Tuesday, 3 March 2015

1983/84 FA Cup: Sixth round

This piece follows on from my previous blogs on the first, second, third, fourth and fifth rounds of the 1983/84 FA Cup, which you can view here, here, here, here and here.

"The FA Cup that has overflowed with surprises is almost empty of quality. Among the unlikely sixth round survivors are a third division club that was 10 minutes away from extinction two years ago, a second division club facing a winding-up petition on Monday, and the poorest supported first division club that is expected to be relegated in May". The Times' preview of the 1984 FA Cup quarter finals was hardly endorsing. But if you looked closely enough you could make a defence for the competition and the surviving clubs.

Everton were at the start of a run that would take them to a League title just over a year later; Southampton were enjoying a season to remember, many of their players hovering around in Bobby Robson's England thoughts; Watford were continuing their rise under Graham Taylor, with a prolific strike partnership and one of the most exciting talents in the domestic game; and who could fail to be warmed by the tale of John Hore's Plymouth as their FA Cup adventure showed no signs of abating? Maybe the 1984 FA Cup was not quite as mediocre as some would have us believe.

Derby down and out

If this FA Cup series seems to be highlighting the plight of Derby on a repeated basis, that is because the club were rarely out of the spotlight during the whole of the 1983/84 season. Firmly in the bottom three of the Second Division and seemingly on the brink of being wound up in the High Court, Derby did have high hopes of progressing to the FA Cup semi finals, Third Division Plymouth standing between them and a place in the last four. But in a season of anguish, very little was that straight forward with Derby.

Preparing for the tie was not easy. After finally paying gate receipt money owed to Telford and Norwich, the club were heavily criticised by Gordon Taylor for signing Kenny Burns, the PFA Secretary stating that Derby were guilty of "gross irresponsibility" in adding to the squad at a time of such financial turmoil. On top of all this was the small matter of a High Court case looming on the horizon, the Inland Revenue owed £210,000 in VAT and tax, and with Derby £1.5 million in debt and having a frozen bank account, the Plymouth match was almost over shadowed completely.

It was at this point that the very large figure of Robert Maxwell arrived on the scene. Having failed recently to take control of Manchester United, Maxwell looked to have answered an SOS from Derby, although the League were thought to be concerned that the Oxford chairman could not have an interest in two clubs at once. "He has been depicted as some sort of 'robber baron', but he is the shining white knight as far as Derby are concerned," stated a relieved Chief Executive Stuart Webb, although unfortunately for the club, Mr Justice Mervyn Davies did not fully agree.

The judge was not completely convinced with the Webb-Maxwell rescue plan, apparently unhappy that the full amount owed to the Inland Revenue would not be paid. The case which was originally heard on March 12 - two days after the original Plymouth cup tie - was adjourned once more, hardly the ideal climate for Derby's players to surround themselves in before the replay. That Derby had a second bite at the cherry was fortunate in the extreme, however.

Paul Newman, writing in The Times, described Derby's 0-0 draw at Home Park as "ludicrously one-sided", adding that Derby had been "thoroughly outplayed, outrun and outwitted by their third division opponents". Not much of a review. Peter Taylor was also honest about his team's display: "I thought we'd won the pools today and I'm delighted to have a second chance". Plymouth's keeper Geoff Crudgington was a spectator throughout, as the 34,365 crammed into the ground watched his opposite number Steve Cherry keep Derby alive.

The moment that summed up Plymouth's day came after 82 minutes, when Gordon Staniforth set off on a run just inside the Derby half and saw his shot tipped on to one post by Cherry, only for the ball to run along the line and clip the other. "Good try and in...no" yelled Barry Davies as he and everyone else tried to work out how Derby had got off the hook. "That takes some doing, you should try it some time," Staniforth joked later. "We were a coat of paint away from a semi final".

Staniforth had only just made the match due to an injury problem, as had team mate Lindsay Smith, not the only scare the centre back experienced. Going to the toilet in Plymouth's pre-match hotel, Smith was stunned when he returned to find that the rest of the players and staff had got on the coach without him. "I couldn't believe it when I got out of the toilet. They had all disappeared - and I spent the next few minutes going up and down in the hotel lift trying to find them". Luckily Smith hitched a ride with a fan, and even made the ground before his team mates.

Many felt that Plymouth had blown their best chance of glory - completing ignoring the fact that they had won at West Brom in the previous round - but cheered on by thousands of supporters, the team finished off what they had started just four days earlier. The villain of the piece for Derby was in fact the hero of the first match, Cherry allowing Andy Rogers corner to go in directly after 17 minutes.

"If I could that sort of thing on purpose, I certainly wouldn't be playing in the Third Division," a delighted Rogers said of his goal afterwards. Flukey or not, there could be no doubting that over the two games Plymouth had been worthy winners; Smith would also hit the bar and post on a night that saw Plymouth become only the sixth Third Division team to reach the semi final, and the first since Crystal Palace in 1976.

