For a club of our stature and history, we’ve had precious few European nights here at The Hawthorns, fewer still truly great ones.
But when they came, they touched a pinnacle no other games could match, combining atmosphere, excitement, exoticism in those far-off days before perpetual television drew back the veil of mystery, and the pounding, pulsating intensity that went with a full house in a standing stadium.
The finest night of the lot came in December 1978, at the beginning of a bitingly cold winter that would ultimately rob the Throstles of the trophy that that celestial side of wit, verve and true genius deserved.
We were pitted against Valencia, a draw which brought both a sigh of resignation and a shiver of excitement when it came up, for Valencia were widely recognised as one of the finest sides in Europe that season, sporting as they did the West German playmaker Rainer Bonhof and, more importantly, striker Mario Kempes, the man who had been the emblematic goalscorer in Argentina’s win in that hail of tickertape at the World Cup that summer.
We felt defeat was inevitable against such a stellar outfit, but at least we’d get our autograph books filled with legendary names. But a funny thing happened on the way to the second leg as the best, and some of the worst, comedians used to say.
Out in Valencia, such was the level of our football at that time, we took them apart with a display of attacking prowess that rocked even the footballing Gods back on their heels. Laurie Cunningham was in such irresistible form that he outshone Kempes, inspired us to get a famous 1-1 draw and all but sold himself to Real Madrid on the same night.
Returning to The Hawthorns, the game was on a knife edge, but we were bristling with confidence. Tony Brown scored a first half penalty, we had two more goals disallowed and Cyrille Regis hit the post, but all the while we were denied that second goal, disaster was always lurking, a fact illustrated when Tony Godden had to produce a magnificent save from a free-kick.
Finally though, the tension was released in the second half as we attacked the Smethwick. Laurie Cunningham picked up the ball out on the right, just inside the Valencia half.
Approaching the full-back, an almost imperceptible shimmy to adjust his balance, there was an explosion of acceleration that takes me outside the defender, leaving him tumbling. Languid yet lightning, Cunningham sprinted at a saunter towards the corner flag, turning at right angles.
On the run, he spotted Tony Brown making a trademark dart into the box, making space for himself by stepping out from his marker in best Jimmy Greaves fashion. Cunningham played the perfect cross, accurate to the inch, though it looked a shade rapid.
But this ball was going to His Holiness Tony Brown, and there has never been anyone in the game – not anyone, not anywhere – that could volley the ball like Bomber.
Cunningham knew he could use enough pace to defeat the defence, certain in the knowledge that Tony Brown could cope. Watching the ball every inch of the way as it dropped onto his right foot, he steadied himself, swivels, caught the ball perfectly and creamed it into the far corner of the net.
In the golden words of commentator Hugh Johns, “That’ll do it!” And it did.