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Letters from Wiltshire #12
Written by wessex_exile on Tuesday, 27th Oct 2020 14:52

And the matches keep coming thick and fast, with tonight’s trip to league leaders Newport to face – though not, it now transpires, Shrewsbury on Friday night – called off because of rampant Covid-19 amongst The Shrews. As for tonight, if we can keep nicking results against the run of play whilst I’ll certainly be happy, I’ll certainly also be considerably more stressed in the process. Our previous two home matches we probably ought to have looked on as ours to lose and should never have been that difficult. Tonight is different, and if we can grind something out as the underdog against a team who have made a very strong start to the season, I’m sure we’ll all be much happier?

[b]The Football Association Challenge Cup[/b]

Letters from Wiltshire #12, and on the back of yesterday evening’s 1st Round FA Cup draw, and with not much spare time available, I thought I’d take a brief look at our association with the FA Cup. I have a special feature from a guest author lined up in advance of the actual 1st Round match, so I’ll say no more on that for now. It’s also worth mentioning that we now know there will be no fans admitted to the 1st Round matches, regardless of the level within the Football pyramid teams play in, which I think has to be the sensible decision in the circumstances. We don’t yet know whether the FA and iFollow will come to an agreement to allow streaming for non-televised matches, but we have to hope so.

[b]A brief history of time[/b]

The [i][insert sponsor name here][/i] Football Association Challenge Cup competition has been in existence since the 1871/72 season, 149 years ago. Allowing for breaks during both World Wars, this season’s FA Cup will be the 140th competition. Arsenal have lifted the trophy most often, 14 times including beating Chelsea 2-1 last season, followed by Manchester United (12) and Chelsea and Spurs (eight times each). Leicester City win the “always a bridesmaid, never the bride” award, with four fruitless trips to the final to date. Technically, Pompey have held the trophy the longest, winning the final in 1939 just before war broke out, and not relinquishing the trophy until Derby were victorious in 1946.

Four teams have won the FA Cup that no longer exist today: Wanderers (five times between 1872 and 1878), Clapham Rovers (1880), Blackburn Olympic (1883) and of course the original Wimbledon Crazy Gang (1988). MK Dons did originally take the trophy to Milton Keynes with them in 2003, but after some tense discussions with the FA (who shamefully had ratified the move in the first place) they eventually relinquished their claim on the trophy, nor indeed any of the history or honours of Wimbledon FC.

Notable cup winners who are still in existence today include: Sheffield Wednesday (who won their 1986 and 1907 FA Cups as just [i]The Wednesday[/i], followed by 1935 as [i]Sheffield Wednesday[/i]), Old Etonians (1879 and 1882), Oxford University (1874), Royal Engineers (1875) and Old Carthusians (1881). Bury must also be included in that list, twice winners in 1900 and 1903, and technically still in existence at this moment, albeit even though their application to join either the National League (Tier 5) or National League North (Tier 6) was rejected in August by the FA on the grounds of inadequate financial resources. A fan-owned Bury AFC has also been formed, ground-sharing at nearby Radcliffe FC, and currently competing in Division One North of the North West Counties Football League. Steve Dale, owner of Bury FC who bought the club for £1 in December 2018, describes Bury AFC as “[i]fake[/i]” – so are you Mr Dale.

[b]Back on track[/b]

Apologies, allowed my dismay at the plight of Bury FC take over there – so, back to business, and what about the U’s?

We first competed in the FA Cup on 12th November 1938 under manager Ted Davis, beating Ilford 4-1 in the 4th Qualifying Round at Layer Road, before losing 2-1 in the 1st Round proper at Folkestone. Since the restart of the football calendar in 1945/46, we have competed in all 75 subsequent competitions, so including that first pre-war appearance in 1938/39, this season will be our 77th in the FA Cup, including seven times when we started at the 4th Qualifying Round. Twice we failed to get past that hurdle through to the 1st Round (losing 5-0 at Wisbech in 1945/46 and 1-0 at Wealdstone in 1949/50), and twice we didn’t play in Rounds 1 or 2 because we were a Championship side (2006/07 and 2007/08 – happy days 😊).

Overall, including replays, we have played 195 FA Cup matches: 100 at home, 93 away and two at neutral venues. The latter were both 1st Round second replays (back when we had such things) against Peterborough in 1961/62 (played at Carrow Road, and we lost 3-0) and against Bournemouth in 1977/78 (played at Vicarage Road, and we won 4-1). I went to the Vicarage Road game on a supporters coach, not helped by the driver getting lost en route and we rolled in ten minutes late – which was particularly interesting because our 2nd Round match was against Watford, back at Vicarage Road (which I also went to…we lost 2-0).

