It’s the green I remember most, the intense green. Walking into the ground and climbing up some steps, I caught sight of the pitch for the first time.
The date was January 13th 1973, the occasion a third round FA Cup tie between West Bromwich Albion and Nottingham Forest.
I’d become increasingly fanatical about football since watching the 1971 FA Cup Final on my grandparents’ television while they were away on holiday. My grandparents boasted the first colour TV in the family and so my father and I took advantage of their absence to watch Charlie George roll flamboyantly on his back after scoring the winning goal to defeat Liverpool in extra time. The next game I remember watching was a European Championship quarter-final between England and West Germany at Wembley. It was live on television – a rarity which is hard to imagine in these live Premier League-soaked days. England lost but I recall being hugely impressed by the footballing wisdom of my grandfather. England, outclassed, had trailed for most of the game when Francis Lee popped up with an equaliser 13 minutes from full-time. I celebrated wildly, only for my grandfather to counsel me that West Germany would still win, so superior were they to Sir Alf Ramsey’s toiling team. No sooner were those words out of his mouth, than the Germans scored twice to seal a three-one victory. It was less than 18 months before Poland would bring down the curtain on Sir Alf’s reign.
But televised games were nothing compared to the real thing. I’d been born to support West Brom. Both sides of my family were Baggies, some with memories of attending games in the 1930s and before. And so it was, after many not-so-subtle hints, I was taken to my first game by my uncle, a season ticket holder. I wasn’t told until a few hours before the game so was spared a night sleepless with anticipation. I remember going in through the turnstile, clutching my 6p match programme with the “free” Football League Review supplement. My first sight of the pitch has never left me, nor has the excitement when the teams ran out. My favourite player at the time was Len Cantello, a fair-haired England under 23 international. He took his place in the Albion line-up as Don Howe’s team sought to escape a miserable league season with an FA Cup adventure.
Sadly for me, Albion took their unconvincing league form into the tie against second division Forest who took the lead through a towering centre-forward called John Galley. Eventually, Albion drew level and the first player to score for West Brom at the start of more than 40 years of going to the Hawthorns was….a Nottingham Forest left-back called John Winfield. He put though his own goal and Albion escaped with a draw. It was somehow appropriate that my first Baggies goal should be such a mess. I went twice more that season at the end of which my beloved team were relegated.
I didn’t become anything like a regular attender of home games for some time – in fact, I don’t think I actually saw Albion win a game “live” until Match 1975, more than two years after my first game. By then, Don Howe’s days were well and truly numbered and after two years of fumbling around in division two, Albion were about to embrace a Johnny Giles-inspired revolution. But that’s for another time.
Memory added on August 29, 2013
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