It is understood that the West Bromwich Football Club as we know it today, played its first match against Hudsons FC on 23 November 1878. Borrowing a ball from another local club they drew 0-0 in front of a handful of spectators. Ten months later, on 20 September 1879 West Bromwich Strollers were formed as an official club by a group of workers from the George Salter Spring Works, many of whom participated in that match versus Hudsons. These men from Salters went to the nearest shop that sold footballs. This was in Wednesbury, were there were already the three flourishing clubs The Old Athletic, another Strollers by coincidence and Elwells. Cooper’s Hill, nothing more than a roughly triangular shaped piece of wasteland, and Dartmouth Park were alternately used. The players would carry a pair of portable goalposts with them, since they were never quite sure where they would kick off. Hence the name Strollers. The first formally recorded match, as Strollers, was played on 13th December 1879 against Black Lake Victoria at Dartmouth Park and was won 1-0.
Soon the name Strollers was thought to sound rather casual so they decided to change it to West Bromwich Albion in 1880. The suffix was derived from an old foundry district in West Bromwich of the same name, where several of the members lived. The support for the Albion was such that paying spectators could be entertained, for which purpose an enclosed ground was required. This was found on Bunn’s Field, also known as The Birches, located off Wallsall Street. With the still growing support Albion were in need of yet another venue. Four Acres became their new home in 1882.
Despite a staggering 16,393 crowd in 1885 for the visit of Blackburn Rovers, West Bromwich Albion had eventually outgrown Four Acres and went on the move again, this time to Stoney Lane, only a short walk from the club’s previous grounds. By 1900 Stoney Lane had degenerated to such an extent that it had become one of the worst in the First Division, attendances had slumped to around 6,000 and the club faced a financial crisis. Another move was thought best for the revival of the club’ s fortunes. When the board took out an option on a 10 acre site, West Bromwich Albion found their permanent home at the now familiar The Hawthorns. The club’s secretary Frank Heaven had discovered that the area surrounding the site had been known as the ‘Hawthorn’s Estate’ and hawthorn bushes had flourished there at one time. Therefore, it seemed an apt and obvious choice of name.
The new ground brought with it the team nickname The Throstles, the Black Country word for Thrush, commonly seen in the hawthorn bushes from which the ‘ground’ took its name. For many years a thrush ‘lived’ at the ground in a wooden cage which was hung above the player’s tunnel. Later the club had a replica of a large thrush perched on top of the half-time scoreboard at the uncovered Woodman Paddock. It also inspired the design of the official club badge, with a throstle, perched on a branch, depicted on a background of the blue and white club colours.
West Bromwich Albion have alternatiely used the throstle and the town’s first coat of arms as their insignia. The arms were granted in 1882 and except the millrinds, which represent the iron and brass foundries, the items are all derived from the arms, crest and supporters of the Earls of Dartmouth, who were formerly seated at Sandwell Hall. The ostrich feathers in the crest, nowadays associated with the Heir Apparent, were introduced into English royal heraldry by Edward III, who probably derived it from his wife, Philippa of Hainault. They represent willing obedience and derenity. The shield with the stag’s head is charged with blue stars and fleurs-de-lys alluding to the sparkling water of Sandwell Spa.
Less readily explained than the crest is the nickname The Baggies. It is a mystery defying a solution; we do not know what to believe but you will enjoy whatever version. In its early days The Hawthorns had only two entrances, one behind each goal. On match days the gatekeepers would gather up the takings at each end and be escorted by policemen along the sides of the pitch to the centre line where there was a small office under the stand. The gate money, mostly in pennies, amounted to a considerable sum and was carried in large cloth bags.
It wasn’t long before some wag in the crowd started shouting “here come the bag men!” at their appearance in front of the main stand, and this developed into a chant of “here come the Baggies!” , giving the team its unnofficial nickname.
Another version claims that in early days of the club’s history, many of the supporters worked in the local ironworks and because of the intense heat, tended to wear very loose, baggy clothing. Since most of them would go straight to the match after work, it resulted in a very oddly attired bunch standing on the terraces at the Hawthorns, and led to the nickname of ‘Baggies’.
A more surprising idea? The name Baggies was given to Albion’s ironworker fans by Villa supporters. They used to put on their moleskin trousers on Saturday afternoons, with belts worn instead of braces, and periodically they would give a sailor’s hitch to their unmentionables when they began to sag over their boots. When Albion and Villa clashed at the old Perry Bar Ground large numbers of Albion fans walked to the game. The ironworkers kept together in groups, many of them with their trousers at three quarters mast, and when near the ground, they were greeted with cries of `Here come the Baggies of Bromwich'”
Finally, all labourers in the Black Country wore trousers from a thick material called `duck’. When new, it was snow white, but with frequent washing went a dark hue. When repairs were necessary, at knees and back, the dark trousers were repaired with snowy white `duck’. This gave a bulky appearance to the patch, so labourers with these patches were generally called Baggies, as they looked like flour bags, and hence the taunt from Villa supporters back in the old days..
Whatever the size of the shorts, the club colours came in every imaginable and available combination in their maiden years. Blue and red quartered shirts, maroon, yellow and white quarters, chocolate and navy halves, red and white hoops, chocolate and white halves and red and blue halves. The last outfit before turning to the now famous blue and white stripes even earned a nickname. The design of scarlet and blue broad striped jerseys and black knickers with scarlet stripes down the side was too much for the faithful and inspired the name in pre-political correctness days of the Nigger Minstrels….These days West Bromwich Albion are simply referred to as Albion.