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EXCLUSIVE: West Brom icon Robertson admits club never recovered from losing Robson, Cunningham

It's tough to envisage given their current plight, but once upon a time, West Bromwich Albion were one of the best teams in England.

In 1978/79, Albion finished third in the old First Division in their first season under legendary manager Ron Atkinson.

'Big Ron' had a slew of talent at his disposal. There was the future England captain Bryan Robson as well as Laurie Cunningham, the late Cryille Regis, Len Cantello, Brendan Batson and Tony 'Bomber' Brown.

But as West Brom's iconic centre-back Ally Robertson recalls in his new biography, Thou Shall Not Pass: The Alistair Robertson Story, the 1980/81 campaign stands out as the one that slipped through Albion's fingers. West Brom blew their chance when they lost four of their final five matches and ultimately finished fourth on the table.

At the end of the 1979 season, Cunningham joined Real Madrid and Cantello left for Bolton. The exodus continued in 1981 when Atkinson and Robson left for Manchester United. But such events weren't uncommon for a club of Albion's stature.

"We could have [won something]. If we had kept Contello, Cunningham and Robson, we would've won something. It is a shame," Robertson told Tribalfootball.

"But at that time that's what Albion used to do. They used to bring them through and then sell them on for big money. That's what used to happen."

Robertson was a revered figure amongst Baggies supporters and his teammates. What the Scotsman lacked in height - he was a scratch under 6ft - he made up for in heart. And it was his commanding presence at the back, as well as his partnership with John Wile, that allowed the Albion stars the freedom to execute at the business end of the pitch.

Despite his standing in one of the best teams in England, Robertson never played for Scotland. He writes in Thou Shalt Not Pass that missing out on the 1978 World Cup brought him to 'the brink of despair' and not playing for his country was the only regret of his career.

As for West Brom, the West Midlands club were relegated the season after Robertson left in 1986 and didn't win promotion back to the top-flight until 2002.

And the 65-year-old believes the club never recovered from losing the amount of talent they had in those sides of the late 70's and early 80's.

"You look back and when a team like Albion had Robson and Cunningham, it is very, very hard to replace those sort of players," Robertson added.

"You'll always get somebody to come in thats a good player. But they were two of England's best at the time. How could we replace that? We didn't have the money to buy big players, so we never replaced them."

Robertson's 17-year West Brom career, in which he amassed over 600 first-team appearances, ended when he made an acrimonious decision to cross the Black Country divide and join Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Fortunately, Robertson got the chance to lift some silverware when Wolves won the Football League Trophy in 1988. He retired from professional football in 1990.

You can purchase Ally Robertson's book, Thou Shalt Not Pass: The Alistair Robertson Story, by clicking on the link here.

Andrew Maclean
About the author

Andrew Maclean

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