Looking back: The 1975 FA Cup journey

The day is almost upon us. Wembley provides Fulham with another shot at glory.

Back in 1975, West Ham proved just too strong for the Whites. Now another claret and blue obstacle stands in our way.

Fulham fans never expect, but always hope. Nevertheless, the return to the national stadium has been long overdue.

“You look at pictures of during the Cup run when you’ve got the team bus going around and you suddenly realise how distant a time 43 years ago was.

“Between then and now, I’ve gone to work, retired It’s a big spread of time,” reminisces Glen, who was 17 at the time.

In the pre-internet age, programme tokens were the way of getting your hands on a golden ticket. Stephen Date was one of the lucky winners and was driven to Craven Cottage by a West Ham-supporting cab driver to exchange them at the ticket office.

“He drove me all the way from West Ham to Fulham that morning. No fare,” he recalls.

“We pulled up outside Stevenage Road and got in the queue there. The funny thing I remember is that we were queueing up and half of us are wearing black-and-white scarves. It was a Sunday morning.”

The build-up was certainly not in keeping with Fulham’s status as a club that kept a low profile.

Under the guidance of Alec Stock, they had charted a seemingly impossible route through to the season’s showpiece, disposing of three First Division sides and somewhat surprisingly, every win came away from Craven Cottage.

 

Simon Coote
MEMORIES: Mementos remind fans of a bygone era

 

The concept of extra time and penalties hadn’t been introduced, meaning teams would contest replay after replay until there was a winner.

Fulham’s journey to the Final was the longest in history. This remarkable string of matches included four ties against Nottingham Forest, the last of which saw the enigmatic Viv Busby score twice to help the Whites progress.

That meant a fifth-round clash with Carlisle United and a long trek up to Brunton Park. It was a day Wayne Bradford would never forget.

“The players came on the train with us,” he remembers fondly. “I spoke to Alec Stock, got his autograph.

“They appreciated the fact that for someone to travel up to Carlisle back in the 70s, you were talking leaving at 4, 5 o’clock in the morning. It seemed to take forever.”

One of Wayne’s most vivid memories is staying in, desperately waiting for news from the semi-final replay against Birmingham. He had gone to the first game at Hillsborough, but being just 12, the journey to Maine Road was not possible on a school night.

“My friend was round my parents’ house and I remember it coming up on the news, saying: ‘Good news, it’s an all-London final.’ With that, we were all up in the air because that was the first time we knew what the score was and it took ages to see the actual goal from John Mitchell.”

West Ham, with Billy Bonds roaming the midfield, awaited and were probably slight favourites, but that underdog status did not dampen Stephen’s expectations.

 

FA Cup Final line-up
UNDERDOGS: If you want your son to play for Fulham, call him John

 

“I thought we were going to win it. I loved Viv Busby, he was on fire. Don Revie almost considered taking him into the England squad at one stage.

“We had Bobby Moore and Alan Mullery. What else do you need? You had the greatest player ever to wear the shirt playing against his old club. I thought it was written that we’d win.”

Others concur that Moore, despite moving to SW6 in the twilight of his career, was up there with the best to have pulled on the black and white shirt.

“It was amazing to watch him,” gushes Paul Baker, who attended the Final with a group which included Lesley Dunlop.

“He was amazingly calm because his positional sense was so extraordinary that the only time you noticed there was a problem was when he put on a turn of speed. If he was caught out of position, I remember seeing him and thinking: ‘What’s happened? Bobby Moore is sprinting, he never does that.’”

Saturday jobs were postponed for the occasion.

“I used to do rounds as a milkman and get a couple of quid,” said Wayne, who went with his friend Paul.

“I didn’t do it that day because we wanted to be up there to savour the atmosphere. We wanted to see what was going on.”

Sadly, the game didn’t go to plan for Stock’s men, with two second-half strikes from Alan Taylor taking the Cup to the East End for the second time in their history.

