Thursday, 2 January 2014

1986-87 FA Cup: Third round

This piece follows on from my previous blogs on the first and second rounds of the 1986/87 FA Cup, which you can view here and here.

One of my many bugbears about the modern form of the FA Cup is the disappearance of the traditional Monday cup draws. Yet after investigating this piece, I was slightly startled to discover that the draw for the Third round of the 1986/87 FA Cup was actually the first time since 1976/77 that this had taken place on the supposedly traditional day. Bang goes another childhood memory that I had obviously invented in my head.

When the draw was made back in its rightful slot, one tie in particular caused a furore; Telford v Leeds. After local police had declared that Telford could not host the tie due to safety concerns, the hunt was on for a neutral venue, but the match soon became branded "the game that nobody wants". Hardly surprising given the recent record of Leeds' fans on their travels, at locations such as Barnsley, Huddersfield, Birmingham and Bradford.

Eventually, West Bromwich Albion were ordered to host the tie, a decision which must have delighted the club seeing as just a few weeks earlier Leeds fans had allegedly started a fire in a groundsman's hut at the Hawthorns. The course of action taken by the police and the FA was seen as a sad day for the competition, with Telford manager Stan Storton expressing his disappointment, and Dudley West MP Dr John Blackburn branding the FA as "lily-livered".

The venue switch did seem to have taken away any hope that Telford may have had in causing a cup upset. The match, played at noon on the Sunday of the Third round weekend, indeed went the way of the Second Division club, their late 2-1 win ending Telford's participation in the competition, on a pitch that was basically unplayable. Storton could not hide his sadness at the events, expressing dismay at the whole situation and the condition of the pitch: "I've felt all along that the FA just wanted this match out of the way. I don't think the pitch was fit and any normal match would have been called off". A shame that Telford's great cup exploits should be overshadowed in this way.

Another unpopular club at the time was Luton Town, although for vastly different reasons to Leeds. Their plastic pitch at Kenilworth Road was bad enough in the eyes of many clubs, perceived as an unfair advantage over the rest of the Division One clubs, and their ban on away fans, which had seen them kicked out of the Littlewoods Cup, was universally despised.

Cup holders Liverpool were given the unenviable task of beginning their cup defence at Luton, although their supporters were boosted when the BBC chose to screen the match live on the Sunday. The 0-0 draw gained by a defensive Liverpool looked to have done the job for Dalglish's team, but his post-match declaration that Luton's playing surface should be ripped up indicated his growing feeling of disgust against artificial pitches. It wouldn't be Dalglish's last gripe during the tie.

Despite the country being in the midst of a cold snap, Liverpool managed to get their pitch in a fit state for the replay. The only problem was that Luton were stranded down south, their decision to travel up on the day of the match backfiring, with Luton airport closed, and their flight from Heathrow grounded due to air traffic congestion. Police advised Luton against travelling by coach - although many of their own supporters made the journey by car - and Liverpool officials were understandably furious that their opponents had not taken extra precautions in travelling up the night before.

The mistrust between the clubs continued prior to the rearranged replay. Luton rejected the FA's suggestion of a neutral venue should a second replay be required, and when Luton won the toss before the Anfield replay, Dalglish questioned why the coin flip was not performed after the match. Knowing that a draw would mean a return to Kenilworth Road, Luton parked the bus, a fine 0-0 meaning the two teams had to do it all again on the dreaded plastic pitch.

Luton easily won the second replay 3-0, Brian Stein's opener breaking the stalemate after over four hours of football, meaning Liverpool had exited the competition at the Third round stage for the first time since 1978. But the row continued, particularly over the original Anfield cancellation. "If you can't turn up for a match you shouldn't be in the competition," bemoaned a peeved Dalglish, during a rare trophyless season for the Red Machine.

