GRAHAM Lovett shouldn’t have been an FA Cup winner.

He probably shouldn’t even have been anywhere near a football pitch.

The midfielder didn’t score the winning goal in the 1968 final, nor did he lift the trophy aloft, nor even produce any notable or memorable moments of magic at Wembley. Yet it’s extremely unlikely anyone felt the euphoria of Albion’s success more than Lovett.

To be at Wembley in the first place was his biggest prize.

In December 1966 Lovett was to suffer a shattering experience that might have had more disastrous repercussions during a busier period of the day. 
Travelling south on the M1 in Northamptonshire, Lovett’s car suffered a burst tyre. In that instant Lovett went from driving a car, to effectively fighting, not only for control, but for his own mortality.

His car veered up an embankment and rolled back down onto the hard shoulder. Had it landed a metre or two more, or been any other time than late at night on Christmas Eve, the consequences might have been worse. Thankfully, the motorway was relatively free and the car’s resting place was the hard shoulder. However, Lovett didn’t escape uninjured. 

Two days later, Jimmy Hagan’s men arrived for the Boxing Day game against Tottenham. Some of the squad weren’t even aware of their team-mate’s plight.

While Lovett’s colleagues were beating Bill Nicholson’s men 3-0 – Tony Brown hat-trick, of course – the 19-year-old was recovering in Northampton General Hospital. His injuries were a fractured neck. He was told to prepare for a life without football.

And yet he was back within 367 days. On Boxing Day 1967, Lovett came on as a substitute to complete his return to action. He recalls the troubled 12 month period between those two Christmases.

“Northampton General wasn’t the best way to spend Christmas,” said Lovett, reflecting on the festive period of 1966.

“I had a burst tyre on the M1. ‘Good grief…’ words to that effect – that’s what I thought at the time.  The car went up the bank, came down and rested on the hard shoulder. Had it rested on the motorway, it would have been worse for all. Thankfully it was Christmas Eve night. 

“We had a game on the Boxing Day. Nobody knew. I was in Northampton General Hospital and ended up staying for two months but I still wasn’t right. 

“They did a good job but I went to see one of the best surgeons in the country and was told I’d never play again.”

Thankfully, Lovett did make a recovery but the pain in the neck lasted a while.

“I had constant pain…I was told I’d need a bone graft from my hip,” he recalls. 

“That went into my neck. The lads took the Micky out of me for that. It proved successful amazingly. I was very lucky. My mom was too nervous to sign for the operation as she was nervous I’d be paralysed. The following season I would train with a crash helmet on, which was interesting as you can imagine…”

The route to Wembley has been well-documented elsewhere on these pages. For Lovett it was less straightforward.

The third round clash came just a few weeks after his comeback. He was the 12th man for the first game against Colchester, before making his first start in 13 months in the replay.

He was to be the substitute at The Dell when Graham Williams went in goal for the concussed John Osborne. Lovett was to play a part in the winner – his shot hit the post, fell to Clive Clark, who passed to Jeff Astle to convert.

Yet Lovett wasn’t expected to appear in the final.

Kenny Stephens had played in the semi-final against Birmingham City. It was likely to be between Stephens, Lovett and Ryszard Krzywicki for that final wide spot in midfield. With  the attacking Clive Clark operating on one flank, Baggies manager Alan Ashman wanted a balance to his other side – a more pragmatic custodian, if you prefer.

Lovett recalls the moment he found out he’d be playing at Wembley.

“It was incredible really because I hadn’t really played that often,” he recalls.

“I found out the Thursday before. Alan Ashman had a thing of taking us to Southport, the Prince of Wales Hotel, each Monday before cup games. We knew most of the team but it was a big question who would play that game on the opposite side to Clive Clark. 

“One of the reporters saw me and said ‘congratulations, I hear you’re playing’- I was coming out of the toilet at the time…and that’s how I found out.

“There were other players – Krzywicki, he had a chance, but it was Kenny Stephens who many assumed would play. He’d played the semis and sixth round. We played Man United on Monday after Birmingham and I was substitute in that. Whether there was anything in it after those games, I don’t know…but I played well and perhaps that just did it.

“Also, Alan wanted me on the right wing because of Everton’s Ray Wilson – who liked to attack. He wanted me to pick him up.”

And of the final, Lovett gives a similar answer to that of his team-mates.

“It’s one of those things, where everything passes you by,” he continued, with some predictability. 

“I was gutted we didn’t get there in 1969 when I was actually playing better. But it was wonderful all the same in 68. I honestly think we were by far the better team in extra time. Everton pushed more up to full time but we were better in extra time. 

“I had a chance late on…we were already 1-0 up. Tony Brown passed the ball to me and I was only 10 yards out and it went over the crossbar. It wasn’t to be…but I wasn’t too bothered. We’d won the FA Cup.”

Lovett went onto play a significant part in the latter half of the following season before disaster struck once more.

On the final day of May 1969 Albion had just returned from a post-season tour of California. Lovett was driving through Quinton when he collided head-on with a bus, which had come round the bend on the wrong side of the road. 

Lovett broke his thighbone and suffered internal injuries. He barely played for two years again, before being released from his contract in summer 1972.

“People are going to think I’m a bad driver…really I wasn’t. I was just very unlucky,” reflects Lovett.

“A double decker bus hit me head on in Quinton. 

“I had a pin put in and did make a return…but it came out verses Spurs. They took the pin out and put another one in but it was never right again after that.

“I still have 1968 though and that was incredible. It was a dream to play in the cup final. It was the biggest club match in the world and we were bunch of down to earth guys who won the cup. 

“Everton had Alan Ball, Colin Harvey and Howard Kendall – the best midfield in the country. But we had a great defence. Osborne, Williams, John Talbut, John Kaye and Dougie Fraser. We knew we could beat anyone on the day…and that we did.

“It was the Impossible Dream for me – to win the cup after what I’d been through. I’ll never have that taken away from me.”