Laurie Rampling first started taking pictures at West Bromwich Albion in the 1970s, but he has compiled a compelling photographic history of the club that stretches back much further in time.
Raising money for the WBA Foundation through book sales crammed with pictures he has taken, or tracked down, Rampling’s resume can justifiably include “Club Historian”, alongside photographer and author.
Dating back to the 1930s, the pictures he has gathered tell the story of the rise of The Baggies, while Rampling’s own work features all the greats that have lit up the Hawthorns including the likes of Bryan Robson and big Cyrille Regis.
Rampling, formerly a forensic photographer for the police, started working for The Albion at the tail end of the 1974-75 season.
And his pictures provide ample evidence of the emergence of a young Bryan Robson who went onto captain England with great distinction. Rampling’s photographic debut at West Brom was for the same match that Robson started at home for the first time, against Cardiff City in April 1975.
Robson scored with a back heel, Rampling got the frame, and it’s been amongst his favourite pictures ever since, along with a catalogue of classic Regis headers.
He has maintained a strong personal relationship with a host of the iconic names that litter The Hawthorns’ history. Rampling was accepted as part of the family, only partly joking when he said he could get Martin Jol on the phone, there and then.
“Tony Brown is a good mate,” he said. “He is my big buddy. We still speak every week. He’s good to counsel with because you know you can talk about stuff with him.”
His near 50 year association with the club has made Rampling part of the fabric. To him, Tony Mowbray will always be “the gaffer”, while he has special relationships with players past and present, enjoying dinner, drinks or just casual catch ups.
Derek Kevan was his first football hero, and they became ‘great friends’. He describes Cyrille Regis as the most ‘iconic player’. Among the best, Rampling lists WIllie Johnston and Tony Brown, and singles out Derek Statham as an all time favourite.
It would never happen now, but a favourite memory of Rampling’s was a testimonial for Len Cantello, organised by Cyrille Regis who put together his own ‘All Black’ team.
“Cyrille thought it was a great idea,” said Rampling.
“Well, why not? You know, the bottom line is it’s not racial in any way. In fact, in my opinion, it actually enhances racial harmony, and they all thought it was a great idea. It was just a game of football.”
Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson went under the nickname The Three Degrees. Rampling posed them up with the actual chart topping Three Degrees girl band.
Rampling began his working life as a uniformed police officer, transferring to CID and the murder squad, becoming involved in several murder enquiries in his eventual role as forensic photographer.
Then came West Brom and a whole new world opened up.
“I think people underestimate the personality and character you have to have to be a photographer,” he said. “You have to have the right relationship not just with your subject but with the people that can get you access. So you need to be a bit of a character. You need to be a people person. You’ve got to be able to communicate and talk to people even when you know it’s not often nice.”
Check out more of Laurie’s photographs and those he’s complied through the years below, including the changing face of The Hawthorns, legendary players and icon opposition managers.
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