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Forever grateful to West Brom for Captain Marvel

This weekends visit of West Bromwich Albion to Old Trafford rekindles memories of the best transfer deal Manchester United ever made between the two clubs. Ron Atkinson had just taken over from Dave Sexton in 1981 when he went back to The Hawthorns to grab the signature of Bryan Robson for a British record transfer fee of £1.5m. It was the best signing Atkinson ever made as Robson became known as Captain Marvel and went on to play for his country 90 times, making him the sixth most capped England player of all time – and it all started at West Bromwich Albion.

Robson began his career at West Brom in 1972, accepting an offer of a two year apprenticeship. His weekly wage was just £5 per week in the first year and £8 for the second. As Robson turned 17 he was starting to make a name for himself in the reserve team and was subsequently offered his first professional contract in 1974. The contract on offer included a significant pay rise to £28 per week and a £250 signing on fee.

In the 1974-75 season Robson was playing every week in the reserves but for some reason manager Don Howe would not give him his chance to play in the first team. When Howe departed the managers position however, Robson was called up to the first team squad by caretaker manager Brian Whitehouse. He made is debut with only 3 games remaining of the season and he impressed enough on his first games to play in all three and scoring twice.

During the 1975-76 season Robson struggled to get into the team and was forced to play out of position at left back or centre back due to competition for places in the middle of the park. His main challenger for the place in the central midfield spot was none other than player manager and former Manchester United player Johnny Giles, Robson played 16 games during the season and West Brom gained promotion back to the First Division.

1976-77 proved to be an absolute nightmare for Robson although he was playing in the first team more frequently but still out of position at left back. It was while playing in that position that his nightmare began when he broke his left leg which kept him out of the side for the best part of two months. Worse was to come, in his comeback game Robson fractured his leg in the same place he broke two months earlier. Robson again made a comeback and after a good run in the side he scored his first professional hat trick but the joy was short lived as the injury troubles struck again when he broke his ankle, effectively ending his season.

During the 1977-78 season Robson became a key member of the side under new manager Ron Atkinson, helping his team qualify for the UEFA Cup. He was playing at a higher level compared to some of his team mates and in the next season helped West Brom reach the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup and third place in the league, the Baggies highest position since the heady days of winning the title in 1919-20 and finishing runners up in 1924-1925 and again in 1953-1954.

The 1979-80 season was not so good for West Brom but now Robson had established himself as a household name in the team. He was starting to get the recognition for his displays and gained his first of many England caps in February 1980.

Robson played 40 games and scored 10 goals in the following season as West Brom achieved fourth place in the league but in June 1981 Atkinson left the club after being offered the chance to manage Manchester United. West Brom knew that Robson had a great relationship with the manager and faced a struggle to hold on to him. Albion offered Robson a new contract on £1000 per week which was a significant pay rise but Robson turned it down and put in a transfer request.

On October 1, 1981, Robson followed Atkinson to Old Trafford by signing for Manchester United for a then British record transfer fee of £1.5m. At the time of his signing Atkinson said “It may seem like a lot of money but it’s not a gamble, you’re not gambling with someone like him. This fella is solid gold.

Atkinson asked legendary manager Bill Shankly how much he should bid for Robson and Shankly’s reply was “Every penny that it takes Ron, every penny. He signed his contract in front of the Old Trafford faithful in the middle of the pitch then made his debut in front of 47,000 people just 4 days later against Tottenham Hotspur. Robson had scored 40 times in 198 appearances during his near decade at West Brom.

As unlikely as it may sound, the big question this weekend will therefore be whether there could be anyone in the famous blue and white stripes who will one day follow Bryan Robson’s steps for both Manchester United and England?

Could there be another Bryan Robson ready to be discovered?

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No Responses to “Forever grateful to West Brom for Captain Marvel”

  1. Mick O'brien says:

    Hi you have an historical error in this article … You say :-
    “he helped West Brom reach their highest ever position on top flight football when they finished the season in third place and reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup.”
    West Brom won the league in 1919 … nice article but doing my great club a disservice …

    we might just get a draw this saturday …

  2. JimDavis says:

    Nice piece, but West Brom HAVE finished much higher than third in the league. You might want to do a bit of research through the league honour roll.

  3. Simon says:

    Or indeed anyone at United that the Baggies might take a fancy too.

  4. Dave says:

    Ignorant article.

    “he helped West Brom reach their highest ever position on top flight football when they finished the season in third place”. That would be apart from winning in 1919-20 and finishing 2nd in 1924-25 and 1953-54.

    “He was playing at a higher level compared to some of his team mates” – and yet at a lower level that a good few others (Regis, Cunningham, Tony Brown, Statham, Wile…).

  5. Stockwell Albion says:

    A correction – 3rd place in 1978/79 was not Albion’s highest ever finish in the league – we’ve won it once and twice been runners up.

    Interesting that you regard the rest of English football as a feeder system for MUFC.

    And you wonder why we all find the Glazer situation so hilarious.

    Looking forward to a repeat of 30 December 1978 on Saturday.

  6. Phil says:

    A certain young man called Graham Dorrans may stir some interest!!!

  7. ted abel says:

    You have written that WBA reached their highest league position,3rd place in the 1977-78 Season. I’m pleased to correct you, WBA won the First Divison Championship in the 1919-20 Season

  8. Frank says:

    Many apologies to all the West Brom fans. You are of course absolutely correct. No excuse can possibly be offered because there simply isn’t one. The error has now been corrected.

  9. Dave says:

    He’s not had a great season so far but Albion’s Graham Dorrans has the talent & attitude to emulate Robson.

  10. RealMancsAreRed says:

    stockwell albion, the reason why rivals find the glazer situation funny comes down to 2 things- 1.bitter jealousy towards Utd, and 2. pathetic twats…there nothing funny about it, all REAL FOOTBALL FANS regardless of who they support should want rid of people like the Glazers, people who are only after the cash…anyone who hopes the american family can do some real harm to our great club, aint real football fans and should get lost.

  11. baggie bird says:

    Graham dorrans is the best player we have had in years. Injuries and fitness have been his problemvso far. If I was at Man utd I would be watching him.

  12. Chris says:

    Trafford United – can I please assure you that we Baggies fans have no jealousy at all towards your club. You might have had all the money (now debt!) in the world, but we pride ourselves on the fact we carry the respect of other club’s fans (i.e. doing things the right way). We do not think the world revolves around us & would never be so pathetic to suggest we could cream off the talent from any smaller club. Yes the Glazers’ approach is unpalatable & is ruining football in this country, but what I can’t stand about you lot is your sheer arrogance & your expectation to win everything. You have a mediocre side at present & I hope we bring you down to earth tomorrow!

  13. Ian James says:

    “As unlikely as it may sound, the big question this weekend will therefore be whether there could be anyone in the famous blue and white stripes who will one day follow Bryan Robson’s steps for both Manchester United and England?”

    It’s very unlikely, sadly. Albion’s policy on bringing through young players is thankfully alive these days (they were non-existent years before), but to have a Bryan Robson-type player (or any young potential) in the ranks would be impossible to see. For one thing, the player would immediately be earmarked by bigger clubs and swiped away in the blink of an eye, and, secondly, once the player hears that a Man Utd or a Liverpool want him, in his mind he’s transferred there already and quickly wants away. In both cases, the club that nurtured him and had some right to benefit from his talent lose out, if not financially.

    C’est la vie.

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