Somewhere over the Rainbow
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.
8. 16 February 1974 – Albion 0 Newcastle United 3
Football supporting isn’t all about winning, not even if you’re a Manchester United or a Barcelona fan. It’s especially true if you haven’t won anything since 1968, but leaving that aside for a moment, football’s power to transcend comes from moments, from memories that become powerfully personal rather than the global moments that we all recall as a group – big wins, promotions etc.
Even a hefty defeat can have its redeeming features on a personal level. Honestly.
Away back in 1974, football supporting was a different game. Most of us stood up at either end of the ground and, given that we’d just dropped into the Second Division for the first time in a quarter of a century, there was usually a fair bit of room.
There was room in the stands too – confusing for a nine year old given that people sat in the stands, but never mind – but the idea of ever being able to afford a seat was out of the question.
The holy grail in those days was to get a seat in the Rainbow Stand, up there on high, presumably where God himself plonked the celestial backside whenever he came to watch His team. The idea of ever pitching up there was so far fetched as to seem impossible.
Back then, me and my dad did most of our supporting from the Smethwick End, the corner if possible, from where, I still contend, you got the best view of the game. And normally, getting in there was not a problem.
In those days, the FA Cup was not normal though, still generating immense crowds. We’d slugged our way through to the last 16 in ’74, and were pitched up against Newcastle. The travelling Geordies were given the Smethwick but we were still entitled to our sliver of space on the corner and tickets were duly bought.
It might be that in those days when health & safety was less important than it is considered today that the club perhaps overestimated just how many people could fit in there. Suffice to say that by three o’clock, it was sardines time and at the back, we couldn’t see a thing.
We milled around a the top of the stand for a bit and, truth be told, dad was probably just waiting for half-time when they opened the gates to let people out so we could go home.
Then fate intervened.
The Smethwick Corner adjoined the Rainbow and there was a metal gate portioning them off. At this gate stood a steward. Said steward, it turned out, knew my dad. Calling through the gate, he asked what the problem was. Telling him, we were met with a reply I can still hear ringing in my ears to this day.
“There’s two empty seats at the back in here, come and have them”.
And so we were ushered into the Rainbow Stand. I can’t prove it, but I think I heard angels knocking out a tune on the harp and the odd cherub getting stuck into a heavenly aria. It was like being in a dream, I promise you. I’ll never forget it.
Of course, we got stuffed 3-0 and went out of the cup, but you can’t have everything.
ALBION: Latchford, Nisbet, Wile, Robertson, Wilson, Glover, Cantello (Merrick), Hartford, Johnston, T Brown, Shaw.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: McFaul, Craig, Howard, Moncur, Clark, McDermott, Barrowclough, Cassidy, Hibbitt (Smith), Tudor, MacDonald.
GOALS: NEWCASTLE UNITED: MacDonald (30), Barrowclough (48), Tudor (50).