 

FA Cup Final photo
NO CIGAR: Mervyn Day scrambles the ball away from the attentions of John Mitchell

 

Stephen was not allowed to forget the result.

“I went on my own and stood in the Fulham end and the worst part of that story, apart from losing, was where I lived in those days was West Ham territory. We went out for a pint, me and my Dad, surrounded by West Ham fans celebrating. I was sitting there in my Fulham scarf. I felt a bit of a plum that night.”

Paul was similarly downcast. “What I remember about that day was a sense of inevitability when West Ham scored and then almost immediately again. That was such an enormous deflation. After all the excitement of the Cup run, the dejection of the match was tough.”

Wayne’s recollections are somewhat more rosy. “It was me and my friend, along with 20-odd thousand Fulham supporters. It was just a fantastic day and all I remember is from the time we walked into Wembley, we never stopped singing, even when we were losing.

“I’ve never known Fulham sing like that and I’ve never heard it since, to be honest.”

Clubs were not considered merchandising machines as they are now, but thankfully Stephen has some tangible reminders.

“Last year, for a Christmas present, my son got a programme of every team we played in ’75. He put them all in a picture frame, put a Wembley programme in front of it and a copy of a Wembley ticket – it wasn’t my ticket, I’d lost that since. It’s in a part of my lounge where I can see it. That was a really cool present.”

 

Stephen
COMPREHENSIVE: The Christmas present Stephen received from his son

 

However, there are other, more poignant memories attached to the occasion.

“My dad Bertie and I only had enough tokens to get one ticket,” Glen recalls. “So I ended up going. He died shortly afterwards.

“A friend of mine is a Spurs supporter and they got to the final which then went to replays, so I managed to get tickets on both occasions [in 1981 and 1982].

“That was still pretty good, but it wasn’t the same as my dad going to watch the club he’d supported all his life.”

Stephen is going to tomorrow’s match with his wife Christine and son Stephen, but working as a magnetic health jewellery on Romford Market means the decision does not come without its sacrifices.  

“Every time I give up a Saturday or a trade market, apart from the costs of the tickets and the fare, it also costs me a day’s takings and Saturday is my busiest day. This Saturday is costing me hundreds to go.”

 

Soccer - FA Cup - Final - West Ham United v Fulham - Wembley Stadium
ATMOSPHERE: The Fulham players were backed by a vociferous following from SW6

 

Wayne will be there with three generations of his wife’s family as well as his younger son Jack, who is, shock horror, a Chelsea fan.

“He always gives us a big cheer until Fulham start singing about the blue flag,” Wayne chuckles.

“I’ve already had a cheeky bet – 3-0, Mitrovic to score first. I really do believe Fulham will win this one.

“I just feel it’s right for us and my only dread is if we lose, what would our team be like next year. The one we don’t want to see go is Slav. Will he give it another go?

“That’s why I think the pressure is on Fulham a little bit more than Villa. If we don’t go up, we could lose a manager and maybe five or six players.”

 

Current crop
CURRENT CROP: The class of 2018 have shown remarkable spirit in an incredible calendar year

 

Despite the monumental changes that have taken place, the charm that characterises Fulham and Craven Cottage is still there for all to see. It keeps drawing Stephen back to the banks of the Thames.

“I know we’re all biased, but there is something about the club. It’s wonderful. I remember Chris Coleman said: ‘We don’t play in a stadium, we play in a ground.’

“We’re all going to say our fanbase is unique. It’s probably no more unique than Aston Villa’s, but we feel it is. We feel there’s something special.”

Now living in Falkirk, Glen is unfortunately unable to make the trip due to health reasons, but will enjoy the game in front of the TV with loved ones. He is happy with the owners.

“The way the Khans are looking after the club is pretty positive. You feel they have an affinity with what the club is about and appreciate keeping the heritage of the place as well.”

Stephen feels regretful about not inviting his dad along in 1975.

“I hope it’s not another 43 years, because I won’t be around to see it, that’s for sure.

