Sporting memories - our look back to the 1951/52 season

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Sporting memories mornings help to improve the wellbeing of people over 50 through the power of sport, by sharing photographs, articles, memorabilia or talks.

By Luke Nicoli • 27 March 2020

Programmes from two games against Crystal Palace in 1951/52 and 19-goal Billy Reed.

At care homes and social clubs throughout the county and beyond, sporting memories mornings help to improve the wellbeing of people over 50 through the power of sport, by sharing photographs, articles, memorabilia or talks. Some participants live with dementia or have memory problems, while others have experienced depression, live alone or are dealing with ongoing health issues.

Given the current coronavirus pandemic, such events are obviously on hold, so each Friday we’ll be bringing some Albion sporting memories of our own, starting with the 1951/52 season – Billy Lane’s first full campaign as boss…

Billy Lane was appointed Albion manager before the start of the season – having been caretaker boss since March, following Don Welsh’s departure to Liverpool – and he immediately won popularity with the fans by reintroducing the traditional blue and white striped shirts.

He also adopted an all-out attacking style by employing the traditional five forwards and brought in new players including Jimmy Sirrell from Bradford Park Avenue and Paddy McIlvenny from Cardiff City.

Billy Lane (centre) and Johnny McNichol, bottom right.

Albion kicked off the season with a 5-1 victory over Colchester United at the Goldstone, followed by away wins at Torquay and Millwall, which took the side to the top of the Division Three (South) table.

Four consecutive defeats brought the team down to earth with a bump but a 4-1 win at Reading on 22nd September started a run of 15 games with just one defeat. It also saw the side return to the top of the table at Christmas with back-to-back wins against Crystal Palace.

Albion kept in promotion contention with some fantastic performances until April, including a 5-0 win against Southend United which saw Billy Reed score twice. He also netted another two goals in a 4-0 win against Swindon Town at the Goldstone and did the same in a 4-2 home win against Aldershot!

Johnny McNichol (centre) and Jimmy Sirrell.

Sadly, a five-game winless run brought an end to the side’s title hopes and it was Plymouth who were crowned champions. Albion did put in a particularly admirable performance during the run-in, drawing 2-2 at Argyle’s Home Park ground, with Johnny McNichol scoring twice in front of 31,755 fans.

Albion finished fifth in the table but the fans had flocked back to the Goldstone to watch a side that scored 87 goals that season, equalling the previous best in 1929/30.

Outside-right Reed scored 19 league goals with Ken Bennett on 18. Skipper McNichol was the star of the side, while left-half Glen Wilson, full-back Jack Mansell, centre-half Tim McCoy and right-half Jess Willard all caught the eye.

Did you know? An Albion team played under floodlights for the first time on 7th November 1951 when the reserves met Hastings United at Pilot Field. It wasn’t entirely successful though as a number of lamps exploded! Albion won the friendly match 3-2.

Star man: Johnny McNichol

The inside-forward was regarded as the brains of the side but backed up his skills and vision with a fierce shot and eye for goal.

Johnny McNichol.

The Scot joined Albion from Newcastle United for a club record £5,000 in August 1948 and went on to score 39 goals in 165 appearances.

A move to the First Division was inevitable and having turned down Manchester City, Everton and Huddersfield Town, he became Ted Drake’s first signing at Chelsea in August 1952 for £12,000.

He went on to play a key role in the Blues’ first ever League Championship success in 1955 and after almost six years at Stamford Bridge he went on to play for Crystal Palace. He hung up his boots following a spell as player-manager at Southern League side Tunbridge Wells Rangers and later returned to the Albion as lottery manager.

* With thanks to club historian Tim Carder and Ian Hine [] for images

Jess Willard, Jimmy Sirrell and Glen Wilson.

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