Elland Road, 1971
...OUR away form in particular was mildly disastrous as we carried on a proud run of not winning away from God’s country that had started back in December 1969. Sixteen months on and as we headed to Elland Road, home of Don Revie’s uncompromising Leeds United, we were still winless and, frankly, standing precious little chance of fixing that record in Yorkshire on April 17th 1971.
The joy of football is its unpredictability. That and the fact that, on occasion, it’s bonkers. The game at Leeds was every bit that and more. The Albion took the lead through Tony Brown and then, on a breakaway, got a second. The move started when Brown intercepted a pass with Colin Suggett still miles offside from a previous attack. But he was walking back towards his own half. Nowadays, no problem, back then, it was up to the referee to decide if he was interfering with play or not. Referee Tinkler concluded he was not, and Bomber piled forward before slipping the ball into the path of Astle for a tap in.
All hell broke loose. Revie strode onto the pitch to harangue the referee, followed by a number of Leeds fans who came over the wall to do a bit more than harangue, John Wile laying one of them out with a haymaker just before he got to the ref.
Eventually the field cleared and Albion saw it through, 2-1 winners, a result that turned the season upside down. Leeds, who had been sailing serenely towards a second First Division title in three years, suddenly had the silver bauble wrenched from their grasp. When we failed to beat Arsenal at The Hawthorns the week after, it was the Gunners who were in the box seat and they not only won the league but the double to boot. Given that in those days, everybody hated boring, lucky Arsenal even more than they hated Leeds, this was an unwanted example of the law of unintended consequences at their very worst.
Worse than that, we had clearly irritated the Gods of karma as well, because inspired by Arsenal’s success, chairman Jim Gaunt pronounced, “I’m fed up of going to Wembley, I want to do something in the league”. He promptly sacked Alan Ashman as manager, hired Don Howe and the rest is misery…
*The full feature can be read in Albion News, the club’s magazine that comes out on match day. You know it makes sense.