The defeat marked another horrendous 24 hours for Derby, with Maxwell reportedly pulling out of his rescue plans, which in turn placed the club in a frightening position. Eventually Maxwell did return with some capital to fund the recovery, as Webb became chairman, Taylor departed, and assistant Roy McFarland tried in vain to keep Derby in the Second Division. Relegation was the inevitable and fitting end to Derby's 1983/84 campaign, with the very side that had embarrassed them at a typically muddy Baseball Ground soon to become league opponents in Division Three.

Watford beat the Blues

Arguably the tie of the round was taking place at St Andrew's, as Ron Saunder's resurgent Birmingham faced up to Graham Taylor's Watford. Birmingham were on an unbeaten run of 12 matches, sitting ten points clear of the relegation zone, and giving very little indication of the forthcoming implosion they were about to experience.

A hard band of men, featuring the likes of Tony Coton, Pat van den Hauwe, Noel Blake, Mick Harford, Howard Gayle, and Robert Hopkins, Birmingham were seen as a team moulded in the image of their "tough and industrious" manager. Watford, seen as "honest and bold" like Taylor, knew they were in for a stern test of both their footballing and physical capabilities.

Therefore, Taylor breathed a big sigh of relief when his very own battering ram George Reilly was declared fit before the match. "You have to graft all the time against Birmingham and they do play it hard," admitted Taylor in the build-up. "George is the sort of player we are going to need". The reunion of the Johnston-Reilly partnership was also a plus for Taylor, his 25-goal strike force crucial in gaining a result at a ground where they had already lost 2-0 earlier on in the season.

"The players are aware that it's the biggest game this club has had for years," indicated Birmingham captain Kevin Broadhurst, who had joined the club just after their last FA Cup semi final in 1975. Perhaps the players were all too aware of this, putting in a nervy display that was a sign of things to come in the following months.

Watford, backed by 10,000 supporters, stood up to their opponents in a sometimes bruising encounter that saw five players booked, in a time when referees were not as strict as they are today. Captain Wilf Rostron ended the match with a swollen lip after an altercation with Gayle, and was also sent flying over an advertising board by Martin Kuhl, but through all the scrapping, one man stood head and shoulders above everyone else.

Watched by beleaguered England manager Bobby Robson, John Barnes put in the kind of display that would become commonplace at club level. "If he (Robson) is looking for special qualities to unlock the world's great defences then Barnes has them," wrote The Times' Clive White. "If he is looking for a goal scorer then Barnes is that too". Certainly Barnes proved the difference on the day, his opening goal after 23 minutes a stunning strike, which involved jinking in between Kuhl and Mark McCarrick before unleashing a dipping left foot shot past Coton. Steve Terry, in for broken ankle victim Steve Sims, put through his own net to bring the teams level, but Barnes would have the final say.

Les Taylor matched Barnes' finish in the second half to give Watford the lead, with the tie put to bed in the 80th minute through a poacher's strike from the England winger. Flick-ons by Reilly and Johnston allowed Barnes to ghost in at the far post for an easy finish, simultaneously finishing off Birmingham and bursting their balloon for the rest of the season. Of the next 12 League matches, Birmingham would only win one - albeit the sweet taste of success over Aston Villa - a run that saw the club slide uncontrollably towards Division Two. The idea of relegation seemed ridiculous before the quarter final. Afterwards it gradually started to become a reality.

The Watford success story continued though. "We don't mind whom we draw on Monday," stated match winner Barnes. "It's wide open now. We won't freeze in the semis. If we were going to do that, it would have happened at Birmingham". Very true. The ruthless performance at Birmingham showed just how far Watford had progressed in recent years, and a club that only seven years previously had been playing in Division Four, were now just 90 minutes from Wembley.

Everton roll on

The Everton revival under Howard Kendall showed no signs of slowing. Already at Wembley in the League Cup, Everton had only suffered one defeat in 1984 alone (the second leg of the League Cup semi final against Aston Villa) and had recently held Liverpool at Goodison Park, a match in which Graeme Sharp missed a penalty. The dual cup runs were starting to have an impact though. Before the quarter final at Notts County, there were injury doubts over Kevin Richardson, Kevin Sheedy, Peter Reid and Adrian Heath, although in the end it would only be Heath that would miss out, with Sheedy limping off in the second half. Everton's resources were beginning to get stretched though.

If Everton were flying then their opponents Notts County were positively grounded. Ten points off safety and with only Wolves below them in the table (prior to kick off), manager Larry Lloyd appeared resigned to the fact that his side were doomed. Openly admitting that he would happily "do a Brighton" in reaching the Cup final and dropping down a division, Lloyd had seen his team take just five points from a possible 36, hardly solid foundations from which to take on a club as buoyant as Everton.

