Albion Nostalgia: The Great Escape of 1981

The front cover of Albion's matchday programme for the game with Leeds on May 2, 1981.
The front cover of Albion's matchday programme for the game with Leeds on May 2, 1981.

Albion currently face a testing series of fixtures that will determine their fate in the Premier League. We have been here before however, and the omens are good for survival.

With four games to go in the 1980/81 campaign, Albion stood third from bottom on 27 points. Norwich City in 19th were two points ahead and it looked odds-on that the Seagulls would be returning to Division two.

On Easter Saturday, we travelled up the M23 to Croydon for a game against Crystal Palace who were rooted to the bottom of the table. Goals from John Gregory (two) and Gordon Smith gave us hope, as we ran out winners 3-0.

Next up were Leicester City on Easter Monday at The Goldstone. A nervy first half saw us go in 1-0 down and the 21,000-strong crowd were thinking the worst. A much-improved performance in the second 45 minutes saw us win 2-1, with Michael Robinson and John Gregory giving us a lifeline.

Our fate was still not entirely in our own hands, as Norwich City also won both their Easter games. Next up for Albion was a long trip to the North East, to play Sunderland who were also struggling to stay up.

The small but vociferous band of supporters who made the trip saw Michael Robinson score a first half goal, but Sunderland equalised after 62 minutes to leave Albion fans biting their nails.

The game was about to tick over into injury time when the ball was fired into the box by Gordon Smith. Left-back Gary Williams, in a rare foray up field, was on hand to smash the ball into the net to send the away fans delirious.

Our last game of the season was at home to Leeds United, with Norwich City playing Leicester City at home and Sunderland travelling to Liverpool.

All three sides were on 33 points, but our slightly superior goal-difference meant a win against Leeds would all but guarantee safety.

The largest crowd of the season, more than 27,000, saw Steve Foster score in the first half to make it 1-0. The score remained the same until the 80th minute when, amid nervous scenes, Andy Ritchie popped up with the second to seal a remarkable escape.

Four wins, with nine goals scored and just two conceded, dragged Albion to safety by two points.

We will all hope that the 2017/18 season will result in safety before the last four games but if we need to dig deep, we can look back at the heroes of 80/81 for inspiration.