This page is dedicated to the memory of the Birmingham Mail's Bob Blackburn who, throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s reported on the sporting life of West Bromwich in particular and the Black Country in general.
He covered everything that happened involving the Albion and also wrote the away team features for the programmes of the late 60s and early 70s.
Here Keith, Bob's son, provides an insight of what it was like to live alongside someone so closely associated with the Albion during these notable times.

ALL PICTURES ARE PUBLISHED WITH KEITH'S PERMISSION 

 

April 17th 1971 Elland Road, Leeds and I've just witnessed the notorious aftermath of Jeff Astle's goal. Sitting up in the main stand I've been abused and threatened for having the nerve to applaud.
I don't think I've witnessed before or since such a collective outpouring of rage which continued after the game when I found myself in Don Revie's post match press conference. To say the air was blue is an understatement and whilst this was going I glanced out into the corridor to be greeted by the sight of a tearful lady, who I believe was Mrs Revie, being consoled by none other than Stuart Hall assuring her that he would tell world that a terrible injustice had taken place.

I think the episode I have described above is a good illustration of what it meant to me to have a football reporter for a father, particularly one so closely associated with the team I supported.

My father, the journalist Bob Blackburn, worked for the Birmingham Evening Despatch until its closure in 1963 and then for the Birmingham Mail until he passed away in August 1980. Moving from Merseyside in 1954 he was employed as the Despatch's West Bromwich correspondent covering a mixture of general news and sport. When the Despatch was taken over by the Mail in 1963 Bob was one of only a handful of journalists to be kept on and he continued in his role with responsibility for West Bromwich area. Prior to the move to the Midlands he had worked for the Liverpool Echo and the Birkenhead Advertiser. Covering the Tranmere Rovers home games he took me to see my first professional football at Prenton Park in 1952. Although becoming an adopted son of West Bromwich, he retained his affection for Liverpool FC having stood on the Anfield terraces throughout the 20s and 30s and he was hugely proud of his scouse accent and background.

 

 

 PHOTO PUBLISHED WITH KIND PERMISSION OF KEITH BLACKBURN

Bob BLACKBURN SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS IN HALFORDS LANE BEFORE A GAME

 

 

The "Bob Blackburn" byline was a familiar sight to readers of the Birmingham/Sandwell Evening Mail, Sport Argus, Sunday Mercury, Birmingham Post and the Albion match day programmes of the late 60s and 70s. John Wile's weekly Argus column was ghost written by Bob as was Janice ( "Oi'll Give It Foive") Nicholls' Sunday Mercury feature. He was one of those people whose work was more than just a job, for him it was an all consuming vocation. From an early age his only ambition was to be a journalist and not the tailor that my grandmother wanted him to be. His determination was such that at the first opportunity he left home and got his first taste of the newspaper business as a copy runner and telephonist at the Daily Express office in Manchester. Back in Liverpool he worked for the Echo and also freelanced for the Press Association then along came the war where he saw service in France, Belgium and Holland as a Quartermaster Sergeant in the army. Following demobilisation after the war he found himself out of work and with a family to support so, in desperation, he embarked on a thankfully short career as a travelling salesman for St Ivel cheese. For him the prospect of selling cheese was just as attractive as tailoring and eventually he managed to get himself back into journalism. It was the closure of the Birkenhead Advertiser that prompted the move to Birmingham in 1954, followed by the family the following year.

He soon became immersed in the life of West Bromwich and the wider community of the Black Country and in particular its sporting interests. During the football season he worked seven often long days a week and our lives at home were conducted to background sounds of him interviewing or chasing stories on the phone or hammering away on his most prized possession, his Olivetti portable typewriter. Whenever he went out to work the typewriter, his reporters' notebooks and packets of fags were his constant companions. The interiors of his cars resembled the aftermath of a volcanic eruption with ash everywhere.

