This piece follows on from my previous blogs on the first and second rounds of the 1984/85 FA Cup, which you can view here and here.
Even as one of the biggest 1980s apologists, That1980sSportsBlogger recognises that not all was good when it came to English football in the 1980s. Violence, falling attendances, ageing stadia, poor spectator facilities, and Thatcher's proposed ID scheme, are just a few of the minus points surrounding the national game in a turbulent decade. One thing going for the 1980s though was the fact that the FA Cup was still seen as a great competition, a must-have trophy for players, managers and chairmen alike, and due to this, the Third Round weekend of the FA Cup was one of the highlights of the domestic football calendar. So as most managers prepare to rotate their squads for the irritation of the Third Round of the 2013 FA Cup, we can cast our minds back to a time when the FA Cup mattered. The first few weeks of 1985 even allowed the players to enjoy a winter break. Perhaps the 1980s weren't all that bad after all.
"The Third Round of the Cup is about the little clubs getting their chance of glory. I hope they can do it in a sporting, friendly environment." So said FA secretary Ted Croker prior to the first ball being kicked. You may have already guessed where this is going however. The events at Derby's Baseball Ground contradicted all that Croker had advocated. Northern Premier League side Burton had moved their home tie against Leicester to nearby Derby for safety reasons, but with the score at 1-1 they may have wondered why they had bothered. Keeper Paul Evans had spent most of the first half avoiding coins, until he was struck by a block of wood ripped from a seat. With the solicitor laying unconscious on the pitch and then being ill soon after, the magic of the FA Cup seemed a distant memory. Leicester ran out 6-1 winners, Evans apparently unable to recall two of the goals that he had conceded, and with a recent precedent having been set - Celtic's European Cup Winners Cup tie with Rapid Vienna had been replayed under similar circumstances - Burton appealed to the FA for a second chance. Their wish was granted, although this caused another headache for the part-timers. Many of Burton's players needed to request time off work to play in the rearranged behind closed doors match at Derby (subsequently moved to Coventry after a postponement), with manager Neil Warnock having to juggle his job as a chiropodist in Sheffield with the small matter of a Third Round FA Cup tie. Ultimately the outcome was the same, Leicester winning 1-0, yet Burton almost achieved yet another replay, shaving the post in the last minute of the match.
The crowd related incidents were not just limited to the Midlands unfortunately. The North East derby between Darlington and Middlesbrough was marred by a pitch invasion in the replay at Feethams. Fourth Division Darlington were well on their way to pulling off a shock against their Second Division neighbours, former Boro players Garry MacDonald and Phil Lloyd putting them 2-0 up, before the match was delayed for ten minutes after the home team had scored their second (they ended up winning the match 2-1). In Coventry, Manchester City supporters, obviously upset by Terry Gibson inspiring a smash and grab for the Sky Blues, extracted their revenge literally by destroying seats and causing £2000 worth of damage. Coventry must have been delighted come the end of the season at yet again surviving by the skin of their teeth, less so by the fact that Man City would be joining them in the top flight after gaining promotion.
Naturally the Third Round did produce a few shocks along the way. Third Division Doncaster, managed by former Leeds hero Billy Bremner, knocked out First Division QPR 1-0. Bremner's old pal Johnny Giles experienced the flip-side of the FA Cup experience, as his West Brom side lost 2-1 at Orient, who would eventually be relegated to the Fourth Division in May. Gola League Telford continued their fairytale FA Cup adventure, defeating Third Division Bradford 2-1, a prized scalp seeing as the Yorkshire club would gain promotion to the second tier in both a joyous and tragic season.
