West Brom’s Premier League ‘Great Escape’ 15 years on

By Will Pickworth
May 5 2020, 12:30

“This is the best ever, a fantastic feeling,” declared a champagne-soaked Bryan Robson, swamped by thousands of jubilant West Brom fans storming The Hawthorns pitch. The Baggies had done it – the first team bottom of the Premier League at Christmas to survive.

Results elsewhere for Southampton, Norwich and Crystal Palace had gone West Brom’s way with the Baggies, bottom going into the final day, completing a remarkable rescue act to maintain their top flight status courtesy of a 2-0 win over Portsmouth at the end of a tumultuous 2004/05 season. 

“It was one of the craziest and best days I’ve ever had,” recalled Jonathan Greening, the former West Brom midfielder.

“It was unbelievable because everyone was saying we were definitely relegated from Christmas onwards so to get back into that situation and win the game and other results go for us was just an incredible feeling.”

Martin Albrechtsen, the Danish ex-West Brom defender agreed: “It was a special day with a special situation to the game.

“It was quite chaotic with like 10,000 coming onto the pitch and people trying to rip your clothes off and hug you. It is one of my top career memories.”

Greening added: “When the highlights come up on social media the hairs on the back of my neck stand up because it was just an amazing day.

“It was such a relief because everyone was buzzing for the whole club. I think the fans had nicked my top and I was half-naked – it was surreal.” 

West Brom had endured a tough start to the season as the relationship between manager Gary Megson and chairman Jeremy Peace deteriorated with Megson departing in October, replaced by Robson.

The Baggies accumulated just 10 points by Christmas with a solitary victory as headlines rang out no club bottom at Christmas had ever survived. 

Albrechtsen said: “It was a hard time. I had come from my safe Denmark and suddenly I was on my own and abroad at a big club. 

“We lost two or three in a row like 4-0 and we had fights in the dressing room. People kicked off and Andy Johnson and Neil Clement had a go at each other.”

Greening pointed to an invaluable team spirit and Robson and his assistant Nigel Pearson as crucial for a resurgence. 

He said: “Robson and Pearson worked really well together. They were always so positive. Everyone was writing us off but we stuck together. 

“We had some unbelievable characters in that squad like Darren Moore, Paul Robinson, Neil Clement, with really good attitudes. 

“It was a very intense changing room.  There were lots of arguments because everybody wanted to do well, put their lives on the line and keep the club up. 

“Guys like Robbo and Mooro would run through a brick wall to win a game of football. Robbo would two foot his own mum to win.  

“It was a special environment with special people. Robson got the team chemistry spot on and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons we survived.”

In January, West Brom signed Kevin Campbell, and Kieran Richardson, both of whom made a huge impact.

Albrechtsen explained: “Richardson was young, a little bit smart and arrogant but he came in with fresh energy.”

Greening added: “We used to call Campbell the ‘King’. He had been there, done it, got the T-Shirt and played for some unbelievable clubs yet he still had that hunger. 

“They were absolutely fabulous for us and without signing those players we might not have stayed up.”

STAR SIGNING: Kieran Richardson had a massive role to play in the ‘Great Escape’

Soon after, the Baggies beat Manchester City to secure their first win in 15 which boosted confidence and sparked a run of three wins from four in March and April.

Greening said: “It was an unbelievable game – we knew we had to win and to get a result against a good team like City was so positive for us and it kick-started things a little bit.”

Heading into the final day, the Baggies were bottom but just two points behind 17th place Norwich with Crystal Palace and Southampton making up the relegation zone.

Norwich travelled to Fulham, Crystal Palace faced rivals Charlton, Southampton played Manchester United and the Baggies hosted Portsmouth in front of a modern day record attendance at The Hawthorns of 27,751.

What ensued was a remarkable final day at which every team occupied the holy grail of 17th place at one point.

Greening explained: “Going into the game, I felt quite relaxed and confident that we would win our game and driving to the stadium there was an unbelievable atmosphere.”

However, Albrechtsen concedes not all the players were as composed.

He said: “People were very nervous and I remember some of the players they took a big sip of cognac or whisky like five minutes before we entered the pitch.”

Southampton scored early, as Norwich self-destructed at Fulham, eventually losing 6-0. Palace went behind against Charlton but West Brom were bottom at half-time.

A second-half injury to Greening forced Robson into one of the greatest subs in Baggies’ history as Geoff Horsfield scored with his first touch. West Brom were out of the relegation zone for the first time as two Manchester United goals had plummeted Southampton back into the abyss. 

However, a quick-fire Dougie Freedman and Andy Johnson double for Palace plumped the Eagles to 17th as Richardson added a second amid muted celebrations at The Hawthorns. 

Yet euphoria struck at 4:41pm as news filtered through of a late Charlton equaliser and West Brom rocketed to 17th. 

The full-time whistle blew as anxiousness encapsulated The Hawthorns.

Greening said: “It was a weird situation – we’d done our part but we didn’t know if we’d survive or not.”

News filtered through of a Palace draw and elation ensued. 

“I remember Riccardo Scimeca being on his phone and he turned around to me and said we’d survived but the crowd hadn’t heard,” explained Greening.

“We started celebrating then 20 seconds later the whole stadium just erupted and everyone started coming on to the pitch.

“It’s got to go down as the greatest escape ever – no one has done it like us on the last day and how special that was with the players and fans on the pitch.”

Albrechtsen recollected: “The longer time goes, the bigger the achievement gets – I still have the DVD about the season so it’s funny to watch sometimes.”

Greening concluded: “The way we did it, in terms of how good it felt and what a great bunch of lads I was playing with, it’s definitely up there with some of my greatest things in football without a shadow of a doubt.”

Featured image: West Brom fans celebrate survival on The Hawthorns pitch, courtesy of West Bromwich Albion via YouTube, with thanks

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