In a rigmarole of ideologies, West Bromwich Albion have defined expectations for a huge part in the mid 1900s. Through thick and through thin, through blood and sweat, they marched along the pyramid that defines English football. And in their worst of times, they have failed to redefine class and cadre (Aston Villa fans might beg to differ though!).
Throughout their rich 142 year history, West Brom have set down markers for other clubs to follow aided by their amazing scouting system and once-fabled attacking trident in the 1949-1955 period. In the cascading serendipity of emotions, the Baggies have churned out some amazing talents in their cesspool of ambition and success as well as players who have redefined established parameters. Here, we go about the onerous, yet enviable job of listing the 10 greatest West Brom players ever.
Based on consistency, longevity, success, impact, loyalty and dedication, here are the 10 greatest West Brom players ever.
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10. John Wile (1970-1983)
Wile joined West Bromwich Albion in December 1970. He spent more than 12 years at Albion, and was club captain during and after Ron Atkinson’s spell as manager.
He was captain throughout the glorious late 1970s. Forming an almost impenetrable centre-half paring with Ally Robertson, Wile was a sound, composed and uncompromising defender during his spell with the club.
Wile made a total of 619 senior appearances for Albion. His most famous moment came when he played with blood pouring from a head wound during the 1978 FA Cup semi-final against Ipswich at Highbury. An amazing servant for the club, Wile defined longevity while playing his trade as he made 500 appearances for the club.
9. Ray Barlow (1944-1960)
Perhaps Albion’s most gifted ever player, Barlow was a supreme footballer with every attribute in the book, making him the perfect midfielder at left-half.
Barlow is probably best remembered for his versatility – he could play left-half, centre-half, inside-forward, and even centre-forward. He had supreme positional sense and was a major force in leading West Brom
He was part of the 1954 FA Cup winning team under the management of Vic Buckingham. This team came close to accomplishing a League and Cup double that year, but finished runners-up in the League behind Wolverhampton by four points.
One of the greatest West Brom players ever, Barlow was criminally restricted to just one England cap.
8. Cyrille Regis (1977-1984)
Cyrille Regis played professional football for 19 years but the most prolific part of his career was when he played for West Brom. He was an explosive striker and the press called him ‘Smokin Joe’ because his build was like that of boxer Joe Fraizer.
He was spotted by West Bromwich Albion’s chief scout Ronnie Allen, who recommended that the First Division club should sign him. Regis made his first team debut in a League Cup match against Rotherham United on 31 August 1977, scoring twice in a 4–0 win.
His long-range powerful strike against Norwich, in 1982, was voted as the goal of the season. Cyrille Regis was named Young Player of the Year in 1979 while he played for West Brom. As a result, he is regarded as one of the greatest West Brom players ever.
He went on to play for Coventry City, Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and the Wycombe Wanderers but he never achieved the level of success that he had with Albion.
7. Billy Bassett (1886-1899)
Virtually the founder of what we know today as West Bromwich Albion, Bassett was a flying outside-right who scored goals, won two FA Cup winner’s medals, played 16 times for England.
He joined the Baggies in 1886, playing outside-right. Bassett scored his debut League goal on 15 September 1888 at the County Ground, against Derby County. When he made his League debut he was 19 years 225 days old; that made him, on that first day of League football, West Bromwich Albion’s youngest player.
He was quick, direct and highly effective, he possessed superb ball-control and could score goals as well as make them. Bassett became an Albion director and later a chairman in 1905 and helped the club to avoid bankruptcy by paying the players’ summer wages from his own pocket. He remained Albion’s chair until his death.
6. Jeff Astle (1964-1974)
Jeff Astle was a thunderous header of the ball, supreme leader of the line. He joined West Brom in 1964 for £25,000. He scored 174 goals in 361 games for the Baggies, including the only goal in the 1968 FA Cup Final, in which he completed the feat of scoring in every round of the competition.
Astle also scored in the 1970 League Cup Final and become the first man to score in both Cup finals.
At the height of Astle’s Albion career, the words “ASTLE IS THE KING” appeared in large white letters on the brickwork of Primrose Bridge, which carries Cradley Road over a canal in Netherton, in the heart of the Black Country.
Only won five England caps. Astle joined Albion from NottsCounty and eventually left the club to finish his career in non-league football, playing for DunstableTown, Weymouth and Hillingdon Borough.