“We’ll get the first goal, it will open them up and that suits us. I think that’s how it will be for us. What do I know? I just support Fulham.”

Featured image: Alex White

Images (top to bottom): Simon Coote, YouTube, Alex White, Stephen Date, Getty Images, Fulham Football Club

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Elliott: ‘You can play on a ploughed field in the Football League’

Sutton United chairman Bruce Elliott has expressed his desire to see the club retain its artificial surface should the club gain promotion to League Two this season.

The EFL currently only allows teams to play on grass pitches, with the most recent vote on a change of policy in November 2014 resulting in a dead heat.

The pitch at Gander Green Lane drew plaudits during their glorious FA Cup run and Elliott knows full well the advantages that an artificial surface can bring.

“It’s been the best thing we’ve ever done. I’m surprised that a few clubs in the Football League haven’t put their league under more pressure. These clubs are being held back from putting a 3G pitch in, which surely will make them more financially stable. That’s what the leagues want their clubs to be.

“If it’s good enough for the FA Cup, for European games, for World Cup games, why is it not good enough for the Football League? Very strange.”

Elliott has questioned what he sees as a “contradiction” between the stringent regulations governing the installation of 3G surfaces in EFL competition compared with the seemingly more relaxed approach to the condition of grass pitches.

“I’m not singling them out for special treatment, but a number of people have used the example of Newport County’s pitch last year. They were allowed to play Football League matches on a pitch which clearly left a lot to be desired and there doesn’t seem to be any rules and regulations about the quality of grass pitches.

“You can play on a ploughed field it seems in the Football League. But if you’ve got a 3G pitch, it has to be FIFA two-star rated and has to have rigorous testing every 12 months. There does seem a little bit of a contradiction there, which I’m sure at some stage will get addressed.”

While acknowledging that the current state of play means that the club has to replace the top surface with grass, Elliott believes that the club should bring pressure to bear on the EFL to reconsider their stance.

“I don’t what the procedures would be, but obviously the first thing if you found yourself in that position would be to put some pressure on to see whether the rules could be changed. We’re so far away from that scenario that we’ve got enough to worry about without worrying about that at the moment, but we’d deal with it.”

Featured image: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

‘I can’t remember a time when we actually had a bit of money to spend’

Ask English football fans to pick their fairytale story from last season and many would plump for Sutton United’s memorable run to the fifth round of the FA Cup.

The south Londoners, who were enjoying their first season in the National League, disposed of four higher-ranked teams to make it to the last 16, where they came up against Arsenal. Alas, the Gunners had too much quality on the day, but for a club that train twice a week and who are kept ticking over by an army of volunteers, just reaching that stage of the competition was an achievement.

For Bruce Elliott, the campaign was particularly sweet. “That was my 20th season as chairman of the club and obviously that would be my best ever. We got promotion at the end of the previous season, so we were entering a little bit into the unknown with the National League. It was a big step up, so we had that to look forward to and then of course we got caught up in a wonderful FA Cup run as well.”

This was very much uncharted territory. The level of attention that non-league clubs receive is usually pretty limited, so to have hordes of journalists flocking to Gander Green Lane on a fairly regular basis took some getting used to.

Gander Green Lane

“It was difficult and quite stressful at times. We’re very lucky that we have so many good volunteers who know the club and have been involved for some years, so there’s a great continuity there, but it took quite a few of us out of our comfort zone.

“I don’t think those of us who were trying to work got very much work done. I kept coming into the office and ending up spending the whole day on football business.  It was enjoyable, but it took over our lives for a few weeks. Would we do it again if it came along this season or next? Of course the answer is ‘yes’.”

Sutton have always spent responsibly under Elliott’s stewardship. Despite the windfall they received following their fantastic journey, it was never going to disappear overnight.

“By profession I’m an accountant, so that probably tells you all you need to know. The way the club has been run, we’ve never gone mad on the occasions we’ve had money. We were never, ever going to take what I suggest is a slightly irresponsible route, which is just to splash the cash on players.

