FA Cup Giant Killers
It`s that time of the year again when dreams are mixed with huge doses of reality and the big boys of the football pyramid enter the mix that some clubs have been in since November. The 3rd Round of the FA Challenge Cup, the oldest football competition in the world. And because of its longevity there have been some cracking ties that gave the football language one of its most cherished phrases `Giant Killers`.
Football fans regularly debate the `greatest` giant-killing list and it is a long one but that is very subjective. You can compare; league status and position, the quality of players in competing sides, venues etc and even the more tenuous history and tradition and still be unable to place one tie above the others. So for that reason alone I will recall some of the greatest moments in FA Cup history when non-league faced top flight or lower league took on the elite and prevailed but not a top 10 or top 5 because each team that beat a team above its station earned it.
Two things that stood out when I started to look at this particular topic, one, that of the nine ties I chose, Arsenal were on the wrong end of four of those nine, nearly 50%. The other, and the one with which I start, is one that many so called experts did not even include on their list and one that has much merit to be called, arguably the greatest FA Cup giant-killing of all;
Colchester United v Leeds United
It was 1971 when the 5th Round saw Fourth Division Colchester United host Leeds United who were at the time in the middle of the Revie era and runaway leaders of the First Division. Colchester had six players over the age of 30 while Leeds were overflowing with medal-laden internationals.
The home side were spearheaded by 35 year old Ray Crawford who nine years earlier had helped fire unfashionable Ipswich Town to the Football League title. Crawford had been rescued from the dole queue and non-league football by Dick Graham and in less than 20 minutes he put Colchester ahead with a typical Crawford header. Six minutes later after a clash with Leeds` goalkeeper Gary Sprake both players ended up in a heap on the ground. With all the predatory instincts that brought him a career total of 290 goals in 482 appearances Ray reacted quicker than the Welsh international to hook the ball into the net, while still on the ground, to send the bulk of the 16,000 fans packed into Layer Road into raptures. It was 2-0 at halftime and unexpectedly, certainly by Leeds, the hosts did not sit back and took the game to Leeds and that effort was rewarded when Dave Simmons headed home for 3-0.
Unsurprisingly Colchester tired and Leeds responded with goals from two of their internationals, Johnny Giles and Norman Hunter. But Colchester `keeper Graham Smith was in outstanding form and had one of those days a goalkeeper dreams of and the Fourth Division held on to win 3-2 and claim a 6th Round berth and send Leeds home with collective tails between their legs.
Yeovil Town v Sunderland
Alec Stock was the ultimate `hand-on` player-manager of Southern League Yeovil Town, he did everything, almost single-handed including cutting the grass on the famous slopping pitch, which was lower at one end by eight feet from the opposite end.
In 1948-49 the football world sat up and took notice as Yeovil beat Second Division Bury in Round 3 to earn a home 4th Round tie with mighty Sunderland. Stock had a secret weapon and it turned out to be a special diet of glucose, eggs and sherry which he utilised to give his players extra strength, and it worked.
Alec Stock put Yeovil 1-0 up with a drive but Sunderland piled on the pressure and equalised with a Jackie Robinson tap in. The game went into extra-time because in those austere post-war days replays were discouraged. Extra-time was supposed to be Sunderland`s strength but they hadn`t figured on Stock`s `secret weapon`.
Being January the gathering gloom, not to mention a `pea-souper` of a fog, threatened the game with abandonment but the referee played on. Moments later a miss-hit pass from Sunderland skipper Len Shackleton gifted the ball to Ray Wright and his pass put Eric Bryant away to fire home Yeovil`s second, just before half-time in extra-time.
Visibility was so poor at the start of the final period that it looked almost certain the game would be abandoned. However the Gods on football`s Olympus smiled down on Yeovil and the sun broke through the worsening gloom casting long shadows across Huish Park, which cleared the mist.
As the game neared its conclusion the referee blew for a Sunderland free-kick. The home fans thought it was the final whistle and invaded the pitch. The ref told Alec Stock he would have to abandon the game but the home side`s officials managed to clear the pitch to allow the final three minutes. The Sunderland free-kick came to nothing and the Southern League side held on for a famous victory.
Hereford United v Newcastle United
When Hereford United beat Newcastle the season after Colchester`s heroics, they became the first non-league team to beat a top-flight club since Yeovil beat Sunderland in 1949.
After the two sides drew 2-2 at St James` Park proceedings moved to Hereford`s Southern League home, Edgar Street. The tie was dogged with bad luck from the start and after the original tie was twice postponed due to the weather the replay was also called off, three times before the two teams lined up on a mud heap of a pitch.
Eight minutes from the end of normal time Malcolm Macdonald, Newcastle`s England centre forward, put the First Division side ahead before one of the classic FA Cup goals of all time sent the game into extra-time. Three minutes after `Supermac` struck, on the stickiest possible surface, Ronnie Radford dug the ball out of the mire to fire an unstoppable 30 yard rocket past Willie McFaul who was still mid-air in a vain attempt to reach the ball as it hit the back of the net.
Just before half-time in extra-time Radford passed to Dudley Tyler and his cross found substitute Rickie George who fired Hereford into a 2-1 lead that they held on to to join the long list of FA Cup `Giant Killers`.
