Like him or hate him, Roy Keane was one of the toughest and hardest working players on the pitch in his 18 year football career. From his scrappy beginnings at the semi-pro Cobh Ramblers to stints with Nottingham Forest, 12 years with Manchester United, finishing up his career at Celtic, plus the turbulent years on the Ireland National team, Keane has both been a team leader and quite an outspoken player on and off the pitch. Respected, hated, and loved in football, Roy Keane is one of the true tough guys of the modern football era. One of my favorite incident being the Manchester United v. Arsenal tunnel incident with Patrick Viera, after Viera decided to pick on wee Gary Neville. Judge for yourself.
With this weekend’s focus turned to the FA Cup, I figured I’d go back and visit possibly the best FA Cup upset in history. Let’s go back to 1972, with Hereford United v. Newcastle Utd. in a 3rd Round Replay. Newcastle came into the tournament in the third round, while Hereford United had to enter by beating Cheltenham Town, a replay with King’s Lynn, and finally Northampton Town. After a 2-2 draw at St. James Park (the match was postponed a few times due to inclement weather, namely rain), Southern League’s own “The Bulls” hosted the Magpies at Edgar Street. With a little over 14,000 seats sold, the front office sold extra tickets, and the actual tally of spectaors is not know. Let’s just say it was over capacity. Check the people who climbed high in the trees to see this replay, most likely one of the best matches to ever take place at the grounds. With all the rain that had been falling, the pitch was in utter shambles. It did not get any better as match time grew near, and once the two clubs took to the pitch, it never got better.
Newcastle may or may not have been running their mouth about the match, and Malcolm MacDonald was to have allegedly said that he would be scoring an upwards of ten goals at the replay at Edgar Street. That is not confirmed. What is confirmed is that the traveling back and forth by Newcastle United due to the weather was definitely a factor in how they played against the Lilywhites that day. Both teams went for it early in the match, but could not score a goal. Late in the first half, MacDonald looked to be on the way, or at least 1/10th of the way when he finally scored. The goal, however, was called back, and due to a harsh foul Newcastle got a free kick. A tough few minutes ensued for Hereford, with an errant clearance that resulted in two Magpie shots rebounding off the wood work. The next few chances for both teams were exciting, as each club had goals taken away by the woodwork, or in Hereford’s case, saved by great goal keeping from Fred Potter. MacDonald and Newcastle turned up the heat. Despite an open goal miss by Mac, much to the chagrin of the Newcastle supporters and to the relief of Hereford’s, the pressure continued. Newcastle would finally go ahead with a goal by MacDonald in the 82nd minute. Hereford were not down and out. A substitute by player/manager Colin Addison of midfielder Ricky George for Roger Griffiths (who had played 80 long, painful minutes with a broken leg on the mess of a pitch) proved to be a move he would not regret. His fresh legs and cardio would be a turning point in the short minutes left in the match. He took part in setting up a Ronnie Radford 30 yard shot that went right to the back of the old onion bag at the 85th minute, three minutes after Newcastle’s opening goal. A young, green, John Motson was calling the match and exclaimed that the ball “flew into the top corner of McFaul’s net!”. A voice that would become synonymous with football for years to come. Of course this goal would force the match into extra time, where Ricky George would become the hero by scoring in the 103rd minute, and a gutsy Hereford squad would hold on to win the match. What followed after, was nothing short of madness. A massive pitch invasion on the small ground that was replayed on the telly for quite some time. It just goes to show you that no matter how big or small your club is, anything can happen on the pitch during the FA Cup. In 1972, Hereford United were giant killers, their motto of “Our greatest glory lies not in never having fallen, but in rising when we fall” rang true. The colorful history of English football and the beautiful game was alive and well then, and it still is now.
You better not get hurt back at Arsenal, you’re playing Leeds this week. You’re needed in NY come March. Just sayin’. Carry on.
I’m wondering what this rap would be like today with Suarez, Andy Carroll, Craig Bellamy, Stevie G, and Pepe Reina chiming in? If I had anything to do with it, it would have a line sung by Andy Carroll that went:
“I came to the Reds,
the gaffer I thank,
but Newcastle have the last laugh,
I haven’t done shite,
and they have £35m in the bank!”
