Mickey, Ricky, Ronnie, Harry and Billy the horse: the FA Cup's 90 minute heroes
Yeovil 2-1 Sunderland
Fourth Round, 1949
In football seismology, this shock still resonates after almost 60 years – it was voted the FA Cup’s greatest giant-killing in a 2005 poll. In March 1949, star-studded six-times league champions Sunderland, Len Shackleton and all, were dumped out of the FA Cup by a non-league outfit. Not a crack non-league opposition, mind: Yeovil were sixth from bottom of the Southern League. However, the magic of the Cup had clearly stirred the loins of the Glovers’ young player-manager Alec Stock. Still only 29, Stock’s own professional career as an inside-forward with QPR had been banjaxed by injury in the Second World War – in which he worked his way up the Royal Armoured Corps ranks to become a Major. Stock scored the opener and masterminded a 2-1 victory at Huish Park in front of a press scrum so large that desks had to be borrowed from a local school and placed along the touchline. And how Stock loved playing to the gallery. Mindful of the advantage served by Yeovil’s eight-foot slope of a pitch – the grass on which, urban myth suggests, he cut himself – Stock talked it up. He was also an early adopter of nutritional techniques, insisting on a diet of glucose, sherry and eggs for his team.
Out-thought and out-fought, Sunderland somehow forced the tie into extra-time – played due to post-war energy restrictions which banned replays – but Eric Bryant nudged Yeovil ahead again after a mistake by Shackleton. A place in FA Cup legend as giant-killers extraordinaire was cemented: a role Yeovil – Subbuteo’s first non-league team – continued to fill with aplomb, scalping 20 league sides before finally joining the ranks of the 92 clubs themselves in 2003. The 1949 fairytale ended with an 8-0 hiding at Manchester United in front of 81,565 – the largest FA Cup crowd outside of a final.
Arsenal 3-2 Man United
In the late ’70s, Alan Sunderland was Arsenal’s ultimate ‘big game player’, in an era when the phrase hadn’t even been coined. Put ‘Sundy’ up against a leaky Birmingham defence on a cold afternoon and he’d shrug sulkily and feign disinterest. Place him in life-threatening, backs-to-the-wall situations and he’d miraculously spring into action. Sunderland’s penchant for the big occasion was perfectly illustrated in the ‘five-minute final’ of 1979. Actually, it was his and Brian Talbot’s goal which put Arsenal ahead in the match (both have since claimed they struck the ball simultaneously – although Talbot is officially credited with the strike), before Frank Stapleton added a second shortly before half-time.
With just three minutes left, Gordon McQueen and Sammy McIlroy pulled United level, the latter claiming: “When I looked around, the Arsenal players were on their knees. They were totally gone.” Sunderland reckons McIlroy misjudged Arsenal’s mood: “We were furious we’d let things slip like that, and we knew we had one last chance to make amends.” With 89 minutes on the clock and the game heading for extra-time, Liam Brady tore forward, laying off the ball for Graham Rix, who crossed hopefully into the United box.
“I don’t actually think anyone was watching the game at that point, except for me,” laughed Sunderland, who slid the ball into the net to make it 3-2 to Arsenal before wheeling away in celebration, mouthing curses (“I still have no idea what I was saying – I lost the plot”), as his blue butterfly collar flapped around in the breeze. “It was a mind-blowingly intense feeling,” he concludes.
Sheffield United 4-1 Derby
Long before Bert Trautmann, the physical courage to play on through pain was a feature of Cup finals. Harry Thickett, though, was the first to begin the match with a serious injury. A United stalwart since 1890, he wasn’t going to allow the small matter of two cracked ribs to stop him turning out. Swaddling himself in 50 yards of bandages so that, as a newspaper report had it, “he resembled a portly mummy”, his bravery was vindicated as he got the better of prolific Derby inside-forward Steve Bloomer. United were a goal down at half-time, but a record 74,000 saw them score four without reply in the second half.
West Brom 2-4 Woking
Third Round, 1991
No other moment in my life has matched that in terms of pure exhilaration
Not many players can claim to have been carried from the pitch on the opposition fans’ shoulders, but that’s exactly what happened to Woking striker Tim Buzaglo after scoring a hat-trick at The Hawthorns. “No other moment in my life has matched that for pure exhilaration. I can’t describe the feeling,” says the 45-year-old school caretaker, who also played international cricket for Gibraltar. The Isthmian League outfit were four divisions and 120 places below the Baggies when they beat them 4-2.
Nobody believed they had a chance, especially after Albion went one-up. But on the hour, Buzaglo’s incredible adventure began. Team-mate Derek Brown put him through to score an equaliser from outside the box and then, seven minutes later, he notched another with his head.
The hat-trick and the game were finally wrapped up when Buzaglo blasted a left-footed shot into the bottom corner. But it was the Fourth Round match against top-flight Everton at Goodison Park that stands out in his mind, even though Woking lost 1-0. “There were 55,000 there and the playing surface was like a snooker table,” he says. “They treated us like professionals.”