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Letters from Wiltshire #32
Written by wessex_exile on Monday, 15th Feb 2021 17:46

Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved [b][u]the greatest cup giant-killing ever![/b][/u]

[b]Colchester United v Derby County
Saturday 29th January 1977
FA Cup (4th Round)
Attendance 14,030[/b]

To mark the golden anniversary of that famous victory over Leeds United, Letters from Wiltshire #32 is another ‘special’, as we go back to my first serious encounter with our oft-proud (and occasional calamitous) FA Cup pedigree. Hopefully this’ll please [b]Durham[/b], as we go back to January 29th 1977, just six years after that Leeds victory, and our fourth round match against Derby County. Although this one wouldn’t normally be in contention for consideration, as it’s not in my memorabilia collection (the programme photo above was from an Ebay listing), in the context of the anniversary it seemed fitting to be chosen as a special.

[b]A brief encounter[/b]
Although perhaps not quite at the level of Leeds United, we shouldn’t overlook quite the force that Derby County were in English football in the 1970s. Like us, they are a member of the select group of Watney Cup winners, winning the first competition 4-1 against Manchester United in 1970 (the other winners are Bristol Rovers in 1972, and Stoke City in 1973). Under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor the Rams had won the league in 1971/72, and they also reached the semi-final of the European Cup under Clough in 1972/73, going out in controversial circumstances to Juventus.

Such was the popularity of Derby County back then, that even I as a teenager flirted with the notion that Derby were my ‘second’ team (I was easily bought, my first flirtation being Arsenal and the Charlie George final). I even found myself with four other mates up the back of the Portman Road North Stand, quietly supporting Derby County as they thrashed Ipswich 6-2 at the tail end of the previous season. That was the last Rams appearance for legend Franny Lee, so I was both delighted and proud to have witnessed his last two goals for Derby County.

Dave Mackay, signed as a player by Clough, repeated their league title success when he managed them to the title in 1974/75. This took them back into Europe in the UEFA Cup, beating Servette and then Atlético Madrid (on penalties) before going out in the third round against Velež. Mackay took Derby County back into Europe for the 1975/76 European Cup, and although they didn’t get past the second round, that competition probably gave the Rams their greatest night in European football, defeating the mighty Real Madrid 4-1 at the Baseball Ground (including a hat-trick by that man Charlie George). Real Madrid turned it around in the second leg, winning 5-1 at the Bernabéu, in front of an estimated 120,000, the largest attendance to watch a Derby County game.

Although they didn’t hold on to their league title in 75/76, they certainly went close, finishing fourth behind champions Liverpool, QPR and Manchester United. This qualified them for the 1976/77 UEFA Cup again, and pulled off the result of the first round demolishing League of Ireland runners-up Finn Harps 12-0 at the Baseball Ground (and 16-1 on aggregate – well done Finn Harps for getting one!). Their UEFA Cup journey was however short lived, defeated 5-2 over two legs by AEK Athens in the second round.

[b]All caught up[/b]
Our journey to the fourth round had been reasonably uneventful, drawing 1-1 at the Abbey before easing past Cambridge United 2-0 in the replay. I went to both those, but I’m not sure I was at the second round 3-2 home victory over Brentford. The third round draw had been unkind, pitching us against non-league Kettering Town, but we eased through 3-2 in a close-fought and somewhat tempestuous match (on and off the pitch). The fourth round draw finally came good for the U’s, a home game against recent league champions Derby County, provided of course they could get through their replay against Blackpool.

They did, winning 3-2 on a damp Wednesday evening in January, and on a typically dreadful Baseball Ground pitch. I remember watching avidly the Match of the Day highlights, waiting to see who our opponents would be. I also remember vividly after the highlights the presenter (I think it was Motty?) remarking along the lines of “[i]…so Derby progress through to the fourth round, and a trip to Layer Road to face Colchester United. Not a journey they’ll be relishing given it was only a few years ago they did this…[/i]” – then followed by a clip of Ray Crawford’s second goal against Leeds – I felt sooo proud!!

[b]© [i]My Layer Road[/i] – Matt Hudson and Jim French[/b]

Under (I believe) much-underrated Bobby Roberts as manager, the U’s line-up that afternoon was probably as close to my all-time dream team for the U’s. Without any disrespect intended for subsequent U’s players, present squad included, what wouldn’t I give to see this team run out again for the U’s. Apart from perhaps Bobby Svarc, poached by Jim Smith 18 months years earlier, and maybe with Mick Packer starting, this was about as good as it got for me.

1….Mike Walker
2….Micky Cook
3….Johnny Williams
4….Steve Leslie
5….Lindsay Smith
6….Steve Dowman
7….Colin Garwood
8….Bobby Gough
9….John Froggatt
10..Ray Bunkell
11..Paul Dyer (Mick Packer 55’)

Like Leeds United before them, Derby were clearly going to take the competition seriously, and played basically a full-strength side. Charlie George was absent, and I can only assume he must have been injured,as he’d played (and scored) in the Blackpool replay, but that still left players like Roy McFarland, Colin Todd, Archie Gemmill, Leighton James and of course swashbuckling Derek Hales. Hales was well-known in football circles, and a goal-scorer to be feared. During his time at Charlton Athletic between 1973 and 1976, he made 129 appearances and scored an incredible 72 goals. This included 28 league goals the previous season, making him their still all-time record goal-scorer, before then moving to Derby County for the start of this season.

Mind you, seems he was a miserable bugger too, as this matchday programme Q&A interview with him from 1979 really does demonstrate 😊.

