An industrious Scot kicks us off
We start another new series today, trawling through the Albion men down the years who have represented their country while at The Hawthorns. First up, Asa Hartford…
Richard Asa Hartford was another product of the seemingly endless conveyor belt of Scottish talent that flooded into The Hawthorns through the 1960s. Albion’s extensive network of scouts and contacts in youth football north of the border paid real dividends bringing in the likes of Bobby Hope, Ray Wilson and Alistair Robertson over that period, who notched up over 1,300 games between them in the stripes.
Asa racked up 275 appearances himself after he began to establish himself in the wake of the 1968 FA Cup Final, though he had already registered a first Albion goal in the famous 6-3 win over Manchester United just two days after the Throstles had booked their place at Wembley.
A tigerish midfield competitor with a good range of passing, the tempestuous Hartford never fought shy of a battle. He was set for a move to Eland Road to take up station in Don Revie’s magnificent Leeds United side in 1971, but a medical showed that he had a hole in his heart, a condition that some feared would put his career in jeopardy. The move was off.
As it was, Asa continued to play week in, week out for the Baggies, doing enough in a struggling side to catch the eye of the Scotland selectors and make his international debut in a friendly against Peru at Hampden Park within a year of his transfer collapsing.
He collected half a dozen caps inside ten weeks, playing in front of nearly 120,000 spectators at Hampden in the Home International showdown against England before setting off to a play in a tournament in Brazil. That ended with Scotland playing against the hosts in the awesome Maracana Stadium, a small crowd of 130,000 turning up. Asa was included in a team that included former Albion colleague Eddie Colquhoun and all-time greats Denis Law and Billy Bremner, and which was managed by Tommy Docherty, the Scots not disgraced by a 1-0 defeat.
Asa’s international career stalled for a while thereafter as the Baggies stumbled out of the top flight the following season, finishing bottom of the heap in Don Howe’s second season in charge.
There was to be no immediate return to the First Division for Albion, nor a quick return to the Scotland squad for Hartford which ruled out any chance he had of playing in the World Cup in West Germany in 1974 when the Scots were Britain’s only representatives.
His Scotland future was clearly uppermost in his mind when, in the summer of 1974, Asa left Albion to join Manchester City for £225,000, more than £50,000 more than we were originally going to get from Leeds.
Little more than a year later, Hartford was back in the Scottish XI and on his way to a career total of 50 caps, including three in the World Cup of 1978 and another in Spain in 1982.