Their opponents at Wembley were Everton, and there wasn’t much on paper between the two sides. Everton had finished the season in fifth place in the First Division (which had been won by Manchester City, of all people), while the Albion had finished eighth. The year before, Albion had lost in the League Cup final to Third Division Queens Park Rangers after having led 2-0 at half-time.Whilst Albion had Jeff Astle and Tony Brown, Everton had Brian Labone and Ron Springett. It was a match for firsts – the first match to be covered in colour by the BBC and the first FA Cup final in which a substitute (Dennis Clarke for West Bromwich Albion – substitutes had only been introduced in 1965 and were still only very seldom used for tactical reasons) – but, in truth, it was a poor match and finished 0-0, and looking likely to go to a replay for the first time since in had been played at Wembley. Three minutes into extra time, however, Jeff Astle thrashed the ball in from the edge of the penalty area for the only goal of the match, and it was the sort of match in which Everton didn’t have anything left to give.
West Bromwich Albion are one of those clubs that are very good at false dawns. If told anyone in 1968 that a club from the Midlands would be winning the league championship in four years’ time, Albion would have been most people’s choices. Aston Villa were in a decline that would see them in the Third Division by 1971, Wolves had only just been promoted back to the First Division and Derby County (who would be fashioned by Brian Clough into League Champions into League Champions by 1972) had just finished fifth from bottom in the Second Division. Albion would go on to the European Cup Winners Cup quarter-finals the following season and then lost the 1970 League Cup final to Manchester City. The purple patch ended, however, with the departure of Alan Ashman in 1971, and they were relegated two years later. Jeff Astle sadly dies in 2002 at the age of 59.
As with the other three contenders, this weekend’s matches are uncharted territory for West Bromwich Albion, and what I’ve noticed over the last seven days is that those that had been talking of the Cup as a hindrance to their promotion aspirations have largely fallen silent. The fact of the matter is that even if they don’t get promoted this season, they’ll be there or thereabouts next season, and (I’ll say this yet again) this is the best chance that West Bromwich Albion could possibly have to win the FA Cup. It promises to be a magnificent weekend of football.