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Can West Brom repeat 1978-79 triumphs?

Can in-form West Brom match the impact of Albion's stylish 1978-79 team

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 17 October 2012

It was a time of dwindling crowds due to the spectre of hooliganism. And in industry, a period of deep recession.

Anyone would think that living in and around West Bromwich in 1978 would be something of a hardship. But there was one thing that lifted the gloom. Saturday afternoons at The Hawthorns where, for one season only, something special was happening.

Flamboyant manager Ron Atkinson was putting together one of the most attacking and entertaining sides the top flight has ever seen. What’s more, he thumbed his nose at convention, breaking down racial barriers to give three black players centre stage.

West Bromwich meets Philadelphia: Albion's 'Three Degrees' Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis team up with the real Three Degrees

West Bromwich meets Philadelphia: Albion's 'Three Degrees' Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis team up with the real Three Degrees

Steve Clarke’s current crop occupy sixth place in the Barclays Premier League. Four home victories is their best return in 93 years. But while the Scot’s side are functional, pretty and capable of testing champions Manchester City on Saturday, they do not capture the imagination as Atkinson’s outfit did.

Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown, who scored a staggering 218 goals from midfield, played in the West Brom team of the 1960s which reached four finals, but says that his biggest regret is that he never won the league title in 1978-79.

‘We should have won the league that season,’ he said, ‘and I mean no disrespect to Liverpool. It just came together for us. It really was for that one season. For a variety of reasons, that team broke up afterwards. But when we were together, something clicked.

‘We had everything. We scored goals for fun. We would get on to the coach together for away games knowing that someone was going to get a good hiding.

‘We went to Old Trafford and scored five. We had the power of Cyrille Regis, the artistry of Laurie Cunningham, the all-round brilliance of Bryan Robson, the best attacking left back in the country in Derek Statham.

Main man: Ron Atkinson had West Brom playing exciting, attractive football in the late seventies

Main man: Ron Atkinson had West Brom playing exciting, attractive football in the late seventies

West Brom then and now

‘Len Cantello in midfield was a woefully underrated footballer. Two centre halves who did what centre halves are supposed to. I owe Ally Brown so much because the runs he made enabled me to score my fair share.

‘It was wonderful, magical. And to top it all, we had Ron Atkinson managing us.

‘To be fair, the groundwork was done by Johnny Giles. He drilled into us the value of possession. When Ron came in, he wanted us to move the ball a bit quicker.

‘Those two values worked with that group and especially with Ron around. He was a brilliant motivator. We just worked on the basis that we would score more than the opposition.

‘He would say, “Go out and entertain me. You’ve got 30,000 outside and they want to be given a show. Go and do something special”.

‘Then he would walk around the dressing room. He would pull me to one side and say, “You are my No 1. You will do it today for me. You’re the one they’ll be talking about tonight”.

‘Of course, I felt 10 feet tall. Trouble was with Ron, he’d then go over to the other side of the room and say exactly the same thing to Laurie Cunningham!’

Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Regis were three superb footballers. They also happened to be black. It is difficult to imagine now, but their part in highlighting race issues should not be forgotten.

Robson said: ‘We went to the opening of Andy Gray’s nightclub and Cyrille, Brendon and Laurie were there. So were the American supergroup, The Three Degrees. It was too good a photo opportunity to miss. Albion’s black players posed with the girls and from that moment on, we had our own Three Degrees.

‘I’m convinced that stunt helped break down prejudice. At the

Real deal: Laurie Cunningham starred for West Brom before leaving for the Spanish capital Madrid

Real deal: Laurie Cunningham starred for West Brom before leaving for the Spanish capital Madrid

time, I remember away supporters leaving hundreds of banana skins at the Smethwick End. We have come a long way since then.’

West Brom had qualified for the UEFA Cup that season, earning a mouth-watering tie against Argentinan ace Mario Kempes’ Valencia in the Mestalla Stadium.

‘It was the match that earned Laurie Cunningham his move to Real Madrid,’ recalled Brown. ‘There was no-one to touch him at that time. He was graceful. He used to glide over the pitch. He absolutely tormented Valencia’s right back.

‘All of a sudden, we were sitting there in the second half when Laurie received the ball. Hundreds of oranges started raining down on to the pitch. Their crowd had got that fed up with Laurie, they were pelting him with fruit.

