As it entered its ninth decade, the Cup had now established itself in its most simple format, that of a purely random, simple knock-out in which any team, no matter how low, might find itself drawn to play – frequently at home – any other team, no matter how high. That was a primal part of the FA Cup’s appeal, that it was the most egalitarian competition. All that mattered was the performance on the field. Giants most often triumphed, but there was something about the anarchy of the Cup that made Giants vulnerable to being killed.
A look at the Qualifying Round results in 1951/52 reveals some intriguing, long lost club names, such as Liverpool Police, Bournemouth Gasworks Athletic, Parliament Street Methodists and half a dozen Colliery Welfare clubs in differing coal pit towns. And whilst the First Qualifying Round tie between Southwick and Worthing didn’t produce the highest goal tally of the day (that distinction went to King’s Lynn’s 14-1 home win over Chatteris Town), it must have been the most exhilarating, with the visitors winners by the odd goal in thirteen.
By now, enough teams were entering the Cup annually for the Final to move into May. The first Saturday in May, the weekend after the (official) end of the Football League season, was now Cup Final Day.
Holders Newcastle United became only the third club, after Wanderers and Blackburn Rover, to retain the Cup, thanks to a late winner from their Chilean forward, George Robledo, the first out-and-out foreigner to play in a Final. Robledo was a forerunner of modern times, where no English team is without its complement of foreign players. He was also an ironic reversal of the situation whereby several English players were plying their trade in Chile, whose Football Association was not affiliated to FIFA, and thus were free to attract players to their nascent League by offering salaries far above those allowed elsewhere in the world. Of course, any player taking the Chilean peso was promptly banned world-wide, but when set against England’s maximum wage, this was not enough of a deterrence.
The 1952 Final also saw the runners-up, Arsenal, play with ten men for most of the game, after full-back Wally Barnes was carried off with a twisted knee. This was to be a harbinger for a decade that saw four other Finalists reduced to ten men by injuries, feeding the growing clamour to introduce substitutes.
For the moment, it was only the first of Arsenal’s troubles: three other players would be injured during the game, leaving Arsenal with only seven fit men by the time Robledo scored.
Newcastle did not, however, go on to emulate Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers by winning a third consecutive Cup: as of 2016, no-one has. The 1953 Final was probably the most famous Final of all time, the legendary Stanley Matthews Final. This was Blackpool and Matthews’ third appearance in six years, and the great winger was now 37 years old, and still seeking a Cup Winners’ Medal (incredibly, he would go on to play in the First Division at the age of 51, so time was still on his side, but no-one knew that then). On Cup Final day, every neutral in the country was backing Blackpool.
But Bolton scored first and, with only 22 minutes remaining, were 3-1 ahead. Blackpool and England centre forward Stan Mortenson, scorer of the Blackpool goal, turned the ball in to halve the deficit and then, with less than three minutes left, banged home a goal direct from a free-kick – and that was extremely unusual in 1953, with the heavy, leather balls still in use – to draw level, and become only the third, and last to date, player to score a Cup Final hat-trick, and the only one at Wembley.
Then, with extra-time seemingly a certainty, Matthews turned on the wing wizardry again, bamboozled the Bolton defence on the right, and slid across a pass that Bill Perry converted from six yards, winning the Tangerines – and Matthews – the Cup, and in the process becoming the second foreigner in successive seasons to score the winning goal: Perry was South African.
With typical modesty, Stanley Matthews ever after said that the Final should have been named after Stan Mortenson, not himself, for that hat-trick. The country disagreed, and why not? The 1953 Cup Final was the first major sporting event to be seen by large parts of the country, thanks to the upsurge in the purchase of television sets that accompanied Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, and the popularity of the game ensured that thereafter, the Cup Final would get its own slot on TV and Radio at the BBC, and ITV, and subsequent organisations.
Blackpool never reached the Cup Final again. It took them six games to reach Round Five in the 1953/54 campaign, where they were put out by lowly Port Vale, the eventual Third Division North Champions. That year’s Final, in which West Bromwich Albion beat Preston North End 3-2, was a repeat of the 1888 Final, also won by West Brom. Though overlooked nowadays, it was and exciting match, in which the lead changed hands three times and the winner came three minutes from full-time. This was West Brom’s greatest ever season, as they had also campaigned strongly in the League, only to end up second by four points.
The following year, the Third Round match between Bury and Stoke City set a new record by becoming the first Cup-tie to go to five games before being resolved in favour of Stoke in the record Fourth Replay, which took place sixteen days after the original game. At Wembley, Newcastle United reached, and won, their third Cup in five seasons. This was their sixth overall, equalling the record of Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers. The opening goal, scored by Jackie Milburn, came after only 45 seconds, the fastest at Wembley, a record held until 1997, though it has since been beaten again, in 2009.
Manchester City suffered the same fate as Arsenal in 1952, being reduced to ten men after 22 minutes by the loss of full-back Jimmy Meadows. Uncannily, Meadows’ injury was suffered on the same spot as Wally Barnes, three years previously.
