Club News

BACK OF THE NET! 3 – Jeff Astle v Leeds United, 1971

We apologise for the interference…

To fill the days until football returns from the international break, Albion News editor Dave Bowler has been charged with selecting a top ten of Albion goals.

“Picking a top ten of Albion goals over a lifetime of watching isn’t easy. For starters, at this advanced age, I’ve forgotten most of them. And do you pick great goals, funny goals, important goals? It’s a good question and I’ll only know the answer by next week when I’ve finished with it, but all I can say is it’s going to be a very personal collection and you’ll almost certainly disagree with it. Argue away…”

In putting this series together, I put a few rules in place to help narrow the field a bit. First, we needed to have it on film, otherwise talking about goals is a bit like dancing about architecture. I limited it to one goal per player and I’ve tried to spread them right across the years. Finally, I had to be physically there to see it.

But rules are made to be broken and so, in this one instance, I have for this might not be the greatest Albion goal of all time, but it is one of the most remarkable.

It came on April 17th 1971 when the Throstles, who hadn’t won an away game in the First Division since beating Ipswich Town at Portman Road on December 13th 1969, and who were struggling in the lower reaches, travelled up to Elland Road to meet Leeds United, then top of the table and in hot pursuit of a second league title in three years. 

And if you think Elland Road is a hostile place these days, then let me assure you dear reader, it is but a garden party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace compared with how it was back in the 1970s.

Albion turned up as sacrificial lambs to the slaughter, two easy points for Leeds United on their way to glory. After all, as we couldn’t win anywhere outside God’s country, we sure as hell weren’t going to win in Revie’s playground. 

That Leeds team were perhaps the best of the era, notwithstanding the fact that that time included Shankly’s Liverpool, Busby’s United of the Holy Trinity, Catterick’s School of Science at Goodison and Mercer and Allison’s Manchester City. Leeds were talented, tactically drilled, capable of breathtaking brilliance and as ruthless as a pack of lions on a starvation diet. 

And yet, and yet. In the first half, big Jack Charlton gave the ball away to Jeff Astle in the centre circle and the move ended with Tony Brown getting goal 27 of the league season. 

We held the lead into the second half when Norman Hunter did the same as Charlton, not looking as he struck a pass straight at Brown just inside Albion’s half. With acres of space before him, Tony set off on the dash, running past Colin Suggett, a solitary figure in the Leeds half, miles offside. 

Nowadays, no issue, he’d be ruled inactive and played would roll on, but back then, it was down to the referee’s judgement as to whether he was interfering with play and Mr Tinkler decided he wasn’t. 

So Brown, after stopping for a quick look at the linesman, ploughed his lonely furrow into the Leeds half, advancing to the edge of the penalty area. Goalkeeper Gary Sprake came to meet him, so Tony simply rolled the ball to his left where Astle came galloping into the picture in support, ahead of the trailing Paul Reaney to stick the ball into the net.

Carnage ensued.

Leeds supporters piled onto the pitch, there was a full scale riot which involved some members of the public being foolhardy enough to antagonise John Kaye and feel the full force of his, and John Wile’s, wrath, never a smart move. Policeman waded in too, hauling Arthur Scargill lookalikes off the field of play as they tried to get at the referee. 

And while all this was going on, Don Revie stalked onto the pitch, coat tucked under his arm, not to bring peace to the situation, but to give the referee the benefit of his wisdom, something he repeated a few days later on TV, using a blackboard to prove that he was right and the ref was wrong. 

Not that it mattered by then, because we’d won 2-1, taken the title off Leeds and then had their ground closed down for several matches the following season as a disciplinary measure. 

Our win was to hand the title to Arsenal who won the double, the Gunners guided to their success by a distinguished former Albion man, youthful coach Don Howe. By the end of the summer, he was installed as our manager of the strength of that achievement. 

Given the way that all eventually worked out, Mr Tinkler might have done us all a favour if he’d just penalised Suggett...

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