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Giant-killers!: a quartet of classic FA Cup Third Round shocks

January 7, 2011

Giddy heights: Ronnie Radford and friends feel as high as a steeple as the Hereford United midfielder (wearing number 11) scores against Newcastle and triggers a pitch invasion

Ah, the FA Cup Third Round. That post-Crimbo-and-New-Year slither of glimmering golden light that offers footall fans something different, nay something a little exotic, amid the early January blues. For this is the round of the ‘greatest Cup competition in football’ when the top division’s big boys join the party and, thus, on occasions meet genuinely lowly opposition. And, sometimes of course, the big boys don’t manage to crash the party, instead the little guys crash them. Sometimes? All right, very rarely, but it certainly has happened.

So, with the Third Round upon us tomorrow, here’s George’s Journal tribute to the great David-and-Goliath meetings of years past, four FA Cup fixtures that have most assuredly helped secure the contest’s place in history – and in our hearts. Is that the ref’s whistle? Here we go then, folks…


Hereford United 2 -1 Newcastle United (replay), 1972

So, let’s kick-off at the, well, obvious starting point, with the most iconic FA Cup Third Round shock ever. And rightly so too. This one really did have everything. Non-league no-hopers up against First Division stalwarts. A quagmire of a muddy pitch. Two pitch invasions of parka-clad supporters. Other fans watching the action in trees and on pylons. Three momentous goals. And, of course, an outcome that’s forever etched in the memory. Quite frankly, this match is surely one of the greatest moments in ’70s football.

What happened is quite simple. The tie was, yes, tied at 0-0 until eight minutes from ordinary time when Newcastle’s superstar forward Malcolm ‘Super Mac’ MacDonald headed in a cross and put the heavy favourites one-up. Yet, just a minute later, Hereford somehow managed to come up with a sensational equaliser. The home team’s right-back had been playing the majority of the match with a broken leg – yes, honestly he had been (don’t forget this match did have it all) – and was replaced with Ricky George. Having been seemingly sparked into life by this, Hereford now conjured up a smart midfield move, as Ronnie Radford executed a cute one-two and, with the mud fatefully holding the ball up in front of him, then unleashed a 30-yard rasper into the top corner. And so one of the FA Cup’s most wonderful goals was scored. Into extra-time the tie went and now it was anybody’s – Hereford were just as stong and inventive as Newcastle, if not more so. Then, with one minute of the first period left, Ricky George pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area and coolly slotted it home. With their opponents not being able to find a way back, no-hopers Hereford had done it – they’d knocked out the mighty Newcastle.

Mind you, what’s often forgotten about this tie is what preceded it. It was a replay and, in actual fact, the first match up at St. James’s Park had seen an already near-remarkable effort on Hereford’s part. Amazingly, the latter club had taken the lead after just 17 seconds, only for the Magpies to equalise and then go 2 -1 up. Yet, a long-range strike from player-manager Colin Addison wonderfully set up the now far more well remembered reply.

And, let’s not forget too, that the iconic replay was also the making of an undeniable football legend. It was the very first time John Motson – then just 26 years old – had seen the match he’d commentated on played first on Saturday night’s Match Of The Day. The rest then, as they indeed say, is history…


Bournemouth 2 – 0 Manchester United, 1984

In recalling this particular Cup upset, it’s only fair to bear in mind that the ’80s version of Manchester United was nothing like the über-football force it is today, yet it was still one of the best and most glamorous of clubs in English football. And, perhaps most importantly of all, in 1984 Man United were the Cup holders. Bournemouth, by contrast, were nowhere – a Third Division outfit managed by a young upstart, former West Ham midfielder Harry Redknapp (yes, indeed, that Harry Redknapp – if only the Red Devils had known then what they know about him now).

Mind you, the first half of this match was utterly forgettable; Bournemouth were useless and Man United were little better. But then, come the second half, and something rather wonderful happened, the home team took the tie by the scruff of the neck and gave their grand opponents hell. Their forwards were proving an absolute handful – Man U’s defence seemingly couldn’t handle them – and at the other end, the fantastically named Everald La Ronde was having the game of his life for Bournemouth, defending like a horde of Mexican bandits all on his own. Then, on the hour, a fumble by United keeper Gary Bailey allowed Milton Graham to pounce and he hooked in a goal – 1-0 to the Cherries. And it got better. Following an uncharacteristic mistake from ‘Captain Fantastic’ Bryan Robson, Bournemouth striker Ian Thompson added a second.

Unsportingly, there then followed a pitch invasion – not from the home fans, mind, from their visitors’, desperately hoping somehow to help out their team. It was to no avail though, the police restored order, Man United couldn’t manage a comeback and the South Coast outfit had done it. Alas, there’s been few days to rival that one’s glory and greatness for Bournemouth, but, of course, for Old ‘Arry much more was to come – and then some.  