But City were to repeat their Thirties performance by returning to Wembley the following season, and winning the Cup. This was the first Cup season of my lifetime, as I was born between the Fourth Qualifying Round and the First Round Proper. For a second successive season, the Cup threw up another five game marathon, in the Fourth Round between Burnley and the eventually successful Chelsea.
The Final was to be another of those legendary games, thanks to City’s German goalkeeper, ex-Prisoner of war, Bert Trautman. City had established a commanding 3-1 lead over Birmingham City when, with twenty minutes remaining, Trautman dived at the feet of winger Peter Murphy to claim the ball, and took a kick on the head.
Despite suffering considerable neck-pains, Trautman saw the match out and collected his medal. In the dressing room, he called for a neck massage which, if administered, might easily have paralysed him for life. Instead, he was taken to hospital, where x-rays revealed he had fractured a vertebra in his neck. The injury would effectively end his career.
For Birmingham, it was a second defeat in two Finals, repeating Queen’s Park’s unwanted feat, but they did at least achieve a record in being the first team to reach the Final without playing a home tie, and Bobby Johnstone, scorer of Manchester City’s third goal, became the first player to score in consecutive Wembley Finals.
In 1956/57, it was the turn of Manchester United to reach the Cup Final, playing record-holders Aston Villa. This was the ‘Busby Babes’, League Champions for a second successive season, this time by an incredible eleven points: the equivalent of five and a half games. They were also Europeann Cup semi-finalists. United were the hottest prospects for a Twentieth Century Double, but like Arsenal and City before them, they effectively had to play five-sixths of the game with ten men.
This time it was goalkeeper Ray Wood, knocked out in the sixth minute through a clash of heads when shoulder-charged by Villa’s Peter McParland that resulted in a broken cheek-bone. Defender Jackie Blanchflower replaced him in goal and kept a clean sheet until half-time, by which time Wood was back on the field, but only to make the numbers up, running up and down the left wing.
Two goals early in the second half from, inevitably, McParland were conclusive, though when Tommy Taylor pulled a goal back seven minutes from time, United pushed Wood back into goal whilst they searched for an equaliser, but none came. Villa set a new record of seven Cup wins, one that would not be equalled for a further twenty-five years, but it would be forty-three years until they themselves returned to the Final.
For the Babes, the team of talents that were destined to dominate football like no other team before them, this was to be their only Cup Final. Nine months later, six of their team would die at Munich Airport, as would two other players not in the Final Eleven. Two others of the Final team would be so badly injured they would never play again. United would, miraculously, reach the Final again in 1958. Only Billy Foulkes of the team that nearly won the Double would play the following season’s Final.
The Munich Air Disaster would dominate the story of the Cup in 1957/58. The Babes’ last tie was a 2-0 victory over Ipswich Town in the Fourth Round, but it was an unrecognisable eleven, represented by blank names in that programme that beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 in the delayed Fifth Round tie. United swept to Wembley on a wave of popular sympathy. It was the second time in the decade that Bolton Wanderers walked out at Wembley knowing everyone in the country except their own support wanted them to be beaten, but United could only go so far.
It’s impossible to know how things might have gone otherwise, but United’s defeat was perhaps sealed by the most well-meant of gestures. Assistant Manager Jimmy Murphy had guided his makeshift team to the Final, whilst Matt Busby slowly recovered in Munich Hospital. Now he was back in England, still very frail, dependent upon a walking stick. Busby visited the dressing room to give a pep talk, but once there, the absence of the faces he’d nurtured overwhelmed him and he could only sob. After that, what hope did the players have?
Ironically, there was a second successive goal-keeping controversy, with Bolton’s second goal coming from Nat Lofthouse bundling Harry Gregg into the net, and probably getting no contact with the ball. I’ve heard the radio commentary on the incident, and it’s astonishing just how defensive the commentator sounds and how desperately he defends Lofthouse and the goal’s validity, as if he’s trying to convince the Stretford End.
As for Lofthouse, he freely admitted after the game that he expected the goal to be ruled out as a foul.
Outside the Cup, but not affecting it in practice, the summer of 1958 saw another shift in the Football League structure. The growing prosperity of the country, the increasing facility for travel saw the League end the regionalisation of its third tier by merging the North and South Divisions into a straightforward Third and Fourth. The cut was a simple top-slicing, with the top half of each Division constituting the Third Division and the bottom half the Fourth.
The major story of the 1958/59 Cup season was the dramatic run of Third Division Norwich City to the semi-finals. After defeating Manchester United in the Third Round, Norwich went on to put out Cardiff City, Tottenham Hotspur and Sheffield United – Cup winners all – before finally succumbing to Luton Town, and then only after a Replay.
It was the closest a side from beneath the second tier had ever come to reaching the Final, and Norwich’s surge would go unrepeated for nearly forty years, until replicated by Second Division (and third tier) Chesterfield in 1997. Extraordinarily, Chesterfield would also take their conquerors to a semi-final replay, and would go out to the beaten Finalists, playing in their first Cup Final.
