went on to score another 2 goals and coast to victory.
The rest of the day was all a bit blurry after this. We celebrated, we talked to reporters in the tunnel, we did laps of honour, we celebrated some more, we got changed eventually, we watched the stadium empty out, we celebrated a bit more and eventually I got to see my friends and family outside the stadium. Champagne was aboard the bus and I headed back to the midlands to complete the season in style with a night out to celebrate a bit more.
One more thing was left to do and that was our open top bus ride around Smethwick and a final celebration at the Civic Centre. I sang and danced on the balcony and enjoyed myself as much that day as I did at Wembley. The season was over and we were now looking forward to the summer break and a shot at Division 1 next year. Of course Ossie Ardiles took the steam out of the end of season celebrations by leaving the club to take over at his beloved Tottenham. But who cared. We were still loving every minute of our promotion success and even the loss of our manager was something we could surely deal with.
Even if it meant joining the West Bromwich Albion Manager lottery. Over the next 5 years we slowly lost all the momentum of this glorious season, changing managers every year, sometimes more often. This was my biggest disappointment of my time at West Brom, in that we were never capable of building on the smallest scraps of success. But that’s another story…….
Read the rest of my story on "How To Become a Professional Footballer"
Part 1 - From Ashill To Arsenal
Part 2 - From Kettering to Newcastle United
Part 3 - To the Toon (NUFC)
Part 4 - Life with Kevin Keegan
Part 5 - Goodbye Newcastle United, hello the Baggies