Walsall v Arsenal
In 1933 Arsenal were on the verge of a period of domination in pre-war football while Walsall were a struggling Division 3 club. But on January 14th they met in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup in a game that goes down in history as one of THE great upsets.
The Gunners were managed by one of the greatest managers English football ever saw, Herbert Chapman. It was to be his last ever FA cup tie but remembered for all the wrong reasons.
A number of factors contributed to Walsall`s 2-0 victory, mostly from the Arsenal side. The team selected by Chapman was without several top players. There was illness in the Gunners` camp but it is more likely that Chapman`s penchant for planning too far ahead was of greater significance. Besides, several of the `rested/ill` players featured in a reserve game soon after.
The game was goalless at the interval but Walsall went 1-0 up through Gilbert Alsop`s header. Arsenal continued to create chances but failed to convert them – some things don`t change. Five minutes later Bill Shepherd converted the penalty for a most memorable victory with his first goal in Walsall colours.
The defeat at Fellows Park meant the end of the road for several Arsenal players; Tom Black, Billy Barnes and Charlie Walsh all made their one and only Arsenal appearance that day. Black was held so culpable for the penalty by which Walsall scored their second he was sold just days afterwards. Indeed it was said that on the train home Chapman told the player he would `never again play for Arsenal`. He was told not to come to the ground and that his boots would be sent on to him, along with the transfer forms.
Herbert Chapman died a year later from pneumonia.
Wrexham v Arsenal
The 1992 3rd Round tie at the Racecourse ground has special meaning for me. Not only was I covering the game but star man Mickey Thomas was coached by the same man who coached me, Fr. Michael Doyle.
As Mickey later said, `it was a meeting between the team that was top of the football pyramid and the team that was 92nd`.
Arsenal dominated from the start but were unable to convert their chances !!! until Alan Smith scored from a Paul Merson cross. Eight minutes from time Wrexham were awarded a free-kick and my position in the press-box was immediately behind the line that Mickey Thomas hit a rocket of a shot that gave David Seaman no chance. The England keeper was also unable to do anything but watch helplessly, two minutes later, as Steve Watkin diverted the ball home from a Gordon Davies pass and the Welsh club earned their place in FA Cup folklore.
Sutton Town v Coventry City
You can always find a quirk or several for most FA Cup `Giant Killings` and when the mid-table GM Conference side hosted the 1987 cup winners in the 3rd Round in January there were two beauties.
On the morning of the game Sutton practiced set-pieces. Sutton skipper Tony Rains headed the home side into a 42nd minute lead but later admitted.
“We worked on that this morning and I missed!”
Coventry equalised early in the second half through Welsh international David Phillips but inside two minutes Sutton retook the lead. Again it was a set-piece, from a corner, when Matthew Hanlan scored. Again it was a move the players had practiced that very morning and again it had not worked, then. Coventry piled on the pressure and had two efforts cleared off the line but Sutton held on to become the last non-league team to beat a top flight side until 2013 when Luton won at Norwich.
AFC Bournemouth v Manchester United
Before Alex Ferguson took United on their trophy laden crusade he had one of the rare blips on his CV, an FA Cup defeat at Third Division Bournemouth in the 1984 3rd Round. It was described by Cherries boss Harry Redknapp as `the greatest day of my life`.
As holders United were clear favourites but goals from Milton Graham, 1-0, and Ian Thompson, 2-0, brought a star-studded United side, led by England skipper Bryan Robson, back down to earth. Rumour had it that the United players were laying bets on their victory before the game even kicked off.
York City v Arsenal
It was the FA Cup 4th Round in 1985 that saw Arsenal travel to a weather affected Bootham Crescent where local volunteers had cleared the pitch of ice and snow.
A dramatic game, a typical lower league v top flight cup-tie, remained scoreless until the final minute of normal time. Keith Houchen clashed with Arsenal midfielder Steve Williams, in the box, rather unnecessarily as Houchen admitted later and the referee awarded a penalty.
Houchen who was to achieve more FA Cup immortality two years later with Coventry City was the calmest person in the ground as he converted to earn Third Division York a tie with Liverpool, which they lost 7-0 after a replay.
Arsenal v Millwall
The game at Highbury was controversial as Millwall goalkeeper Kasey Keller was not sent-off by referee Stephen Lodge after clearly handling outside his penalty area. By that time Millwall already held a 1-0 lead through 20 year old Mark Beard.
Arsenal pressed but couldn`t find a way through a determined Millwall side who earned their lead and maintained it on merit. As the game moved into stoppage time 18 year old Mark Kennedy broke downfield and smashed home a second for Millwall who went through to host Chelsea in the 4th Round.
FA Cup Third Round 2016-17
The list could go on and on and no doubt there are those who might disagree with some of my selections and replace them with some of their own. Never the less the football world will be watching the following ties for additions to the illustrious list of FA Cup `Giant Killers`
Preston North End v Arsenal, you wouldn`t bet against at least a replay
Liverpool v Plymouth Argyle, any doubters about a potential shock should remember when Bristol City came to Anfield, I do.
Chelsea v Peterborough United. It couldn`t happen, could it? Just remember when Bradford City went to Stamford Bridge and won.
By Brian Beard