Triumph and disasterPerishing cold they might have been on this February day in 1967, but this collection of Throstles had plenty of good reasons for looking pretty pleased with themselves.
The current holders of the Football League Cup, having beaten West Ham United 5-3 on aggregate in the 1966 final, they’d just defeated Moore, Peters, Hurst et al for a second successive season, this time in the semi-final of the competition, winning 4-0 at The Hawthorns and then drawing 2-2 at the Boleyn Ground. Earlier rounds had seen them dispose of Aston Villa (6-1) and Manchester City (4-2), so clearly they took their role as holders very seriously indeed.
Their reward for such triumph was a place in the first League Cup Final to be held at Wembley Stadium, a first senior visit there for the entire squad except skipper Graham Williams who had played there in internationals for Wales.
Better yet, Albion were to be pitted against Queens Park Rangers, then a Third Division outfit with no cup fighting pedigree of any kind. Surely it was going to winners’ tankards all round again?
But take another look at that picture, for in it, if you wish to be especially uncharitable, you can see just a glimpse of a possible upset.
On the back row stand John Talbut and John Osborne, two recent signings drafted in by Jimmy Hagan to shore up a defensive line that had begun to ship a goal or two to many for his liking. But both Talbut and Osborne were cup tied and ineligible for the final meaning that goalkeeper Dick Sheppard in particular went to Wembley short of match practice, kept out of the league side by Osborne. The omission of Stan Jones, replaced by Dennis Clarke in the number five shirt, was another surprise as the Albion marched out at Wembley.
As we returned to the dressing room at half-time, two goals to the good courtesy of Clive Clark, it all seemed of little account. A one sided game was going Albion’s way and the Throstletariat were in full on celebration mode. Little did we know...
The second half turnaround has been well documented down the years. Suffice to say that the youthful Rodney Marsh turned the tide in Rangers’ favour with the assistance of some “helpful” refereeing decisions shall we say, not least the one that led to the winner, Dick Sheppard being clobbered with the ball in his grasp, the loose ball snaffled by Mike Lazarus who won the cup with nine minutes left on the clock. Albion slunk away from Wembley, Tony Brown describing the aftermath as one of his worst memories of his playing career.
in the table having gone out of the FA Cup in round four, thumped 5-0 by Don Revie’s Leeds United. That was Albion’s Achilles heel, the ability to suddenly ship great quantities of goals from out of nowhere and, come the end of the season, manager Jimmy Hagan was left to pay the ultimate sacrifice, being sacked from his job.thThe repercussions rumbled on as the Baggies bumbled to the end of the season, finishing 13
Hagan was unfortunate in many ways for there were few shrewder judges of a player. It was Hagan who gave Tony Brown his break in the first team, Hagan who had signed plenty of the faces on our picture, men such as Astle, Kaye, Osborne, Fraser, Talbut, players who would go on to be the bedrock of the team that returned to Wembley just 12 months later to eradicate all those painful memories by lifting the FA Cup after beating Everton.
But Hagan, always controversial, already tarnished by the tracksuit revolt and by the famous incident when his car went tumbling down the bank and into the canal at Albion’s training ground, could not endure after Rangers had won at Wembley.
Football fans can endure anything. Anything except humiliation.