If you’ve just joined us, we’re talking about the West Brom legend Jeff Astle who was partial to giving us a tune.
There was a time when the footballers had a sing-song on the coach to and from the matches. Everybody would join in. It was usually the traditional tunes that your old Grandad when down the pub, jumping on the piano to belt them out until somebody bought him a pint. Jeff Astle did this on the coach and at the football club socials. He’d be the entertainer, the one who is always first up to get everyone singing along. He liked the camaraderie and as I said, liked to entertain.
He was a bit decent on the pitch of course. As the Wikipedia entry for him says:
“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.”
The entry also notes about some graffiti that during the height of his career, appeared on a bridge over a canal in Netherton:
The local council obviously didn’t like that and they’d paint over it, only for the graffiti to reappear. This became a running saga and is still happening on what is now known as the ‘Astle Bridge’.
There was a petition to officially rename the bridge, but once again, the local council…
Some of you may know him better from his post playing career with his regular singing appearances on Skinner & Baddiel’s Fantasy Football League TV series.
The official WBA website has a Q&A with Frank Skinner (a long time Baggies supporter) on how he first came about with appearing on the show:
A. I was doing a show called Fantasy Football with a bit called Phoenix From The Flames where we would recreate famous goals from the past. We wanted to do what some cynics call the ‘offside goal’ against Leeds United – I would call it the ‘perfectly legitimate goal’ myself. It was a goal that Albion fans and Leeds fans remembered but probably nobody else. And best of all it was a chance to meet Jeff Astle, who had been my hero since I could remember. His name was on my roughbook at school, I had badges with his name on, I had a plastic cap – which was pretty horrible – that had Jeff’s name on there too.
Q. Tell us about Jeff, Gary Sprake and the Astle garden…
A. We were travelling up to Jeff’s house and there was this mixture of excitement and fear because there is that old saying about ‘not meeting your heroes’. He might have been unpleasant and that would have been upsetting having loved him all those years…but we got there and he was great. And that’s how he was. A, he was friendly. B, he was actually very good at what we asked him to do. Former footballers aren’t trained to be actors or comics so we used to struggle with many of them but Jeff took to it brilliantly. He got Laraine involved playing Gary Sprake – ‘Laraine…she’ll be Gary Sprake’ – and he was brilliant. When we left the house I was sat in the car and couldn’t speak to anyone – I was so excited. It was like being in shock. But the other people on the show realised just how brilliant he was. He’d had a single out called Sweet Water and so we asked Jeff to be a singer on our show each week, which he did.
This is one of those appearances:
There is another clip where Jeff enters with a football strapped to his head, which looking back at it now… a bit tasteless.
Why ? Well the thing is that Jeff Astle score more goals with his head than his feet. And back in the day the ball that he was heading was a big heavy leather thing. As you can imagine this sort of constant impact has consequences down the line.
Jeff died suddenly on 19th January 2002. Before that though he was rapidly deteriorating. Jeff’s memory had started to go, his wife had to remind him of who that picture of a footballer was on his wall. At first they thought it was Alzheimer’s, but he was only 59. There was an inquest after he passed and the coroner ruled that he had suffered “death by industrial disease”, his brain damaged by the repeated heading of the heavy leather footballs.
Via the Independent:
The family arranged for Dr Willie Stewart, a consultant neuropathologist at Glasgow’s Southern General hospital, to re-examine Astle’s brain tissue. He found that Astle had suffered not from Alzheimer’s disease but chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found commonly in boxers.
This led to the Astle family setting up the Jeff Astle Foundation. The aim is to raise awareness, to put more research into the causes of dementia in former players because of the combination of repeated heading of the ball and from collisions that might have occurred during a game. They hoped that the Football Association would address these issues, but sadly and still so far. They haven’t.
We don’t want to end this look at him on a downer though. The aim of this entry is to highlight Jeff Astle’s music. And it’s not just me saying that, John Peel did too. (More from him in a moment) That’s because Jeff’s musical ability was better than your average singing footballer.
Have a listen for yourself:» Jeff Astle – Sweet Water » Jeff Astle – You’re In My Arms
As previously mentioned even John Peel rated him. He played this West Brom 1968 FA Cup tune (they won with a goal from Astle in the 93rd minute)
Then in 2002 not long after Jeff died he gave his single an airing as a tribute:» Jeff Astle – Sweet Water (John Peel show 22nd January 2002)
All hail to you Jeff Astle. A legend at West Brom and in football history. Keep up with that graffiti on the bridge lads and I hope that the younger generation of Baggies will be told of his story. Never to be forgotten.