Throughout the 1950s the club played attacking football, attracted big crowds, and made several bids for promotion under manager Billy Lane. In 1955/56 they won 29 league games, scoring 112 goals, but could still only finish second to Leyton Orient.
The breakthrough finally came in 1957/58 when Albion needed a draw in the last game of the season to finish as champions. A 20-year-old reserve forward, Adrian Thorne, scored five times as the team thrashed Watford 6-0 at the Goldstone to ascend to the Second Division (now the Championship) for the first time.
Their debut in the higher grade came at Middlesbrough – and they lost 9-0! However, the team slowly recovered and finished the season twelfth of twenty-two clubs. The average gate soared to more than 22,000. On 27 December 1958 the largest home crowd in Albion history, 36,747, packed into the Goldstone Ground for the visit of Fulham.
But the place in Division Two could not be sustained. In 1962 the club finished bottom – and then fell straight through the Third Division (now League 1) and into the Fourth (now League 2).
Albion and their supporters needed inspiration, and found it in the form of Bobby Smith, the Tottenham Hotspur and former England centre-forward who signed in 1964. His presence brought in thousands of extra supporters, and the gates averaged almost 18,000. A 3-1 win over Darlington in April 1965 in front of more than 31,000 fans secured the Fourth Division title, the team scoring 102 goals in the process.
The club then spent seven years in the Third Division before securing promotion to Division Two for a second time in 1972, finishing runners-up to Aston Villa, but the adventure was soon over and they were relegated after just one season. It seemed as though the club was destined forever to be Third Division “also-rans”.