‘One of the lads pointed it out to him afterwards and he said with a wry smile, “I suppose it makes a change from bananas”.’

High flying: Shane Long has helped West Brom climb to sixth in the Premier League this season

High flying: Shane Long has helped West Brom climb to sixth in the Premier League this season

But for all the talent, all the goals and all the class of that group of players, it ended with West Brom finishing only third in the league.

‘It really was the coming together of different elements,’ added Brown. ‘I think we had several world-class players, but that fact has not been recognised. Take Robson, for instance. I saw him as a 15-year-old. A skinny waif, really. They prepared a special drink to build him up. It consisted of raw eggs, Guinness and sherry. Horrible!

‘But he turned out to be a world-class player. Laurie went to Real Madrid, Cyrille was one of the most powerful forwards in Europe at the time — a real handful. And then we had Ron who gave us the freedom to go and express ourselves.

‘You know, it’s a decent team this one. But whatever they go on to do — and I really hope they are successful — they cannot recreate what we had. For all sorts of reasons, it really was special.’

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What happened to the class of 1978

EURO 2012: Portugal in the mood for glory – Pepe

Portugal stars in the mood for Euro glory thanks to extended time off, reveals Pepe

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UPDATED:

17:40 GMT, 31 May 2012

Portugal centre back Pepe says he is feeling rejuvenated for Euro 2012 thanks to the amount of time off that coach Paulo Bento has given his players during their training camp in preparation for next month's tournament.

Portugal's schedule included one full
day and three afternoons off since they started their training camp in
the medieval town of Obidos two weeks ago. Many squads give little or no
time at all outside the training camp.

'Bento knows that it is often preferable to give us a morning or an afternoon off to be with our family and disconnect,' Pepe told reporters on Thursday.

Relaxed: Real Madrid defender Pepe is feeling goof ahead of Euro 2012

Relaxed: Real Madrid defender Pepe is feeling goof ahead of Euro 2012

Euro 2012

The Brazilian-born Real Madrid player said a Wednesday afternoon with his family did wonders to energise him.

'We arrived at the hotel today with enhanced will and spirit to train. It is as if we were arriving to be with the national team for the first time,' he said.

'Paulo (Bento) knows perfectly that this spirit is good. He was once a player and we talked amongst ourselves and reached the common sense that this time off was spectacular to us.'

Training camp or holiday camp (left-right) Fabio Coentrao, Ricardo Qauresma, Cristiano Ronaldo and Hugo Almeida at Praia Del Rey in Portugal

Training camp or holiday camp (left-right) Fabio Coentrao, Ricardo Qauresma, Cristiano Ronaldo and Hugo Almeida at Praia Del Rey in Portugal

Portugal are drawn in Group B for Euro 2012 with former European champions Germany, Netherlands and Denmark. Their first match is against Germany in Ukraine's Lviv on June 9.

They play Turkey in the Luz stadium on Saturday, their last test before flying out to their tournament base in Poland.

Australian Grand Prix 2012: Jenson Button wins

That's a 'W' for winner! A perfect start for Button as Vettel and Co are left trailing

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UPDATED:

22:31 GMT, 18 March 2012

Jenson Button admitted his victory salute still needs a bit of work but a few more afternoons like the one he enjoyed here at the Albert Park circuit and he will have plenty of opportunities to perfect it.

After storming to victory in the Australian Grand Prix, his third win in four years down under, Button fashioned a ‘W’ for winner with his hands.

“W” is for winner: Button celebrates after his victory at the Australian Grand Prix

Perfect start: The British star led from start-to-finish after sailing past Hamilton on the run down to Turn One

Perfect start: The British star led from start-to-finish after sailing past Hamilton on the run down to Turn One

‘I actually did the ‘W’ with a water bottle in my hand, which didn’t really work very well,’ said Button after starting McLaren’s 2012 campaign in magnificent style. ‘I tried to think of something new but I just can’t beat Seb’s finger.’

That comment referred to Sebastian Vettel’s one-digit salute which accompanied every one of the Red Bull champion’s 11 victories last year en route to his second world title.

