The Hawthorns, 1990

The multi-talented actor, director, writer, and producer, Orson Welles once wrote: ‘The camera is much more than a recording apparatus, it is a medium via which messages reach us from another world.’

This image is far from the modern world of professional football, with its glamours, spectacle, pantomime thrills and excesses. It is indeed a message from another world, another age.

It was taken at The Hawthorns in December 1990, home of West Bromwich Albion. One of the groundskeepers looks out over the pitch toward the home end, the Birmingham Road Stand. The photograph was used in the exhibition ‘Sandwell in Black & White’, where participants were invited to document and share a week of their life. Phil Kingston and Rob Lane were groundskeepers at the Albion, who shared a camera and recorded some of the ‘worst weeks in Albion’s history’. The Hawthorns pitch had been completely dug up for only the second time in the club’s history – the last such occasion being in 1912. The whole surface was replaced and it was hoped that Albion would be able to play on a pitch worthy of First Division status and return the club to former glory days; they were currently languishing in the Second Division at this time. Towards the year-end, luck seemed against them. The drainage pumps broke down during unusually wet then freezing cold weather, causing serious damage to the pitch, making it unplayable. The Baggies were then soon to be beaten at home by two goals to four in the third round of the FA Cup by non-league club Woking, a miserable evening for fans all round, and so the player-manager Bryan Talbot was sacked. By the end of the season Albion were relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in their history. Ouch!

Near to the opening of the exhibition, as their dreadful season was ending, the worried Chair of the Club rang up Jubilee to check which pictures were going to be on show. Could things get any worse? Well, not really.

At a press call for the first stage of this archive project in 2014, Tom Watson, then Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East, posed for the newspaper holding this particular photograph. He had his own unfortunate record with the Baggies; each time he attended a home match the team lost. Perhaps it’s as well he quit the constituency and in 2019 the Conservatives took the seat.

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