“There’s a certain amount needed to ensure, as far as we can, that we stay at this level. We’ve competed at National League level now for one season only. The second season is traditionally quite difficult, so the first priority is to make sure, as far as we can, that we stay in this league. But there was always going to be a long list of things that we wanted to do at the football club that have never, ever got to the top of the priority list for expenditure. Every penny we earn from the cup run is going to be reinvested into the fabric of the club, which is how it should be.”

Sutton Wimbledon

A prime example of this community focus has been the club’s partnership with the Knights Foundation, who will sponsor Sutton United’s Academy for the next three seasons, while the ground will be renamed the Knights Community Stadium. Four new classrooms will be instated on-site at the ground, which will allow the Academy’s players to receive a formal education in conjunction with their football training. This September will see a fresh intake of 100 16-year-olds.

However, the club had already made great strides prior to their cup heroics. In a drive to entice local residents and disaffected supporters of more illustrious teams in the capital, the U’s took the bold move to reduce season-ticket prices dramatically.

“It was a calculated gamble on our part a couple of years ago. We started adult season tickets at £99, which was unheard of at National League level or above. In fact, when the BBC did a survey of the top five divisions for season-ticket prices [the Price of Football survey in 2016], it was no surprise to find that we were the cheapest season ticket.

“I think we’ve signed up just over 1400 for the season ahead, which, bearing in mind we’ve just had a couple of pre-season games, is pretty phenomenal really. I think what’s happened is, because we made them cheap, we’ve got a lot of Chelsea and Palace and AFC Wimbledon and Fulham supporters that live in and around Sutton and I think a lot of them have decided to adopt us as their second team, so when their team is away or not playing on a Saturday at 3 o’clock, they can come down to Sutton and enjoy some decent football. That’s really worked for us.”

The 3G pitch was another game-changer for the club and was the brainchild of manager Paul Doswell, who had previously brought in the idea at Eastleigh, where he had been at the helm for eight years. It was pointed out by Doswell prior to the Arsenal match that most League Two clubs are “skint”; the artificial pitch allows the club to rent it out to any group that wants to make use of it, meaning that a steady stream of income trickles in all year round.

Sutton 3G

A related strength is the durability of the pitch. The surface is not adversely affected in poor weather conditions, in contrast to grass pitches, which are susceptible to wear and tear as the season progresses. Elliott lamented the “anomaly” between the comparatively lax regulations for grass pitches and the far more rigorous assessment of artificial surfaces.

“I’m not singling them out for special treatment, but a number of people have used the example of Newport County’s pitch last year. They were allowed to play Football League matches on a pitch which clearly left a lot to be desired and there doesn’t seem to be any rules and regulations about the quality of grass pitches.

“You can play on a ploughed field it seems in the Football League. But if you’ve got a 3G pitch, it has to be FIFA two-star rated and has to have rigorous testing every 12 months. There does seem a little bit of a contradiction there, which I’m sure at some stage will get addressed.”

Despite the obvious advantages that the pitch brings, a vote on whether to allow them in EFL competition back in November 2014 ended in a dead heat, with 68 of the 72 member clubs choosing to have their say. Elliott was unsure about when the next vote would take place, but was surprised at the lack of persistence from some sides in favour of the proposed introduction, given that they are in dire financial straits.

“It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. I’m surprised that a few clubs in the Football League haven’t put their league under more pressure. These clubs are being held back from putting a 3G pitch in, which surely will make them more financially stable. That’s what the leagues want their clubs to be.

Newport Gwent Dragons v Newcastle Falcons - Anglo-Welsh Cup - Rodney Parade

“If it’s good enough for the FA Cup, for European games, for World Cup games, why is it not good enough for the Football League? Very strange.”

Sutton are entering their second season at this level and the club are certainly not entertaining the possibility of going up, either automatically or through the play-offs. However, were they to achieve the highly improbable for the second year running, would they revert back to a grass pitch?

