If you follow the Premier League today, you probably don’t give much thought to West Bromwich Albion. You likely aren’t a fan, and apart from the two times your team plays them every season and pundit talk about who’s likely to get relegated, they’re just not a team you’re liable to pay much mind to. That’s not a judgment against the team— West Brom have a long and proud history, and their supporters are passionate and dedicated. They just don’t seem to have made a lot of noise in recent seasons.
At least not anymore. There was a time, not too long ago in fact, when they fielded one of the strongest teams in England. They were legitimate competitors for the First Division title while also mounting some strong cup runs. They even competed in Europe. That part may leave you incredulous, but it’s true. And we have the proof— along with a connection to one of the biggest names in rock n’ roll.
This week, we look back at West Bromwich Albion vs Galatasaray, sponsored by none other than Eric Clapton.
1978-79 was the first season with Ron Atkinson as manager. Under Atkinson, West Brom managed to build on strong performances in recent seasons to develop a fluid, attacking style of football. They finished in 6th place the previous season and qualified for the UEFA Cup. The first round handed them a two-legged tie with Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray. The Baggies won the first leg in Istanbul 3-1, giving them a solid advantage heading into the second leg at home. As seen in the video, West Brom went on to replicate the scoreline, thanks to goals from Bryan Robson, Laurie Cunningham, and John Trewick. The rousing win sent West Brom through to the next round with an aggregate score of 6-2.
But that, of course, is only half the story. The match was indeed sponsored by Eric Clapton, a lifelong supporter of the club. As part of his involvement that evening, Clapton signed a matchday program and had it mixed in with the rest. The fan who bought that signed program would win Clapton’s entire back catalogue. After the game, he presented every West Brom player with a gold copy of his album Slowhand (which had come out the previous year). In short, it was a special night for Clapton and West Brom fans.
West Brom went on to have an incredible season. They tore through Braga and Valencia in the UEFA Cup before finally getting knocked out in the quarterfinals by Red Star Belgrade. They also finished third in the league (nine points behind champions Liverpool), which was enough to qualify for the UEFA Cup once again. Ron Atkinson helmed a strong set of seasons for West Brom before moving on to Manchester United, where he served for five years before making way for Sir Alex Ferguson. One of the goalscorers for that cup tie against Galatasaray, Bryan Robson, followed Atkinson to United and spent 13 years there, where he remains the club’s longest serving captain.
Eric Clapton, meanwhile, found ways to keep himself busy.
If you want to dig into this game a bit more, check out this Flickr album with photoscans of the matchday program. And if you want to see how West Brom are faring these days, you can see them in action on Saturday as they host Sunderland (with newly-installed manager Sam Allardyce). Kickoff is at 10am EST on NBC Sports Live Extra.