‘I’m sure we will see the crooked finger again,’ conceded Button, who had become heartily sick of Vettel’s method of proclaiming his No 1 status. ‘But, hopefully, not very often this year and we’re going to fight as hard as we can to stop that from happening.’

Early charge: Jenson Button leads at turn one after pipping team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the off

Early charge: Jenson Button leads at turn one after pipping team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the off

Button could not have hoped for a better start, both to the race and to his bid for a second world title.

Having been pipped to pole position by Lewis Hamilton, he needed just the run to the first corner to take the lead from his team-mate. It was a lead Button would not relinquish, despite having to re-establish his advantage following a safety car deployment on lap 37 to retrieve Vitaly Petrov’s stricken Caterham.

Leading the way: Button was supreme in Melbourne, controlling the race from the start ahead of team-mate Hamilton

Leading the way: Button was supreme in Melbourne, controlling the race from the start ahead of team-mate Hamilton

It was exactly the kind of dominant performance Red Bull and Vettel produced race after race last season, when the German stormed away from the front row to claim a lead sufficient to keep him out of range of a DRS overtaking manoeuvre; a lead which enables a driver to look after his tyres and manage the pace from the front.

But this time — as McLaren’s winter testing promise translated into true race pace — it was Button holding Vettel at bay, the 2009 world champion even managing to pull out a 3.4 second gap in two laps after the safety car went into the pitlane.

Thirsty Vettel covers race-winner Button with champagne

Thirsty Vettel covers race-winner Button with champagne

That he was able to do so was all the more impressive as both McLarens were marginal on petrol going into the race in a bid to maximise their speed.

‘Frankly, we didn’t have enough fuel, so both drivers really had to control their pace to try to make it last,’ conceded McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh after the race. ‘From lap eight we were on saving fuel. We were not quite in the fire but close to it and hot.’

Making ground: World champion Sebastien Vettel managed to climb the grid after beginning in sixth

Making ground: World champion Sebastien Vettel managed to climb the grid after beginning in sixth

Phil Duncan F1 blog

Commenting on his delicate balancing act, Button added: ‘I was a little bit on edge but I was able to keep heat in the tyres, save a lot of fuel, which was quite important for us, and get a good restart.

‘The team said push as hard as you can for two laps after the restart to get a gap. I was able to do that, which I was very happy about.

‘Even when you have a lead you are still wondering what is going to happen. We haven’t been here since I have been with the team, so strong at the start of the season. It was very important to us to get this one in the bank very early on. I actually did pinch myself in the race just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.’

Caught up: Williams driver Bruno Senna - nephew legend Ayrton - was involved in a big collision but managed to stay on track

Caught up: Williams driver Bruno Senna – nephew legend Ayrton – was involved in a big collision but managed to stay on track

There was certainly no dream for Hamilton, who, after losing the lead to Button at the start, then found himself losing valuable time stuck behind Sauber’s Sergio Perez following his first stop.

Worse was to come when, after McLaren had opted to pit Hamilton directly behind Button, Vettel changed tyres under the safety car two laps later. Red Bull’s call enabled the double world champion to emerge in second place ahead of Hamilton, who had been forced to spend a lap trundling along at the pace of the silver Mercedes road car.

In a spin: Senna glides across the track to cause turmoil

In a spin: Senna glides across the track to cause turmoil

Hamilton’s ability to fend off Red Bull’s Mark Webber, whose fourth place was his best finish on home soil, for the final podium spot was scant recompense, even though he did eventually manage to pick his chin up off the floor.

‘They were good points and a good way to start the season,’ said Hamilton, displaying a philosophical attitude which was largely absent during his tumultuous 2011 campaign.

‘Championships are based on points and consistency, so it’s something to work on. Overall, it was a strong weekend and I felt like I did quite well in the race, I just had a couple of unfortunate situations which I could not do anything about.’

Make a move: German Vettel overtakes compatriot Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher as he runs onto the grass

Make a move: German Vettel overtakes compatriot Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher as he runs onto the grass

/03/18/article-2116629-12388FE0000005DC-185_634x411.jpg” width=”634″ height=”411″ alt=”Over and out: Schumacher spins on the grass before being forced to retire after a promising start” class=”blkBorder” />

Over and out: Schumacher spins on the grass before being forced to retire after a promising start

The last lap was far more favourable for Force India’s Paul Di Resta. The Scot pinched 10th place and a point with a dab of KERS yards before the finish line.

