Brendon Batson, a former West Brom defender and member of Albion’s renowned ‘Three Degrees,’ has released his book, which was written by former Birmingham Mail reporter Chris Lepkowski.
Click here to get ‘The Third Degree’ by Brendon Batson through Curtis Sport.
Ronnie Allen’s tenure as CEO was a difficult time in my career. The reports I’d heard about his first stint were not promising. I couldn’t understand why they had even considered him when so many of the players disliked him – of course, it made more sense once we realized the club had made that terrible error.
He left the club in the lurch in his first spell by going to Saudi Arabia. Some of the stories I heard about him as a manager and coach were just unbelievable. I honestly thought some of the lads were joking when they were telling me, but I was to find out just how real those stories were.
Ronnie came in and it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to work between us. Remi Moses had already gone to Manchester United to join Ron Atkinson and Pop wasn’t far behind him. I then started hearing whispers that he considered me to be “Ron’s Man” and that I was a “cancer” in the club – those were the exact words that were being fed back to me by people in the game.
During that season he signed Martin Jol and Romeo Zondervan. Jol was a midfielder but there were very strong rumours that he was being signed to replace me – even though I was a defender. I’ve no idea how that was going to work, not least as Martin wasn’t a full-back, but these rumours were gathering momentum, so I went to confront Ronnie about this.
When people you’re mates with in the press are starting to say: “Watch your back Bren,” and things like that, you know that someone is laying down poison. And I was told it was coming from my own manager. At the time the Halfords Lane stand at The Hawthorns was being rebuilt so the club’s offices were technically in a series of portable cabins opposite the stadium.
I went into his office and I had it out with him – he was denying everything, being extremely defensive. But, equally, he didn’t give me any kind of reassurance either, which p***** me off even more. I stormed back out after saying my piece and slammed the door shut. And then all I heard was the door creak and fall off its hinge. So, there I was having just told the manager what I thought of him and now I’m trying to wrestle his office door back onto its hinges. That pretty much set the tone for our relationship.
The 1981/82 season was a huge disappointment for us. We got to two semi-finals and lost both, without scoring a goal across three games. And we could easily have got relegated, which with that set of players would have been an absolute disgrace. During that season I asked to leave because of what was going on with Ronnie Allen’s whispering campaign. I had a call telling me that John Bond wanted me at Manchester City but then the directors made it clear I wouldn’t be leaving.
I’d been on the transfer list for most of the season but, eventually, as we went on those cup runs, they asked me to come off the list so I did. It was a very unhappy time for me and the club, because of those accusations. With hindsight that was probably my biggest mistake. I wonder what would have happened had I gone elsewhere but I was blinded by the cup runs.
The semi-finals were a big regret. To not score a goal was just shocking really and we played so badly, especially in the FA Cup semi-final. But first we had the League Cup semi-final double-header against Spurs. We drew the first game 0-0 and I was forced to miss the second game because I suffered a hamstring injury, which was the first time I’d ever suffered such an injury – and it happened during a warm-up in training the day before the second leg, which made it even more frustrating.
They put an injection into the injury, which turned out to be a massive mistake and caused me problems for a long time afterwards. I was watching from the stands. Micky Hazard scored the one and only winning goal, with Jol and Tottenham’s Tony Galvin being sent off during that match. Very frustrating.
I managed to get back well in time for the FA Cup semi-final against Queens Park Rangers, who were a second division side at the time albeit a very good footballing team. Leicester and Tottenham were the two other sides in the semi-final so we were rubbing our hands, thinking we’d got the best draw.
We were playing well at the time, albeit we were picking up more draws than wins. That game at Highbury was one of the biggest games of our careers but it was an absolute non-event. It was one of the worst games I’ve been involved in and don’t recall a single worthwhile contribution I made to that game. Rangers were managed at the time by Terry Venables, who would go onto manage Barcelona and England, and he turned up to that semi-final with a game plan.
We all said Tony Currie was the one we had to be aware of, because he could control the game with his passing. Their plan was that Gary Micklewhite would block Derek Statham and Micky Flanagan would block me, and Bob Hazell would man-mark Cyrille. And it worked, because both myself, and Derek – who provided so much attacking width – were totally snuffed out. Worse, Tony Currie had the run of the pitch and we couldn’t do anything about it.
But the tone for this match was set before we even kicked-off. Gary Owen was dropped. I was actually going out for a walk outside our Kensington hotel before the game when John Wile pulled me over and said: “He’s left out Gary.” I could not believe it, yet Gary didn’t know. There is no way you can drop a bombshell like that in the team meeting, which is exactly what Ronnie Allen was planning to do.
John told me to leave it, so I was walking around knowing Gary wasn’t in the side and, worse, didn’t even know yet. We went into the meeting, Ronnie went through the side and then it got to No10 and it was Nicky Cross, with Martyn Bennett going in as a third centre-half. And at that moment Ronnie managed to kill the entire atmosphere. Players knew instinctively who would be playing so to see us suddenly change a system when we’ve been going well was madness.
