I was minus six years old in 1978 but we’re all aware of the stitch up at The Dell. If you’re too young (and let’s face it, I am), Albion legend has it that Southampton and Tottenham played out a draw in their final fixture of the 1977-78 season so both were automatically promoted to the top and Albion missed out. We were stitched-up, denied a place in the top flight for the first time in our history. Indeed, Albion’s 2-1 home win against Blackpool wasn’t enough to clamber into that third automatic promotion spot at the expense of Southampton or Tottenham. Almost 40 years later, many Albionites still see this as a conspiracy.
Southampton did honourably hit the post in the dying minutes, apparently. Had that gone in, it would have relegated the North Londoners to fourth position and history would have changed. Albionites have always told me that it was a stitch-up, though I can’t help but feel Tottenham’s last home match of the season was more so. Was it a carefully planned post-hitting, perhaps, to pour cold water on our conspiracy theory? Other than that post hit, Southampton and Tottenham fans have since suggested it was an awfully dull 0-0 - so there is still suspicion. But what’s the use of complaining 38 years later?
And at least it didn’t really affect the Albion the next season. Even more well known is the legend (or is it a myth?) that the Albion stormed to promotion the following season (albeit behind Terry Venables’ C*****l P****e) and secured their first ever season in the top flight.
The thing is with football, there’s always chance to make some kind of amends. So I propose this…
Using the Sky Sports Championship title predictor (notice how Hull’s fixtures are still included but the title quietly leaves them out), I propose that we continue our great run of form with two home wins and then another at Charlton, maybe drop points at home to Derby. Burnley drop points against Middlesbrough and perhaps at Birmingham and Lancashire rivals, Preston, too. Middlesbrough possibly drop points against Birmingham and Burnley but maintain form.
It all comes down to the final match, away at the Riverside. Albion and Middlesbrough need a point apiece to secure automatic promotion and leave Burnley’s promotion chances languishing in the lottery of the play-offs. Kick of commences. It’s harder than it was in 1978 for both teams to simply stand on the pitch with the ball in play. This is partly because the Sky cameras are once again filming the famous blue and white stripes and showing the game live. Partly because of Twitter. 90 minutes of each team aimlessly kicking the ball back to each other is finally up. The whistle blows. Both teams are promoted.
And then Joey Barton and his team-mates and the Burnley fans can still be telling people about the famous stitch-up at the Riverside in 2054.
If you’re interested in how we beat Tottenham in April 1978 to make the stitch-up possible, read the excellent Goldstone Wrap post about that match.