Thank you, thank you, thank you
AND so we arrive at the day itself.
Lots of thank yous have been said to all and sundry, from the club to the Premier League to the Football Association to the supporters to anybody else you can think of.
Really speaking though, there is only one thank you necessary, one that hasn’t yet been made.
We should all be giving our thanks to the Astle family.
The truth is that football, the wider game that exists beyond the partisan boundaries of your club’s call, owes them a huge debt of gratitude for their sheer determination and raw bloody-mindedness in carrying their fight to its four corners, for refusing to be cowed, for not simply lapsing into silence and going away when the game and its institutions seemingly did not want to hear.
That persistence in the search for not merely justice but for the better education of a game that can all too often ignore the welfare of players - and supporters for that matter - in the headlong dash for money, stands as an object lesson to us all of the power that ordinary people, driven by an extraordinary cause, can still wield, even in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.
In fairness to the assorted authorities, a response to Jeff Astle’s death was made in terms of a clinical study on young footballers, a study stymied by the fact that none made the grade, leaving it to wither on the vine. That was unfortunate rather than malicious, but the failure to create new studies in its wake was an unnecessary oversight at best.
Sadly, it is redolent of a game that in modern times has paid scant regard to its culture, its traditions, its roots. For not only have the likes of Jeff Astle and a number of other players who have suffered from similar degenerative illnesses been forgotten, but as their own memory has slipped away, so has the game lost them, their first hand stories, their impressions of cup wins, relegation struggles, pre-season tours and European nights. We see a game that at its core, among supporters, is built on tradition yet a game without a place to house it, to host its oral tradition. It all points to a game that is out of touch with its soul.
Albion have begun to reclaim that soul by staging this event, by creating Astle Day, by giving the Jeff Astle Foundation its platform. More importantly in the wider context, FA Chairman Greg Dyke has shown the stirrings of some truly visionary leadership on this issue where his predecessors have failed so lamentably.
The opportunity is now there for him to build a real legacy by putting the twin strands of protecting players’ physical welfare and of preserving their achievements front and centre in the FA’s world – and where better to house research and archive than at St George’s Park, a stone’s throw down the road from Astle’s home? People have the power. We must use it.
In closing this week of comment, we end it in the only way possible.
To the Astle family – all our thanks.