GEORGE Eastham earned one of his biggest ovations since the roars that once accompanied his Wembley winner in the 1972 League Cup Final.
And no wonder after appearing as guest of honour at the annual get-together of the Stoke City Old Boys’ Association (SCOBA) at the Britannia Stadium on Thursday evening.
An audience of over 300 rose to acclaim the 78 year-old favourite on one of his rare returns to England from his home in South Africa.
He and Terry Conroy, the scorer of Stoke’s first goal that glorious day against Chelsea, clearly enjoyed their `fireside’ chat on stage as they reminisced over such a distinguished career.
Eastham impishly aimned a few digs at his host by insisting his first two clubs, Newcastle and Arsenal, conceded heavily because there were too many Irish defenders, but when he reached Stoke he finally played in front of a defence with backbone.
He also lamented the £1,000 cheque that never arrived from Newcastle after his departure and wondered what 53 years of interest would make that cheque worth now.
The pair also remembered how Tony Waddington would say little tactically in the dressing room before a game, but coach Frank Mountford would go round offering everyone a nip of whiskey.
The only problem was that Frank would have a nip after each player, too, and so was half-cut (allegedly) before the game had even started.
They both agreed that Stoke in those days was known as Stoke City Social Club and they laughed when recalling how Eastham, who was in temporary charge, forbid Geoff Salmons his usual two pints to help him sleep before a game.
“Geoff and Huddy were in the room next to me and Josh Mahoney,” TC recalled, “but they didn’t drink much… because they spilt most of it.”
More than a dozen familiar faces were in the Waddington Suite to help pay tribute to Eastham, the oldest man at 35 to score a Wembley goal.
“I’ve always said that George could find space in a telephone box,” joked Denis Smith.
“Wherever I have coached, my midfield has always been based on him and what he did.
“Let’s be honest, when he scored that winner at Wembley, George would have still been getting back from the last attack.
“But seriously, he had a good engine and was a slight figure, so could get up and down the pitch.
“The build-up to that winning goal was fantastic. It was a great cross in, a great header down by big John (Ritchie) and then there was the volley from Jimmy (Greenhoff).
“Jimmy would normally put those away, so George did well not to turn and celebrate the moment Jimmy shot and so was ready to score the rebound himself.”
Greenhoff himself added: “It was a joy to play with George. As a forward who wanted the ball to feet, he provided me with that.
“It wasn’t long, hopeful balls, there was always an end product to his possession and invariably I was on the end of them.
“We were talking about how we used to play in the gym at the old Victoria Ground where we would play one or two-touch balls with people closing you down. But it was a doddle for George.”
Gordon Banks, a team-mate of Eastham’s at the 1966 World Cup finals, said: “It’s tremendous that George comes over to see us because it brings back so many memories.
“He was a great player. He could be 30 or 35 yards out and see somebody making a run into the box and put that ball right into his path with the right weight so it would roll just in front of him.
“He created so many chances for centre forwards, he was terrific.”
The evening also saw special awards made to former Stoke North MP Joan Walley for her services to sport in the region.
And Neil Baldwin’s growing list of accolades now includes a painting of him rounding up the sheep to mark him recently being granted the freedom of Stoke-on-Trent following the success of Marvelous, the BBC drama about his life.