Fan power at the Albion first came to real prominence in season 1982/83. Mike Bailey’s team had finished the previous season 13th in the old 22-team first division, the highest in the club’s history, but had made an indifferent start to the new season.
By the time December arrived, the Albion had 18 points from 17 games – but those points did include impressive home victories against Arsenal, West Ham and Manchester United.
Football purists would have classed Mike Bailey’s job a ‘work in progress’ but, unfortunately, some supporters aren’t classed as purists.
At the time, the Albion operated a very successful lottery scheme, which involved door to door collectors.
With crowds at the Goldstone falling to below 15,000 despite top-flight football, and no live TV coverage, lottery supremo the late, great, Ron Pavey was reportedly summoned by then chairman Mike Bamber, who asked Ron to get his collectors to ask the people on the doorsteps why they were staying away.
I’m told Pavey promptly reported back that the majority of stay-away fans were doing so because the football was boring.
Bamber promptly sacked Bailey and the rest is history.
Under Jimmy Melia, the Albion accumulated another 22 points from 25 games but also reached the FA Cup final. After a thrilling 2-2 draw after extra-time against Manchester United, they suffered a heavy defeat in the Thursday replay.
I believe Melia as manager is an Albion misnomer. While enjoying the cup run as a fresh-faced teenager, in the years since I’ve been told a lot more of what actually went on. The history books will show that Melia, with his white shoes and glamorous girlfriend, was up to then the only manager to take the Albion to the FA Cup final.
But it was reportedly in name only, and some believe senior pros Steve Foster and Jimmy Case effectively ran the team.
Clearly it was league survival or the cup run, and the cup run was pursued.
Some 36 years later I have no doubt that if Bamber hadn’t listened to the lottery collectors and not sacked Bailey, the Albion wouldn’t have got to the cup final – but they also wouldn’t have got relegated
And what could have been achieved if Bailey had been allowed to finish his job?
In my time, it’s my opinion that Melia rivals Sami Hyypia as the worst Albion manager I’ve ever seen.
Which brings me on to the present day. Chris Hughton is the closest thing we have had to Mike Bailey. Thankfully, we now have a scenario where crowd numbers won’t drop and the chairman knows what he’s doing. Three 1-0 wins on the bounce and all games this time last year we might not necessarily have seen the nine-point return. Did any of us think we’d go to bed on the last Saturday night in October on the same number points as Manchester United?
We’re here for the long haul, with Premier League stability the ultimate goal.
I firmly believe Bailey would, in different circumstances, have got it right but it was, excuse the cliché, a different world back then.
Ironically, one of those 18 points in 1982 came from a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park – and I think the Albion have enough to get a similar result up the M6 this Saturday.
HAVE YOU READ?