County gave a good account of themselves in the first half, with Neville Southall once again proving his worth as the last line of Everton's defence. Pulling off fine saves from Martin O'Neill, Iain McCulloch and Aki Lahtinen, Southall took the best that County could throw at him, arguably his best save actually coming from a Trevor Christie header that saw John Chiedozie equalise. Everton had taken the lead after six minutes, Kevin Richardson, who had been cleared to play in a cast to protect his fractured wrist, taking advantage of some woeful defending to head his side in front from a long Gary Stevens throw.

Everton's winner came from possibly the only header scored below sea level, Andy Gray losing Brian Kilcline before sliding in to nod past Mick Leonard. As the second half progressed, conditions deteriorated with heavy rain turning the Meadow Lane playing surface into a mud bath (Graeme Sharp was later denied a goal when his effort stuck in the mud). County could find no response, failing to reach their first FA Cup semi final since 1922, the reported 10,000 Evertonians celebrating as the bandwagon rolled on (the attendance on the day of 19,534 was not far off the 21,140 that had watched the two League matches between the clubs).

Despite winning four and drawing two of the six matches immediately after their cup disappointment, Notts County were destined for relegation in the 1983/84 season, falling through the trap door with fellow Midlanders Birmingham City and Wolves. Losing £5,000 a week and rumoured to be £1 million in debt, the rot had well and truly set in, 1984/85 seeing three managers - Lloyd, Ritchie Barker and Jimmy Sirrel - and another relegation campaign (accompanied again by Wolves). Not the greatest period in the history of England's oldest League club.

As Everton marched on, Kendall must have pinched himself, surely pondering just how much his fortunes had changed in such a short space of time. On December 31 just 13,659 fans turned up to Goodison Park to watch the bore draw against Coventry, with leaflets handed out before the match with the message loud and clear: "Kendall and Carter must go. 26,000 stay-away fans can't be wrong". A little over two months later, Everton had reached a Wembley final, were in the last four of the FA Cup, and were unbeaten in the League and on their way to a respectable 7th placed finish.

It makes you wonder how Everton's story may have been played out over social media platforms if such a thing had existed back then. Surely #KendallOut would have been trending throughout 1983, and there would have been a lot of anti-Kendall tweets favourited and then retweeted come Cup final day by fans claiming that they were always 100% behind Everton's manager. Makes me kind of glad that we only had Teletext back then.

Southampton at the double

"The possibility of a League and Cup double, not even a subject of idle speculation a month ago, hardened somewhat last night as Southampton dismissed Sheffield Wednesday in their replayed FA Cup quarter final". The words written by Gerald Sinstadt in The Times were a reflection of the heady season The Saints were experiencing under Lawrie McMenemy. A recent Friday night win over Liverpool - including Danny Wallace's Goal of the Season winner - had nudged Southampton eight points behind the League leaders with two games in hand, and all of a sudden you started to realistically assess if Sinstadt had a point or was living in the realms of fantasy.

Southampton's win over Second Division Sheffield Wednesday was not quite as straight forward as the thumping 5-1 replay win suggests. The 0-0 draw at Hillsborough shown live on the Sunday on ITV was a cagey affair, the Daily Express' Tim Taylor stating that both teams looked frightened to lose in front of a very decent crowd of over 43,000. There were chances. Wallace missed a couple of opportunities, with Frank Worthington guilty of a glaring miss ("It was a terrible miss and I can have no excuse for not burying it"). Tony Cunningham, bravely battling on with damaged elbow ligaments, had an effort cleared off the line and saw a drive narrowly go over, but overall a draw was seen as the right result.

The tension of the match spilt over at the final whistle, Mark Dennis involved in altercations with Wednesday players, although the Owls' assistant manager Peter Eustace promised that there would be no grudges held over for the replay. Wednesday started strongly at The Dell, Mick Lyons scoring the opener with Imre Varadi blowing a glorious chance to double the lead. Shocked into action, Southampton hit back, scoring twice in the last three minutes of the first half through a Steve Williams free kick, and an own goal by 21-year-old Gavin Oliver playing in his first FA Cup tie.

Mark Wright's header after 52 minutes forced Wednesday to take risks, something Southampton took advantage of. David Armstrong (80) and Steve Moran (82) finished the job, the scoreline a misleading indication of how well Wednesday had battled. "We didn't play that well in the first half, but in this Cup run we've proved we can match Second Division clubs for fitness and our skill has come out on top," said McMenemy after the win. Wednesday got over the disappointment, claiming promotion to the top flight at the end of the season, as the reputation of Howard Wilkinson grew and grew. His team may not have played football enjoyed by all, but you could not argue with the results.

You would have got a very good price if you had tried to predict the FA Cup semi finalists at the start of the 1983/84 season. Southampton and Watford would have had some takers, but Everton's form under Howard Kendall was shaky to say the least, the man simply facing a battle to save his job. And any backers of Plymouth would possibly have been led away quietly and told to sober up a bit, even more so when Bobby Moncur was replaced by John Hore in October. Yet these four clubs were now just one step from Wembley, with a chance of writing a new page of history for both their clubs and the famous old competition, as their Highbury and Villa Park engagements drew nearer and nearer.

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