Former West Brom boss Ron Atkinson led the tributes to Dave Matthews today following the death of the man who was labelled “Mr Albion.”
Matthews died suddenly at his Halesowen home on Sunday night at the age of 67 to bring another sombre note to the club following the death of his great friend and Albion masseur Derrick Jones last year.
The well-known kitman was a veteran of more than 2,000 games, working with 24 different managers-head coaches through the triumphs and disappointments of a 50-year devotion to the club.
Atkinson said: “You will never meet a nicer guy. It's a terrible shock and just very, very sad. Dave was a terrific guy – absolutely terrific. You will not find anyone with a bad word for him.
“I only spoke to him last week about doing a foreward for a book he was planning and he was in good spirits. It was terrible news. Albion never had a finer servant.”
Smethwick-born Dave grew up within sight of the Hawthorns and, as a Baggies fan, recalled watching from his childhood home as the stadium’s floodlights were erected.
As a 15-year-old school-leaver with an interest in gardening, he applied for a job on the ground-staff and was offered the chance to assist the kit-man until a suitable position became available.
Half a century later he was still in the kit room and woven into the fabric of Hawthorns life, so much so he was hailed at an anniversary dinner attended by a who’s who of Albion history including legendary striker Cyrille Regis.
Regis said: “Dave was a dedicated servant of Albion. Not many people spend 50 years in the same job but Dave loved the club.
“It's amazing to think of the amount of emotion Dave must have gone through over the years, from winning cups to being relegated and all the trials and tribulations of the team.
“I love the club and I was only there for seven years, so for someone who was there for over 50 years those feelings must have been huge.
“Although he never played for the club, in many ways Dave was ‘Mr Albion’. And he was an awesome man. He had complete integrity and was respected by everyone.
“His job was to support the players and serve the club and that’s what he did – brilliantly.”
The dinner to celebrate Dave’s half-century was attended by players from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and the 21st century.
The Halesowen-based father-of-two then announced his retirement after a period off work battling cancer.
He told guests: “I have managed to turn my hobby into my job and my way of life and I feel very fortunate.
“I have worked with some fantastic people and some of the great players of the club and it’s been a privilege.”
A host of former managers attended including Roy Hodgson, Tony Mowbray, Atkinson and Johnny Giles, who joined the tributes today.
Giles said: "I have nothing but really fond memories of working with Dave. He was at the club when I got there and it was obvious straight away that he was Albion through and through.
“The main thing is that Dave was first class at his job and it's a really important role at any club. Dave was magnificent.”
Former Baggies captain John Wile described Matthews as ‘one of the lads’ while the club’s former players’ association, which made him an honorary member in 2011, called him ‘one of us’.
And the sentiments were echoed by Wile’s former central defensive partner Ally Robertson, who worked closely with Matthews from his early days at the club.
Robertson said: "He only texted me on Saturday saying there was a picture of me in the Wolves programme.
"I texted him back saying that they know what they are talking about at Wolves! For him to be working for the club for 50 years shows how loyal he was.
"He saw so many good and bad times, from the cup wins of the 1960s to going down to the Third Division in the early 1990s.”