The other dominant feature of the round would be the British weather. Numerous ties were postponed, scheduled replay fixtures decimated, as England was struck by a cold-snap that would nowadays result in hundreds of schools being closed - yes I am still bitter that my school did remain open in the winter of 85. So bad were the wintry conditions that Third Division Gillingham would defeat Second Division Cardiff at the first time of asking on January 21, only five days before the Fourth Round, and a full sixteen after the original match had been scheduled for. It wasn't just the small teams that struggled to beat the freeze. Manchester United's undersoil heating, installed in the summer of 1984, failed to work prior to their match against Bournemouth, although they did manage to get the game on and gain revenge for their humiliating defeat to the same club in the Third Round of the previous year, winning 3-0. This didn't stop Bournemouth skipper Roger Brown slating United: "They are mediocre except for Bryan Robson, Gordon Strachan and Remi Moses", his less than gracious summary of a team that would go on to lift the trophy. Arsenal did fall foul to the worst of the weather, their Highbury replay against Fourth Division Hereford one of many postponed games that dogged the round. That they had a replay was a blessing however.
Hereford had been enjoying an upturn in fortunes under manager John Newman, who had led the club from rock bottom to second in the Fourth Division in his twenty months in charge of the club. Cup romanticists, and the vultures of the press circled, recalling the infamous Newcastle game of 1972, and preying on the vulnerability of an Arsenal side with a soft underbelly. The London side were extremely fortunate to get out of Edgar Street with a second chance, John Lukic producing superb saves to deny both Ollie Kearns and Mike Carter. Steve Curry in particular was scathing of Arsenal and Charlie Nicholas in his Daily Express report: "Nicholas, who was 24 a week ago, is going through a personal crisis of some magnitude as far as his football is concerned," adding "Tomorrow's replay is far from a formality as far as Arsenal are concerned." Although there was some truth in Curry's assessment of Nicholas, luckily for Arsenal fans his prediction of a tough replay was wide of the mark, Arsenal cruising to a 7-2 victory in the comfortable surroundings of home. The press wouldn't have to wait long though for a chance to gloat at Arsenal's expense, York's 3-0 win over Walsall ensuring that particular date with destiny lay just around the corner.
Another old-school ingredient of the FA Cup was evident in the Norwich-Birmingham saga of the Third Round. In all it took three replays, and over seven hours of football to separate the two teams, as Norwich finally won through, Steve Bruce's winner in the final match coming two days after many of the Fourth Round matches had already been played. Two other Third Round replays concluded on Fourth Round day; Blackburn defeated Portsmouth 2-1, and Chelsea thrashed Wigan 5-0, although the First Division side did have to come back from 2-0 down at Stamford Bridge in the original match, a young Paul Jewell one of the Wigan scorers.
Third Division Millwall continued their rise under George Graham, seeing off their local rivals, Second Division Crystal Palace in a replay. Graham was confident going into the first game at the Den - "We could beat three-quarters of the teams in the Second Division at home" - and although Palace were obviously amongst the 25% capable of holding Millwall away, they were no match in the replay. Millwall's Steve Lovell scored his 20th goal of the season in Millwall's 2-1 triumph, as the visitors came back from conceding after just 80 seconds. For Graham and Lovell it was a sweet victory; Graham had converted Lovell from a full-back to a striker, after signing the player on a free transfer from Palace.
One old boy who couldn't quite come back to haunt his old boss was Newcastle's Gary Megson. Bought by Brian Clough in the summer of 1984, Megson never once played for Nottingham Forest, Clough apparently deciding that his new midfield man couldn't trap a medicine ball/bag of cement, depending upon which paper you read. Megson chose the best time imaginable to score his one and only goal for Newcastle in Nottingham, but Ian Bowyer's equaliser took the match back to St James' Park. Newcastle really should have won the replay; Peter Beardsley missed an early penalty, shortly before Chris Waddle deservedly put the Geordies ahead. Megson would again have an impact though, bringing down Steve Hodge for a penalty which was converted by Peter Davenport, and Forest sneaked home 3-1 in extra-time.