[b]The big day[/b]
I wish there was more I could remember about the actual game, so I hope others reading this have memories to share. I’m not sure if getting tickets was a problem or not, but I went to this game on my own. I say on my own, but on my own with 14,029 other people obviously. I had to check to be certain, but our home crowd attendance hasn’t been bettered since, nor will it until Robbie fills in the corners of the Jobserve…and maybe puts another tier on top to boot.

Despite the crowd jammed into Layer Road, traditions still had to be followed, so I found myself jammed in near the front of the Clock End for the first half, just to the right of the goal as you look out onto the pitch. That was quite close to the main throng of Derby County supporters, who had brought about 1,000 supporters I reckon. There was no segregation, but also no immediate signs of any problem, but more of that later.

What I do remember from the game, for most of the match, was that this was a very tight close battle, and at times you would struggle to tell who was First and who was Fourth Division. Derby clearly had some very good players at their disposal, and were a constant threat throughout most of the game. That’s not to say we didn’t have our chances, and I remember from my angled vantage point watching as a drilled effort (from I think Bobby Gough) scudded agonisingly just past the post of beaten ‘keeper Colin Boulton.

That was, as I recall, our first serious effort on goal, and would rue that miss shortly after. From my distant vantage point at the Clock End it was difficult to see the detail clearly, just a bit of ping-pong football going on, Hales muscling his way through, and the net rippling as he drove home in the 23rd minute. I wouldn’t say quite against the run of play, Derby had been the stronger side, but it didn’t bode well if we let our heads drop. The cohort of Derby supporters off to my right were in full voice, which brings me to another memory.

Where I grew up (on Greenstead) there was a particular family who had a very well-deserved reputation, and who the rest of the residents gave a very wide berth too if at all possible. One of the brothers was an occasional visitor to Layer Rd, so whilst it shouldn’t have been a surprise, I was actually quite surprised to realise he had suddenly appeared right next to me in the crowd. Fortunately, his attention was clearly on the Derby supporters off to our right, and before too long disappeared into the crowd in that general direction. A few minutes later, all hell broke loose amongst the Derby supporters, with fists flailing in all directions, and after a moment or two later out was hauled my fellow resident by the police, together with a couple of Derby supporters under the care and attention of the St John’s Ambulance. It’s not big, and it’s not clever, but I did chuckle that day.

Halftime arrived, time for me and a large part of the Open End to make the customary change to the Layer Road end. It was a hell of a squeeze, but I managed to get about a third of the way in from the corner flag, no more than two of three from the front – it turned out to be an excellent viewpoint. On the subject of crowd trouble, I did bump into a slightly lary Derby supporter walking the opposite way down the back of the main stand, who decided to try and snatch the scarf around my wrist from me. He hadn’t reckoned on it being part of a 6’ monster knitted by my Nan, which went up my sleeve and tied around my neck as well. Although his attempt was therefore doomed to failure, I did take a slight throttling as a result.

Into the second half, and despite only holding on to a very slender 1-0 lead, Derby chose to sit deeper and deeper, inviting more and more pressure from the U’s. With 15 minutes to go, they had reverted from ‘sitting back’ to not only parking the bus, but engaging in the most outrageous time-wasting I’ve ever witnessed, short corners, challenging every referee decision, anything they could do to hold on, wind down the clock and get the hell out of the Layer Road cauldron. A particular favourite was booting the ball out of the ground at every opportunity. I lost count of how many times, but I seriously suspect we must have been getting close to running out of footballs.

[b]© [i]My Layer Road[/i] – Matt Hudson and Jim French[/b]

As infuriating as it was, it was working, and we just couldn’t seem to fashion that killer chance against a First Division defence who had decided to park the bus. That was, until the 7th minute of injury-time – extra-time explicitly added because of Derby’s time-wasting according to referee Ron Crabb after the game. Bunkell launched a speculative long ball into the Derby box, which was unceremoniously booted clear – which I thought was going to herald the final whistle. Packer picked up the rebound in midfield, and via Bunkell it went out to the right wing. Gough (I think) hosted it one more time into the box, Froggatt rose highest to hed it down, and there right in front of me was Colin Garwood to drill into the far corner to send Layer Road absolutely mental!

[b]Colchester United 1 (Colin Garwood 90+7’) Derby County 1 (Derek Hales 25’)[/b]

The scenes in that moment were incredible, and something I will always remember. Players hugged each other, a fans spilled on to the pitch, police were on trying to restore law and order, and throughout Layer Road just roared and roared. I recall the clipboard of one of the St John’s staff on pitch-side being frisbeed into the air in celebration. The newspaper articles following the match reported that the roar was heard on the High Street.

The replay was nothing more than we deserved, but being only 14 at the time, sadly not a game I could travel to the following Wednesday evening. However, the BBC still hadn’t given up on an upset, so were there instead. It was almost like a carbon-copy of the previous match – Derby snatching a 1-0 lead (this time Leighton James just before half-time), and then grimly holding on with more disgraceful time-wasting tactics – only this time we couldn’t fashion an equaliser despite going very close. I recall Motty (I think it was him) commentating that as the First Division side, Derby should be ashamed to have to resort to such blatant time-wasting…but they did nevertheless, and the U’s FA cup run for 1976/77 was over.

We had, however, maintained our prod tradition at the time of never being defeated at home by a top-flight side, and there had been plenty, including Leeds United, who had tried. It would take a full-strength Manchester United to eventually take that record.

There is a YouTube Colin Garwood tribute video, which Graeson has also linked in his ColuData website. It’s not a particularly good video, but it does show both goals from the Derby game (from the start, through to 1m15s).

Up the U’s

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