Now back in the Second Division, Albion came close to securing promotion back to Division One in 1985, but were then relegated to the Third Division two years later.
Under manager Barry Lloyd they came straight back, thanks largely to the 32 goals of Garry Nelson, but struggled for a couple of seasons before rather unexpectedly securing a place in the 1991 play-offs. After defeating Millwall over two legs, the Wembley final was lost 3-1 to Notts County and the dream of a return to the top flight was dashed once more.
Relegation followed a year later, and the club was beset with financial problems as years of spending beyond its means finally took their toll. Six times Albion had to fend off winding-up petitions in the High Court, with only the sale of goalkeeper Mark Beeney to Leeds United in April 1993 averting closure as the fee received was quickly passed on to the Inland Revenue.
A boardroom takeover in 1993 provided some breathing space, while new manager Liam Brady was a popular appointment. The long-term solution was seen in the provision of a new multi-purpose stadium to provide greater income than the ramshackle Goldstone Ground could hope to generate – but there was no obvious or agreed site for such a project. In the meantime supporters were asked to help secure planning permission for retail warehouses on the Goldstone site to increase the club’s borrowing power – and they were assured that there would be no sale of the ground until an acceptable alternative was available.
But in 1995 the board of directors did sell the Goldstone Ground, despite having nothing to offer but a groundshare at Portsmouth nearly 50 miles away. That sale was exposed by supporters, along with changes to the club’s constitution that did nothing to reassure them that those in charge had Albion’s best interests at heart. Feeling utterly betrayed and desperate to secure a future for their club, the fans waged a bitter struggle against entrenched directors.
In April 1996 the board looked set to reject the offer of one extra season at the Goldstone from the ground’s new owners. Angry supporters, at the end of their tether, invaded the pitch in what was believed to be the final game at the ground, against York City, causing it to be abandoned. Three days later, just minutes before the deadline expired, the board announced that it would accept the offer of another year.