One seat will be left empty when Albion’s 1968 heroes convene for a celebration dinner at The Hawthorns this Saturday.
The very recent death of Graham Lovett underlined the fragility of life – only two weeks ago his final interview was featured on these very pages.
As captain, Graham Williams walked the team out of the tunnel that day at Wembley.
They returned to the dressing room two hours later as heroes, legends, part of the club’s folklore – all revered 50 years on.
Williams reflected on his team-mate’s career and life – Lovett was Albion’s second youngest player at Wembley that day. He was a man much-loved by his team-mates and fans alike.
“What is the Queen once called it… Annus Horribilis? That’s how this season has felt” said Williams.
“We’ve lost too many former players this year and losing Graham was a huge shock.
“Everybody loved Graham. He was the baby of the team. Everybody spoilt him because he was one of the youngest and a local lad, just from Sheldon.
“He was a good, good player. An outstanding prospect for his age. He was an athlete, tall, could run all day, he could take a tackle and give a tackle. He was a diamond that we were lucky to have.
“He the closest I’ve seen to Duncan Edwards, but, of course he was unlucky.”
Lovett never quite fulfilled his potential because of two devastating car accidents.
The first, on Christmas Eve 1966, happened when his hire van’s tyre exploded, leaving him with a broken neck and sidelining him for a year.
His second accident came in 1969 when a double decker slid across the road into his path. Lovett’s career never fully recovered from that second accident.
Ironically, Lovett was nicknamed ‘Shuv’ by his team-mates – a nod to his unreliable car, which, way too often, needed a ‘shove’ just to get it on the road.
Williams added: “He was such an unlucky lad in his career and life.
“We went to see him every day he was in hospital. He went to see a friend after training and had a blow out on the motorway. The van he hired, they said it had an MOT, but it didn’t, and the next thing we know he’s ended up in Northampton hospital with a broken neck.
“And that second accident…so terrible. He really did have some awful experiences.
“He lost a bit after that first accident but he still had qualities. He wouldn’t have got nearer our team if he hadn’t been good enough.”
Lovett was to recover his form and place in time for the 1968 FA Cup Final.
But he was by no means a certain starter.
Kenny Stephens was one option, with Ryszard Krzywicki also a potential ‘No7’.
The story of how Lovett came to be chosen remains too good not to tell. Factual or apocryphal? You decide…
“Graham lived by Alan Ashman and used to go for a drink with him,” continued Williams.
“Alan said he was lucky to be playing. He said he Krzywicki was going to play in that role.
“So we were in Southport before the final and the press wanted to know the team on the Thursday, so Alan goes ‘Osborne, Fraser Williams….’ and he comes to number seven.
“Alan says ‘Krzywicki, eight Brown, nine Astle…’ and some journalist interrupts with, ‘how do you spell Krzywicki?’
“So Alan goes ‘K…r…i…erm…L…o..v…e…double T’ and that’s how he got in the side.
“Was it true? Who knows…”
Lovett was asked to mark Ray Wilson in the final. By some cruel twist of fate, Wilson died earlier this week, just a few days after the man who had occupied him so proficiently under the Twin Towers.
“Graham’s job was to stop the full-back Wilson from playing and he did it very well,” recalls Williams.
“After Jeff had scored, we were camped back as Everton attacked. Ossie (John Osborne) then kicked the ball down the field.
“Bomber was on his own as all the Everton players are in our half so he had half a pitch to run into but it was deep into extra time and he was running out of legs. The only person who could keep up is Shuv… so he thinks ‘I’ll pass it to Shuv’.
“Just as he’s about to do it he hears a voice: ‘Don’t ******* pass it to me’, it was Shuv, who was barely keeping up himself. Too late – Bomber had passed it to Graham, he took a shot and the crowd groaned. It had gone wide.
“Jeff Astle walked past him and said: ‘Thank God for that… you’d have got all the glory’. He was probably right!”
Williams hopes the dinner will mark Lovett’s passing, but also acknowledge the other members of the squad and coaching staff no longer around to make the occasion.
“It will be a bit of a sad occasion in one respect but we will all be together: players, families, grandchildren of those players and, of course, the fans. It’s just a shame there will be one place missing…
“Shuv would have wanted to go. So the show must go on. It’ll be wonderful to have all the former players and their families together again.”