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5. Ronnie Allen (1950-1961)
Allen was perhaps the most complete forward to represent the club. The complete footballer. The Puskas-like forward who helped Albion emulate the inspirational football of the great Hungarian side of the 1950s.
Two great feet, played all along the forward line, reinvented the role of the centre-forward by dropping deep, a footballing intellect which won him five England caps. Scored twice in the 1954 FA Cup Final win. A visionary and a true giant of the club. Allen joined Albion from Port Vale in March 1950 and left for Crystal Palace in May 1961.
Subsequently, he returned to act as scouting advisor from January to May 1977 then as manager from June 1977 to December 1977 before leaving to act as advisor to the Saudi Arabian national team. He returned as manager between July 1981and May 1982 and was general manager thereafter until June 1983, later acting as coach and scout at the club.
4. Bryan Robson (1972-1981)
A truly brilliant midfielder, who was perhaps the most celebrated footballer to be associated with the club. Robson could tackle, pass and score goals with ease. Robson got his feet wet in West Bromwich where he was a standout player even in his early years. He started as a reserve player and quickly moved up to the senior team.
Robson experienced top-flight football for the first time during the 1976–77 season, and began to appear more regularly in the side albeit in sporadic positions. His rapid progress was halted however, when he received the first serious injury of his career. Playing at left back, he broke his left leg in a tackle with Tottenham Hotspur striker Chris Jones.
After his return, he went on to enjoy a run in the side and scored his first professional hat-trick, in a 4–0 win against Ipswich Town. Manager Atkinson did leave Robson out of the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Ipswich Town, but recalled him for the latter stages of the league campaign as Albion qualified for the UEFA Cup. In 1978–79 Robson was a key player, starting 41 out of 42 league games and wearing the number 7 shirt on each occasion. He played a major part in Albion finishing third in Division One, their highest league placing for more than 20 years, and reaching the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. He moved to Manchester United shortly afterward.
3. W.G. Richardson (1929-1945)
William ‘Ginger’ Richardson served the club with distinction for 16 years, scoring 202 in 320 appearances. He was the first to 200 league goals (202 in total), scored ten hat-tricks, four goals four times, won one England cap.
Richardson, primarily playing as a centre forward, scored four goals in five minutes for the Baggies against West Ham United at Upton Park on 7 November 1931, a record that is still in Guinness World Records. He scored both of West Brom’s goals when they won the 1931 FA Cup Final, beating Midlands rivals Birmingham 2–1. In the 1935-36 season, he scored 39 goals, which is still the West Brom record for top scorer in the top division of the English football league system.
He is undoubtedly one of the greatest West Brom players ever.
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2. Jesse Pennington (1903-1922)
Pennington was an elegant defender. He played left-back for almost 20 years and was regarded as an elegant defender. He served as captain when West Brom won its League title and brought the club to Division Two success.
Although his career was interrupted by World War I, Pennington made 455 league appearances for the club. He remains the only man to captain Albion to a League title, back in 1920. He also helped the club to Division Two success in 1910/11 and was a losing FA Cup finalist in 1912.
Pennington was capped 25 times by England, also skippering the national team. He returned to Albion as a scout between 1950-1960. After retiring, he was made a life member of the club in 1969, a year before he died in Kidderminster.
1. Tony Brown (1963-1980)
The ‘Bomber’ made more appearances and scored more goals for Albion than any other player. He joined West Bromwich Albion as an apprentice professional on 13 April 1961, earning a wage of £6 a week. He turned professional on 27 September 1963 and was immediately called up to the first team squad for the away match at Ipswich Town the following day.
Brown became a regular first team player during the early part of the 1964–65 campaign. He bridged the late 1960s era, which brought Albion FA Cup (1968) and League Cup success (1966), with the exciting, swashbuckling late 1970s – a team which so nearly won the title in 1979.
He also became the first player to score in every round of the League Cup, including a hat-trick in the semi-final, second leg against Peterborough United. In the final, Brown’s goal helped his team to a 4–1 second leg victory over West Ham United. Albion won 5–3 on aggregate to take the trophy and secure Brown his first major honour.
Described as ‘Mr Albion’ by former boss Ron Atkinson, Brown is also the record goalscorer for the club in the League, FA Cup and European competition. He also scored the goal which clinched Albion’s promotion in 1976.
Honourable Mentions: Laurie Cunningham, John Osborne, Russel Hoult, Don Howe, Willie Johnston, Derek Statham.