Long Live The King: Remembering Jeff Astle
Today marks ten years since arguably one of West Bromwich Albion’s greatest players passed away at the age of 59. Centre-forward Jeff Astle is remembered with fondness from Albion fans old and young, his playing career passed down throughout generations and the iconic picture of him scoring in the 1968 FA Cup final an image never far from an Albion fan’s memory.
Joining the Albion in 1964 for £25,000 from Notts County, he went on to score 174 goals in 361 league appearances in the blue and white shirt. His finest hour came in 1968 at Wembley against Everton, scoring the winning FA Cup Final goal and thus making sure he became the first player to score in every round of the competition.
Astle was a big, strong player and was never afraid to put his body on the line, which was to be his downfall. The FA have never confirmed that the beautiful game caused his death, but it was the coroner who confirmed that he suffered brain damage as a result of heading heavy leather footballs; his wife is still adamant that football caused her husband’s death and has recently spoken of her angst of how the FA have never accepted the role football contributed to his early death.
His goal scoring feats were legendary and it is often forgotten that he scored two hat-tricks within three days against Manchester United (which the Albion won 6-3) and West Ham United towards the end of the 1967/68 season. He went on to score six hat-tricks during his spell at the Hawthorns.
Jeff Astle is a player who is still fondly remembered at the Hawthorns, and the Astle gates at the Hawthorns are a fitting tribute to a man who is remembered quite simply in two words as “The King”. When he became an Albion player, the Baggies were a team in the top half of the top division, and he very quickly established an understanding with the other players, notably Tony Brown, Bobby Hope and Clive Clark, who often delivered the ball to Astle who would promptly head it in the back of the net.
Astle was a League Cup winner in 1966 (when it was a two-legged final) against West Ham (5-3 the result over two legs) and was a runner-up in the same competition a year later, the first to be held at Wembley. He was also captain of the Albion team in the 1970 League Cup final against Manchester City, and scored the opening goal – making him the first player to score in both an FA Cup and League Cup final. He left West Brom in 1973 and retired from playing in 1977 to then go on and run a cleaning company.
He became a household personality in the 1990s again when he starred alongside Frank Skinner and David Baddiel in ‘Fantasy Football League’. Throughout his retirement years he carried on being an ardent Baggie fan and was often seen at many games; however it was sad to see that he never saw the Albion in the Promised Land of the Premier League.
He would always stop to speak to fans and sign autographs and was a true fan’s favourite at the Hawthorns. In a quirky fact, George Best donned an Albion shirt in Astle’s honour for his testimonial in 1974.
He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten. The King is dead. Long live the King.