Astle Day Eve
ALBION fans, it's nearly here.
Astle Day awaits.
Let's go on one quick Astle-related trip....
Woe betide any player foolish enough to wear any new clothes to training while Jeff Astle was about. John Osborne came in the one day wearing a natty new line in tweed and after getting changed, blithely headed out to work. A couple of minutes later, out runs Astle, wearing a pair of trousers cut off the knees.
Parading around the training ground, the players were in hysterics, Osborne among them. Until Astle ran up to him and said, “I don’t know what you’re laughing at, they’re your trousers!” At which point, Osborne went chasing him around the pitch. A whip-round among the players was swiftly organised and Osborne ended the day with enough cash for two pairs of trousers.
Not even Astle was perfect in selecting his targets though. John Kaye fancied himself as a sharp dressed man but his strike partner didn’t always see it that way. Time and again, Astle mercilessly took the rise out of Kaye which, in retrospect, was a little foolhardy given that Kaye was hewn from granite.
One day, Kaye snapped. He grabbed Astle by the scruff of the neck, lifted him off the floor and pinned him to the wall.
“If you take the mick out of my clothes again, I’ll give you the bonecruncher!”
“Jeff went absolutely white” recalls Tony Brown. “In all the years I knew him, I never saw him speechless except that one time. It was hilarious”.
Jeff had the opportunity to play for one of football’s greatest characters in his time at Dunstable, Barry Fry. The story was originally told in issue 8 of The Blizzard, but we’ve cleared it up a bit for a family audience…
“Some players, you shout at them and they'd vanish, they’d hide. You’d know for next time that kind of player needs praise. Others, you have a go at them, like Jeff Astle, and it works. One time, he come in the dressing room at half-time with the tea and we were 3-0 down. I kicked the tray out of his hands and told him to get back on the pitch, he didn’t deserve a cup of tea. And we won that game 5-3, Astle scored a hat-trick. When he scored that third goal, he come over to me and give me the V sign and all that. He sad afterwards, “Sorry gaffer”. I said, “No problem, I just want a reaction. But before we start next week’s game, I'm going to kick you where it hurts!"
And here are the two men, larking around:
Pre-match preparation is everything these days.
Back in the late 1960s, footballers also maintained high standards but occasionally there were transgressions.
In the build up to Wembley 1968, Albion players were booked into a Southport hotel - a regular retreat as it happens - to ensure they would be in peak condition for their big day.
While the players - two to a room back then - were relaxing, manager Alan Ashman was enjoying a coffee with local reporter Ray Matts in the hotel foyet.
Such was Mattsy's presence around the team that Albion players and staff referred to the hack as 'the assistant gaffer'.
As the two chatted, Ashman overheard a call coming in from one of the rooms.
"Two beers? Room 201. Certainly sir, on the way..."
The gaffer's ears perked up: "Hey, hang on that's one of ours."
And with that Ashman asked the barman to stand aside, picked up the tray and delivered the pints to room 201, occupied by one Jeff Astle.
Ashman handed over the tray and offered a firm scolding in the process.
The irate boss returned to Matts, plonked himself down on the settee and declared: "Hey Mattsy, I can't believe what they just did....thank God there are no media here."
Meanwhile, here's one final picture of Jeff before we sign off for tomorrow...
Strap yourselves in Baggies fans, it's going to be emotional.