LIFTING THE LID: Ahead of the final weekend of the Premier League season, we caught up with former West Brom defender Paul Robinson to relive the club’s great escape from relegation in the 2004/05 season.
When West Brom take on Leeds in their final game of the 2020/21 Premier League season on Sunday, it will feel like quite the anti-climax for manager Sam Allardyce and his players. Nothing to play for except pride, with the unwanted prospect of Championship football awaiting them next term.
Rewind some 16 years, however, and West Brom fans had rather a little more to get excited about. The Baggies were going into the final day of the 2004/05 campaign, looking to not only preserve their Premier League status, but to make history in the process.
Just a few months earlier, on Christmas Day 2004, West Brom found themselves stranded to the foot of the table, eight points adrift of safety with just 10 points and one win from their first 19 games. No side in the history of the Premier League that were bottom at Christmas had ever made it out alive.
Yet come 4.55pm on 15th May 2005, somehow, they’d managed the greatest of escapes.
“It was crazy at the time. It’s obviously not the position you want to be in when you’re bottom at Christmas,” former West Brom defender Paul Robinson tells BETDAQ. “I think as a player, when you’re bottom at Christmas, you expect the worst.
Watch clip -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWEr7Ek9xeE
“But obviously, you never give up until it’s mathematically proven that you’re down or you’re relegated. You have to keep going, keep fighting. But when you look back on it now, with the incredible scenes at the end, the release of knowing that you’ve achieved history, it was just an incredible feeling for everyone.”
But as West Brom fans welcomed in 2005, remaining in the Premier League for another season looked a long way off. By the time they were heading into their game with Manchester City in late-January, it was now 15 league games and counting without a victory for the club. Sure-fire relegation form.
And to compound matters, Baggies boss Bryan Robson had still yet to taste three points since taking charge from Gary Megson in November.
Manchester City, though, would be brushed aside 2-0 and things soon started to change – and Robson had a mid-season trip to Disney World Florida up his sleeve in a bid to boost morale among his struggling squad.
“For us, that was the best thing that ever happened,” Robinson says. “Brian wanted to take us to Florida for a little break just to get away from all the negativity, a change of scenery, to get us all together. It was a Disney trip! We didn’t know it was at first, we just thought we were going to a training facility.
“But when we were in America, there was no hiding place. We were all together, no matter what we did, we did everything together. It was brilliant for those five days, everybody’s company – 25 players, including staff, we all got to know each other. And that’s where it sort of shifted our season in terms of our direction of where we wanted to go as a team.”
And shift West Brom’s season it did.
During the club’s final 12 games of the campaign, they lost just three times, managing to secure a point at Manchester United in their penultimate game to give them a fighting chance going into the most dramatic of final days of the season.
For the first time in Premier League history, no club was assured of relegation going into the final day. While West Brom still sat bottom, they were just one point behind Southampton and Crystal Palace, and two points adrift of Norwich and safety.
A home game against Portsmouth awaited West Brom, yet given the precarious situation, their destiny was not in their own hands.
“The build-up to the final day was tense,” Robinson says. “The pressure, knowing what it meant for the club, the fans, the people that worked behind the scenes that could possibly lose their jobs. For us as players, could it be our last year at West Brom, where we could move on and go our different ways? There was a lot of emotion and pressure to deal with going into that final game.
“We always believed we’d get a result against Portsmouth. We couldn’t rely on the other results because we didn’t know what would happen, so it was just important that we got the result against Portsmouth at home and we did.”
Watch clip -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41RYgqUeu58
West Brom did their bit, with a 2-0 victory over Portsmouth. Geoff Horsfield scored moments after coming on as a second-half substitute before January signing Kieran Richardson made it two with 15 minutes to go.
Yet by the time of West Brom’s second, The Hawthorns was relatively muted by its usual standards, with news having reached the stadium that Crystal Palace had taken a 2-1 lead at Charlton.
As things stood, it was Palace who were set to beat the drop, with West Brom joining Southampton and Norwich in next season’s Championship.
“You could sense the noise in the in the crowd,” Robinson recalls. “Obviously, when we were winning 2-0, the old ‘Boing Boing’ was going around, ‘We are staying up’. But then it just literally went quiet. You could feel the calmness and the quietness of the crowd, knowing that something else had happened elsewhere…”
But a relegation battle that had already thrown up countless thrills and spills wasn’t finished just yet.
Back at The Valley, Jonathan Fortune had managed to secure an 82nd-minute equaliser for Charlton against Palace. With Norwich losing to Fulham and Southampton being beaten by Manchester United, West Brom were currently safe.
The full-time whistle soon went at The Hawthorns and beyond. It was now a waiting game for the same to happen at The Valley.
“Charlton-Palace had gone into injury time,” Robinson says. “We knew there was an equaliser because we heard the roar from the crowd but we didn’t know what the final result was. We were waiting on the pitch. Some of the lads who were in the squad, they had their phones, listening for the results coming through – and then we got the message that the final whistle at The Valley had been blown and we had survived!
“The whole place just erupted. The fans were on the pitch, players celebrating together. We had to get off because of the pitch invasion so we all ran down the tunnel until it was a little clearer for us to come out and celebrate with the fans again.
Watch clip -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlrOn4UiIRU
“All that pressure comes out in emotion. Everything that you’d worked hard for from that period in December to getting all the way through to now, all the negativity of people wanting us to get relegated… We just celebrated with everyone together and it was a whole lot of emotions.”
Robinson added: “Two days later, we were still celebrating! Brian wanted to make sure that everyone at the training ground was a part of it. It was just fantastic scenes for everyone.”
Against all the odds, West Brom had done it, beating the drop by just a single point in the most nail-biting circumstances. In doing so, they became the first Premier League side to avoid relegation having been bottom on Christmas Day, with the 2004/05 campaign still remaining the only season where all three relegation places were decided on the final day.
“All these years later, when the highlights come up on social media, I’m still looking at all the clips of the games played,” Robinson says. “Just the sea of fans, knowing what it means to them to survive on that final day. They travelled, they spent all their money home and away, season tickets… They’ve given their time and effort to travel on a Tuesday night as well.
“We wanted to give that back to them. We wanted to repay them through all our hard work. To still see all the pictures now, it just brings back so many good memories and emotions.”
What West Brom fans would give for a similar situation this weekend…