Harty on Martin Hinshelwood’s time at the Albion

IT was almost an end of an era at the Amex last week when director of football, Martin Hinshelwood, left his post at the Albion after 14 years.

Personnel changes at a club are part and parcel of football but I am sorry to see Hinsh go. Not only because he is one of the most genuine people I’ve met in football, but also because he was good at his job.

He originally arrived at the club in 1987, as Barry Lloyd’s No 2. His contribution to the promotion campaign of 87-88 can not be underestimated, along with his part in the run to the Wembley play-off final in 1991, where the Albion were 90 minutes away from what is now the Premier League.

When Lloyd left his managerial post in December, 1993, Hinsh was surplus to requirements for new boss Liam Brady.

Spells coaching at Chelsea and Portsmouth followed, before Brian Horton, brought him back to the club in 1998 to oversee the club’s youth programme.

Unfortunately, in certain quarters, his time at the Albion will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, namely his brief tenure as manager at the start of the club’s return to the Championship in 2002.

Having won back-to-back titles under Micky Adams, then his successor Peter Taylor, Taylor departed stating that neither the squad nor the budget was adequate for the next season in a higher division.

That summer, then Albion chairman Dick Knight embarked on the hunt for a new boss. After an extensive search, rumoured to have included two trips to the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan to speak to a specific candidate, Knight planned to unveil his new manager at a 6pm press conference at the Grand Hotel – hinting he was about to “rock” football in the same way Mike Bamber had done when he brought Brian Clough to the club nearly 30 years before.

It is alleged that Knight’s chosen candidate was the German ex-Cameroon boss, Winfried Schäfer. My sources at the time confirmed to me that, hours before the Grand Hotel announcement, Schäfer met with Knight at an airport, questioning Knight’s previous assurances over budget and squad strength and, basically, asked for a huge wage increase to take the job.

Knight refused, phoned Hinshelwood on the way down the M23 and subsequently unveiled him at the Grand. With all due respect to Hinsh, it was not quite the impact Knight had hoped to create for the press.

In my opinion, Hinsh was one of the most under-rated managers the Albion ever had and almost certainly the unluckiest.

After an emphatic opening-day victory at Burnley and a draw with Coventry, the club embarked on a 10-match losing league run.

There’s no way of dressing it up, it is all about results, but what some fans forget were the circumstances. In the third league game, Albion lost leading striker Bobby Zamora with a long-term injury, and new signings Paul Kitson and Graham Barrett, both with Premier League credentials, were below par. To shore up the defence, Hinsh lined up the loan signing of young Arsenal defender Matthew Upson before having the deal blocked over budgetary issues.

After the 10 straight defeats, Hinsh was replaced by Steve Coppell. Many still blame Hinsh for the relegation that season, personally I don’t. He was possibly in the wrong place at the wrong time and had the wretched luck.

I will remember his years at the club for the right reasons – his part in the promotion and play-off campaigns and his development of many young players, who went on to represent the club at first-team level.

Whichever club gets hold of him will get a real asset. I’d like to thank him for all he did for the Albion and wish him well wherever he ends up.