The Merseyside clubs both progressed into the next round. Everton won a tricky away match at Leeds on the Friday evening prior to the main action - their first win at Elland Road in 34 years - as a Graeme Sharp penalty (after Andy Linighan had perhaps been harshly adjudged to have handled), and a Kevin Sheedy strike saw the holders through in front of a live BBC audience. Despite Liverpool suffering from post-Souness departure disorder, they easily brushed aside a gradually deteriorating Aston Villa team 3-0 at Anfield, with Ian Rush bagging two, and indicating to all that he was beginning to find his form once again after missing part of the season due to a cartilage operation.
What of the Division One leaders at the turn of the year? Tottenham were mounting a serious challenge for their first league title since 1961 under Peter Shreeves' management, but were surprisingly lacklustre in a poor home draw against Charlton. Second Division Charlton, under the temporary chairmanship of Jimmy Hill, were struggling financially, and the replay, along with a new £50,000 shirt sponsorship deal with the building society Woolwich, helped greatly. Charlton were unlucky not to win the replay, only a superb display by Ray Clemence preventing Tottenham from succumbing at the Valley, Spurs limping through 2-1.
Many teams that would ultimately suffer the fate of relegation at the culmination of the season, fell at the first hurdle. Sunderland, who like Norwich would reach the Milk Cup final but lose top flight status, were demolished 4-0 away at Southampton, where Steve Moran ended an eleven week scoring drought with a brace. Second Division teams Wolves and Notts County, were beaten in replays by Huddersfield and Grimsby (aided by a Gary Lund hat-trick) respectively, hardly surprising in Wolves' case, seeing as they had lost seven on the spin coming into the match, and were in a sorry mess in the mid-eighties. Burnley lost 3-1 at Wimbledon, before falling to the league basement in May. Stoke, who would only gain 17 points in 42 First Division matches, took Luton to a replay before losing 3-2. Luton's supporters, although delighted, probably had bigger things on their mind, as according to the Daily Mirror's Harry Harris, chairman David Evans was planning a move to Milton Keynes, building a £35 million indoor arena with an artificial pitch, and renaming the team to MK United from 1987 onwards. A team leaving their home and moving to Milton Keynes? Surely, even the FA would not allow something as crass as that to happen.
The remaining ties contained controversy, goal scoring feats, and FA Cup titbits, as I'm sure Denis Norden would have referred to them. Reading manager Ian Branfoot lambasted referee John Haugh after he awarded a dubious penalty in Reading's 4-3 loss at Barnsley; much the same could be said of Fulham manager Ray Harford, unhappy at the corner awarded to Sheffield Wednesday that led to Lee Chapman's winner in their 3-2 defeat; Luther Blissett scored four goals as Watford stuffed Sheffield United 5-0; West Ham's Paul Goddard scored a hat-trick in his side's 4-1 win over Port Vale; Gola League Dagenham, given a helping hand by Arsenal who let them use their indoor gym facilities, narrowly lost 1-0 at Carlisle; Oxford saw off Shrewsbury 2-0, manager Jim Smith stating that his team had worn pimpled footwear used on astroturf pitches in America to cope with the icy conditions; Bristol Rovers' winger Mark O'Connor played at 3pm on the Saturday as his side lost 2-1 to Ipswich, before getting married to his childhood sweetheart at 3pm on the Sunday; elsewhere, Brighton beat Hull 1-0, and Oldham put out Brentford.
It is telling looking back to the Third Round of the 1985 FA Cup to see who the journalists of the time were predicting to win the competition. Dave Horridge, Harry Harris and Harry Miller all plumped for league leaders Tottenham; David Moore and Nigel Clarke both fancied Sheffield Wednesday; Tony Stenson opted for Watford whereas Jack Steggles picked West Brom (in hindsight not the wisest selection). Importantly for the competition at the time, you could have almost picked any team from the top flight and made a case for them. You also had to get to the final to play at Wembley, and finishing fourth, staying up or getting into the top division were not seen as greater aspirations in comparison to the famous old competition. Eighties football in England may have had a lot wrong with it, but it also had a lot going for it too.