“Well, if the rules don’t change and we were in that position, then we’ve signed an undertaking saying that in that scenario, we would take up our 3G and put grass down. Now of course, it’s not as though you waste the whole expense of the 3G because without knowing the technicalities of it, you only take up the top surface and replace it with grass, so you take up the carpet and put grass down.

“Obviously, we don’t want to do that because it would stop a lot of usage of the pitch, which obviously brings in much-needed income. But I think it’s one of those situations we’d worry about if and when it happened.

Sutton dressing rooms

“Let’s be realistic about it, look at who didn’t go up last year. A club the size of Tranmere is playing another season in this league, which shows just how difficult it is to get out of. You can’t plan for every eventuality, so we just crack on for the time being and let’s see how the season progresses.”

That said, Elliott feels that pressure should be brought to bear on the EFL in order to give themselves the best possible chance of retaining their current surface if they were to go up. Promotion would certainly provide Sutton with a dilemma should the policy on pitches remain unchanged and there could be the possibility of foregoing entry to the Football League to keep the artificial surface intact.

“This [the decision whether to accept promotion] would be the decision of the board of directors of the club at the appropriate time so I wouldn’t like to conjecture on it, but my personal opinion would be that we would have to make absolutely sure that if we were in a position of promotion, that we took it. The FA would be interested. They’ve authorised all this.

“I don’t what the procedures would be, but obviously the first thing if you found yourself in that position would be to put some pressure on to see whether the rules could be changed. We’re so far away from that scenario that we’ve got enough to worry about without worrying about that at the moment, but we’d deal with it.”

Roarie Deacon

A mounting injury list stifled their progress in the league last season, but they still finished 12th and the club will be looking to consolidate that performance during their follow-up campaign in non-league’s top flight. Much of their success has been built on snapping up players released from the academies of more established sides, helping them to rekindle their enthusiasm for the game and then moving them on to a professional outfit.

Two beneficiaries of this approach were Max Biamou and Roarie Deacon, who have joined Coventry City and Dundee respectively over the summer. Both were standout performers last term and the club hopes that two of their recent acquisitions from Dover Athletic, Moses Emmanuel and Ross Lafayette, can fill their shoes.

This policy of nurturing and developing young talent is not a recent phenomenon though. “Nicky Bailey was a youngster at Fulham many moons ago and was thrown on the proverbial football scrapheap [back in 2000]. Our youth team manager cajoled him into playing in our youth team at Sutton. He did really well for us as a club, got to the first team, went to Barnet, then ended up at Charlton and Middlesbrough and did really well and the fact he’s returned home is great for us, towards the end of his career.

“Recently, we seem to be getting a very nice reputation, which is along the lines of picking up players who seem to have lost their way a little bit and don’t seem to be doing themselves justice, putting them in the shop window and giving them some really good-quality fitness and coaching. If you’re good enough, you’re going to get noticed. They see that we’re not going to stand in their way.”

Nicky Bailey

The conversation turns back to what they will do with the money. If the FA Cup adventure seemed other-worldly, the priorities now are far more prosaic.

“We’re refurbishing both home and away and referees dressing rooms. They were very, very old, well-publicised also as to how small they were during the cup run, particularly when Arsenal came to us. We’ve got some temporary dressing rooms as well, there’s a new turnstile block going in, there are some new toilets, there’s a new club shop coming in, so it has enabled us to do all those things that were OK, but you really wished you’d got a bit of extra money to be able to replace them, renew them and generally upgrade and that’s what we’ve been able to do.

“It is exciting. I can’t remember a time when we actually had a bit of money and sat round a table discussing how we were going to spend it! It’s normally the other way round, you sit round the table wondering where the next few thousand pounds is going to come from.”

This is a club that has their feet firmly on the ground, choosing responsibility over recklessness. Doswell has been in the managerial hotseat for nine years and it is easy to see why he and Elliott have one of the longest-lasting partnerships in English football’s top five divisions. The hubbub may have died down after last season’s madness, but don’t be surprised if they write more headlines in 2017/18.

