The FA Cup's Greatest Giant-killings
We at ESPNsoccernet will be taking you through the season with a series of FA Cup features detailing the highlights of the competition's long and proud history. We begin with a selection of the games that have entered FA Cup lore as those days when a giant was slayed by a lower league David.
The world's oldest knockout footballing competition has a rich history of the applecart being upset, and the rich being humbled by the poor. We have selected our greatest ever FA Cup shock, with five others given an honourable mention.
Colchester v Leeds United: fifth round 1970-71Every era has a footballing dynasty and the prime outfit of the late '60s-early '70s was Don Revie's Leeds. They may have missed out on many an honour at the last, but that usually came as a result of the fatigue of fighting on so many fronts. The previous year had seen them lose in a final replay to Chelsea, but they were favourites to put right that wrong and claim their first ever FA Cup. After this visit to Third Division Colchester United, though, they would be made to wait until the following year.
The U's were in the old Fourth Division, and were managed by Dick Graham, a one-time team-mate of Revie's at Leicester City. Despite Graham's undoubted wiles as a lower-division boss, very few granted hope to the Essex boys. Indeed, moves were afoot to move the game to Elland Road so that Colchester could garner a share of larger gate receipts as the end of the cup run beckoned but eventually 16,000 crammed into Layer Road. It was to prove a decent choice, and there was also the fact that no First Division club had yet won at Colchester's ground.
In veteran centre-forward Ray Crawford, Colchester had a player of pedigree. A former England international, Crawford had won a League Championship with Ipswich in 1961-62 and boasted in pre-match that Leeds centre-half Jack Charlton had always been a favourite opponent of his; he had scored eight goals against Leeds prior to this match. Graham had targeted Leeds goalkeeper Gary Sprake, he of the sometime 'careless hands'. Not only that, the wily manager stymied Leeds' expansive wing-play by creating the image of a smaller pitch by surrounding it with chairs and benches.
The plan, "route one" all the way, paid off just fine. The aristocratic talents of Leeds United were unable to play their own game, and also lacked midfield bite through the absence of captain Billy Bremner as Colchester set among them and harried their every move.
When the home team took the lead, it was richly deserved. The 18th minute saw Gary Sprake err for Crawford to nod in. Seven minutes later, Crawford had another, a snap effort nudged in as he lay on the ground after pandemonium greeted another lofted ball. And Colchester were three goals to the good when a collision between Paul Reaney and the hapless Sprake allowed Dave Simmons to steal in.
Leeds' pride was hurt deep and they fought back in typical style, Norman Hunter nodding in on the hour and John Giles making it a nail-biting finish with driven goal 17 minutes from time. But Colchester hung on grimly, never allowing Leeds to play their own game and securing a win that remains their most famous day. They still needed a late point-blank save from Graham Smith from Mick Jones to secure their place in history but their team that afternoon remain the most legendary at Colchester United.
Revie was left to bemoan an embarrassing afternoon as the FA Cup had again slipped from his grasp. Sprake would be the fall-guy; he was subsequently dropped for the next match. Crawford meanwhile, despite an otherwise distinguished career, will always be remembered for that February day.
Hereford United v Newcastle United: third round 1971-72
This may be the most iconic FA Cup giant-killing of all. The quagmire pitch, fans taking vantage points up trees as Edgar Street was packed to its rafters and Ronnie Radford's thunderbolt equaliser as the BBC's John Motson, on one of his first appearances as a TV commentator, launched into the type of ecstatic explosion we would become rather accustomed to.
Radford's goal, celebrated with shirt hitched up around his midriff as he was engulfed in fans who had invaded the pitch, cancelled out a goal from Malcolm 'Supermac' Macdonald and set up extra-time in which Ricky George, forever known as "George the Substitute" after Motson's commentary, scored the winner. The pitch was invaded again, and Radford's strike, that year's Goal of the Season, will be replayed in perpetuity.
Walton and Hersham v Brighton & Hove Albion: first round 1973-74
Brian Clough's 44 days at Leeds in 1974 is the stuff of legend, but his short stay at Third Division Brighton the previous season was no less eventful. Less than a month after taking charge his Albion side, in front of TV cameras and most of the mainstream press, were held 0-0 in the FA Cup first round at Isthmian League Walton & Hersham and then hammered 4-0 in the replay.
"We were whacked, we were thrashed," Clough admitted. "I can't remember a worse result in my career." Three days later he had cause to rethink that statement as Brighton were crushed 8-2 in the league. "The players haven't got enough heart to fill a thimble," he fumed. He was not long for England's South Coast.
Bournemouth v Manchester United: third round 1983-84
Harry Redknapp's first flush of fame as a manager came from this shocking victory over FA Cup holders United. Ron Atkinson's team may not have been the all-conquering outfit of the modern day but they were still an all-star outfit featuring the likes of Bryan Robson and Norman Whiteside.
The Cherries, by contrast, were a collection of free transfers and cast-offs but they caught a sluggish United cold, especially when Milton Graham capitalised on a Gary Bailey error to send Dean Court into raptures. And it was no less than Bournemouth deserved when Ian Thompson seized on a Robson clearance to end the visitors' reign. A shamed United were sent packing back to Manchester.
Sutton United v Coventry City: third round 1988-89
Coventry City had ended a trophy-barren history by winning their first major honour in lifting the FA Cup in 1987 after a final with Tottenham Hotspur that remains one of Wembley's greatest matches. They were also a First Division outfit of over 20 years standing. Sutton United meanwhile, were a non-league Conference club from the outer reaches of Greater London. Coventry, under the management of Cup-winning boss John Sillett, were also enjoying their joint-best season in the First Division, yet they came a cropper at Gander Green Lane.
A team featuring most of the boys of 1987 fell behind to a goal from Sutton captain Tony Rains before David Phillips equalised after half-time. It was Matthew Hanlon who entered the annals of giant-killing with his far-post volley past Steve Ogrizovic.
Wrexham v Arsenal: third round 1991-92
George Graham's Arsenal had finished the 1990-91 season as runaway First Division champions, losing just the one league match of 42. Wrexham meanwhile, entered this third round fixture as the bottom club of the entire Football League. Though the Robins tried their best to make this no stroll, an Alan Smith strike looked likely to secure the Gunners' progress, and Wrexham's Brian Carey later confessed his team deserved to be more goals down.
Yet a disputed free-kick eight minutes from time was cued up for veteran midfielder Mickey Thomas, once of Chelsea and Manchester United. Thomas, who would soon hit national notoriety for a money counterfeiting operation that saw him jailed as well as an extra-marital tryst that led to his being stabbed in the buttocks, thrashed in the equaliser with a howitzer of a shot. Arsenal were rocked, and two minutes later striker Steve Watkin grabbed the winner as he hooked his leg to guide the ball past David Seaman.
The Racecourse Ground had supplied an FA Cup shock that still resonates nearly 20 years on; none has matched it for shock value since.