Jeff Astle

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Jeff Astle
Personal information
Full name Jeffrey Astle
Date of birth (1942-05-13)13 May 1942
Place of birth Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England
Date of death 19 January 2002(2002-01-19) (aged 59)
Playing position Striker
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1959–1964 Notts County 103 (31)
1964–1974 West Bromwich Albion 361 (174)
1974 Hellenic FC ? (?)
1974–1975 Dunstable Town ? (25)
1975–1976 Weymouth ? (20)
1976–1977 Atherstone Town ? (?)
1977 Hillingdon Borough (loan) ? (?)
Total 395 (168)
National team
England 5 (0)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).

Jeffrey "Jeff" Astle (13 May 1942 – 19 January 2002) was an English footballer. He played 361 games for West Bromwich Albion, scoring 174 goals, and was one of the most iconic players in the history of the club. He also won five caps for England, but did not score any goals. He was an iconic figure among Albion fans, who nicknamed him "The King".

Football career[edit]

Born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire (in the same street, or so he claimed, as D. H. Lawrence), Astle turned professional with Notts County F.C. when he was 17. His style was that of a classic centre forward; he was a protégé of the great Tommy Lawton. In 1964 he signed for West Brom for a fee of £25,000. Of his 174 goals for the Baggies, the most notable was probably the only goal in the 1968 FA Cup final, with which he completed the feat of scoring in every round of the competition.

Two years later, Astle scored in Albion's 2–1 defeat by Manchester City in the League Cup final, becoming the first player to score in the finals of both of the major English cup competitions at Wembley. He had already scored in the first leg of the 1966 League Cup Final four years previously, however that was at West Ham United's Boleyn Ground.

At the height of Astle's Albion career – some say on the evening of the 1968 FA Cup Final triumph[1] – the words "ASTLE IS THE KING" appeared in large white letters on the brickwork of Primrose Bridge, which carries Cradley Road over a canal in Netherton, in the heart of the Black Country. The bridge quickly became known locally as "the Astle Bridge". When the council removed the letters, they re-appeared a few days later. Following Astle's death in 2002, a campaign was launched to have the bridge officially named in his honour, but this has so far been rejected over fears of vandal attacks by supporters of rival teams, as the area also has a high percentage of Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers fans.

In 1969–1970 Astle was the leading scorer in Division One with 25 goals.[2] In 1970, he was called up to the England squad for the World Cup finals tournament in Mexico. He won the first of his five caps, as a substitute, when England were a goal down against eventual champions Brazil. Many English supporters will remember his missing a relatively easy scoring chance that could have turned the outcome of the tournament in England's favour. Astle himself, in his characteristic self-effacing way, would in later years turn this famous mistake into the punchline of a rather ribald anecdote.

In subsequent years his fitness deteriorated through repeated injuries, and in 1974 he left Albion to join the South African club Hellenic. His final bow came with a brief spell at the English non-league side Dunstable Town F.C., where he teamed up with the legendary former Manchester United star George Best.

Retirement, death and legacy[edit]

The Astle Gates at the Hawthorns

After his retirement Astle launched an industrial cleaning business, working around the Burton upon Trent area; latterly he also made TV comedy appearances with Frank Skinner and David Baddiel on Fantasy Football League.

On 19 January 2002, Astle collapsed at his daughter's home and was taken to Queen's Hospital Burton upon Trent, where he died, aged 59.[3] The cause of death was a degenerative brain disease; failing mental ability had first become apparent as much as five years earlier. He had been an exceptional header of the ball, and the coroner found that the repeated minor trauma had been the cause of his death, as the leather footballs used in Astle's playing days were considerably heavier than the plastic ones of today, especially when wet. This was not the first case of a footballer's illness or death (particularly in the form of Alzheimer's or dementia type symptoms) being connected to heading old fashioned footballs, a notable example being the former Tottenham Hotspur captain Danny Blanchflower who died of Alzheimer's disease in December 1993.[4]

A verdict of death by industrial injury was recorded.

On the day after his death, West Bromwich Albion held a minute's silence in honour of Astle, prior to their home match against Walsall. Albion striker Jason Roberts scored the only goal of the game and celebrated by removing his jersey to reveal a t-shirt bearing Astle's image.[5]

His funeral in Derbyshire was attended by hundreds of football fans.[6] Fantasy Football League returned for a number of special editions after Astle's death; the first programme being preceded by a minute's silence, in the style of those held at football matches. In November 2002, Astle's widow Lorraine said that she would take legal action over his death.[7]

Astle had been worshipped as a hero by the Albion fans, who would often sing (to the tune of Camptown Races): "Astle is the king, Astle is the king, the Brummie Roaders sing this song, Astle is the king". The chant is still heard at the Hawthorns to this day. Following his death, a campaign was launched to fund a set of gates dedicated to his memory at the ground (see picture above). The gates, which are situated on the Birmingham Road, close to the Woodman Corner, were unveiled on 11 July 2003.[8] In April 2003 Astle became the first person to have a Midland Metro tram named after him.[9][10]

In 2004 he was named as one of West Bromwich Albion's 16 greatest players, in a poll organised as part of the club's 125th anniversary celebrations.[11] Astle was also voted as one of Albion's five "FA Cup heroes", receiving the most votes for a striker in the poll organised by the club's official website in 2006.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1][dead link]
  2. ^ "English League Leading Goalscorers 1889–2007". RSSSF. 14 June 2007. Retrieved 2 September 2007. 
  3. ^ "Former England star Astle dies". BBC News. 20 January 2002. Retrieved 28 October 2007. 
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ "Albion 1 Walsall 0 – FULL MATCH REPORT". West Bromwich Albion F.C. 20 January 2002. Retrieved 21 May 2008. 
  6. ^ "Fond farewell for football hero". BBC News. 30 January 2002. Retrieved 28 October 2007. 
  7. ^ "Widow to sue over Astle's death". BBC News. 22 November 2002. Retrieved 28 October 2007. 
  8. ^ "Astle Gates". BOING. 11 July 2003. Retrieved 7 August 2007. 
  9. ^ "Tram named for Baggies hero". BBC News. 8 April 2003. Retrieved 28 October 2007. 
  10. ^ "Comic unveils Astle tram". BBC News. 12 April 2003. Retrieved 28 October 2007. 
  11. ^ "The wraps come off 125th anniversary mural". West Bromwich Albion F.C. 4 August 2004. Retrieved 27 April 2008. 
  12. ^ "Albion's all-time FA Cup heroes". West Bromwich Albion F.C. 18 February 2006. Retrieved 27 April 2008. 

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