Liverpool's Merseyside neighbours Everton had fewer headaches in seeing off Southampton 2-1 at Goodison Park, although Colin Clarke almost snatched a replay, hitting the post in the last minute. The 7/1 favourites, aiming to make it four finals in a row, had Graeme Sharp's brace to thank, and they would be joined in the next round by Tottenham, who edged out Ray Clemence's former club Scunthorpe 3-2, in a lacklustre display. "But we are through," said Clemence, in response to criticism. "I've been in many Liverpool and Spurs teams that have struggled against lower division sides in the early rounds then launched into a good cup run". His words would turn out to be prophetic.

Other top flight clubs would not be so lucky. Aldershot hammered Oxford 3-0, a brief distraction from the row between chairman Colin Hancock and the clubs' fans, many of which boycotted the match due to the 300% increase in ticket prices. The £9 terrace tickets - £3 more expensive than the cheapest standing ticket for the final at Wembley - led to a crowd of 1,996 turning up, and for a club that was reportedly £250,000 in debt, the pricing policy seemed slightly bizarre, and led to a lot of bad publicity in the press before the match.

Brian Clough's hate-hate relationship with the FA Cup continued, his Nottingham Forest side losing on the Sunday at Crystal Palace. It was the fifth time in six seasons that Forest had crashed out at the Third round stage, and although Cloughie's record in the next four years would improve - two semi-finals and a final - he would be destined to never get his hands on the famous old trophy.

Palace's tenants Charlton would be another First Division club to suffer at the hands of lower league opposition, their 2-1 defeat to Third Division Walsall partly inspired by television pundit Emlyn Hughes. Walsall chairman Terry Ramsden's horse, Stearsby, was running in a race at Sandown on the same day as the cup tie, prompting Hughes to comment "I fancy the chairman's horse more than I fancy Walsall". Both horse and club would triumph, allowing the winning goal scorer Craig Shakespeare (nicknamed "The Bard") to reveal that Hughes' words had acted as a great motivator: "We set out to make him eat his words and we did".

Another team apparently motivated by Saturday television was Orient. When cellist and Orient fan Julian Lloyd Webber was asked by Saint and Greavsie to play a tune to sum up Orient's chances against neighbours West Ham, his choice of the Funeral March did not go down well. Steve Castle, who would score Orient's late equaliser from the spot in front of a crowd of 19,225 at Brisbane Road, indicated that Webber's actions were less than welcome: "A lot of things were said on television that upset the lads," and although West Ham easily won the replay 4-1, at least the Fourth Division side had proved a point.

The East London derby was not the only local skirmish in the Third round. Chester won 2-1 at fierce rivals Wrexham, with Gary Bennett scoring twice, before he would make headlines for the wrong reasons in the next round. And Alex Ferguson won his first FA Cup match at Manchester United, beating Manchester City 1-0 at Old Trafford, Norman Whiteside capitalising on a mistake by 18-year-old Steve Redmond. The match was almost called-off, due to a failure in United's new undersoil heating system, but a crowd of 54,000 would witness the first of many victories for Ferguson in a competition that he would eventually win five times.

Four clubs prepared for their matches in less than ideal circumstances, sacking their managers between the draw and the ties. The results were mixed; Blackburn sacked Bobby Saxton after only seven league wins in 1986, but two Mick Quinn goals saw Portsmouth through to the next round at their expense; Alan Mullery was dismissed at Brighton, their subsequent 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United at the Goldstone Ground sparking protests against chairman Bryan Bedson; Bradford, who parted company with Trevor Cherry, crushed Oldham 5-1 in a replay at the recently restored Valley Parade; Huddersfield were denied late on at Norwich, before losing 4-2 in a replay, just a couple of weeks after sacking Mick Buxton.

The wintry weather played havoc with many ties. For example, Hull City's 2-1 win over Shrewsbury was played on Fourth round weekend, with Sheffield Wednesday only able to play their match against Derby more than two weeks after the scheduled fixture, a match they would win 1-0 despite having ten men, Lee Chapman's dismissal irking manager Howard Wilkinson so much that he had to be restrained from throttling referee George Courtney.

