The football club currently known as West Bromwich Albion got its start in 1878, when workers at the Salter’s Spring Works formed a team and beat the Hudsons by a score of 1-0. The very next year, the players walked to Wednesbury to buy a ball and dubbed themselves the West Bromwich Strollers.
West Brom’s first hardware was won in 1883 by defeating Stoke 3-2 in the final of the Staffordshire Senior Cup. The Club twice reached the FA Cup Final, in 1887 and 1888, but were unable to prevail over the Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa on those occasions.
The formation of the Football League in 1888 created new opportunities for professional teams, and Albion became one of its founding members. They changed their nickname to the “Throstles”—a reference to machines used for continuously spinning wool or cotton.
Not only did the Club win their opening game at Stoke City, they went on to capture their first FA Cup, beating Preston North End by a score of 2-1 at The Oval before a then-record crowd of almost 19,000. That magical season ended at the 1888 Championship of the World game at Hampden Park with a 4-1 loss to Scottish Cup winners Renton.
West Brom gained their second FA Cup in 1892 at the expense of Aston Villa, winning 3-0 at The Crystal Palace in front of a record 32,700 spectators. Villa would avenge that defeat three years later in the 1895 FA Cup Final 1-0 at The Crystal Palace with a record 42,652 in attendance. Clearly the stage had been set for one of the most enduring rivalries of British football.
Before the end of the 19th century, West Brom had called five different grounds “home”—Cooper’s Hill, Dartmouth Park, Bunn’s Field, Four Acres Cricket Ground and Stoney Lane. However, when they relocated to a new stadium called The Hawthorns in 1900, that was the end of their nomadic existence, roosting permanently at the highest ground above sea level in the U.K. at 551 feet.
It was about this same time that a new nickname, the “Baggies,” was first heard in reference to the team. Some say the Aston Villa players came up with it as a chiding reference to the baggy work trousers worn by Albion fans, while others think the players’ baggy shorts may have been the source. Many believe it derived from the “bagmen” who carried money from the turnstiles to the Hawthorns cash office. It would take five years, but the nickname would eventually stick.
As it turned out, the inaugural season in the new stadium did not go well and the Baggies were relegated for the first time at the end of 1900-01. They fought their way back by becoming the Division Two champions in 1902, but fell out of the top flight again in 1904. A second Division Two title in 1911 marked their return to the highest tier.
Following World War I, the Baggies began their best run ever. They won the Midland Victory League in 1919 before rising to the top of Division One and claiming their first Football League Championship in 1920. Then, as icing on the cake, Albion defeated the Spurs 2-0 to win the 1920 Charity Shield.
Before World War II, West Brom achieved a few more honours, including distinction as First Division runners-up in 1924-25 and a third FA Cup in 1931. The Hawthorns also hosted its first international matches, seeing England triumph over Ireland in 1922 and Belgium in 1924.
The team suffered relegation to Division Two in 1927 and 1938, but when they returned to the First Division in 1949, it would be the beginning of two dozen years of top flight football. By the end of the 1953-54 season, the Baggies were League runners-up once again, and they went on to with their fourth FA Cup by downing Preston North End 3-2 in the 1954 Final. Then came another milestone in 1957, as Albion became the first British team to score a victory in Soviet Russia.
Highlights of the next several decades included the Club’s first League Cup in 1960 and its fifth FA Cup in 1968. Ten years later, a third-place Division One finish was capped by yet another distinction in 1979, when West Brom became the first British club to play in China.
The darkest period in West Bromwich football arrived in 1986 with relegation to Division Two after the worst season ever—just four League wins versus 26 defeats and 24 points. In 1991, the team fell to an all-time low, joining the “old” Third Division for the first time.
The road back to top form has been a long one. Division Two status was regained in 1993 with promotion to the Champions League, but each time Albion has stepped to the Premiership since then (2002, 2004 and 2008), they have slipped right back down a level the following season.
Now the Baggies have returned once more to the top tier for 2011-12 after a runners-up Championship finish the previous season. Many are betting on them to hang on this time and land somewhere in the middle of the table, perhaps ready to reestablish themselves as Premiership regulars in the 21st century.