So, what do we love most about the FA Cup, then? Is it the big matches between Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United? Of course not. You’ve got the Premiership for that. Is it the occasional meetings of three-quarter strength Premiership clubs? Well, obviously not. What we love about the FA Cup is when lower division clubs stick one over on the bigger boys. It’s one long schadenfreude-fest. Every year, someone comes a cropper, and every year it’s great. The sight of a big-time full of it Premiership manager eating vast amounts of humble pie after having been dumped on from a great height against a team that we all know that they feel as if they shouldn’t have to lower themselves to play in the first place. Here, then, in no particular order, are five of the best. And all of them are from the Third Round.
1. Sutton United 2-1 Coventry City (1989): Of course, not many non-league clubs beat teams from the top division in the FA Cup – still less a team that had won the Cup just two years previously. Having beaten Tottenham at Wembley in 1987, Coventry didn’t exactly cover themselves the following year, going out in the Third Round at Fourth Division Northampton Town, but they really excelled themselves in 1989, going out against mid-table Conference opposition at the splendidly named Gander Green Lane, in the heart of South London’s commuter belt. In truth, the result came about due to a mixture of a bit of luck and a fairly abysmal Coventry performance. Sutton took an early lead through left-back and captain Tony Rains, but were pegged back through an equalizer from Phillips. A second-half goal from Matthew Hanlan proved to be the winner, though Sutton had to survive a couple of late scares, including clearing the ball off the line twice in the final few minutes. At the final whistle, the cameras descended upon Sutton’s bashful, pipe smoking manager Barrie Williams. They lost 8-0 against Norwich in the next round.
2. Hereford United 2-1 Newcastle United (1972): If there was any one match that is more redolent of the grim, desperate days of Britain in the early 1970s, it’s this one. For one thing, the random power cuts that hit Britain throughout that window meant that clubs saved energy by playing cup replays on midweek afternoons. Then there’s the fashion. The entire crowd of 15,000 all seem to be wearing green snorkel jackets. The match seems to hark back to a somehow more innocent era. The pitch invasions after each Hereford goal and at the end of the match were at least in part due to a crowd that was separated from the pitch by a length of white rope. Hereford were, at the time, in the Southern League. Newcastle were in the First Division. The match seemed over early on when Newcastle’s star striker Malcolm McDonald headed them in front. Then came that goal. Hereford’s player-coach Ronnie Radford’s thirty-five yard drive into the top corner not only brought Hereford level, but also the crowd onto the pitch. Five minutes later, a defensive slip allowed Ricky George to scuff the winner in. In the next round, they took West Ham to a replay before losing and, at the end of the season, were rewarded with a place in the Football League.
3. Wrexham 2-1 Arsenal (1992): This wasn’t any old fourth division vs first division encounter. Wrexham had finished the previous season bottom of the entire Football League (and had been spared relegation by the resignation of Aldershot), whilst Arsenal were the defending First Division champions. The parallels with the Hereford-Newcastle match were striking. Arsenal also took the lead (through Alan Smith), but failed to capitalise on a string of chances to make the game safe. With ten minutes to go, and out of nowhere, Wrexham’s veteran midfielder Mickey Thomas (most famous otherwise for getting stabbed in the backside when caught in flagrante with another man’s wife and getting imprisoned for handling counterfeit money) drove a free-kick into the top corner from twenty-five yards out. Barely two minutes later Steve Watkin slipped the ball past David Seaman to win it for Wrexham. Also, like Hereford, Wrexham drew West Ham in the next round and took them to a replay before losing. Spooky.
4. Shrewsbury Town 2-1 Everton (2003): Shrewsbury of the Third Division against Everton of the Premiership. A straightforward for the team looking for a place in the UEFA Cup, yes? Well… no. Five minutes before half-time, another veteran journeyman, former Nottingham Forest star Nigel Jemson, curled a twenty-five yard free kick past Nigel Jemson to give Shrewsbury the lead. On a heavy pitch and in unfamiliar surroundings, Everton were clearly struggling, but drew level through Niklas Alexandersson on the hour – just a couple of minutes after Shrewsbury had been denied a clear penalty. The match seemed to be heading aimlessly towards a replay at Goodison Park until the dying seconds, when Jemson struck again, heading in a free kick from another elderly ex-Forest stalwart, Ian Woan. Shrewsbury received another “dream” draw in the next round, at home against Chelsea. Here their luck, ran out, though, and Chelsea won 4-0. In the long term, the result didn’t do them any good at all. The Shrews couldn’t pick up their league form accordingly, and were relegated into the Conference in bottom place at the end of the season.
5. Burnley 0-1 Wimbledon (1975): This is, I guess, the “forgotten” major shock – partly, I guess, because the match wasn’t covered by either of the two big TV networks, and because these were the days before all matches were recorded for posterity. Burnley were half-way up the First Division, and Wimbledon were in the Southern League (a top semi-professional league, these being the days before the Conference came into being). The only goal came early in the second half, when Ian Stevenson’s shot was parried by the Burnley goalkeeper into the path of Mick Mahon, who couldn’t miss from close range. The true hero for Wimbledon, though, was goalkeeper Dickie Guy, who single-handedly denied Burnley an equalizer. He repeated the trick in the next round away to the champions Leeds United, when he saved a penalty from Peter Lorimer to force a replay. Leeds won the second match thanks to an own goal from Dave Bassett, who would be the manager to mastermind their rise through the Football League after their election in 1978. By 1988, The Dons were at Wembley for the Cup Final, beating Liverpool 1-0.
And another five from the archives…
6. West Bromwich Albion (Div 2) 2-4 Woking (Isthmian League) – 1991
7. Birmingham City (Div 1) 1-2 Altrincham (Conference) – 1986
8. Bristol Rovers (Div 2) 4-0 Manchester United (Div 1) – 1956
9. Aldershot (Div 4) 3-0 Oxford United (Div 1) – 1987
10. Leeds United (Div 1) 0-1 Crystal Palace (Div 3) – 1976
I can see you all staring at me, with your clipboards and your white coats!
I jest, of course.