Astle Day: What it's about and why we're doing it
THIS week’s guest of honour regrets his absence from Saturday’s game.
But Jeff Astle will be with us everywhere at The Hawthorns won’t he? In our hearts, in our minds and in our hopes for a memorable day.
The Barclays Premier League fixture against Leicester City was chosen by the Astle family as Jeff’s tribute fixture after the club pledged a game in his honour last summer.
Jeff made his debut against Leicester 50 years ago to begin a career which established him as one of the club’s all-time favourites.
He was The King and still is.
Such is his enduring bond with his public that even now, 13 years since his death, the emotions stirred by Saturday’s occasion will be powerful.
But we should not go any further without reminding ourselves that his 2015 successors have a very important and tough game to tackle while many of us are drying our tears.
Tony Pulis and the players will hopefully be able to find inspiration and energy from the emotion which will fill The Hawthorns while at the same time concentrating on a very present opponent. They have to play the game and not the occasion and we must give them every ounce of support we can muster to help; Jeff would not want it any other way.
Nevertheless, that the chosen fixture should be timed to mark the launch of the Jeff Astle Foundation adds to the sense of occasion while raising the prominence of the cause now closely aligned to his name.
We now are all surely aware of how Jeff died a comparatively young man, deprived of the chance to see his grandchildren grow, because of brain trauma which the world now accepts was advanced by so much heading of the ball.
It was never his family’s intention to stop one of the great skills of football just because their husband and father had paid such a tragic price.
But they have fought for greater research and education and through the Foundation that is what they will continue to pursue; that, if you like, has become their justice for Jeff.
This week on the club’s official media channels, we shall be taking an unashamed stroll down memory lane to celebrate the career of one our greats. Look out for written and video content which I hope you enjoy.
On Saturday, we shall welcome team-mates from the 1968 FA Cup final triumph, the Astle family and football dignitaries to salute the day, celebrate a career and commemorate a death that has opened our eyes to a health issue we must take seriously.
Albion fans have responded to the announcement of this occasion with a show of devotion which says much for Jeff’s standing among them; the game was all but sold out by the end of last week.
Which reminds me that we shall be asking for a special favour from everyone at the Birmingham Road End come kick off time.
And of course, we shall be welcoming for one last time another old friend – that kit. A lot of headlines claimed Albion were honouring Jeff with the kit-switch. Wrong. It wasn’t just Albion it was all of football which had chosen to honour him and, through that, recognise the efforts of his family to campaign for greater awareness of sport-related head injury and brain trauma.
The kit itself will be a strange sight in the Premier League of today, a matt white and bare except for the number and the old Throstle. I hope it will tingle the blood and stir great memories of a great player who left us too soon.
Let us hope it will feel like he’s back with us for a day this weekend - and that the Albion of 2015 can take inspiration from such presence.
Director of Communications