Brendon Batson: The Third Degree - It was a horror start to life at West Brom
Brendon Batson has released his autobiography, The Third Degree, written by Chris Lepkowski. Today we begin a three part serialisation of the book.
My Albion debut had come at Birmingham. It was just awful.
On that night against Birmingham, I was simply overawed. It all happened too quickly for me. I thought I’d have to speed up my game because I was playing at a higher level, but actually I was to find that the top level was much calmer.
I was trying too hard. I walked down the steps at St Andrew’s and slipped on a banana. I didn’t even see it. It was wet as it was, so that didn’t help.
Both the Birmingham and Ipswich games were horrendous for me.
What didn’t help was that I was coming in for an established Republic of Ireland international called Paddy Mulligan.
Paddy had an acerbic tongue and thought of himself as being quite witty. I didn’t like him, mainly because I thought he was very insulting to people and would claim jokes at the expense of others.
But, more so and importantly for me, he and Ron Atkinson didn’t get on. Before that debut at Birmingham, I was in the dressing room and Paddy happened to be in there.
He went round all of the lads wishing them all the best and then he came to me. The dressing room went quiet, he held out his hand and said: “All the best... I hope you have a ******* nightmare.”
Now the lads thought that was funny, but I think he meant it. Sure enough, I had a nightmare.
April was when it all changed for me at West Brom.
We played eight games during that month, including a crushing FA Cup semi-final defeat to Ipswich.
But it was towards the end of April that we got absolutely battered by Aston Villa. That was on the Saturday, and we had a game against Everton on the Tuesday.
At the time I was still staying in the Europa Lodge hotel by The Hawthorns. On this occasion Ron was staying there with Colin Addison, his assistant manager.
I came down for breakfast on the day of the game. As I’m eating, Ron came and joined me.
Without even looking at me he said: “It’s now or never Batman.”
I knew what that meant – I was in the side, but I simply had to perform. He didn’t need to spell it out to me – I’d played twice, I’d played badly, and this was going to be my third strike.
We won that game 3-1 – Cyrille was to score a brilliant goal that day – and I ended up playing the final matches of that particular season. Not once was I on the losing side.
It was the turning point I needed.
That Everton game established me in the team. West Brom was a dressing room of big players. The West Brom team showed me a different level of professionalism. The players were staying after training, working on their fitness and generally doing a bit extra to improve as individuals.
The first game I saw the team play after joining was against Coventry. I watched from the stand and was particularly drawn to the left-back; a kid called Derek Statham.
He was only 18 at the time and I remember going back to Cambridge to collect my things on the Monday. I said to the lads: “I’ve just seen some young lad playing full-back, and I’ve never seen anyone play full-back like him.”
He was exceptional. He was just phenomenal. He was doing drag-backs in his own box.
If I’d tried that at Cambridge, my old team-mate Dave Stringer would have booted me out of the ground, and here was a teenager Derek Statham, in the First Division at West Brom, playing with such ability and grace, when he was barely old enough to legally buy a pint.
We were playing some fantastic football and games couldn’t come quickly enough for us. And then came the snow and the frost. Our next game was about three weeks later against Liverpool, who beat us 2-1. We lost 1-0 to Bristol City and never recovered. We played Chelsea on a Thursday – they murdered us, but we won – and ended up playing eight games in April.
We were basically living in hotels, barely training and merely ticking over until the next game. Mentally we didn’t even think second place was important.
We had already qualified for Europe and it felt like an anti-climax at the end. I look back now and I’m disappointed we didn’t do more to claim second because it was in our grasp.
A point against Forest in our final game which was at home would have been enough, but we conceded a late Trevor Francis goal and they moved up into second above us.
The 1981/82 season was bad from a football point of view.
We played three semi-finals and didn’t score a goal – we played twice against Spurs in the Milk Cup and QPR in the semi-final.
That was also the season Albion replaced Manchester United-bound Ron Atkinson with the wrong manager. West Brom interviewed Ronnie Allen and Alan Mullery.
After going through the interview process they decided that Mullery was going to be the next manager but somewhere along the line somebody made a mistake and informed Allen that he’d got the job instead, rather than Alan.
What a mistake to make! By all accounts Ronnie was asked to stay behind to sign the contract, while Alan was back on a train to Brighton, totally oblivious of the mistake. It was too late to call him back.
Alan Mullery has since told the story himself but at the time you’re thinking: “No, surely not…?” but, yes, it did actually happen.
When I joined Albion in early 1978, I’d heard stories about John Giles, who was regarded as a Messiah, and Ronnie Allen who was referred to as a joke.
So, when Ronnie was reappointed as manager in 1981, you can imagine how that went down.
At the time Ally Brown was my room-mate but he’d done off to play for Portland Timbers over in the States during the summer. I never answered the phone in our house, but Cecily called me over, demanding that I take it. I picked up the phone and all I heard was: “Brendon, tell me it’s not true... they’ve not reappointed Ronnie Allen have they?”
I had no idea who it was calling me at first. It was Ally. He couldn’t believe it and he clearly wasn’t impressed. For a long-time Ronnie was the club’s all-time leading scorer.
He became Albion manager around the period that Tony Brown started to close-in on his record. I’m told he used to wind-up Tony, promising him there was no way he would claim his record.
And as manager I guess he could decide whether Bomber played. I’m told Ronnie had been a phenomenal player – the records suggest he was – but as a manager, I just didn’t rate him. More to the point, for the first time since joining West Brom, I was beginning to wonder if my future might lie elsewhere.
To buy a copy of Brendon Batson's autobiography, The Third Degree, written with Chris Lepkowski, visit click here.