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Bomber Brown: Why my pal Jeff Astle will always be The King

He’s the man Albion fans will always call ‘The King.’

A truly remarkable centre-forward, Jeff Astle scored 176 goals for the Baggies after being snapped up from Notts County in 1964.

His untimely death – 20 years ago today – has gone on to serve as a huge wake-up call for football and the dangers that come with consistently heading a ball.

The tireless work of the Astle family since Jeff’s passing means it’s now known footballers are four-and-a-half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative disease.

The family’s work has led to football taking more proactive steps to improve safety, with heading guidelines in training introduced for under-18s in 2020 and for the professional and adult game last year.

Tommy Lawrence, the Liverpool goalkeeper, is beaten to the ball by Astle

Astle has left a lasting legacy off the pitch.

But it’s also important to remember his impact on it and just what a fantastic footballer he was.

One man who knew him better than most was fellow great Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown.

The iconic duo played together at The Hawthorns for 10 years.

Astle was even best man at Bomber’s wedding.

Jeff Astle, third from left, helps hoist Clive Clark, holding the lid of the FA Cup, after Albion’s Wembley win in 1968

And he says his friend was a remarkable footballer. “Jeff was a target-man and he was magnificent at it,” Brown said. “He had everything you want in a centre-forward.

“He led the line. His hold-up play was exceptional, he had a great touch and he was great in the air – the best I have ever seen in the air.

“He was also good on the floor, he loved a goal and was a finisher.

“Playing with him was an absolute dream for me because I benefitted from his strong points.

“What was amazing about Jeff was when the ball was played up to him, you knew he was going to win it in the air. And he would then guide it exactly where you wanted it. He’d put it right in your path.

Jeff Astle scores FA Cup winner

“Football back then was much more direct. You played off your target-man. The ball would go up. I’d shout where I wanted it. And Jeff would put it there.

“He was the man who linked everything together. He got the ball and brought the midfielders into play. He was the man who moved the ball on to the wingers.

“And once he had, he then charged into the box to score.

“The timing of his runs and the timing of his jumps are what made him exceptional.

“He didn’t have the biggest jump nor was he the quickest. It was all about timing with Jeff, his timing was brilliant and it lead to his scoring a lot of goals.

“He really was a nightmare for defenders. I honestly believe there will never be another Jeff Astle.”

Jeff Astle, West Bromwich Albion.

As well as being a big presence on the pitch, Bomber said Astle was a big presence off it as well.

“He was a great character and a real joker,” he continued.

“He kept us going in the dressing room when times were tough. He was the man who kept morale high.

“He was so bubbly and that is a great asset to have.

“We had a great friendship.”

To mark the 20th anniversary of Astle’s death, flags at The Hawthorns are today flying at half-mast.

Further tributes will be paid on Saturday when Albion host Peterborough, with the Astle family attending the game as the club’s guests of honour.

West Bromwich Albion star Jeff Astle

Jeff’s grandson, Joseph, will be Albion’s mascot for the day, while the club’s official match day programme, will feature the striker on the cover.

Another club legend who was also massively influenced by Astle was Scottish defender Ally Robertson.

“I remember going into the changing room as an apprentice and Jeff started taking the mickey out of me,” said the former centre-back, who made more than 600 appearances for the club between 1969 and 1986.

“I didn’t understand what he was saying! But then two or three weeks later he came and put his arm around me and said he could see I was going to make it and he wanted me to immediately feel part of the dressing room.

“He was brilliant. He would always talk me through things and try to help me. And he never stopped laughing, he was joking from the moment he arrived at training to the moment he left.

“As a player, though, Jeff was unbelievable.

“His biggest strength was in the air, he was brilliant in the air.

“These balls would be sent up to him and he would actually pass it with it his head. It was remarkable. He would cushion it to the wingers or back into midfield.

“People also didn’t give him enough credit for his touch. He was great and holding onto the ball and bringing others into play.

“And he was also a goalscorer. I can’t think of another player like him. He really was exceptional.”

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