Sutton United 2 – 1 Coventry City, 1989

Tragically, 1989’s FA Cup will always be remembered for the Hillsborough disaster when Liverpool met Nottingham Forest in the April semi-final, yet back in January one of English football’s loveliest moments certainly gave that year’s competition more than a sheen of positivity. In fact, lowly South London’s Sutton from the Vauxhall Conference pulling off the upset-and-a-half of defeating Coventry was the last time a non-league side has managed to beat a First Division (or now Premier League) club.

Moreover, like Manchester United back in ’84, Coventry were far from a bad side. Featuring the legends that were striker Cyrille Regis and goalkeeper Steve Orizovic, at the time they were lying resplendent in sixth place in the league and had won the Cup itself just 18 months before – memorably pulling off an upset of their own in defeating Tottenham in the ’87 final. Yet, when they met Sutton, that magically was all for nought. In truth, the team from the Midlands were dire and their lowly opponents inspired – full of energy, enterprise and danger throughout. And, just before half-time, they broke the deadlock as captain and left-back Tony Rains headed in a flick-on from a corner. The Sky Blues, rather expectedly, hit back in the 52nd minute though, when Welsh international David Phillips completed a good move to make it 1-1. All square then.

Just seven minutes later, however, came the match’s defining moment. From another Sutton corner, this time a short, decoy one, the ball was delivered right into the heart of the penalty area and, the Coventry defence all at sea, midfielder Matthew Hanlan tapped in from yards out to put the home team deservedly back in front. Now followed a couple of efforts on goal from the First Division side, which saw a shot from Regis fly just inches wide following a glance off the keeper’s legs and Steve Sedgley hitting both post and bar from point-blank range instead of putting it between the sticks. Yet, aside from that, Sutton were well worth their win and at full-time a memorable pitch invasion saw hero Hanlan mix in with the crowd chanting and celebrating the terrific victory.

There was a sour note, though. In the next round Sutton went to Norwich City – and were stuffed 8-0. Ah well, at least they had one ‘Sky Blue day’, eh?


Wrexham 2 – 1 Arsenal, 1992

As if to remind us all that English football is open to Welsh clubs too, in 1992 Clwb Pêl-droed Wrecsam delivered one of the greatest – and for this list, at least, the last – of FA Cup upsets. The visitors to the Racecourse Ground that dark, drab and cold winter’s Saturday were Arsenal. Now, so long has the Franco-robo-professor that is Arsene Wenger presided over the latter club, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that this was a Gunners side from the George Graham era, boasting the likes of Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon in defence, Paul Merson and Anders Limpar (whatever happened to him?) in midfield and Alan Smith and Ian Wright in attack. A good side then, nonetheless? Oh yes, they’d won the First Division the season before and were lying second in it at the time. And what of Wrexham? Ah, they’d finished bottom of the Football League the previous year and had only avoided dropping down to the Conference because the ground of its winner wasn’t big enough to go up.

However, in the marvellous tradition of the ‘magic of the Cup’ none of that mattered, of course. Unsurprisingly, it was the Gunners who struck first, with Alan Smith scoring, and at half-time looked very good for their lead. Wrexham were spirited though and didn’t fall further behind, getting better as the second half progressed, as they did. Then, eight minutes from time, the pivotal moment came. Arsenal defender David O’Leary brought down a Wrexham player just outside his penalty area (apparently, to this day O’Leary claims it wasn’t a foul) and up popped veteran midfielder Mickey Thomas to take the resultant free-kick. With a strike reminiscent of Ronnie Radford’s rocket all of 20 years before, Thomas slammed the ball into the top corner and, gloriously, Wrexham were level. And the Red Dragons, of course, were to breathe fire again, as just two minutes later Steve Watkin placed an almost slo-mo shot past David Seaman and amazingly put them 2-1 up.

There still was time for Arsenal to grab an equaliser, not much of it admittedly, but enough, yet on 90 minutes the high-flying Londoners were brought crashing down to earth – they’d been dumped out of the Cup by perhaps the lowliest opponents possible. A Cup shock-and-a-half all right. Arsenal, as they always seem to, recovered though; they would go on to win both the FA and League Cups two years later with much the same team. And, happily, although in the next round that season they narrowly went in a replay out to West Ham, over the years to come Wrexham would develop a reputation as giant-killer experts, knocking out Middlesbrough, Ipswich and – eventually – West Ham.

In his wisdom, defender for Wrexham that day Brian Carey recently opined that “it will never happen again, which is sad – I cannot see any of the elite teams losing to sides in the bottom division. Not any more.” Well, he may well be right. And yet, this is the FA Cup we’re talking about, a more magical, inclusive and extreme football competition than any other the world has ever known. If giant-killing of the nature of those achieved by Hereford, Bournemouth, Sutton and Wrexham is to happen again, it will, unquestionably, come in the FA Cup. It’s a tournament of dreams – and surely the vast majority of us dream every first (or second) weekend in January a wonderful upset will occur. Who knows maybe it’ll happen again tomorrow? Well, yes, we can dream, at least, can’t we…? 

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