Fans must have thought there was a rogue 'r' in his surname when The Argus revealed the appointment of Steve Gritt as Albion's manager.

'True Gritt', the back page banner exclaimed.

Supporters had a rather different interpretation of the man selected by the despised regime of Bill Archer and David Bellotti in an apparently futile attempt to rescue the club from relegation out of the Football League and potential oblivion.

Unflattering graffiti and a crescendo of boos greeted Gritt. Less than five months later he was chaired off the pitch at Hereford, the unlikely architect of the greatest of all escapes.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the last-ever game at the Goldstone, the penultimate game of Gritt's 143-day miracle.

Two decades on, dapper as ever in a pin-striped suit, time has diminished some recall as we sit in Dick's Bar at the Amex, discussing how on earth he managed to pull it off. Other aspects are forever ingrained.

 

Gritt, 59 now and still in the game as assistant manager of National League South promotion contenders Ebbsfleet United, was an improbable Houdini.

He had been out of work for 18 months after four years as joint-manager with Alan Curbishley of Charlton, where he had also spent 12 years as an industrious midfielder.

Jimmy Case had departed, Albion were 11 points adrift at the foot of the Football League and supporters were raging. Forty-eight hours before Gritt's appointment, the FA imposed a two-point deduction for a pitch invasion during the October match against Lincoln as fans protested against the sale of the Goldstone by Archer and Bellotti (above).

He had no idea what he was letting himself in for. "I was probably naive in some ways," Gritt admitted.

"I hadn't looked into everything that was going on. My main thought was a job had come up, so a friend of mine who knew David Bellotti (below) got in touch. I'd already put my cv in anyway and things went from there.

"The first interview was at Gatwick Airport. I was invited to a second interview up in Crewe, which I thought was a bit bizarre, but somebody told me the chairman (Archer) lived up there.

"All the shenanigans only became more apparent as time went on."

It did not take long for Gritt and his assistant, former Charlton team-mate Jeff Wood, to appreciate the scale of their task stretched way beyond Albion's seemingly hopeless plight at the bottom of the table.

"I was in the boardroom doing the press conference and there were people outside," Gritt said. "I don't know whether they were throwing things at the window or knocking on the window but you could hear bits and pieces going on.

"Then, when Jeff and myself turned up for the first game on the Saturday, you could see the graffiti on the walls and by the players' entrance. I'm sure that doesn't happen to many managers.

"We carried on with our preparations for the game. I was taken out onto the pitch for a photo and, by the time we got to the centre circle, you couldn't hear anything but boos. I thought 'Oh my God'. Their perception at the time was that I wasn't a massive name. Jimmy Case (below) had just left and he was well-known and well respected in the football world.

"I was perceived as the puppet for David Bellotti and Bill Archer but I always maintained my stance that I was there for the football.

"I wanted to try to get the team playing and winning and hopefully bring a semblance of normality and a smile back to the supporters. Fortunately, we managed to do that from the first game."

In spite of an opening 3-0 home win against Hull and much-improved form, Albion were still nine points adrift by early February.

Gritt somehow managed to galvanise a side that, before his arrival, had won just twice in 11 games at the Goldstone under Case.

Fittingly, it was Albion's much-loved home which Gritt transformed into their saviour.

They won ten and drew two at the Goldstone, scored 27 goals, conceded just eight and kept eight clean sheets.

The astonishing turnaround concluded with a fourth shut-out in succession and Stuart Storer's second half matchwinner in the rain against Doncaster Rovers.

But not before Gritt's planning had been disrupted by the dismissal of Ian Baird (below), his talismanic striker, together with his muscular marker Darren Moore for fighting.

"Looking back now, I was really disappointed to see Ian come off, because he had been a big player for us," Gritt said. "But I wasn't too unhappy to see the centre-half (Moore) walking off with him, because I knew he was always going to be a threat at set plays.

"It was obviously a very nervous game for everyone, not just because of the occasion but the reality of what could happen if our result went badly and Hereford's (against Leyton Orient) was good.

"When Stuart scored from the set play, which we practised a lot, we still knew we had to see the rest of the game out.

"There was a fair way to go, far too much for my liking. When the final whistle went it was a massive relief for everyone.

"We all came out, said our farewells to the supporters and the ground, and the next thing I remember was it felt like everybody was demolishing the ground around us as we were having a bath.

"By the time Jeff and myself and the rest of the staff had got changed, we went outside to have a look and I couldn't believe what I saw. There was nothing left of the ground.

"The biggest surprise was the clocks had gone. Masses of the turf had gone as well, which was a bit of a concern because I wanted to train at the ground the following week before the final game.

"It was just an amazing picture, to see what had been done in just about an hour after the game."

Months of anger released in 60 minutes of keepsake mayhem. But for Gritt and his players, they were still not safe.

* Next week goalscoring legend Robbie Reinelt relives Albion's final game at Hereford *