Reg Ryan The Schemer – Part 2

Gavan Bergin

Reg continued to play at left-half for West Brom until he was moved to the inside-forward position midway through the 1949/50 season. That change worked well for West Brom, who had been in relegation trouble.
They started scoring again and winning matches, and they eventually finished 14th in the First Division – not bad for a newly promoted side.
When the 1950/51 season began West Brom’s manager changed the team’s formation, “adopting a four-forward attack, with Reg Ryan lying back as the schemer-in-chief at inside-left, with his on the carpet passes and intelligent positioning,” according to the Birmingham Daily Gazette.
West Brom scored 17 goals in their first 10 league matches, and Reg played brilliantly in his new position, helping West Brom finish out of the relegation places again that season. Afterwards,the Daily Gazette paid tribute to him, saying: “Reg Ryan the Schemer, that grand clubman, who although preferring to play in the midfield, gives his all anywhere. Supplying the experience in the Albion attack, he was outstanding and always a bother to defences.” And from then on, he was an essential player in the forward line.
In the 1951/52 season Reg played in every match West Brom played: 42 in the league plus three in the FA Cup. He excelled in his role as ‘the schemer’: playing just behind the main strikers he created chances galore, and scored important goals too, including vital strikes in the victories against Arsenal and Newcastle in the last week of the season that secured West Brom 13th place in the league, their highest finish yet. Reg had played his 130th League match that season, an achievement that Warwickshire Sports Argus marked by saying: “Cheers for Reg Ryan, that hard-boiled inside-forward. His strong, forceful play was a great asset to Albion.”
There were more rave notices to come for Reg and West Brom at the start of the 1952/53 season. On August 30th 1952, the Argus reported that “West Bromwich Albion have soared to the heights; they have beaten two giants of the game, Newcastle United, and the slick-passing Tottenham Hotspur, to become the most talked of team in the country.” The Coventry Evening Telegraph report on the Newcastle match said: “No one did more to ensure a victory for Albion than Reg Ryan.
This dark-haired inside-for-ward worked like a trojan.”
He kept up his hard work and skillful play from then on, and his great form was crucial in helping West Brom to their highest league position so far. They finished the ‘52/’53 season in 4th place.
Going into the 1953/54 season, everything looked good for Reg and West Brom. They won seven and drew two of their first nine matches, and went top of the league after beating Manchester United 2-0 on September 2nd 1953. Six months later they were still in first place. Reg was central to their fine form that season, making and scoring goals aplenty and keeping West Brom going strong in their battle for the championship against their closest rivals in the league, Wolverhampton Wanderers. From the start of the season, the two Black Country clubs fought it out. West Brom spent most of the time in top spot – that was until they played Wolves at the start of April 1954. Wolves won that match 1-0. There were still five matches left for West Brom to get back to the top, but they were struck by injuries to important players, including Reg. As the Daily Mirror reported “West Brom missed Ryan, their powerful, hard-working inside-right.
He is a rare worker with the capacity to bring out good in others.” Without him the forward line didn’t function, and West Brom finished four points behind Wolves, and in second place. But the season wasn’t over yet….
West Brom and Reg had a fine time of it in the 1953/54 FA Cup. They dispatched Chelsea 1-0 in the Third Round, then destroyed Rotherham United 4-0 in the Fourth Round. According to the Wolverhampton Express Reg then “continued in his best form” in Albion’s 3-2 win against Newcastle in the Fifth Round. That result put West Brom into the Quarter-Final, against Tottenham at the Hawthorns on March 13th 1954. Spurs didn’t put up much of a fight that day and they lost, 3-0.
West Brom marched on to the FA Cup Semi-Final against Port Vale at Villa Park on March 27th 1954.
Port Vale gave West Brom a hard match and they scored the first goal to go 1-0 up in the 40th minute. They held their lead until the 60th minute, when West Brom scored the equaliser. The Daily News said: “with the industry of their powerful, hardworking inside-right, Reg Ryan, the West Bromwich Albion attack was menacing.”
Ten minutes after equalising they won a penalty kick and scored, taking the lead.
2-1, and that was the final score. West Brom were on their way to the FA Cup final.
On May 1st 1954, at Wembley Stadium, the FA Cup Final took place between West Bromwich Albion and Preston North End. Some of the newspapers quoted Preston as odds on favourites at 4/5. But West Brom made a bright start to the Cup Final, almost scoring in the first few seconds. However Preston recovered quickly and they had much the better of the play in the early stages of the match. In the 20th minute they launched another attack but Reg had tracked back to intercept – he won the ball, nicking it away with his right foot, then, in one smooth skillful move, turning and switching, he hit a long left foot pass upfield that caused mayhem in the Preston back line. They made an attempt to clear, but it was sent right back at them, and when they panicked and dithered on the ball, the Albion forwards charged them down and the ball bounced to Lee on the left, who squared the ball for Allen to knock past the right post, and the goalkeeper, for the first goal of the match.
Preston were quick to respond, with splendid right wing play by Docherty, who played a perfect cross in for Morrison to make it 1-1. West Brom were rattled, but they soon calmed down and started to go on a run of attacks.
The London Daily News report said “In the 38th minute Preston were almost unhinged by the searing pace of Reg Ryan who played a one-two with Allen, then took the return pass, burst into the box and was only denied a goal by a superb covering tackle by Preston’s Joe Walton. Then, two minutes later Ryan played a raking pass through to Griffin who crossed into the box for Allen to shoot.” Preston did have a couple of good chances towards the end of the first half, but it was still 1-1 at the break.
In the second half, Preston were on top and they scored again to make it 2-1 in the 51st minute. West Brom looked totally down and out and they didn’t seem to have the energy required to mount a comeback. For a while, they looked more likely to concede a goal than score one. What happened next was reported in The People: “Little chunky Reg Ryan, the gamest trier of them all, somehow found a new superhuman store of energy for Albion.” That energy spread through the team, and when Preston went forward in the 62nd minute, West Brom’s goalie, Sanders, made a dandy of a save to keep the ball out, and from his kickout West Brom won a penalty kick. Allen took the kick, and scored. With less than half an hour to play, it was 2-2 and the Cup was still for either side to win.
Then, in the 87th minute, Reg broke free on the right wing and chipped an inchperfect pass into the corner of the box for Griffin, who played in Thompson to shoot and score the third goal for Albion. With three minutes to go, they led 3-2. They had one hand on the Cup. They surely couldn’t let it slip again, they had to hold on. Through the first minute, they held on, and through the second minute as well. Then it came down to one minute; sixty little seconds to keep their lead intact, with the whole team, from goalkeeper to centre-forward, playing as defenders. And one by one, second by second, the end came closer, until at last the final whistle sounded.
The match was won. The FA Cup was won. West Brom were champions, and when they took the Cup home to West Bromwich, there were 150,000 people to welcome them. Many in that crowd cheered for Reg. The Yorkshire Post said: “Reg Ryan, the strong, two-footed Irishman, is a grand grafter who earned his medal by industry. He has gained recognition as one of the most capable players ever to wear the Albion colours.”
There it was: Reg Ryan, out of Marino. FA Cup Champion.

Don’t miss the final part of “Reg Ryan – the Schemer” when we examine his international career – NewsFour June/July issue.