I started watching games at the Hawthorns in the late fifties and was privileged to see and meet such great players as Ronnie Allen, Derek Kevan, Joe Kennedy, Ray Barlow, etc. Although I wasn't allowed in the press box at that time I was permitted to stand in the players' tunnel by the dressing rooms and the board room as I waited for Bob to conduct post match interviews. My entry to the verge of the inner sanctums continued until 1967 having gained my own press card and work as a copy runner for Caters News Agency. I relished exiting the ground via the players' door on Halfords Lane, often accompanied by world famous international footballers.

In those days players, even the stars, were not the multi millionaires of today and their circumstances were very different. Often players signed from clubs out of the area stayed in digs during the week, travelling home after games on Saturday evenings. One such player was Bobby Robson who, after signing from Fulham, would get the train back to his London home from New Street station. My father would give Bobby a lift back into Birmingham and while I would like to imagine that he was helped along in his illustrious career by my words of wisdom, in reality I was too awestruck to maintain any sort of a worthwhile conversation. He would also provide lifts to New Street to many of the famous London based football writers and even referees! World famous referee Ken Aston was a great friend of his who officiated in the notorious "Battle of Santiago" 1962 World Cup match between the host Chile and Italy. A primary school headmaster in Ilford, Ken Aston was always grateful for a lift back to New Street.

 

  PHOTO PUBLISHED WITH KIND PERMISSION OF KEITH BLACKBURN

BOB arrives at Villa Park for the match between West Germany and Argentina

 

Bob was often asked to name the greatest Albion performance he witnessed and without hesitation he would recall the 1968 FA cup sixth round second replay when Liverpool were beaten in the Manchester Maine Road mud. I was also at that game and I still vividly remember a wonderful victory achieved against all the odds and a mighty Liverpool. The whole team were magnificent that night.

 

The manager of the Albion that night was, of course, Alan Ashman, a man who my father held in high regard and whose sacking, and the manner in which it was done, disgusted him. Giving Ashman the chop whilst he was away on holiday was regarded by Bob and many other people as being underhand and cowardly. This episode in a way illustrates his relationship with certain members of the Hawthorns hierarchy of that time. There was a great deal of mutual respect and friendship between Bob and the players, the coaching staff, the administration led by Alan Everiss and the ground staff , in fact all connected with the Albion with the exception of a few individuals right at the very top. Here I would like to give a special mention to the ever welcoming and helpful Reg who guarded the Halfords Lane press door.

For me personally another memorable night was 30th September 1964 at Filbert Street, Leicester to witness Jeff Astle’s debut for the Albion. Bob wasn’t there that night, but I was!

It wasn’t just purely footballing matters that made the headlines at the Albion and Bob was usually the man to break the news. The 1964 players’ strike and disciplinarian manager Jimmy Hagan’s dramatic car plunge into the canal outside the Spring Road training ground are examples that come readily to mind.

Bob established friendships with many former Albion players and I particularly remember when, as a twelve year old, we visited Jesse Pennington at his home in Stourport. What a thrill for me to be sitting in Jesse’s lounge wearing one of his England caps.

The two pinnacles of Bob’s involvement in the world of professional football came within a couple years of each other in 1966 and 1968. In ‘66 he was privileged to be given the job of organiser and co-ordinator of the international press coverage of the World Cup games held at Villa Park. I still have amongst my most cherished possessions his FIFA press and official badges and tie. But the real high point came in May ’68 when he covered the FA Cup Final. In the Mail’s 1979 Albion centenary souvenir edition Bob describes the thrill of being one of the first people to enter the victors’ dressing room after the game and being able to join in the celebrations. Staying with the players at the Hendon Hall hotel, the whole Wembley experience, the post match celebratory dinner and the parade through West Bromwich were a far cry from where he started, third division north Prenton Park, Birkenhead.

My father’s involvement with local sports activities were not just those involving the Albion and I think he will be remembered fondly by many for the coverage and encouragement he gave at all levels. He worked tirelessly for the development of the Black Country Olympics, a project in which he took a great personal interest, he organised schools four and five a side football tournaments and he had a long standing and affectionate association with West Bromwich Dartmouth Cricket Club.