Come on Andy, get it together.
The best part of the video is King Kenny making his arm move like he’s scratching a record. Brilliant.
December 4th, 1976. Match of the Day. Birmingham City take on Leicester City. The Blues came into Filbert Street to take on a struggling Leicester City team on a rock hard, frost covered, frozen pitch. However, the Blues proved that night to the whole of England that no matter the condition of the pitch, you can do anything if you put your mind to it. Maybe it was the motivation by a local business man who proclaimed that he would give a Triumph TR7 auto to the person who scored the 6th goal, or maybe it was the defender turned striker (and back to defender again after he left Birmingham City) Scottish pitch whiz Kenny Burns, who netted a hat trick that night. The Blues scored early with a Garry Emmanuel “fine left foot” that opened the score line before striker Trevor Francis was able to put one in on a free kick. It was Francis the play maker again in the 33rd when he was able to beat the Foxes defense and simultaneously get it to Burns who put in for his first. In the 37th minute, Kenny Burns would grab his brace. The half was finished, but he wasn’t.
It wasn’t until the second half that an own goal by the Foxes (a missed timed header by LC’s Dennis Rofe) got the Blues back on the board again. John Connolly would then find, guess who? Kenny Burns, who knocked in his third, the Blues sixth, to grab the last goal in the 64th minute and also grab the sports car. The Foxes, would go on to net a few of their own, but came up way short on this cold December evening. So cold that I may add, that the winger Keith Weller would be the first player ever, to be seen wearing tights under his uniform on MOTD. The players were touch as nails back then, no long sleeve Under Armour underneath their kits, no gloves, but I’m sure that Weller just said ‘sod it’, I need to stay warm. Kenny Burns would go on to play for Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, and would go on to win the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year for 1977-78 (and a First Division title with Forest to boot). He Bounced around clubs such as Leeds, Derby County, Notts County and Barnsley, before playing for a handful of smaller clubs. He also represented his country of Scotland on the National team.
On this cold day in the East Midlands, before all of England, the Blues tore apart Leicester City, and another Scottish Kenny was King on Match of the Day. Interesting that he was so comfortable going from defender to striker so easily, and his hat trick was a sure sign of how good of a player he would mature into. They don’t make them like Kenny Burns any more.
Birmingham City 6, Leicester City 2
Coming a long way from the 1889 founding of Wimbledon Old Central Football Club, Wimbledon FC would finally make it to top flight football and get promoted to the first division in the 1985-86 season. After hanging around in non-league play for the better part of eleven years, a virtually unheard of side moved up to the big league and faced a modern day football giant in the FA Cup, the great Liverpool FC. Liverpool had seemingly dominated the world of football. With on pitch scientists like player/ manager Kenny Dalglish, plus tacticians such as Peter Beardsley, Steve Nicol, Alan Hansen, John Barnes, and Steve McMahon, the Reds were looking to do their second domestic double in just three years (beating Merseyside rivals Everton two years prior 3-1, and also the year after 3-2 in extra time). This particular Liverpool team had dominated everyone home and abroad, and were on a tear as one of the greatest Liverpool teams put together. Indeed it was an incredible football team. Who were Wimbledon FC? A group of rag tag, rough and tumble, scrappy players led by a menacing 6’2″ Welsh midfielder Vinnie Jones (who came from Wealdstone F.C. to Wimbledon). Dubbed the Crazy Gang because of the nature of pranks pulled throughout the season (founded by Wally Downes, who had been a staple at WFC since their plundering non league and lower division presence), no player was safe from the insanity, not even the gaffer. The practical jokes on each other boosted morale and kept the team together, while their unorthodox training techniques which included military tactics went right along with the pub punch ups, suit slashing, and other assorted tricks while they were off the pitch to round it all out.
