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 the Premier League era, we have become used to big cubs carrying all before them, doing doubles, keeping all the silverware to themselves. This, however, is a very modern development. By 1978, just two had managed it in the 20th century, Tottenham Hotspur (1960/61) and Arsenal (1970/71) – we, of course, were robbed of it in 1953/54.
But in 1977/78, there were interlopers hot on the trail of such glory. And, not content with trying to win two competitions, Nottingham Forest were in hot pursuit of a clean sweep of the domestic titles.
Brian Clough had already dragged one unfashionable East Midlands club, Derby County, to eternal glory by winning the League in 1972. Six years later, he was about to repeat the trick across at the City Ground, but this was a yet more remarkable achievement give that they were currently in their first season back in Division One.
They were equally imperious in the League Cup, marching on to Wembley and an appointment with Liverpool, to take place one week after playing a sixth round FA Cup tie.
By this stage, they were six points clear of second placed Everton and with a game in hand. The title was theirs for the taking. There was a League Cup final in the offing. They hadn’t lost in 22 league and cup games. They were just two games away from a second Wembley final. According to a record they made, they were the best team in the land. A miraculous treble was on the table, just awaiting completion. On the other hand…
Those sixth round opponents were the Albion and while Forest were busy ticking off the milestones, our own cup run had been enthralling with Willie Johnston in mercurial form.
And so we were paired with Nottingham Forest in the last eight after beating Manchester United and Derby – talk about having to win the cup the hard way. But this was going to be our year, and not even Brian Clough was going to stop us.
The way we had dispensed with the challenges of the previous rounds had ben something special. We were scoring goals freely. Willie was unstoppable, and big Cyrille was living out a “Roy of the Rovers” season. The cup was ours for the winning.
We made an encouraging start to the game and at the break we were a goal to the good thanks to Mick Martin, but there was still much to do. We didn’t hang around doing it either because two minutes into the second half, the lead was doubled with a goal that will live long in the memory.
It was one of those goal that transcends the mere hitting of the back of the net. This was one of those goals that sums up a moment, a man, a season, a club. In that goal, you had everything that was Albion, and especially Cyrille, vintage ’78.
This giant of a man, wearing a shirt a size too small just to further scare the daylights out of opposing centre-halves – even the likes of the gnarled and grizzled Kenneth Burns of Forest – was too good to be true and yet he got better every single week.
He scored goals you couldn’t believe, goals that weren’t possible, goals that didn’t make sense. Better than that, he did it with a broad smile on his face, relishing every second of this late, great escape from the building site.
For those of you who are too young to have been there, I promise you, being around in Cyrille’s prime is one of the few consolations of being older than you are. However good the film of him might be, it’s nothing compared with the awe inspiring joy of being in the same football ground as him when he was in his fabulous, ballistic prime. And this goal encapsulated it all.
Getting the ball forward quickly, right-back Paddy Mulligan’s long clearance was off deep into Forest territory, and Regis was off on the chase. As the ball came down and bounced some 25 yards out, there was no need for a touch, no need to get it under control.
Instead, there was blur of sinew and power on the edge of the box as Cyrille caught the ball at full stretch and absolutely creamed the air out of it, leaving Peter Shilton helpless and his side hopeless, Albion heading off into the distance. The England goalkeeper stood there with a mournful look on his face, as if somebody had just run over his dog.
I’m not sure that any other footballer of the time would have even dreamt of scoring that goal, let alone done it. But at that time, Cyrille was just magical. Nothing was beyond him.
It was a goal of sufficient majesty to win any game of football, the kind of goal that was needed to finally put down this commanding, seemingly invincible Forest team.
We were going to end our ten year drought weren’t we…