Club News

BACK OF THE NET! 5 – John Giles v Manchester United, 1976

Giles goes bananas

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…”

At the Albion, we always seem to have had a bit of a penchant for knocking in a few spectacular goals against Manchester United – we’ve already mentioned one from James Morrison for example. And who knows, as soon as his international break is over, we might knock another in – now there’s a hostage to fortune if ever I’ve seen one...

Up there with the best of them is one from October 1976, scored by Albion player / manager John Giles, a goal that must have been especially sweet for him given he started his career at Old Trafford, moving on to Leeds United, the place he truly made his reputation. 

To appreciate the real majesty of the goal, you have to recall that 36 years ago, footballs didn’t move a lot through the air, certainly not when compared with the lightweight balls of today which can dip and curve and fly in all manner of ways. 

Back then, if you wanted to get the ball to misbehave, you really had to put some work into it, which is what Giles managed to do on this occasion.

The move started out innocuously enough, Albion having a throw-in just a few yards into the United half. Mick Martin took it, throwing the ball just infield to where Giles collected it and drifted past a marker in one movement. 

Spotting Alistair Brown making a run towards him from the edge of the penalty area in the inside-right position, Giles stroked the ball forward to the Scot and accelerated away infield.

Brown recognised that his gaffer was looking to get the ball back and knew full well that life wasn’t going to be worth living if he didn’t get it, so he quickly stabbed it into his path with the outside of his boot, suddenly opening up the midfield for Giles.

Taking the ball in his stride, Giles advanced a couple of paces and then, from fully 25 yards out, snapped his right boot through the ball, catching it perfectly with the outside half of his foot. 

Alex Stepney initially thought the ball was coming straight down his throat but midway through its flight, it suddenly began to curl viciously away from him. There’s a momentary flash of realisation that goes across Stepney’s features as it suddenly occurs to him that he’s in big trouble before he vainly hurls himself across the goal.

Too late though. Giles had struck the ball with such deathless precision that the further across Stepney went, the further the ball arced away from him before it finally flashed beyond his grasp and nestled just inside the post to give Albion the lead.

It set us on our way to a 4-0 win that established us as a First Division team once more in our first season back at that level and set us on our way to the golden days that were to follow under Ron Atkinson with Regis, Cunningham, Robson et al in our side. 

But never forgot it was John Giles who laid those foundations. 

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