Featured image: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Europe

Images (from top to bottom): Press Association, Clive Rose/Getty Images, SUFC 3G website, David Davies/Press Association, Press Association, Rex Features, BPI/Matt West

 

Tim Vine’s verdict on the match

Bowmer’s Blog bumped into Sutton United fan Tim Vine at Gander Green Lane after his side were defeated 2-0 by Arsenal in the FA Cup.

The comedian and pun extraordinaire, who has been a vocal supporter of the club and a visible presence throughout their improbable Cup journey, was magnanimous in defeat and felt that Arsenal deserved the victory.

“I think we did very well, but you’re left thinking that if we’d just put a couple of those chances away obviously it would have been different, but that’s what the great sides do, they always do enough each time. So I think if we’d put those two chances in, we probably would have lost 4-2. I think Arsenal would always have done enough to beat us, because they are just a better side.”

House of Commons speaker John Bercow was also at the match, although he supports Arsenal.

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: BBC

Tennis could learn from the FA Cup

The new tennis season is in full swing, with the first Grand Slam of 2016 currently under way in Melbourne. Bar Rafael Nadal, the usual suspects have reached the last-32 of the men’s draw, while on the women’s side things have been a little more unpredictable, with big names like Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams crashing out in the opening two rounds. While Grand Slams are the pinnacle of the tennis calendar, with the winner needing to come out on top in seven often intense matches over the course of a fortnight, there is one qualm I have with the current set-up – the draw structure is biased in favour of the best players.

Understandably, the current system is in place to ensure that, if the favourites win their matches every time, the final of both the men’s and women’s competitions will be contested by the top two players in the world. If you are good enough to be awarded a seeding for the tournament (there are 32 seeds), you will be the guaranteed favourite for at least the first two games that you play. Moreover, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the first and second seeds respectively in the Australian Open, know that the only round in which they can face each other is the final. Djokovic and Murray tend to enjoy fairly comfortable passages through the first two ties due to the fact that they do not face anyone inside the top 32 in the world during these matches.

Contrast that with the FA Cup. The world’s oldest cup competition retains its magic primarily because non-league minnows can pit their wits against Premier League giants. However, it also allows big clubs to face each other from the third round onwards, meaning that established sides can be culled at a relatively rapid rate. If the draws were structured in such a way that a contest between, say, Arsenal and Manchester City could only take place at the semi-final or final stage, it is arguable that the competition would lose its romantic quality. Six Premier League sides were eliminated in the third round of this year’s competition, with five of these teams eliminated by fellow top-flight clubs (the exception being Swansea City’s defeat to Oxford United). If the FA Cup draws were devised along the lines of top-level tennis, there would be no Premier League clashes early on, with the result being that the latter stages of the draw would be dominated far more by the big sides.

Admittedly, Arsenal have won the trophy for the past two seasons, but the semi-final line-up last campaign – Arsenal, Aston Villa, Liverpool and Reading – was fairly refreshing. The 2013/2014 season was even more open, with the Gunners, Hull, Sheffield United and Wigan Athletic making the last four. If a tennis-style draw was used for the FA Cup, it is hard to imagine such a diverse quartet making it through.

It is my belief that despite the thrilling moments provided by the likes of Djokovic, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, predicting the outcomes to tournaments is becoming easier than it should be. Having Djokovic face Federer and Murray in the opening few rounds would certainly keep the Serbian on his toes, and would also allow the lower-ranked players a bit more breathing space, as there would be a smaller possibility of coming up against these sorts of players early on. Furthermore, if the underdogs advance further in more tournaments, they would begin to accrue more prize money, bringing their earnings closer to the game’s big-hitters and creating a more even playing field. While the tournament organisers would not have it any other way, a more indiscriminate draw would certainly add a level of suspense to tennis which, in my view, is currently missing.

Alex Bowmer

 

Featured image credit: AFP