A taste of what's coming
ALBION News, all 148 pages of it, will this week feature an entire reprint of Striker! Jeff Astle's autobiography. The following is an extract:
We join our hero on the groundstaff at Notts County, desperately trying to make the grade. Now, read on…
Tommy Lawton called me over after one Midland Midweek game and said: ‘How would you like to join our groundstaff?’
My eyes popped, my head swam. ‘Th-thank you Mr Lawton,’ I managed to splutter. How can I describe the sensation of that moment? I don’t think I could have been more startled if a mountain had suddenly appeared before me. At the age of 15 the entire world was opening up for me. I seemed to spend most of my first few months cleaning boots and sweeping out dressing rooms rather than playing football. Among the groundstaff lads at the time were Dick Edwards, Tony Hateley and Terry Wharton – three players who, in later years, were to figure in big transfer deals.
We used to train when the full-time professionals had finished their stint and after we had cleaned up after them. It was good training and you learned quickly that life as a footballer wasn’t going to be all glamour and fame. It soon became clear that in football – as in most walks of life – you had to start at the bottom and there was going to be a hard climb ahead to reach the top.
And there were two incidents in 1957 which almost halted my career before it had started. The first began as a joke in the Meadow Lane dressing rooms after training one day. It ended with me being rushed to hospital as an emergency case.
All the groundstaff lads were taking a bath and I was the last one in. If there’s one thing I dislike it’s being splashed with cold water in the bath – and the other lads knew this. A Scottish boy called John Newton crept up on me, carrying a hose pipe attached to the cold water tap. He directed a stream of icy water straight at me. I leaped out of the bath and was running for the safety of the changing rooms when I slipped. I threw out my right arm to try and keep my balance and pushed it straight through a glass window.
I pulled my arm back. And suddenly the joke didn’t seem so funny. Blood was gushing out and it looked as though my hand was going to part company with my wrist. It was so bad that one of the lads, Harry Noon, fainted. Meanwhile, the others ran for help. Our trainer, Jack Wheeler, and masseur Arthur Dixon took one look at me and dialled 999 for an ambulance. They wrapped my wrist in yards of bandages and put a tourniquet on my arm to try and stop the bleeding.
I went off to hospital in an ambulance with its emergency bells ringing. There was so much blood about that I was really terrified. The doctors found that I had severed tendons in my wrist and it put a stop to my footballing for months. Even after I was discharged from the hospital casualty list I couldn’t straighten my arm. I thought I was going to be permanently deformed.
Also in tomorrow's Albion News:
Even today, there is no more exciting sight in the game than the ball going out wide, a decent cross being flashed into the box and a centre-forward piling forward, hunger and determination etched in every feature, beating the defender to the ball and crashing a header past a goalkeeper rooted to the spot. Through the 1960s, that was Albion’s modus operandi, Clive Clark hurtling down the flank, slinging in a cross on the run and Astle just launching himself at the ball which would suddenly change its direction, a flash of colour flying through a crowded penalty area and into the top corner.
Then the simple raised arms of celebration in front of the Brummie or the Smethwick, the flock going berserk in celebration, a moment of consummation. Then that huge, beaming smile, echoed through the thousands on the terraces and in the stands, a moment of shared understanding, a moment of peculiar intimacy between total strangers suddenly connected by the electric charge of recognition. And if that’s not the definition of religious ecstasy, it bloody well ought to be.
The rest of Striker! as part of your biggest-ever Albion News (@wbafcprogramme) can be found for sale tomorrow. £1 of each sale will go to Jeff Astle Foundation (@jeffastlefdn).
You know it makes sense.