And if you’re going to make a major selection decision like that at least make everyone aware in advance. We had spent the whole week training with different personnel so there wasn’t even any inkling that Gary wouldn’t be playing. It was an abysmal way to treat him and I believe Gary never properly forgave Ronnie for that. I’m not blaming that decision by the manager for the way we played, but it certainly didn’t help. It was an appalling way to handle such an important decision.
It went downhill after that. we went onto lose nine of the next 10 games after that. Allen’s assistant Gerry Summers took the full brunt of my anger. We had a meeting, where myself, John Wile and Ally Robertson effectively took charge. We were regarded as the Three Contemptibles because we were deemed the old guard taking on a manager who wasn’t showing any signs of arresting our decline.
We were on the slide, we were going down, but we all knew that we were good enough to play in the top division. Gerry Summers always said I got him and Ronnie Allen the sack. That’s absolute rubbish. They got the sack because they took a side that had finished fourth the previous year, and just about stayed up on their watch. Gerry was formulaic with his training. It was the same every single day.
We were doing the same warm-ups, the same drills, the same training sessions…all in the hope it would change the result. We were doing the same thing over and again, hoping for a different result. The definition of madness, Einstein called it. In one session Gerry was making us play five-a-side, in a small area, but with full-size goals. There was no passing, no tackling because the pitch was so small, we effectively could have a shot within one pass. It was ridiculous.
Under Ron Atkinson we had sessions that were so competitive that he had to stop them at times, but here we were playing some kind of five-a-side on a tiny pitch but proper goals. It made no sense, but Gerry’s reasoning was that we used the big goals because that’s what we played with on the Saturday. A team meeting was called and during the course of it I just lost it. I told him training was a joke and he just got up and walked out. I thought that was me done.
I suggested we go playing golf, go for a swim, doing something different – anything to get us smiling again and restore some spirit. We needed a change of scenery. That period really underlined that Allen was weak as p*** as a manager because he had no authority. He was a strange character. He had no appetite for confrontation.
We were losing one of the games during that slump and he walked in at half-time and said: “So, what we going to do lads?” and I’m thinking “You’re the f****** manager…you give us direction and guidance.” I’d never seen anything like it. He wouldn’t change anything. Summers didn’t help. Previous assistant managers like Colin Addison and Mick Brown would report back to Ron Atkinson but would not drop the lads in it. There was a trust there. We didn’t have that with Gerry.
We were losing games. Mind you, we beat Wolves on May 1. We always seemed to do well against Wolves. That was the game Cyrille and Derek Monaghan scored with Andy Gray knocking out Romeo Zondervan. Andy was a good old warrior but I took a swipe at him for doing what he did to poor Romeo. I actually missed him!
He got the foul anyway and as he prepared to take it, referee Neil Midgley called me over and said: “Brendon come here…you’ve got something in your eye.” He actually had his hanky out, offering it to me. He then leaned over to me and said: “You do anything like that again and I’ll have you sent off…” I didn’t do it again. It’s also what you call clever refereeing!
Leeds was the big one. It was the penultimate game for us. We knew that if we beat Leeds we’d be staying up. A win for us would also mean that either Leeds or Stoke would be going down – depending on results in the final game of the season. Anyway, we were 2-0 up against Leeds and the fans started wrecking the ground and spilling onto the pitch. It was the first time I had seen police horses on the pitch at The Hawthorns.
The next day we could see blood, trainers and all sorts of debris on the terraces. With about a minute to go I saw a horse on the pitch and said to the referee: “Ref, you’ve got to call time, there’s a horse on the pitch.” I cannot remember who the referee was, but he turned around, blew the whistle and we all sprinted off the pitch. That meant it was between Stoke or Leeds to see who would go down. And Stoke’s final game happened to be against us – they couldn’t have called it any better.
For the first 20 minutes Stoke didn’t have a kick and then they scored from nothing. There had been strong rumours that Leeds fans would be coming up to that game to effectively try to get our game called off if Stoke took the lead. I think collectively we just thought: “F*** this, we’re safe anyway.” We ended up losing 3-0 but Stoke didn’t actually play well.
The strange thing was that we were still in the changing room at the Victoria Ground about 10 minutes after the game when the door flew open and in strolled Stoke manager Richie Barker with a couple of bottles of Champagne, wishing us a happy summer. Can you imagine that right now?
More importantly, that was the end of Ronnie Allen. I don’t like to speak evil of the dead, but I’m not sure what drove Albion to re-appoint a manager who was so unpopular in the first place. But it didn’t get any better for me. Ron Wylie, the former manager of Coventry, was the next to arrive.
I didn’t have as many disagreements with Ron as I did with Ronnie, but it was still a difficult time for me. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, things were about to grow far worse for me on a whole different level.