Including replays, our most appearances in any one competition is seven matches, which we’ve achieved three times: 1978/79 through to Manchester United in the 5th Round, likewise in 2003/04 against Sheffield United, and of course reaching the 6th Round at Everton in 1970/71. We’ve reached the 5th Round on two other occasions, against Blackpool in 1947/48 when we were still non-league, and against Chelsea in 2005/06. We’ve reached the 4th Round ten times, the 3rd Round (including the two automatic qualifications in the Championship) 24 times, and the 2nd Round 37 times.

Incidentally, in recognition of our 1947/48 non-league FA Cup exploits, the FA awarded the U’s a bye through to the 1st Round proper in the following 1948/49 season. Drawn at home to Reading, a record 19,072 allegedly squeezed into Layer Road for the match, which had to be abandoned after 35 minutes because of fog (with the game level at 1-1). The U’s lost the replay 2-4, in front of a paltry 13,371 – what we wouldn’t give for that sort of fanbase these days.

Peterborough United and Bournemouth – both the only teams we’ve played at a neutral venue (if you don’t count our three trips to Wembley) – top our most frequent opponents (including replays), with seven matches each, followed by Reading, Brentford and Torquay six times, and remarkably Sheffield United five times. Excluding penalty shoot-outs, we’ve won 79 of our cup matches, drawn 43, and lost 73. The list of teams we’ve never lost to is quite a long one, but includes teams like Leeds United, Portsmouth, Fulham, Brentford and Bristol City and a host of non-league sides, including the exotically named [i]Gothic FC[/i] back in 1946/47 (this was Gothic’s first FA Cup competition).

[b]Giant-killers[/b]

None of you need reminding of our proud history in the FA Cup, with Saturday February 13th 1971 etched in our memory as probably the greatest day of all. Still ranked by many neutrals as the single greatest giant-killing in all competitions, Dick Graham’s “[i]Grandad’s Army[/i]” took on the mighty Leeds United in the 5th Round at a packed-out Layer Road. At that time, Don Revies’ Leeds United were considered one of the greatest club sides in Europe, and on the day he fielded the strongest line-up he had available (only Bremner was missing, out injured), all of whom were full internationals.

The U’s were having none of it though and rolling back the years put in such a shift that ten minutes into the second half we were 3-0 up (thanks in no small part to a brace from Crawford). As the afternoon wore on, and legs started to tire, Leeds came back into it, and through goals by Hunter (60’) and Giles (78’) got themselves right back into the game. This was when the real heroes were made, as wave after wave of attacks against Graham Smith’s goal at the Clock End were repelled by the mighty U’s throwing everything in the way, literally putting their bodies on the line. Even when Leeds breached that last line of defence, there was Smith in the dying seconds to pull off a sensational instinctive goal-line save to keep them out.

[b]Colchester United 3 (Ray Crawford 18’, 24’; Dave Simmons 54’) Leeds United 2 (Norman Hunter 60’; Johnny Giles 78’)[/b]

There are many other occasions too, many of which I cherish as very special memories following the U’s: before my time, but the U’s faithful invasion of Blackpool to take on Stanley Matthews [i]et al[/i] in 1948; Garwood’s injury-time equaliser against Derby, and our oh so brave performance in the mid-week replay; forcing Mourinho to show us some respect and bring on the big guns to finally get past us at Stamford Bridge; deserving so much more against Manchester United in ’79; Newcastle United needing two attempts to beat us in ’82; and of course despatching Coventry City and then giving Sheffield United the fright of their lives in 2004.

[b]Champs to chumps…[/b]

For balance, we do also have to reflect on some less glorious moments for the U’s, front and centre of which has to be the ploughed field at Bedlington Terriers, where we were mauled 4-1 – an ignominious way for Adcock to score his last goal for the U’s. Thankfully I wasn’t there for that match, but was at the bounce-back 3-1 league victory at Meadow Lane the following Saturday.

Other names to conjure, all of whom will be painfully familiar to us all, include for instance: Leatherhead in 1974/75; Dover Athletic the following season; Sutton United in 1993; Gravesend & Northfleet in 1995; getting battered at non-league Yeovil Town in 2000; local rivals Chelmsford City in 2012, and of course coming right up to date Oxford City in 2017.

A timely reminder that if we’re complacent about Marine AFC, it will be at our peril, lest we want to be in the headlines for all the wrong reasons yet again.

But that’s for another day, for tonight let’s just worry about Newport County (who, incidentally, we beat over two games back in 1979 to set up our 5th Round match against Manchester United).

Up the U’s




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Letters from Wiltshire #16 by wessex_exile
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