Gayle enjoyed a hugely successful loan stint with the Baggies last season that saw him net 24 goals in 41 appearances.
Those performances led to him becoming a firm fans’ favourite with Albion supporters hoping he would be signed on a permanent basis last summer. But that move never materialised, with Gayle having since enjoyed a more prominent role with Newcastle.
And tonight there is a good chance he will line up against the Baggies, as the two teams meet in the FA Cup.
“When I arrived here he (Gayle) had just left,” Bilic said.
“More or less, every other word was ‘Dwight Gayle, Dwight Gayle’. He had a great season and scored many goals.
“But it wasn’t just goals, he gave energy.
“He gave energy on the pitch but also at the training ground.
“In the summer we tried. We lost 12 players and it’s not good to have such a huge turnaround in a squad.
“Because he was so good and so instrumental last season, we wanted to get him back.
“We did everything to get him but it wasn’t to be. It was impossible.
“In January there were some rumours and some speculation in the papers but no, no, no, we didn’t try then.”
Gayle has seen his season blighted by injury, but he started Newcastle’s clash with Burnley on Saturday.
And Bilic expects him to be a big threat tonight.
“He has been injured but now he is good,” the Croatian continued.
“He played on Saturday, he was very lively. And if he plays he will be a big threat to us.”
One player who won’t be marking Gayle tonight is Ahmed Hegazi after the centre-back came off against Wigan on Saturday with a hamstring problem.
Bilic, though, says the early signs are that the injury isn’t as bad as first feared.
“I spoke to him and the medical department and they don’t think it’s something major,” the head coach added.
“We’re waiting, but hopefully he’ll be back soon. Maybe a couple of weeks time.
“It’s a shame because he played really good since he came back into the team. It’s a blow for us.”