Grim start then Albion thrived in new surroundings

In the latest of our Sporting Memories series, we look back to Albion's first season in the Second Division in 1958

By Luke Nicoli • 24 April 2020

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 at we’ll be bringing some Albion sporting memories of our own. We continue with the 1958/59 season, the club’s debut campaign in the Second Division...

As Albion prepared for their first season of Division Two football, they did so with more than a degree of familiarity with just two new faces arriving at the Goldstone – Jack Bertolini from Workington and Johnny Shepherd from Millwall.

Manager Billy Lane wanted to give the players who had won promotion the opportunity to prove themselves at a higher level and, although goalscorer Peter Harburn was sold to Everton for £8,000 before the start of the campaign, the fans were still in optimistic mood at the prospect of facing clubs the size of Sunderland, Liverpool, Derby County, the two Sheffield teams and Middlesbrough.

Ian McNeil scores first Albion goal against Ipswich Town in April 1959

A trip to Ayresome Park awaited Albion on the opening day and it proved to be a chastening experience. By half time, Lane’s bewildered team were 5-0 down and the second half fared little better with the side collapsing to its biggest (peacetime) defeat – 9-0 – and a certain Brian Clough scoring five of the goals.

The team dusted itself down to record a 2-2 draw in the opening Goldstone game of the season against Charlton Athletic, but a 5-0 defeat at Anfield and a 3-0 reverse at Bristol City left the side bottom of the table. Albion’s problems were further compounded by the news that Denis Foreman would be ruled out for the rest of the season through injury.

To bolster the side’s chances of survival, Lane bought wisely with young forwards Ronnie Clayton and Freddie Jones arriving from Arsenal, likewise winger Mike Tiddy, while proven scorer Tommy Dixon was signed from Reading and full-back Roy ‘Doz’ Little headed south from Manchester City.

Fortunately, form in Hove was reasonable enough with only eventual champions Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough having won at the Goldstone – that man Clough a thorn in the side again as he scored three goals in a thrilling 6-4 win for Boro. However, too many matches had ended in draws and by Christmas the side had picked up 18 points from 22 games and sat two places off the bottom of the table.

The home faithful had been turning up in their numbers and the visit of promotion favourites Fulham on 27th December attracted what would remain a Goldstone record crowd of 36,747.

The visitors’ all-star line-up included George Cohen and Johnny Haynes, yet it was the first return of former Albion skipper and now England international, Jimmy Langley, which had created such a buzz on the south coast. The Cottagers would end the season in second spot but were roundly beaten 3-0 in this festive encounter.

The win provided a timely boost and from the turn of the year, Albion climbed away from the danger zone with six consecutive home victories and wins at Charlton and Barnsley. The season ended with Lane’s men a respectable 12th in the table, with that mauling at Middlesbrough now a distant memory. Ironically, Albion actually finished a point and a place above their Teesside contemporaries. A moral victory if ever there was one!

Did you know?

The £32,330 central section of the new West Stand, or the Grand Stand as the club preferred to call it for many years, was opened ahead of the new season. It provided seated accommodation for around 1,400 fans as the club entered the brave new world of Division Two.

Star man: Johnny Shepherd

Albion’s first signing of the 1958/59 season, Johnny arrived from Millwall having netted an impressive 78 goals from 166 appearances for the Lions.

He made his debut in the disastrous defeat at Middlesbrough but his class shone through as he ended the campaign as the club’s leading scorer with 17 Division Two goals.

The following season, however, he lost his place and was transferred to Gillingham in February 1960, where he remained until joining Southern League Ashford Town the following year.

Shepherd saw out his career with spells at Margate and Tunbridge Wells before being appointed player-coach at Southwick in 1964. He later became manager before returning to the Albion as part of the club’s youth-team set-up in 1977.

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


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