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Memories of 1986 as Leeds are drawn away to Peterborough
Sunday, 3rd Dec 2023 18:00 by Tim Whelan

Yes, folks, Leeds have been drawn away from home in the FA Cup yet again, this time to Peterborough United. We have now broken the record with our 13th consecutive away draw, and a quick dabble on Excel tells me the odds of that happening is 1 in 8,192.

The picture above is from my last visit to London Road, a 2-1 win in the 2012/13 season, but as soon as I heard the draw today my mind went back to a less happy occasion. Namely the first time I graced their ground and the last time we had to go there in the FA Cup, at the same stage of the competition in 1986.

In those days the FA Cup was still the great competition that naïve old romantics like me still believe it to be, when no manager would even dream of fielding his full-strength side, no matter what the opposition. More to the point, by the January of that season we were in the middle of the old second division and seemed to have little else to play for, so it would have been nice for our humble side to have a bit of a run in that competition.

In the autumn a disappointing start had seen Eddie Gray replaced by Billy Bremner as Leeds boss, and though we had apparently pulled clear of relegation danger, this was a year before the play-offs came in and we had no chance of getting into any of the three promotion places. But with Peterborough then being in the fourth division, at least we could expect to start a cup run, even away from home.

As ever, there was a huge following from Leeds, filling the whole terrace behind one goal and a section of seats to our right. It was a freezing cold day, and before kick-off I saw Billy Bremner getting Ian Baird to try out several different boots, presumably to decide which type would best suit the rock-hard frozen surface and choosing a short stud.

The boots seemed to be serving us well during the first half, at least as far as I can remember, with Leeds having the better of the game, and Scott Sellars having the ball in the net, only to be ruled offside. But the problems began during the second half when it began to snow quite heavily, and it was noticeable that the Leeds players were now having great difficulty keeping their feet. And it was now too late to change footwear to adapt to the new surface conditions.

Peterborough took advantage by taking the lead through Greig Shepherd in the 67th minute, and although the Posh lost their goalkeeper to injury ten minutes later, with no sub left to replace him, Leeds were unable to take advantage. We thought Sellars had salvaged the tie in the closing minutes, but for the second time his effort was disallowed for offside, and this time it was all too much for him and he was sent off for dissent.

And too much for some of our fans as well, as they started breaking things off the top of the fence to throw at the police, and the Peterborough fans on the terrace to our left, who moved away sharp-ish. But it didn’t quite match the description of “an attempted pitch invasion by Leeds hooligans” that I’ve just seen on a Peterborough website. But they wouldn’t have been to our games the previous season to have seen what proper rioting actually looked like.

Our final chance to stay in the FA Cup came and went as Andy Ritchie hit the bar right at the end, and it was all over. Our defeat became all the more galling as the draw for the next few rounds unfurled. If memory serves, Peterborough faced Carlisle in the fourth round (who were then bottom of our division) followed by a home tie with Brighton (also second division) in the fifth.

Those were ties I would have expected even our then-limited side to win, so we could have got as far as a sixth-round tie with the then-mighty Southampton, so would have achieved something positive apart from just avoiding relegation. Even that seemed in a bit of doubt with after a poor run in March, but an unexpected run of three consecutive wins in April finally hauled us to safety. That legendary run in the FA Cup would have to wait until the following season.

This time around I can’t imagine anyone in Leeds getting quite as excited about an FA Cup trip to Peterborough as I was in 1986, with promotion the clear priority. I would expect that some of the regular starting eleven will get some rest and recuperation, while some of the fringe squad members get a game.

The Posh are considerably higher than they were in 1985/6, currently 5th in the League One table, so a hotch-potch of a side might not be enough to get past them. But if we do reach the fourth round, could we get drawn at home for the first time since we played Rotherham in January 2016? I wouldn’t stake your mortgage on it.

Tim Whelan

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