/03/18/article-2116629-12388F6F000005DC-911_634x423.jpg” width=”634″ height=”423″ alt=”Middle men: Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso was engaged in a battle with Red Bull's home favourite Mark Webber throughout” class=”blkBorder” />

Middle men: Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso was engaged in a battle with Red Bull's home favourite Mark Webber throughout

After spending Sunday night in his lucky room in the Crown Towers hotel — he has stayed in the same suite on each occasion he has won the Australian Grand Prix — Button heads to Kuala Lumpur on Monday for next weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix.

Better get working on that celebration, Jenson.

Safety first: Button was forced to tail the safety car, which was deployed after Vitaly Petrov spun out

Safety first: Button was forced to tail the safety car, which was deployed after Vitaly Petrov spun out

Australian Grand Prix result

Martin Samuel: Why Jose Mourinho should not return to England

Why it's just too special for Jose

Quite why Jose Mourinho is angling to return to English football is a mystery. He would not be able to make head nor tail of it now.

Back in 2004, during his first season here, Mourinho’s Chelsea recorded a solid victory at Fulham when news came through from White Hart Lane. Tottenham Hotspur 4 Arsenal 5.

‘That is not a football score,’ Mourinho sneered, ‘it is a hockey score. Sometimes in training, we play matches, three against three. If the score gets to 5-4, I send the players back to the dressing room. If they are not defending properly, why should we bother’

Sheer class: Matas volley flies past De Gea while Terry avoids eye contact with Rio Ferdinand

Sheer class: Matas volley flies past De Gea while Terry avoids eye contact with Rio Ferdinand

Imagine Mourinho now, as a manager in the league defending forgot. Manchester United 1 Manchester City 6. Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2. Chelsea 3 Arsenal 5.

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Manchester City 5. Manchester City 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2.

And now this: Chelsea 3 Manchester United 3. Chelsea three goals up, United level in the space of 26 minutes. The end-of- year highlights package from this Barclays Premier League season will run longer than Little Dorrit but for serious-minded coaches it should carry an 18 certificate.

If Mourinho found an isolated exchange of nine goals offensive, what would he make of afternoons like this, when a Chelsea team carrying the remnants of his glorious era — Petr Cech and Michael Essien certainly, plus Florent Malouda — fail to drag a three-goal advantage over the line

Chelsea loyalists will claim referee Howard Webb played his part, with two second-half penalties, but although at least one appeared soft, it was counter-balanced by a strong claim from Manchester United denied in the first half.

Nobody would argue that, for United, the draw was the least they deserved. They were the better team and even three goals adrift, were in with a sniff, mostly through the tireless endeavour of Wayne Rooney.

So what has happened to Premier League defences this season Perhaps they have simply been overrun by the sheer quality of the forwards deployed at the elite clubs.

Rooney, Sergio Aguero, Robin van Persie, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Demba Ba, a supporting cast that includes Javier Hernandez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Edin Dzeko, Didier Drogba, Jermain Defoe.

There is too much to contain, too many days when the sheer onslaught overwhelms.

Torres may look as if he has the yips in front of goal, unable to pull the trigger when it matters, but the cross he put in for Juan Mata’s goal was as fine as any witnessed this season.

So was the finish. If anything sums up the seemingly impossible task of smothering a forward line at the peak of its powers, it was Chelsea’s second, Van Basten-like in its ferocious volleyed finish. It would have been worth the price of a ticket alone but this being the 2011-12 season, it was merely part of a more extravagant show.

Seated in the directors’ box, Fabio Capello, the England manager, must have shifted uncomfortably. Not at the return of Ashley Young, or when Rooney buried two penalties with a surety that bordered on flamboyance, but at the sight of a trio of England central defenders, each with their own frailties and complications as a tournament approaches.

Gary Cahill may have ditched Bolton Wanderers but concern over his form remains and having the wandering David Luiz as his partner hardly helps.

