It’s so hard to believe that forty four years ago, to this very day, Manager John Giles headed off up the M6 motorway to Oldham with his Albion team, knowing that three points at Boundary Park, would secure an historic promotion and return to the top flight of English football, three years after Don Howe’s side were relegated.
When Albion ‘legend’ Howe took over the reins at the club where, as a player, he became the embodiment of all that was good about West Bromwich Albion’s style of football, he had a dream, to make Albion the new Arsenal, with a pattern of play that would match that seen all over the world played by the great Brazilian side, even opting for the famous colours worn by the outrageous South Americans for away matches. Unfortunately that dream would fade and die, for many reasons, and this is not the time or place to air any misgivings about Don’s management style, suffiuce to say his team slid into Division Two at the end of the 1972/73 season, and by the end of the 1974/75 campaign, the Albion board decided to make a change, and made, what was at the time a ground breaking decision, appointing the former Manchester United Busby Babe, turned Don Revie’s General at Elland Road, John Giles as the new supremo at The Hawthorns, in a Player/Manager role, a position he took up on the 19th June 1975, giving the new ‘boss’ a full pre-season to get to know his squad and prepare them for a promotion push back to football’s elite, an ambition that seemed highly unlikely ten games in, with Albion sitting uncomfortably just one point off of bottom place, with just eight points from those ten games.
However, slowly and surely, Giles re-shaped the side, brought in a superb full-back in Paddy Mulligan, an even better addition in to his squad in the brilliant Mick Martin, both of course well known to him in the Irish Republic set up, and that ‘current’ of confidence started to surge through the squad as they began to ‘buy in’ to what the little ‘general’ was trying to achieve. Certainly there were hic-cups’ along the way, damaging away defeats at Plymouth, Luton and Hull, didn’t help the cause, but Albion’s brilliant run of form from the New Year, just three defeats in seventeen games, brought Giles and the team to the pinnacle of the achievement they craved, as they made that historic journey to Oldham for the final game of an exhausting season, on the 24th April, to play out a football league match that is arguably the most significant in the club’s history, certainly in the last fifty years or so, although the 1993 squad at Wembley might have something to say about that.
I could chat about the Oldham game all day and all night long, but it is probably more in keeping that one of the ‘unsung’ heroes of that rather special journey should tell the tale. Joe Mayo, in my opinion, is very much that unsung hero, whose part in the promotion campaign is very much under-rated in the scheme of things, and his invaluable contribution of eight league goals, just two behind top scorer Ally Brown was the very foundation that Giles needed.
Someone he could trust. Oxford away, Bolton away, Nott’s County away, all difficult places to go, that had to be negotiated and the big man stepped up to the plate, and delivered…..Here is his tale, in his own words and his own inimitable style…..
“Well, I remember it was a very special day and I remember meeting up with the lads before travelling up in the coach, seeing all the fans going up and for me, that was the main thing about the day to start with, but to be honest with you, for such a big game for us, there was no pressure. Giles was brilliant at doing that. He got the lads thinking one thing, ‘You’ve just got to win, that’s all you have got to do, we can beat these, you’ve beaten them before, so just go out and win. That’s what he said to us before the match, and to be fair we probably deserved to win by at least a couple more goals, but that was the main thing, just win. We never felt any real pressure, if you recall we had just got into third place, and that was the first time we should have felt pressure to go up really, but there was just none of it, we just felt that confident, because that’s the way Gilesy had got the team sorted. In the dressing room before the game there was of course ‘bits and pieces’ flying around the dressing room but there was no tension, it was just ‘sort of’ we know what we have got to do and Gilesy said to us, ‘Look you have seen how many people have come up here for the game from West Brom, go out and do it for them’. I think that went through the team to be fair, if you talk to anybody in the team they would say the same, there were so many fans there we had to do it for them.”
“I do remember, there was always this ‘thing’ about Dave Shaw, who as you know played for the Albion, and was playing for Oldham that day, and you thought, ‘Oh no, I hope he doesn’t spoil the party, sort of thing, because as you know these sort of things happen don’t they? so you have to think that a little bit, but once we scored, I knew we wouldn’t have any problem seeing the game out, and it couldn’t really have had a better ending with ‘Bomber’ scoring the winning goal up in his old place where he was born, scored the winning goal and he deserved to have that accolade in his career basically.”
Humorous as ever, Joe reflected, “But what I will say, as Bomber hit the winning goal, I had long hair in those days and as the ball whistled past my ear it caught a little bit of a lock of my hair on its way in…..so maybe I should have took the credit for the goal! (HaHaha)….It just took it out of the ‘keepers reach!! (Ha Ha Ha) I rang Bomber the other day, and of course in any conversation with him, the subject of Oldham always comes up…and of course that special goal…and ‘why not’.”
“Then of course after the game great memories of coming back down the motorway, I remember the fans bibbing and tapping their horns as they passed us, and of course they are the memories of a fantastic day. I know Tony and the lads of ‘68 went to Wembley, but that day must have run that close I would imagine, especially how the supporters gathered around us and took stock and of course got the right result. Also, what you have to remember, that season, as you probably know, we won a lot of games one nil, with the two lads at the back Ally and Wiley, they were fantastic that season and probably every season they played together and once we scored I knew we had won. We thought to ourselves, well that’s it, they aren’t going to get back in this game. I also think promotion crept up on us a little bit. Just ‘sort of Oh my God we’ve done it’ like, and to be honest I don’t think it really sunk in until the lager wore off the next day!! (Ha Ha ha) “Look what we have done” and Gilesy has done it in his first season, who would have thought it, you know what I mean?, It was fantastic and a great feeling to be part of that team. It was probably the best day of my footballing career. To get the lads out of that league was just something else!”
“Summing up LOL, it was a great end to the season, that didn’t start off too well. I bet you could have got about 200 to 1 at the bookies for us to get promotion after about ten weeks. It was just a fantastic day, the sun shone, and promotion was just amazing really and it was all down to Gilesy! He got us playing and from that era all the way through, that’s the way he got the team playing, and that’s the way we played. It was great to be part of that team. We had some great players, Ally, Wiley, Bomber, Willie, Lennie and Gilesy, who has got to be the best player I ever played with. Also Ossie in goal, so sadly missed, who you could always rely on, I remember late in the Oldham game, the Oldham full-back broke out, and hit a screamer which was heading for the top corner, but Ossie clawed it out, a fantastic save, but you could rely on him as well, a fantastic bloke and a fantastic ‘keeper. As I said LOL, it was fantastic to be a part of that team, and of course that very special day. “
Laurie Rampling – April 2020.