In the deep midwinter
While all is quiet at The Hawthorns during the international break, Publications Editor Dave Bowler chooses his ten favourite games from 45 years of visiting the home of football, some of them obvious, some very personal.
6. 1 January 1979 – Albion 3 Bristol City 1
Football? On ice? In the snow?
You can’t play football on ice, in the snow!
“Thanks for the memories”. The signature tune of the genius Bob Hope – that’s the lantern jawed comedian of course, not the legendary Sir Robert Hope, purveyor of midfield mastery at the Hawthorns for a decade and more. And the funny man knew what he was talking about because when you tot up a life, if you’re not sitting there with a bonce full of moments to warm yourself on when the chill winds blow, you’re pretty much stuffed.
That’s why we go to games. What it’s really about, what we’re really doing, is plonking down our cash as an investment. We’re there in the hope that over the course of 90 minutes, something special will happen, something remarkable, something that will creep into the cranium and stay there for the rest of your life. It’s a down payment on tomorrow, an insurance policy against the loss of the past. It’s a sum tossed into a wishing well in the hope that after time up, you’ll have gone through 90 minutes where forever and a day, you can say “I was there”.
, 1979 when Albion versus Bristol City at The Hawthorns was one of only three games in the country to survive the arrival of an Arctic winter which, paradoxically, was to cost a glorious Albion team the surfeit of silver that it deserved. We played the game to a finish in conditions that, ordinarily, Sir David Attenborough would be making documentaries about. But we didn’t just get through the 90 minutes. We played.stSuch a day was January 1
My God. How we played.
This was football how the Gods must have imagined it, football of such grace, such style, such sophistication, pace, power. It was football of majesty, the white backdrop adding an ethereal, ghostly, angelic quality to it all as Albion produced some of the most extraordinary play even that great side achieved, utter mastery of conditions, of ball, f opposition.
It’s a day that remains vivid in the mind. Listening to radio reports early in the morning, Radio Birmingham as it then was telling us that yes, the game was still on, but that there would be inspections still to come.
As ever in the days of terracing, you had to get to the ground early to get a crush barrier to lean on and make life slightly more comfortable. Applying a third later of socks, I seem to remember we went on the bus because of the treacherous roads, arriving somewhere about 1.30 for the 3pm kick-off. Clutching my junior season ticket - £10 for the year. £10 to watch Cunningham, Regis, Wile, Statham, Robson, Cantello. I still feel like I ought to make an additional contribution even now, but don’t tell Mark Jenkins eh? – we made our way to the Smethwick corner, far and away the greatest view in the ground as dad always pointed out. He had to pay to get in, £1.20, which still seems a small price for the keys to heaven.
But as we got there, the gates were still shut and the game under threat. The utterly self absorbed 14 year old git that was me – any 14 year olds reading this, go and apologise to your mom and dad. I know you don’t know why, but you’ll feel better for it in 20 years – was busily fretting about whether or not Discosound in Wednesbury would still have that copy of Genesis’ “Nursery Cryme” in the sale the following day, while dad was trying desperately to keep warm by lighting his pipe every couple of minutes and burrowing deeper into the suede coats that were de rigeur in those days.
At about quarter to two, the turnstiles clanked open and we were in, straight to a barrier, to be followed by about an hour’s worth of frenzied foot stamping to try and find some form of blood circulation once we’d spent 10 minutes reading the programme from cover to cover and back again.
Amid the gentle warming up, Albion looked balanced, confident, comfortable. And well they might because we had a bit of help – pimple soled boots that had been used on the astroturf of the USA on their artificial pitches. Perfect to help you keep your feet on ice. Our poise was enough to convince the referee that the game should go ahead.
The game has entered folklore because of those boots and the advantage it gave, and there’s little doubt that City struggled as a result of the gulf in footwear. But it was the gulf in class that really told on that day as the Throstles were simply sublime. Len Cantello was a giant in the middle of the park, even overshadowing Bryan Robson for his use of the ball, his direction of the traffic, his running of the game.
Derek Statham, a wonderful footballer, could have played on sand, on broken glass, on rubble or on a billiard table. And then there was Laurie Cunningham who could have played on stilts never mind in trainers, such was his perfect balance.
The Throstles were a goal to the good after just 11 minutes, Shaw unable to hold a Bryan Robson effort, Ally Brown darting in to convert the rebound. But it was from hero to villain for Ally ten minutes later from City won a penalty for a Brendon Batson handball. As Ritchie stepped up to take the penalty, Ally chucked a snowball at him to put him off and he missed the penalty, it hit the post. The referee let them retake it and Peter Cormack stepped up and scored.
minute that the game was finished. A magnificent goal won the day, Batson to Robson to Bomber to Cantello to Ally Brown who clipped a shot past Shaw and in.ndAlbion knocked the ball around with aplomb but City clung on and it wasn’t until a minute before the break that Albion retook the lead, John Wile heading in a corner. We were utterly dominant thereafter and for the second half, Bristol City barely saw the ball. Time and again it looked certain that we would add a third but it wasn’t until the 82
As the snow closed in, we stopped playing and ultimately, the season slipped away to something of an anti-climax. Or did it? No, there were no trophies. But what do we still talk about today? Regis and Cunningham, Batson and Statham, the boys of ‘78/79.
Thanks for the memories.