Rio Ferdinand is a shadow of the player who once commanded Manchester United’s defence. Booed shamefully throughout the match as the fissures within the English game become ever more ugly and apparent, he was unconvincing and prone to unforced error. On the bench sat deposed England captain John Terry. Injured, perhaps despised, certainly debated, but sorely missed by his club.

Viewed purely as a football matter, there was nothing on the field to make Capello’s pragmatic support of Terry any harder to understand.

Nothing from Ferdinand to suggest he was returning to international form; nothing from Cahill to indicate he could become the senior partner in a rookie pairing with Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott, Chris Smalling or Phil Jones.

Terry may be a divisive figure, but England do not possess another central defender of his stature right now. Certainly, he would have made Chelsea’s capitulation less likely.

The moment Daniel Sturridge fouled Patrice Evra to concede Chelsea’s first penalty, Andre Villas-Boas’s side looked vulnerable. Introducing Oriol Romeu to try to shore up midfield made little difference; the young Spaniard was overwhelmed by the sheer velocity of English football at its most frenetic.

Against Valencia in the Champions League before Christmas, he was a gamble that paid off, assured and comfortable with the pace of the game. Here, it went on around him, as he flapped and erred. Like much of Chelsea’s callow bench, he is feeling his way in this league.

As is David de Gea in Manchester United’s goal, and this was another afternoon of mixed fortunes. He remains unconvincing in the air and was one of several culprits — Evra, Ferdinand and Jonny Evans being the others — who could be questioned for Chelsea’s first goal.

Yet twice in injury time he pulled off fingertip reaction saves when tested from long range by Mata and Cahill.

His team-mates showed their support after referee Webb blew the final whistle; without doubt De Gea saved United from an undeserved fate, and prevented one final twist in what was another scarcely believable narrative.

This is the second time this season Chelsea have scored three against one of English football’s Champions League elite, and on neither occasion have they ended up winning. Villas-Boas looked fed up enough; Mourinho (left) would have been apoplectic.

He doesn’t know what he’s missing, The Special One. Or maybe he does. That’s why he’s still in Spain.

David Moyes adds defender to his January shopping list

Moyes adds defender to his January shopping list after Jagielka injury

Crocked: Phil Jagielka limps off against Bolton

Crocked: Phil Jagielka limps off against Bolton

David Moyes will step up his search for an experienced central defender after Phil Jagielka's injury forced him to reassess his transfer plans.

England international Jagielka will be out for up to six weeks after damaging his medial ligaments, leaving Sylvain Distin and John Heitinga as Everton's only senior centre-backs.

Moyes' initial priority was to find a striker in the window and he had checked on Paris St Germain's Guillaume Hoarau.

But he said: 'Signing a defender was not a priority but that may change because of the injury to Jags.'

Everton will aim to bounce back from
Wednesday night's frustrating Barclays Premier League defeat against
Bolton this afternoon when they host non-league Tamworth in the FA Cup
third round.

This will be a tie that neutrals will be
looking at and examining the prospects of a giant-killing; Everton's
current injury problems – they could be without up to six key figures
this afternoon – mean the potential for a slip up have slightly
increased.

Moyes, who took Everton to the FA Cup final in 2009, has endured his share of miserable afternoons on third round day, with defeats against Shrewsbury (2003) and Oldham (2008) still fresh in his memory and he will leave nothing to chance against a team who are currently 15th in the Blue Square.

'I would rather be playing Tamworth at home than Chelsea,' said Moyes. 'We prepare the game in the same fashion, go into it the same way, give the players their warnings but obviously expect them to go out and perform.

In the market: Moyes wants a defender

In the market: Moyes wants a defender

'I have been there (on the end of an upset) before and you always remember it. I have been a manager at Preston when we were 2-0 up against Arsenal, who had Vieira, Petit, Overmars and Henry and Bergkamp, a minute before half time. I have been here (at Goodison Park) as manager as Preston and I've been to Chelsea as manager of Preston. The teams (from the lower division) always raise their games, where as it can be harder for the teams who are favourites to do that.'

Moyes added: 'Tamworth will come here and raise the standard of their performance, I am sure they have been waiting for this game since the draw.

'We have to do the right things. it doesn't matter who you are playing against, we have to earn the right to play and we will go and give them the same respect as anyone. If anyone is turning up thinking Tamworth will roll over and make it easy then they have not seen it right.'