Signs of unrest at the Brummie Road End

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The Independent Online
When I went to see the Albion at Millwall, just a few weeks back, things were surprisingly buoyant. Albion's won-drawn-lost League record was 7-3-3, and if they won they went top.

Well, they lost, and they've been losing ever since. Their record is now 7-3-12 and another defeat today at home to Crystal Palace would establish a losing sequence unequalled in their 107-year history. They're still above the Wolves but, at their rate of descent, even that will not last long.

Since all but finishing second in the old First Division in 1979, Albion have become more and more anonymous as the board have made an unerring succession of disastrous managerial appointments (the man responsible for many of them, Sir Bert Millichip, is undeterred by failure; he now appoints the England manager).

The most crass of these was that of Ron Saunders, unloved by Albion fans after having previously managed Villa and the Blues. The board haven't made a genuinely inspired appointment since taking Ron Atkinson from Cambridge United in 1978 (although, come to think of it, he has personally stripped the club of Bryan Robson, the luckless Remi Moses, Carlton Palmer and Ugo Ehiogu).

The fans at The Hawthorns have a rule of thumb: if a manager is any good, he won't be under contract; and if he isn't, he will be. I'm sorry to say that Alan Buckley, the present incumbent, has a three-year contract.

When the club's most distinguished old boy, Bryan Robson, came on the managerial market, what did the Albion board do? Nothing, other than to issue the statement that "it never works to have players back"; Newcastle, be warned (in fact about half of post-war championships have been won by teams managed by former players). Not to have got Robson was one thing; not to have tried amounted to criminal negligence.

When Albion sacked their manager of the time anyway (Keith Burkinshaw - he was, of course, on a long contract) they were 21st in the Division. The board immediately demonstrated the scope of their ambition, moving for the manager of the team in 17th position, Grimsby Town.

He could buy any players he wanted, so long as they came from Grimsby reserves (this was a variation on an earlier Albion strategy, of only buying players from Stoke reserves). The result of such parsimoniousness is a squad of such little depth that it barely extends to 11 players. For example, after a 30-year sequence of outstanding, long-serving left- backs - Stuart Williams, Graham Williams, the other Ray Wilson, Derek Statham - No 3 has virtually become a situation vacant.

Instead the board have spent the money paying off the contracts of managerial disasters and building the new Hawthorns, officially unveiled on Boxing Day last year. The stadium is now, certainly, very impressive, although everyone knows that, with a capacity of 25,000, it's far too small.

Albion need an ambitious board which believes in the club as much as the supporters do. They also need the flair and charisma that Ossie Ardiles briefly provided. Albion have had genuinely exciting teams: the Brown- Kaye- Astle-Hope-Clark forward line of the late 60s, or the Brown-Robson-Regis- Cantello-Cunningham vintage of the late 70s.

They do have the nucleus of a decent team now, with Paul Mardon frequently impressive at the back, Daryl Burgess always reliable and the striking partnership of Bob Taylor and Andy Hunt described by David Pleat as the most dangerous in the division.

I always thought that home FA Cup defeat by Woking was the nadir, but this afternoon could beat even that. Grimsby Town, meanwhile, seem to be doing better than ever.