The Jeff Astle Gates at The Hawthorns
|Full name||Jeffrey Astle|
|Date of birth||13 May 1942|
|Place of birth||Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England|
|Date of death||19 January 2002(aged 59)|
|Place of death||Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England|
|1964–1974||West Bromwich Albion||292||(137)|
|1977||→ Hillingdon Borough (loan)||?||(?)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only|
Jeffrey Astle (13 May 1942 – 19 January 2002) was an English footballer. Nicknamed "the King" by fans, he played 361 games for West Bromwich Albion and scored 174 goals. He also won five caps for England, without scoring.
Born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, Astle turned professional with Notts County when he was 17. His style was that of a classic centre forward; he was a protégé of Tommy Lawton. In 1964 he signed for West Brom for a fee of £25,000. He scored 174 goals in 361 games for the Baggies, including the only goal in the 1968 FA Cup Final, in 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, but that was at West Ham United's Upton Park.
At the height of Astle's Albion career, 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 some Wolverhampton Wanderers fans.
In 1969–1970 Astle was the leading scorer in Division One with 25 goals. 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, coming on as a substitute when England were a goal down against eventual champions Brazil. He missed a relatively easy scoring chance and England lost 1-0, however England were not eliminated from the tournament as a result of the defeat.
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, where he teamed up with former Manchester United star George Best.
Retirement, death and legacy
After his retirement, Astle launched an industrial cleaning business, working around the Burton upon Trent area. He also made TV comedy appearances with Frank Skinner and David Baddiel on Fantasy Football League.
On 19 January 2002, Astle choked to death at his daughter's home aged 59. The cause of death was a degenerative brain disease that had first become apparent as much as five years earlier. He had been described as an exceptional header of the ball, and the coroner found that the repeated minor traumas had been the cause of his death, as the leather footballs used in Astle's playing days were considerably heavier than the plastic ones used later, 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, another example being the former Tottenham Hotspur captain Danny Blanchflower who died of Alzheimer's disease in December 1993. A verdict of death by industrial injury was recorded. In 2014, the Justice for Jeff campaign was launched, calling for an independent inquiry into a possible link between degenerative brain disease and heading footballs. Subsequently, he was confirmed as the first British footballer known to have died as a result of heading a football. In the same year it was claimed by a neurosurgeon that Astle had died as a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease previously associated with boxers.
On the day after his death, West Bromwich Albion held a minute's silence in honour of Astle, before 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.
His funeral in Derbyshire was attended by hundreds of football fans. 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.
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 Road will sing this song, Astle is the king". The chant is still heard at the Hawthorns. Following his death, a campaign was launched to fund a set of gates dedicated to his memory at the ground. The gates, which are situated on the Birmingham Road, close to the Woodman Corner, were unveiled on 11 July 2003. In April 2003 Astle became the first person to have a Midland Metro tram named after him.
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. 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.
Since early 2013, for around a year, West Brom fans make it a point at every home game to applaud on the ninth minute of the game for the entire minute in tribute to Jeff Astle and in support of the Justice for Jeff campaign. This is because he wore the No. 9 shirt for the club. During the minute the screens at the Hawthorns would have an image of Jeff Astle with the caption 'If in doubt, Sit them out.' Albion's fierce rivals Aston Villa and Birmingham City also showed a picture of Astle on their screens when the Baggies played there that season.
Jeff Astle Foundation
It was announced on 26 March 2015 that the club would be holding "Astle Day" in his memory on 11 April at The Hawthorns, when the club hosted Leicester City FC. The team sported the 1968 FA Cup Final kit that Astle wore when he scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Everton FC. Albion became only the second club to have been granted express permission from the Premier League for a kit change, after Manchester United donned a retro kit in honour of the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster in 2008. This day also marked the beginning of the Jeff Astle Foundation.
In May 2016, in the 50th anniversary year of England's world cup victory the Daily Telegraph compared football with the 1960s tobacco industry. It said the authorities risked legal action because of a “scandalous” failure to research dementia amongst former players, due to a combination of repeated heading of the ball and from collisions that might have occurred during a game. The newspaper also criticised the non-appearance of a risk study following Astle's death and launched a campaign to investigate football related brain injuries. The Telegraph called for research to answer the question, 'Does playing football increase your risk of dementia and other degenerative brain diseases?’  In November 2017, a BBC documentary on the subject presented by former England striker Alan Shearer included an interview with Astle's daughter where she spoke of the deterioration in her father's condition.
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