Albion Nostalgia: When mid-season club friendlies weren’t as crazy as they sound!

The front cover of the programme when Albion hosted Stoke in 1975
The front cover of the programme when Albion hosted Stoke in 1975

With Albion threatening to become an established Premier League Club, an international break will see an ever-increasing number of players disappear to all points of the compass to represent their country.

This will leave Chris Hughton with a skeleton staff with which to work on the training ground. As fans, we will have to make do with a two-week break from club football.

Even without the enforced break, the crowded fixture schedule prohibits the arrangement of any extra games, but it wasn’t always the case. Back in October 1990, just two days after a 4-2 home defeat against Middlesbrough, we welcomed Dinamo Minsk from Russia. The previous summer we had travelled to Minsk for three games, part of the arrangement that brought Sergei Gotsmanov to the club on loan. We were unable to keep hold of him, despite his huge popularity with fans, and he ended up at Southampton.

Albion manager Barry Lloyd welcomed the Russians with a piece of history. It was the first time a Russian team had come to the Goldstone and as Barry pointed out, the changing political climate meant greater freedom for Russian sides to travel outside their country.

The Russian side had watched the game two days previously, and you wonder what they made of Albion’s defeat. Their striker Igor Gurinovich was pictured with John Byrne and Mike Small and after the game he stayed on, eventually playing six times for Albion. We were keen to make the deal permanent, and a £50,000 fee was agreed with Dinamo. Unfortunately, the deal collapsed when he was unable to gain a work permit.

Ten years previously, we again played a mid-season friendly a couple of days after a league fixture. In November 1980, a 4-1 home defeat to Manchester United was followed three days later by a friendly with Dutch side NAC Breda. Another reciprocal fixture after a summer tour but Albion lost 2-0.

Another team from Holland were the visitors in October 1979. Despite it being our first season in the top flight, we squeezed in the game against FC Den Haag in between an away game at Coventry City and the home clash with Norwich City. A tight game was decided in our favour by a goal from Peter Ward.

The final game I’m looking at was in October 1975. This one had a bit more purpose to it, in that it was a game to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the forming of the club.

Stoke City were the visitors and the club issued a 28-page souvenir programme, packed with memories of the first 75 years. Albion were a club about to embark on an almost unprecedented period of success, matched only by the events of the past few seasons.

Led by Peter Taylor, we were to finish that season just outside the promotion places. The game against Stoke ended in a 1-1 draw, with Albion’s goal scored by striker Fred Binney.

Football has changed beyond all recognition in the 43 years since that game, with mid-season friendlies a thing of the past.