WEST BROMWICH ALBION 4 - MANCHESTER UNITED 3
At The Hawthorns – Saturday 6th March 1971.
There was a time, not that long ago, when a visit from Manchester United, held no fear for any Albion side. In fact, it was probably ‘the Reds’ who had a certain amount of trepidation about facing the famous Blue and White stripes, especially at ‘Fortress Hawthorns’.
1971-06.03-Best and Merrick tangle
That was, of course, before finances in football took an extraordinary upward spiral, creating that ‘less than level’ playing field, with ‘United PLC’ being one of the clubs, that changed the landscape of the ‘beautiful game’ forever.
1971-06.03-Brown Goal celebrations
How can we forget, Astle ‘the king’ and his wonderful hat-trick in the ’68 special’. David Cross’s superb brace in the 4-0 annihilation of the ‘Reds’ at the Hawthorns in October 1977, and of course that most memorable 5-3 thriller at Old Trafford, at Christmas 1978.
1971-06.03-v-Man Utd Tony Brown Goal
Squeezed in between that lot, was the small matter of a seven goal thriller at the Hawthorns, on Saturday 6th march 1971. A game that most ‘scribes’ of the day, openly reported was the game that had everything.
No less than seven goals….George Best back to his dazzling best……A hat-trick of pure quality from Tony Brown…..four goals in an amazing 18 minute spell, early in the second half…..A last gasp winner from John Wile….and all of this, in front of the biggest attendance of the season at The Hawthorns….41, 134.
What made thissuch a special hat-trick, for Albion’s legendary goal-poacher, was the irony of it being against his boyhood ‘idols’. Oldham born, Tony, spent his younger days on the terraces at Old Trafford, watching the likes of Bobby Charlton, Denis law and co….no doubt hoping to emulate those great players. He did, but it was to be at the Hawthorns, not ‘the theatre of dreams’ that Albion’s all-time record holder was to ply his trade.
Asa Hartford-unlucky with two attempts
United came to the Hawthorns that day, in a very modest 12th place in the First Division table. Albion lanquished a further four places below the men from Manchester, but, happily, were unbeaten in four games, having featured in a remarkable 3-3 thriller at Goodison Park against Everton the previous week. United, despite their ‘lowly’ league placing, still boasted such names as Charlton, Best, Kidd and Crerand, and were as the whole football world knew, capable of anything on their day, and could not be taken ‘lightly’.
The magnificent Brown, now in his 10th year at the Hawthorns, since joining as a 15 year old way back in 1961, didn’t intend to. He was indeed, as it was reported, ‘the soloist in a cast of glittering entertainers’ and stunned his old ‘heroes’ with a hat-trick of goals, full of quality, power and clinical excellence, that left the crowd breathless. Perhaps it was his way of celebrating his inclusion in Sir Alf Ramsey’s England squad for Malta. When interviewed after this epic, by the waiting press, he was understandably upbeat, but reticent to gloat. “I’m sorry it had to be against United, but a hat-trick, is a hat-trick, anytime.”
It was United that took the lead, through the magnificent George Best, on 18 minutes. Seizing onto a sumptuous through ball from Bobby Charlton, he ‘waltzed’ around Albion ‘keeper Jimmy Cumbes, and scored with ease. It was no more than the visitors deserved for it was they, that looked the most likely too, in the early exchanges. The visitors, then continued to put the Albion defence under incredible pressure, and came close to increasing their advantage on several occasions. Albion, were to later make them pay for that inability to put the game out of the home sides reach, and Tony Brown levelled the scores for the home side, on 32 minutes.
1971-06.03-Brown Goal celebrations
Albion won a free-kick mid-way into the United half, and when John Kaye’s long kick was spilled by the normally dependable Alec Stepney, Brown seized on the loose ball, and blasted it into the back of the net from 15 yards.
It was just the ‘shot in the arm’ that the home side needed. Having been under the ‘cosh’ for so long, they grew in confidence, following Brown’s goal. Indeed, within a minute, Albion could have gone in front, but Hartford’s ‘goal-bound’ shot, struck defender Edwards, and bounced away for a corner.
One apiece at half time, with little indication of what was to follow. Then, in an amazing 18 minutes spell, immediately after the interval, 1-1 soon became 3-3. Four superb goals, to remember forever.
1971-06.03-Man Utd Wile winner
First Tony Brown, put the Baggies into the lead, with yet another piece of excellent opportunism. ‘Keeper Cumbes cleared up-field. The ball was picked up by winger George McVitie, whose ‘chip’ into the goal mouth found Asa Hartford. The young Scot’s shot, spun off of Fitzpatrick, straight into the path of Brown, who made no mistake from close-range.
With the Albion side now buzzing, both Astle and Brown, again, were denied by tremendous defending. However, it was to be United who would make the next break-through, with Aston’s flying header, finishing off a move of superb quality. Charlton, Best and Morgan, all combined, with Morgan’s cross being converted by Aston, on 55 minutes.
A minute later, Hartford saw his first time effort ‘screw’ just wide of the post just before Brown popped up to grab Albions third, and his hat-trick. He brought the crowd to their feet, when he chased down Jimmy Cumbes long kick upfield. Latching onto the loose ball, he rounded defender Tony Dunne, leaving the Irish-man ‘floundering’ in his wake, and crashed the ball into the top corner of the net, past the helpless Stepney. Incredibly, the crowd hardly had time to settle down, before United were level once again. A great run down the left by Johnny Aston, whose pin-point cross into the box was met by Brian Kidd, who made no mistake.
At 3-3, the game was still very much anyone’s game, and the action just ‘ebbed and flowed’ from ‘end to end’. Certainly no-one was leaving for the early bus! Then just when it seemed that the points would be shared, the final drama of this truly absorbing contest unfolded. Centre half JohnWile burst into the box in the 89th minute, and planted the winner, with a powerful header, beyond Alex Stepney, to give Albion the points.
Without doubt, a great game played in a spirit, of entertainment that is sadly, so often lost in today’s game. Although the record books will show that Albion won the match, in truth, the real winner was ‘football’.
What better way to end this excursion into history, than the words of the great man himself, Sir Matt Busby. He met the press at the end of the epic, obviously dis-appointed , but reflected honestly on what he, along with the other 41,000 odd, had witnessed. “What a great game.” He declared. “The spectators must have enjoyed every minute. Though I must confess, I thought we were worth the draw, and thought 3-3 would have been about right.”
However, sadly for Sir Matt, Tony Brown had other ideas!!
West Bromwich Albion: Cumbes; Kaye, Wile, Merrick; Wilson; Lovett, Hartford, Hope, McVitie, BROWN (Star-man), and Astle:
Manchester United: Stepney: Fitzpatrick, Edwards, Sadler; Dunne, Crerand; Charlton, Morgan; BEST (Starman), Kidd and Aston;
Referee: Mr Daniels of Rainham in Essex.
Laurie Rampling….5th August 2010