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Matches of Yesteryear - Exeter v U's 27/11/91
Written by wessex_exile on Friday, 22nd Nov 2019 20:16

So, back again after my break for international duties. With our ongoing exploits in two of the three domestic cup competitions, it’s nice that the random match selector has chosen one of our earlier forays into a cup competition – albeit the one competition we’re no longer involved in this season…

[b]Exeter City v Colchester United

Wednesday 27th November 1991

FA Cup (1st Round replay)

Attendance 4,066[/b]

Match #26 of the series, and we go all the way back to November ’91, and the FA Cup first round replay at St James’ Park. This was our second season in the Conference, and having been spared the ignominy of qualifying in 1990/91 we weren’t so fortunate this season, entering the FA Cup at the 4th qualifying round. The last time we had to do so was nearly 41 years earlier, beating Woodford 7-1 away on 11th November 1950, and let’s hope we never have to do so again. However, in 1991/92 our passage was just as comfortable, easily despatching Burton Albion 5-0 at Layer Rd in the 4th qualifying round.

Drawn at home to struggling Division 3 side Exeter City in the first round, clearly an upset was expected, as the Match of the Day cameras were at Layer Rd (as was I) a week and a half earlier, but the match finished 0-0 – despite Grecian Steve Williams getting sent off after just 18 minutes. This is a game that may well feature in the future, so no more of that for now.

So, on to the replay at St James’ Park, for I’m pretty sure what must have been my first ever visit to the ground. I’d only moved down to the south west just over a year earlier, and it had been almost exactly two years since our last match there, so I can’t imagine there were any other visits in earlier days. As many will recall, we were housed on the open terrace at the St James’ Road end, and I’d say there was probably 150-200 who had made the long trip for a cold evening game. Not such a heroic trek for me, I was working on the Ilchester to Odcombe pipeline at the time, and therefore only about an hour away. Incidentally, this match kicked off slightly earlier, at 7.30pm.

Before we move on to match details, just pause to reflect on that programme front cover – what the feck is going on with that? Was this drawn by the match sponsor’s daughter, and why does the Exeter City player appear to have a zombie face?!

The U’s lined up:

1….Scott Barrett

2….Warren Donald

3….Jason Cook

4….Mark Kinsella

5….Tony English

6….James Goodwin (programme says Shaun Elliott; Martin Grainger 65’)

7….Eamonn Collins

8….Gary Bennett (Steve Restarick 109’)

9….Roy McDonough

10..Steve McGavin

11..Nicky Smith

Having been to St James’ Park many times since, I was certain this was the match that Exeter played a 16-year old in goal, who was mercilessly torn to shreds by the U’s faithful behind him – the sort of thing that these days would probably result in some sort of UN resolution – but it can’t have been. In goal for Exeter that evening was Kevin Miller, at the time 22 years old, and destined to go on to have a very good career as a goalkeeper, at one point signing for Premiership Crystal Palace for £1.5m. Not bad considering he started his football career as a midfielder.

There aren’t too many connections between the clubs that I can see looking at their squad that evening, other than obviously their manager Alan Ball. Alan had joined Colchester United as assistant to Jock Wallace in early 1989, and had played his part in staving off relegation at the end of that season. Shortly after the start of the 1989/90, he left for the assistant role alongside Mick Mills at Stoke City, taking over the reins just two weeks later following the sacking of Mills. He had been appointed manager of Exeter City in July 1991, and although struggling, he was still just about keeping them out of the relegation zone.

As for the match, my recollection is just as vivid as it is for the initial game at Layer Rd – pretty much zero. There are definitely aspects I do remember – it was cold, with a heavy dewy mist/ fog hanging around, but never quite bad enough to threaten a postponement. I also remember the U’s faithful had quite a feisty edge to them that evening. I know there has been a bit of history between the two clubs over the years – who can forget the infamous Barside flag-burning incident for instance – but this seemed to be on another level. Now, I wasn’t the seasoned traveller I am these days, but there were a few faces amongst the more vociferous antsy supporters that I didn’t recognise at all, and there was a whispered rumour going around the terrace that there may have been some Plymouth Argyle agent provocateurs amongst us.

Maybe, maybe not, but regardless the support wasn’t sufficient for us to overcome Exeter City in the replay, which after 90 minutes and a further 30 minutes of extra-time still ended in another goalless stalemate. And so we came to a first (well almost first), because the FA had decided from this season onwards, there would be no more endless succession of replays for cup matches (in 1971 it took Alvechurch six matches to finally overcome Oxford City). At the end of the first replay and extra-time, the game would be decided on penalty kicks. I have no recollection who was successful or not for the U’s in the shootout, other than we weren’t very good at all, and Exeter City prevailed 4-2 on the evening. I definitely do remember that the final penalty for Exeter, to clinch the tie, was scored by none other than goalkeeper Kevin Miller.

This wasn’t quite the first penalty shootout of the FA Cup, Rotherham had beaten Scunthorpe 7-6 on penalties the evening before, but even that wasn’t the first. Back in 1972, Birmingham beat Stoke in a penalty shoot to decide the 3rd and 4th places for the losing semi-finalists, back when they played such a meaningless match.

However, we do hold the somewhat dubious distinction of being the first team to go out of the FA Cup without conceding a goal in open play.

[b]Exeter 0 Colchester United 0 aet (4-2 penalties)[/b]

As Exeter and their supporters celebrated victory, a significant proportion of the U’s support, wherever they may have been from, went over the fence, clearly intent on confrontation. A few of the Exeter supporters appeared willing to have that confrontation, but to be honest it was all a bit handbags, and the stewards/ police very quickly restored order.

Exeter went on to beat Swansea in the 2nd round (another replay), before bowing out in the 3rd round at home to Portsmouth, who themselves went on to the semi-finals, ironically losing on penalties in a replay to eventual winners Liverpool. In his first season in charge of cash-strapped Exeter City, Alan Ball just about avoided relegation, finishing one place and two points outside the relegation zone. The U’s, as we know, fared considerably better, and were promoted back into the Football League as Conference champions.

For me, a disappointing end to the two FA Cup matches, particularly given we certainly hadn’t been overawed by a team two divisions higher than us, but there was that as consolation as well. In truth, with promotion our highest priority, an FA Cup run would probably have been a distraction we could have done without, and it’s not like we didn’t go on to have a fantastic day out at Wembley that season anyway.

Can history repeat itself this season?

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