“ If we can sell Newcastle Brown to Japan, and if Wimbledon can make it to the First Division, there is surely no achievement beyond our reach ”- Margaret Thatcher
Compared to Wimbeldon’s unorganzied and physical style of play, Liverpool’s calculated and tactical offense was predicted to smash Wimbledon. Their tactics can be summed up from Vinnie Jones, who claimed he would “rip off Dalglish’s ear and spit in the hole”. As match time approached, and the teams lined up in the tunnel, The Crazy Gang lived up to their name, intimidating and shaking Liverpool to the core (with shouts of “in the hole”, a direct reference to the Dalglish remark, which shook up King Kenny so much he conferred with an FA official about it on the walk to the pitch). It didn’t stop there, when shortly after the opening whistle Jones went in late on a challenge on the toughest Liverpool player, Steve McMahon. Slow to get up, this set the pace of the match, as Wimbledon showed the mighty LFC that they meant business. Jones would later admit that this was a planned move, a move to actually strike a psychological chord with the Reds. It worked. Led of course by Jones, and the black belt karate chopper John Fashanu the Dons terrorized the Reds in a way that they have never experienced on the pitch. Although LFC were on a high equaling Leeds’ 29 games unbeaten and just lifted their 17th championship trophy, the lads from Plough Road had scrapped their way up to face the giants at Wembley, and had them shook. Despite the Wombles rough play, their lapse in defense let Peter Beadsley push through, even while getting pummeled, to chip it over keeper Dave Beasant and put the Reds up 1 to nil. The play was called back, however, on an apparent foul on Beardsley, without playing advantage (referee Brian Hill claimed he may have blew the whistle a bit quickly in hindsight). This took a bit of wind out of Liverpool’s sails. Shortly before the half, as a result of a free kick from Dennis Wise, a Lawrie Sanchez header put the Wombles up 1 to nil. Bobby Gould’s scrappy side was up at the half against the team favored to win by four or five goals easy.
The second half started out with controversy, when in the 61st minute, Clive Goodyear took down John Aldridge in the area and was awarded a penalty. The result was the first ever penalty save in FA Cup history by keeper and captain Dave Beasant. Nobody could save the Reds now, not even John Barnes. The ex-Watford star had dazzled fans with his dribbling and precise finishing all season. Clearly frustrated with the marking and tackling of Wimbledon (along with the double teaming of him by Clive Goodyear and Dennis Wise), he could not execute his usual gun slinging and get the ball in the back of the net. As final whistle blew, commentator John Motson proclaimed: “The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culure Club, Wimbledon have destroyed Liverpool’s dream of the double”, and Wimbledon’s weird and wonderful world was there for the whole football public to see. The day that WFC won the FA Cup from Liverpool was the single, greatest moment in the club’s history. However, it wouldn’t last, as most of the players would move on to bigger and better clubs, and in just three short years the team would lose Plough Lane (forced to share a stadium with Crystal Palace) and start their eventual plummet from top of the world back to lower division football. A move to Milton Keynes split up their supporters, so much that they [the supporters] formed a new club, AFC Wimbledon. A sad tale of another football club succumbing to the financial woes and pressure of keeping up with clubs with unlimited funds to keep their roster stacked with productive players, proper stadiums to accommodate the club, and a draw to generate the necessary income to stay afloat. However, on May 14th, 1988, The Crazy Gang of Wimbledon held the trophy high, a feat though impossible for them by everyone except themselves.
In 2000, I was an American Liverpool supporter who had never been to London. Imagine my delight when my room mate let me know that he had a connection for tickets for a match in London. In fact, the tickets were to be for a Liverpool match, and they were playing Arsenal at Highbury. It was the time when the best deals you could get on airfare were through Cheap Tickets, before the online search and compare sites, and a time when you could get $99 each way. This put you in London for about $250. With a free place to crash, London was going to be a dream. Tickets bought, bags packed and off to the aiport we went. Richard Branson did a bang up job of getting us to Heathrow in one piece, not to mention style. As my friend went through customs with his UK passport, I stood in line for the first time, eager to meet our ride. When asked why I was coming into the country I replied: “To see a match at Highbury”. “Who do you support?” the security officer asked me. I started to sweat a bit, thinking, he heard me say Highbury, so he expects me to say the Gunners, but if I don’t, there is no way I’ll be allowed in England. I said the truth, “Liverpool”, and without even looking at me, he stamped my passport and sarcastically said “best of luck with that”. I was in, welcome to Old Blighty. Shortly I was stuffed into a back of a three door Volvo hatchback with the luggage as our host, a giant of a man named Lindsay sped from the airport back to his flat in Islington. The Big Man, as he was called, was a lorry driver, part time boxer and doorman for clubs all around London. He was excited to have some friends from America (at least one, as my roomie had lived in London for quite a long time), and I was excited to talk football, get a tour of the city, and eventually see a live Premiership match.
