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'68 skipper Williams recalls life with Jeff

8 April 2015

Albion's 1968 cup final captain on life with the number nine

WHEN it comes to Jeff Astle, you may understandably think you already know everything there is to know. 

That's why we've spoken to 1968 FA Cup-winning captain Graham Williams to get him to give us the inside line on what it was really like playing with Jeff Astle, stories you wouldn't have heard and behind-the-scenes tales of life in Albion's dressing room.

Morecambe and Wise, Alan Carr, a band of brothers and window cleaning in Weymouth - they're all below. So kick back and enjoy the words of one Albion legend discussing another...

Is it possible to describe Jeff in just three words?
"An outstanding character."

Jeff was quite the character in the dressing room, what was he like away from the pitch?
"He was a character both on the field and off the field, you couldn’t help but fall in love with him because of the things he used to do and say. He always wanted to do well in everything. He and Tony Brown were like Morecambe and Wise, Tony would set him up and Jeff would come out with all the jokes and the one-liners."

Are there any stand-out stories about Jeff that supporters or the wider public wouldn’t have heard?
"It started the day Jeff arrived. We were playing at Leicester and he came through the door and was wearing a green blazer, we were getting changed and Jimmy Hagan said this is our new player. Bobby Hope said ‘I thought you were the driver, I was just going to tell you to go out because you’re not allowed in the dressing room’. He had his boots in one hand and this green blazer, he had to throw it away once he had been at Albion a couple of weeks because the mickey-taking was too great for him. But he took the banter and he came back with other things, he was like that for the rest of the time he was at the Albion.

"The other story was when Alan Ashman came to the club. We had a television in the dressing room and Jeff, Tony and Bobby Hope were into their horses. Alan has come into the dressing room and says ‘right, switch the television off’ and Jeff says ‘no, I’ve got a horse in this race’. Alan responds ‘Jeff, I’m telling you to turn it off’ and Jeff says ‘no’. So by the time the bell goes off we say let’s go out, to break up the atmosphere as well. Then Alan said ‘Jeff, I don’t want you to call me Alan, you call me boss’ and Jeff said ‘okay Alan’ and just walked out the door! Jeff then got a first-half hat-trick. When we were coming in at half-time the television was off, at which point Alan said ‘right then, switch the television on Jeff, let’s see how your horse got on’. It broke the ice, it was unbelievable.

"The last one, the referees used to come into the dressing room and tell you that they would book you for this and that and then they’d also inspect your boots. Well, we knew what was coming because Jeff had done it to every referee. So the referee would say ‘foot up’ to Jeff, who was sitting down and he would raise his right boot. Jeff would then get up, turn around, face the wall and put his right boot up again. The referee would be inspecting the same boot twice! We knew it would be coming every time. We would be rolling around laughing. And this was before going out to play football. He, Bomber and Bobby Hope took the tension right out of games."

What was the dressing room like before and after the 1968 FA Cup final?
"Jimmy Hagan was the manager before and he was a different character to Alan Ashman. He was win at all costs, there was no laughing or joking in the dressing room, it was all about football and knowing who you were playing. Very, very strict. For the League Cup final against West Ham Jeff was struggling with injury, we had a two-hour practice match in the morning, got on the bus, travelled down to London and we got beat 2-1. That was how Jimmy was, it was too serious for the guys we had.

"We were coming into the training ground early so that we could have banter with Jeff, Tony, Bobby, Dougie (Fraser) etc – nobody was ever late and this was how the team bonded together. We were like a band of brothers. We all stuck together and that brought the team together. We won the FA Cup, we reached the quarter-finals in Europe, the cup final defeat to QPR is the biggest regret – we wanted to win it so badly for Chippy (Clive Clark)."

What are your memories of the ‘68 cup final, the game itself? And what are your memories of Jeff’s goal from where you were on the pitch?
"The funniest thing I’ve been told about Jeff’s goal is that Gordon West, Everton’s goalkeeper...we were quite friendly with because he married a girl from this area. He’s passed away now, bless him. But he said ‘I’m fed up of seeing Jeff Astle’s goal. Whenever they show Albion v Everton I’ve never stopped his shot once! And it’s with his bad foot as well.’ They went on to play together for England and they always talked about that goal. It was an unbelievable goal."

Tell me about your days together at Weymouth?
"He came down when I was player/manager there and he tried to buy my house. I went off to Kuwait and Jeff and his wife Laraine tried to buy my house. He played for Weymouth for a short time and that’s when he started cleaning windows. Nobody knows that. Graham Carr had the club house at Weymouth and Alan Carr was born there."
 
What was he like to come up against in training?
"We would have forwards v defenders but he was never a problem because he never really tried, he would be laughing and sometimes he wouldn’t move out of the centre circle. Training for him, and Bomber, was an enjoyment. I hated practice matches because you couldn’t kick him and he would be taking the mickey out of you something terrible - he knew you weren’t going to kick him."

You were Albion captain and Jeff was one of the main jokers in the pack, are there any funny stories you recall between the pair of you?
"Newcastle had just been promoted, there was 60,000 there on a Wednesday night. We were in the away dressing room and we knew Newcastle had come up because they’d been physical. They were going to kick lumps out of us. I’m ready, we’re talking saying we’re going to sort this lot out, let’s get on with the game. Jeff was behind me and I’ve run out on to the pitch, turned around and there’s nobody with me. They’re all stood in the tunnel laughing at me. I’m saying ‘come on, let’s get stuck in’ and I was the only Albion player on the pitch!"

If you could pick your one single fondest memory of Jeff, what would it be?
"I think it’s about how he controlled the dressing room, in that it was fun. You’ve got to love what you do or you have to work for somebody, your family or your children. With Jeff, he made that happen in the dressing room, along with Tony, Bobby, Dougie, Yorky (John Kaye) – they all made it happen in the dressing room. And they are my memories of Jeff with West Bromwich Albion – the dressing room. We had our ups and downs, we lost games we shouldn’t have lost, the QPR final was a big one, but most of the boys who played in the ‘68 team you could bet your life they could have played today."

How much money would Jeff be worth in today’s modern game?
"Oh dear, they’d have to break the bank! People compare Bomber to Frank Lampard, Bobby Hope was the brains in midfield, if he played then the other team got beat. John Osborne would be by far the best goalkeeper in England at the present moment. There isn’t money that could have bought them."

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