At The Hawthorns, Monday 25th November 2013.
The scene could not have been set with more perfection. The ‘premier midlands derby’, played out under the lights at The Hawthorns. Television cameras in place, on the scene to capture the passion and the raw emotion, of a clash between these two old foes. It could not have been more perfect.
However, it was an evening tinged with sadness, as we once again bade farewell, to one of OUR people. One of OUR heroes, a man who wore the navy blue and white with pride and dignity, indeed was his blood not coloured so? Proud welsh-man, friend of all, Stuart Williams was an Albion man ‘through and through’ and on retiring from his playing days, did he not return to assist Alan Ashman and our great team of 1968, to lift the then prestigious Football Association Cup. An achievement we fear may never come to pass again. And on such an evening, his mates, those that knew him well, those who enjoyed combat together, gathered within the ‘cathedral’ that is known still this day as The Hawthorns, to say goodbye. Standing quietly on the Halfords Lane touch-line, in front of the tunnel, a line Stuart crossed so many times, were his ‘muckers’ those who knew him best, Graham Williams, namesake and comrade of both Albion and International days, captain of the side in those memorable days of ‘68. Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown, who would meet Stuart briefly as their paths crossed in Tony’s early days at the club, but come to know him well eight years later. Stan Jones, superb centre half, of the sixties, Ken Hodgkisson, another stalwart of Stuart’s early days at the club, and Micky Fudge, who along with Tony Brown, as youngsters on the ground-staff, would have watched on as Stuart Williams trod the Hawthorns turf with pride. Also there to pay their respects were Brendon Batson and Ray Wilson, great players for the club in their respective eras, and now both leading lights of the West Bromwich Albion Former Players Association, who still do so much for their membership, of which Stuart was also a very proud member. Also there were the ‘Baggies’ faithful, those who follow OUR great club through ‘thick and thin’ and did they show their loyalty well, indeed they did. Thank-you to you all, and Goodbye Stuart, rest easy, you ‘Throstle’ combatant of yore!
I was later privileged to speak to one of those aforementioned about the game, a man who I watched from the terraces many many times, and he never let me down. Mr reliable Stanley Jones was a man ahead of his time, a centre half with vision, skill in abundance, and what is more, a passion to play for West Bromwich Albion Football Club. Stan, as always was forthright about what he had witnessed on a ‘heady’ night at The Hawthorns.
“Initially the scene was set for about seven or eight of us. Because of the passing away of Stuart Williams, about seven or eight of us were there who played with Stuart, and understood the rapport he had with the Albion crowd, which was excellent. Then of course he was a coach at the club when he finished playing which also helped to set the atmosphere for us. After we had honoured Stuart pitch-side, we had only just got back to our seats when Shane long knocked the first one in. It was a superb goal and the amount of skill relevant to pulling the ball down and smacking it away, well, if it had been one of the Brazilians or Spanish players that did it, we would have been singing about it for weeks and weeks. Now, I’m a Shane Long fan anyway and I think his contribution to our forward play is just phenominal. I watched him at Chelsea recently and he had John Terry and Cahill trying to intimidate him, which is a fantastic way of them saying ‘this guy can play and we want to try to eliminate him in any way we can’. In my mind he has been our best forward for several years and his goals last night were an indication of the way he has been playing and I was very pleased to see that.”
Stan paused for a moment, and continued. “The thing that inrigued me about the game last night was that Villa were two down in a very short space of time, but despite that I was totally irritated with the amount of time spent passing the ball sideways across the field by back four players. It’s a form of a slow way of playing the game, and getting them nowhere. It was like a training session. I’m sitting there thinking to myself, there is nobody going to hurt us at the moment, and they are two nil down. I said to Ken Hodgkisson, ‘I hope they do that all game’. The problem for us came when Villa came out for the second half. They played in much more of a hurry. Then those substitutions arrived and the game for me turned into a total, change of styles from the first half. Even everything the keeper did, he did different. It was now long, straight down the middle of our defenders, and basically it became a long ball game. Then of course with the introduction and pace of Agbonlahor, that made such a difference in what our lads at the back had to deal with. Villa mixed the long ball and the short ball stuff, and the game changed purely on that single factor.”
Stan reflected. “I was very pleased with our lads at Chelsea in the second half when they played ever so well. Exceptionally well in fact and I thought when we started last night, the start that we got and the emphasis that we had, and if Sessegnon had tapped that one in at the back post, then the game would have been over. Certainly it would have taken a lot more turning than what it did. It was amazing that you can be two nil up in a ‘dozy’ first half, and the minute the second half came the game totally changed, especially with all the free kicks and goal kicks from their keeper straight down the middle. Believe me, it’s difficult dealing with that kind of long ball. People seem to think that anything that is knocked that long is automatically going to be won by the defenders, but it never is. Some will come off somebody’s head or somebody’s shoulder and there is a possibility then of anything happening and that’s how the game changed last night. It has to be said that Villa were a completely different side in the second half compared with the first, mainly for the reasons I have highlighted, and in the end deserved their point. It could have been three.”
Going back to Shane Long, when he nicked the ball for the second goal. Shane had seen the defender playing the ball into a terrible area from where he was four or five times before, and I think he was waiting for him to do that again, and he was on his way before the defender had passed it. It was brilliant and he read it very well for me last night. For me, we have now a got a team that on their day, given the ‘rub of the green’ that, make no mistake, you have got to have and I don’t care what anyone says, you have got to have that, on our day Laurie, I think we can be as good as anybody in this league.”
Stan finalised. “Last night we certainly contributed to our own down fall, but as we said Villa were a completely different side in the second half. I don’t know whether Paul Lambert said something to them at half time, but what ever it was it worked. Due to the way Villa changed their perception of the game, they deserved to get back into it, and a draw was a fair reflection of the match. Had they carried on at the ‘dozy’ pace that they had started, we would not have struggled at all last night, and would have won it comfortably. At two nil in front we were all in cloud cuckoo land. To re-emphasise, the first goal was an absolute gem from Shane Long in terms of how he controlled it and how he brought it down and smacked it in with his other foot. Then for the second, the fact that he read the pass back, and takes on their defender on the run goes past him and knocks it in as well. You cannot better that, those are Premier League goals of good standard by anybody, and he indicates that he is capable of doing that. And with people like that in your team and the rest of the players that we have got, I think we have got a very good chance of being able to hold our own against anyone.”
Stan Jones/Laurie Rampling – November 2013.
At The Hawthorns, Sunday 5th October 2013.
It could have been a case of ‘After the Lord Mayors show’ following on from the Manchester United result last week. However, once again the ‘Baggies’ rose to the occasion, to give The Hawthorns ‘faithful’ a terrific boost before the International break, by bringing an end to the Gunners recent winning streak.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION 0 -v- SOUTHAMPTON 1.
At The Hawthorns, Saturday 17th August 2013.
Well, it’s back. Premiership football has returned to the home of football, three long months since the old left us in a blaze of glory with a stunning five all score-line against the champions Manchester United.
MAN UNITED 1 v WEST BROMWICH ALBION 2
At Old Trafford, Manchester, Saturday28th September 2013.
It’s true to say that none of the Albion side that went to the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ otherwise known as Old Trafford on Saturday, and turned in such a fantastic accomplished performance, were born when ‘the Throstles’ last turned up in Manchester and ‘rained’ on the Red Devils parade.
At The Hawthorns. Saturday 21st September 2013.
At The Hawthorns, Wednesday 25th September 2013.