Many Gillingham players could not get to the Priestfield Stadium to get on the coach for the journey up to Wigan, 18 inches of snow hitting the south east, and it was only at the third time of trying that the tie was completed, Wigan winning 2-1. After two postponements, Newcastle scraped through against high-flying Fourth Division Northampton, the away team hardly helped when they lost their skipper Trevor Morley with a dislocated knee.

Non-league interest in the 1986/87 FA Cup ended in the Third round, but not without a fight. Maidstone took the lead at Watford, before losing 3-1, and Caernarfon Town held Barnsley to a draw in Wales, a whopping attendance of 2,630 boosting the coffers of the Multipart League side. Rodger Wilde's winner in the replay ended the dreams of John King's side, a run that certainly helped the manager's career, as just four months later he would be appointed Tranmere boss.

Both Plymouth and Chelsea would require extra-time wins in replays to knock out Bristol City and Aston Villa respectively. For Chelsea, David Speedie and Micky Hazard would star in the two matches, despite the pair apparently wanting to leave Stamford Bridge. Another want away player helped QPR come back twice against Leicester at Loftus Road. Terry Fenwick's two goals in a 5-2 win did not mask the fact that he felt his time at the club was up. "My priority is getting away from Rangers," was his none too subtle statement after the victory. And they say there isn't enough honesty in football.

Cardiff and Stoke would need one more match than Plymouth and Chelsea. Stoke stuffed Grimsby 6-0 after two 1-1 draws, and a Chris Pike strike saw Cardiff edge out Millwall. Swansea joined their Welsh rivals in the Fourth round, the Fourth Division side shocking Second Division West Brom with a late 3-2 win, 18-year-old Andrew Melville playing a key role in the victory, much to the chagrin of Ron Saunders, who had previously tried to sign the talented youngster.

In previous seasons, Arsenal's trip to Reading would have been viewed with trepidation. But Arsenal in 1986/87 were a different beast, George Graham moulding a team to his liking, and with the club unbeaten in 19 matches, it was no surprise that the Londoners won 3-1. Charlie Nicholas scored a couple, before delivering a telling quote about the new Arsenal under Graham: "It was not a day to come and try to play pretty football". Pragmatic perhaps, but music to the ears of Arsenal supporters used to cup exits at the likes of York and Oxford.

Two late goals at Plough Lane heaped further pressure on under fire Sunderland boss Lawrie McMenemy. Wimbledon's 2-1 win was not a shock, but with just one win in twelve, "the football crazy Geordies" - Emlyn Hughes' words, not mine, Sunderland fans - were justifiably getting restless. Their drop into the third tier of English football was an inevitable consequence of an abysmal time at the club for McMenemy, who wisely jumped ship in April before he was lynched.

Division Four promotion chasers Preston caused a mini upset, defeating Third Division table toppers Middlesbrough by a single goal at Ayresome Park. Swindon and Birmingham also enjoyed 1-0 wins away from home, beating Fulham and Ipswich respectively, the latter suffering a Third round loss for the first time in 17 years.

So finally to the 25/1 shot for the FA Cup in Coventry City. A club which had never progressed beyond the Sixth round, and according to Jack Charlton writing in the Daily Express "If they get home draws they might do well". Their comfortable 3-0 win over Bolton, with all goals scored in the first half, backed-up this view, but this would in fact be Coventry's only home match in their famous cup run. A road to Wembley that would take the Sky Blues to Manchester, Stoke and Sheffield, giving their supporters memories that will last a lifetime.

The Third round of the 1986/87 FA Cup was certainly action packed. From local derbies to television pundits irritating players, numerous replays, shocks, a winter snap, rows between clubs, politicians and the police, along with sackings even before the round had begun. At least my fading memory has not played tricks on me this time; the FA Cup Third round weekend during my younger days was definitely as good as I imagined it.

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