1968 saw us reach the FA Cup Final, Albion’s tenth in a long and proud history that has largely been shaped by our performances in that competition.
Reaching Wembley had been a long, arduous, occasionally tortuous business, plenty of replays, some tumultuous battles, some good football, some narrow escapes, but ultimately, a successful journey to the final destination.
- Cup winner Ashman in profile
- Cup final fever
- 1968 FA Cup Quiz
- Albion 1 Everton 0 (aet) match highlights
But all that would stand for nothing if the Throstles failed to finish the job underneath Wembley’s twin towers by beating Everton and completing the demolition job on both sides of Merseyside. Liverpool’s Bill Shankly were sixth round victims of the Baggies, but nobody put it better than Shankly when discussing football’s first rule. Quoting Jimmy Cagney, Shankly would tell anyone who wanted to listen, and plenty who didn’t, “Foist is foist and second is nowhere”.
For the cup run to count for anything, the Throstles would need to put one over on Everton, the “School of Science” and, in particular, their terrific midfield triumvirate of Howard Kendall, Colin Harvey and the World Cup winning Alan Ball.
Everton were a coming side in English football, manager Harry Catterick rebuilding after the previous team had reached their peak by lifting the league title in 1963. An FA Cup win in 1966, coming from behind to defeat Sheffield Wednesday, had bridged the gap, but it had been something of a last hurrah for that outfit too. The trip to Wembley in 1968 was heralding the arrival of the new team that was going to create its own history.
Having finished fifth in ’68, they were clearly a big threat to Albion and were installed as favourites for the game, but further investigation of the season suggested a chink of light for the Throstles. All but invincible at Goodison Park – 18 wins, a draw and two defeats – Everton were far less impressive on their travels, having won just five times.
One of those came at The Hawthorns, a 6-2 thumping with Ball in unstoppable mood, but as Graham Williams pointed out, even that was seen as something of a good omen. “They’d done the double over us but in the run up to the final, we’d just keep reminding ourselves that it was very, very rare that a team beat you three times in a season.”
In the last few days ahead of the final, the big decision was, of course, to decide the Wembley line up. Over the preceding few weeks, the bulk of the team had pretty much selected itself. John Osborne had no challenger in goal. Graham Williams was skipper and left-back, Doug Fraser had emerged as his partner on the right while the centre-back pairing was suddenly John Talbut and erstwhile centre-forward John Kaye who had dropped back into defence after injury to Eddie Colquhoun and had looked a natural there.
Jeff Astle was the leading man up front, with Tony Brown looking to get forward and join him from the midfield. Clive Clark was as exciting and effective as any winger in the First Division, while Ian Collard had made himself indispensable in the midfield with a string of accomplished displays. Then there was Bobby Hope, the team’s playmaker, able to tear a defence to shreds with one telling pass and the fulcrum of so much of Albion’s football.
Which left one shirt up for grabs out on the right side of the midfield. As attacking options, there was Kenny Stephens who had played in the semi-final win over Birmingham, or Dick Krzywicki who was quick and direct, an out and out winger.
But Everton’s threat down the left, courtesy of the world class World Cup winner Ray Wilson, meant manager Alan Ashman was looking for an option to nullify him. He chose Graham Lovett, creating one of those warm, human stories that the FA Cup used to specialise in. Twelve months earlier, Lovett had watched the 1967 cup final from his hospital bed, still there after a horrible car crash in December 1966 had left him with a broken neck and a footballing future that hung by a thread. A year on and he was walking out at Wembley Stadium to play in the cup final having never even been there as a spectator.
Appropriately suited and booted for the occasion, the Albion men made the traditional inspection of the Wembley turf along with the rest of their colleagues and then prepared for the game of their lives against Everton. Not an FA Cup winner amongst them, a team with bad memories of Wembley, this was their chance to exorcise those demons and to become legends.
A week earlier, the Rugby League Challenge Cup final between Leeds and Wakefield Trinity had been played out on a Wembley pitch that was all but waterlogged. Though it had begun to recover somewhat in the immediate aftermath, torrential overnight rain had left the Wembley pitch heavy again and that contributed to the game being far less of a spectacle than most had hoped. It was also a final where the two teams were incredibly closely matched and where so many of the players simply cancelled one another out.
Tony Brown had the first opportunity of the game after good work by Doug Fraser, crashing a shot from distance just over the bar as Albion made a lively start, but for a period thereafter, the game settled into stalemate with neither side able to fashion a really clear chance on goal.
Everton’s best chance of the first half came shortly before the interval, Morrissey drifting in from the left hand side to fire off a shot, Osborne diving to make a good save and send the sides in level after a tense first 45 minutes.
During the break, Fraser had a strapping put on his left knee but more serious was an early injury to Kaye’s right ankle which was clearly impeding him as he limped heavily through the game.
If Everton were perhaps just the better side in the first hour, as time went on the Throstles became a bigger and bigger force in the game, but without really creating a proper opportunity in front of Gordon West’s goal. Indeed, perhaps the biggest chance fell the way of the Merseysiders just before the end, Morrissey helping the ball on to Husband with the goal gaping, but he somehow contrived to put his header over the bar when it looked easier to score.
And so it was extra time, Kaye’s ankle finally giving away, Dennis Clarke becoming the first substitute in FA Cup final history. He slotted in at right-back, Doug Fraser moving into the centre.
Barely had the game restarted than Albion were ahead. Jeff Astle picked up the ball midway in the Everton half, went past Kendall and unleashed a shot from the edge of the box which cannoned into a defender and fell back into Astle’s path. Barely breaking stride, he hit the returning ball with his left foot and it flew across the face of goal, beyond West and nestled in the far corner. Astle had scored in every round of the competition and Albion were on their way to glory.
From there, Everton looked a beaten side, energy drained by the punishing Wembley turf, hope sapped by Astle’s goal. Albion could have made it 2-0 in the dying seconds, Osborne sparking a swift breakaway, Albion having three against one, the ball coming to Lovett who, like Geoff Hurst in ’66, let fly with a shot from distance. Unlike Hurst, Lovett missed, but it didn’t matter, it really was all over, the final whistle going almost as soon as his effort sailed over the bar.
Albion had won the FA Cup by the solitary goal of the game. John Osborne, Doug Fraser, Graham Williams, John Kaye, John Talbut, Graham Lovett, Tony Brown, Bobby Hope, Ian Collard, Clive Clark, Jeff Astle, substitute Dennis Clarke and manger Alan Ashman. Men who set the standards for this club, who realised their dreams and ours in 1968 and who give us dreams to aspire to every season that passes, every time we think of those names or see their pictures. Men who will never be forgotten as long as there is a football club here. It’s how it should be.