50 years on: Albion's promotion from the Third Division

A 1-1 draw against Rochdale secured a memorable promotion for Albion.

By Luke Nicoli • 03 May 2022

Bertie Lutton heads the equaliser against Bournemouth.

After an absence of seven years, the blue and white striped shirts returned to the Albion kit for the 1971/72 Third Division campaign under Pat Saward.

Following a disappointing 14th-placed finish the previous season, Saward decided on an all-out attacking policy and utilised Kit Napier and Willie Irvine as the main strikers, with support from wingers Peter O’Sullivan and Bert Murray.

It certainly reaped early rewards with ten goals scored in consecutive wins against Bradford City, Mansfield Town and Rotherham United – and Napier finding the target five times.

Albion sat in the top two by the end of August but couldn’t maintain their form – a run of one win from nine games leaving the side in 12th place by late October.

Bert Murrat receives his Player of the Season award from chairman Tom Whiting.

Saward boosted his squad with several loan signings, including Northern Ireland international Bertie Lutton from Wolves, who took over from the injury-plagued Dave Turner, and midfield general Brian Bromley from Portsmouth.

The tide turned again with a 1-0 win at Walsall, the first of seven league victories which lifted the side up to fifth in the table by the turn of the year and culminated in a 2-0 win against AFC Bournemouth at the Goldstone – played out in front of 30,600 fans.

As we turned into the New Year, Albion were part of a breakaway group that included Notts County, Aston Villa and the Cherries in the race for promotion. The policy of all-out attack was also paying dividends with impressive away wins at Oldham [4-2], Shrewsbury Town [5-3, with all the goals coming in 27 second-half minutes] and Halifax Town [5-0, with the team arriving in the nick of time after a trip from Manchester in four taxis!].

To further boost the promotion push, both Bromley and Lutton were signed permanently, while Ken Beamish arrived from Tranmere Rovers for a club record £25,000 fee plus Alan Duffy. 

Back-to-back defeats against Oldham and Bradford were setbacks heading into the big Goldstone clash with Villa in late March and Saward reacted by dropping defenders Stewart Henderson and John Napier, replacing them with Murray and Ian Goodwin.

John Templeman scores the goal that clinches promotion against Rochdale.

The match itself made the highlights package on Match of the Day and proved to be a happy day for the Albion where goals from Napier and Irvine secured a 2-1 win – the latter’s excellent team goal voted a runner-up in the BBC’s Goal of the Season competition.

Sitting third, the win gave Albion a real confidence boost heading into the run-in and the side remained unbeaten for the final 12 games, scoring a number of important late goals and securing second place behind Villa in the table. Promotion was clinched on the final day, where 34,766 fans crammed into the Goldstone to witness a 1-1 draw with Rochdale.

Saward’s men finished the campaign on 65 points, equalling their best-ever total in 1955/56, but it was the impressive form on the road which ultimately proved decisive, with 12 wins and only five defeats being the best away record in the Football League.

The big question now was whether the side could keep the momentum going in the Second Division?

Did you know? On 20th November, athlete Dave Bedford ran 30 circuits of the Goldstone pitch in half an hour before the FA Cup match with Hillingdon Borough to raise money for a party for Albion’s older fans.

Star man: Bert Murray

Known by Albion fans as ‘The People’s Player’, Bert was signed in March 1971 from Birmingham City, with cash from Pat Saward’s Buy-a-Player Fund, an appeal which saw fans participating in schemes to earn money for transfers.

The Londoner certainly lived up to his tag and was a hugely effective and popular player, making an immediate impression and helping the team rise from 23rd place to 14th in his first few months at the club.

A former Chelsea youth player, he performed in midfield and on the right wing for the Albion and his excellent performances during the promotion season, many of which were at right-back following the arrival of Ken Beamish in March, were rewarded with 12 goals and the Player of the Season award.

After netting 26 goals in 109 appearances, Bert was loaned to Peterborough United in September 1973. He joined the London Road club permanently the following month and went on to help Posh win the Fourth Division title in 1973/74.

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