“ Who do you support?” the security officer asked me. I started to sweat a bit, thinking, he heard me say Highbury, so he expects me to say the Gunners, but if I don’t, there is no way I’ll be allowed in England. ”
We did some sight seeing, ate kebabs, and did some shopping. It seems that while we were shopping, I reached for my ATM card. It wasn’t there. Unbeknownst to me, I had left it in the Bank machine back in the States before I got on the plane. Here I was in London, only a small amount of money, no credit card. A panic sunk in. Imagine my mood when we were eventually informed that the ticket connection had fell through. I was shattered. As we approached Highbury on match day, I was optimistic that we would get three tickets. The walk up to the stadium was unlike anything I had ever experienced in American sports. There was a buzz in the air, people were drinking pints on the street, football chants were all around, to me it was sheer madness. I loved it. We stopped for a quick bite, a fish and chips shop where I ordered and I quote “haddock and chips please” (I must have sounded like such a tourist) from an Asian woman with a thick Cockney accent. My reward was the best fish and chips I had ever had, served up nicely in newspaper. I was again in heaven. As I got closer Highbury with my friends, the excitement grew bigger and bigger, but was soon crushed at the enormous price for tickets to get into the stadium. We tried scalpers, but that was even worse. We were relegated to watch the match, in, of all places, an Arsenal pub. I was informed not to get too excited during the game, rather to watch it quietly, and exchange some glances back and forth to my friend who supported Liverpool. At least I get to watch the match with an English commentator (how thrilling it was back then), and Liverpool squeaked out a one nil victory when Stevie G had a sublime pass (pass of the year?) to Titi Camara and he finished past David Seamen. Match over, but that’s not the end of the story.
Fast forward eleven years later, visits by both parties on both sides of the Atlantic, endless telephone banter about football, and I can say without a doubt that The Big Man is one of my best friends. I taught him about some American sports. He said he wanted to pick a baseball team, I replied it couldn’t choose the Yankees. He chose the Mets, a team I equated with Portsmouth. We both got a laugh. He taught me about the beautiful game, sent me newspaper clippings from every football headline, Football Weekly, and the official Liverpool magazine, as well as football collectibles you can’t get here. Swapsies on footy stickers?. A Chelsea supporter who could tell you about the Headhunters, firm rivalries and 80’s hooliganism as easy as he could write poetry and wax poetic about Jack Kerouac and world affairs. His greeting on weekly phone calls of ” ‘ello mate” and a good bye message of “Stay lucky son” and “Up the Blues” was a sound I have grown to love, and look forward to. While in London last time I was there, we visited every football ground we could, took a tour of Stanford Bridge (a stadium he had never taken a tour of as a Blues supporter), and sat close to the pitch on a raw November day at the Valley, as Charlton put a thumping on MK Dons. I was excited to see their manager, the great player, now gaffer Paul Ince. He was a figure I had only seen on Sky Sports News, and while we stuffed our faces with Curried Chicken Pasties, the rain fell down and The Big Man lamented: “This is a perfect day to play football”. I couldn’t agree more.
You see, football is more than just a game, it’s life. I’ve grown to appreciate English football, the English approach to the game, and the cheeky culture that goes with it. The Big Man and I may not see each other but only once a year, but when we do, it’s like it was yesterday. Two football supporters who not only support different clubs, but support and respect the game. As I look back to my first trip to London, I may have missed that match at Highbury that day in 2000, but I gained one of the best people I could call my friend. That’s well worth the price of admission I didn’t pay. Stay Lucky.