50 years on from that League Cup winFifty years ago this very day, The Hawthorns played host to one of its greatest ever nights, one where it became a bubbling cauldron of noise and emotion, when the Albion players and supporters joined as one to create the environment in which we put on what His Holiness, Tony Brown himself, has called the single best performance on his entire Albion career.
It was the occasion of the Football League Cup final second leg, the last time the final was played home and away, prior to moving to a Wembley showpiece the following season.
The Football League Cup, originally conceived to make use, and justify the cost of, these new fangled floodlights that football clubs were busily installing, began life as the runt of the footballing litter and, in its early days, plenty of the big clubs didn’t bother to enter, allowing the likes of Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Chelsea to carry off the silverware.
The Albion finally deigned to enter the competition in its sixth year, 1965/66, lured by the prospect of European football, a place in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup awaiting the victors. We went at it with a will, including the fans. Some 41,188 flocked to The Hawthorns to see our first ever tie as we swept Walsall aside 3-1, the first time we had played them in senior competition in more than 65 years.
We proved we meant business by beating Don Revie’s Leeds 4-2 at Elland Road before smashing Coventry 6-1 in a Hawthorns replay. Next up were Villa and another 40,000 plus were here in God’s country to watch us sweep them aside 3-1 and into a two legged semi-final with Peterborough which we came through 6-3 on aggregate.
The West Ham of Moore, Hurst and Peters were our final opponents, fortune favouring us in the draw as we travelled to the Boleyn Ground for the first leg, meaning we could bring them back home knowing what was left for us to do.
minute equaliser. Nonetheless, things were still looking good for Albion until the final seconds when, from a corner, Johnny Byrne grabbed the winner, despite Albion complaints about a foul on goalkeeper Ray Potter.ndWe took an early second half lead through Jeff Astle before a cross from Bobby Moore drifted in for a 72
From our perspective, we felt we’d done the hardest part of the job according to Tony Brown. “Up here, we were ready. If they’d scored first, it might have been different, but when we tore into them, they couldn’t respond. The game here was the best performance I’ve ever been involved in. We were 4-0 up in 35 minutes and the game was dead and buried.
“There are things that stick in your mind all your life and I can remember being in the dressing room before that game as if it was yesterday. We couldn’t get out quick enough, we were tearing the doors down, we were that confident we were going to win. That spilled onto the pitch, we went at them and nobody could have stood up to us in that first half hour. They didn’t know what day it was!
“John Kaye rifled one in to set us on our way, then I nicked a header over their ‘keeper – a looping ball, he came out to punch it but I got there first, never flinched, brave as anything! - and that was another special one because it put us in front on aggregate and it meant I’d scored in every round of the competition.
“Chippy Clark got a diving header in the six yard box to make it three, then Graham Williams banged one in and we were coasting from there.”
A shell-shocked West Ham pulled a goal back after the break, but it was all academic by then. We won 4-1 on the night, 5-3 on aggregate and Graham Williams collected the cup from the Halfords Lane directors’ box.
For Tony Brown, scorer in every round, ten goals in all, it was a night never to forget. “It had been a while since we’d won anything, or even got to a final, so it was important for the club. We were on a roll, confidence was sky high and you couldn’t have had a better team spirit than ours, it was unbelievable that bond.
“It heralded the start of a good spell through the rest of the 1960s for us, we had some terrific players and this was a sign it was coming of age and we were looked on as a good cup side after that, because we scored so many goals, we didn’t think of defence, we just poured forward. You score two, we’ll get three. That won’t win you the league, but you’ve always got a chance in the cup with that philosophy – we got 28 in 9 games in that run.
“Winning the FA Cup at Wembley a couple of years later was the biggest thing, but winning a cup final at your own ground is special, picking the cup up in front of your supporters gives it a nice spark.
“That was probably why we were so stoked up for it, because we were at home we were comfortable, familiar with our surroundings, and we wanted to put on a show for our fans. Graham got the cup in the director’s box in the old Halfords Lane Stand, the crowd went berserk, it must have been a brilliant night for them. It was for us!”