Luton’s opponents at Wembley were Nottingham Forest, in an uneventful game of no great significance outside the Finalists’ home towns. Forest became the fourth Club of this decade to be reduced to ten men, when winger Roy Dwight, scorer of their opening goal, was stretchered off with a broken leg, though on this occasion only, the loss of a player did not prevent the Midlanders taking the trophy.
There is a curious connection between the unfortunate Dwight and another Cup Final featuring first -time Finalists, which I’ll explain when we reach the relevant decade.
The following season, as the Cup moved on into the eventually Swinging Sixties, was not a significant year either, despite featuring the largest win in decades, as Tottenham Hotspur thrashed Crewe Alexandra 13-2 in a Fourth Round Replay at home. The Final, in which Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Blackburn Rovers 3-0, is regarded as one of the dullest on record, in part due to being played in excessive heat that had spectators fainting and the game played at almost walking space, but also by the excessive employment of the offside trap by both teams.
As well as scoring three legitimate goals, Wolves had two other efforts ruled out for offside, whilst Blackburn were reduced to ten men by the loss of full-back Dave Whelan with a broken leg. Bizarrely, the almost identical connection enjoyed by Roy Dwight to a later Cup Final also applies to Whelan and another Final featuring first-time Finalists, though in this case over fifty years had to lapse for this connection to come about.
The success of the European Cup – which up to this point had only ever been won by Real Madrid – had led to the creation of a second pan-European trophy, the Cup-Winners Cup. This came into being, with only ten participants, for the 1960/61 season, albeit on a semi-official basis, and with several countries represented by teams who were not Cup-winners in countries with no significant Cup competition.
As holders, Wolverhampton Wanderers became the first English club to be invited to play, getting a bye into the quarter-finals, but being knocked out in the semi-finals by Glasgow Rangers, who would, in turn, be beaten in the competition’s only two-legged Final.
The time would come, and before very long, when English clubs would have their day in the Cup-Winners Cup.
The last Final of this decade would be a memorable event indeed, but first let us record that the Second Round tie between Darlington and Hull City became the third this decade to require four replays before Hull went through, and that the Leicester City/Sheffield United semi-final was the first in twenty-eight years to go to a Second Replay, and the first semi-final to still be goalless after 210 minutes.
And let us also record Denis Law’s incredible feat of scoring seven goals in a cup-tie only to finish on the losing side. Law was playing for Manchester City at home to Luton Town in the Fourth Round and had scored all six of City’s goals when, with the Blues leading 6-2, the game had to be abandoned due to a water-logged pitch.
When it was replayed, at Luton, City were knocked out 3-1, with Law scoring their only goal…
But the story of the Cup this year was of the Double, the first since Aston Villa in 1896, and the first Twentieth Century Double, won by Tottenham Hotspurs’ great push-and-run team under Bill Nicholson, and led by the great Danny Blanchflower. By the time Spurs achieved the Double, it was a feat that had long been regarded as impossible. Preston and Villa’s Doubles belonged to a bygone age, in which the League programme was less severe. It was generally thought that the qualities required to maintain consistent performances throughout a nine-month, 42 game League season were the antithesis of the ability to lift your game for a separate sequence of one-off matches.
Spurs proved that wrong, scoring twice against one of the greatest keepers ever to play, the future World Cup Winner Gordon Banks. His team, Leicester City, joined the ranks of Queens Park and Birmingham City as two-time losers, but for them worse was to come as the Cup moved smoothly towards its centenary.
Incredibly, for the third successive Final, and the sixth in this decade, Leicester were reduced to ten men when full back Len Chalmers suffered a broken leg after 20 minutes. Unbelievably, he only left the field after 80 minutes, by which time the game was irretrievable.
The cry for substitutes to be introduced would not be answered until more than half way through the next decade, but this series of injuries, in Football’s spotlight match, watched live on TV by the majority of the country, was fuel to the fire, and all but ensured that the day would come.
Ironically, in light of their Cup Final record, Leicester City would go on to represent England in the European Cup-Winners Cup. Spurs, by virtue of being League Champions, entered the European Cup. But the time was rapidly approaching…
(all Finals played at the Empire Stadium, Wembley)
1951/52 Newcastle United 1 Arsenal 0
1952/53 Blackpool 4 Bolton Wanderers 3
1953/54 West Bromwich Albion 3 Preston North End 2
1954/55 Newcastle United 3 Manchester City 1
1955/6 Manchester City 3 Birmingham City 1
1956/47 Aston Villa 2 Manchester United 1
1957/58 Bolton Wanderers 2 Manchester United 0
1958/59 Nottingham Forest 2 Luton Town 1
1959/60 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Blackburn Rovers 0
1960/61 Tottenham Hotspur 2 Leicester City 0
The ninth decade was the first for thirty years to feature a full ten Finals. Sixteen teams – the highest number ever – would contest the Final, with four clubs – Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers and the two Manchester clubs each reaching two Finals, with United the only Club to lose both times. Newcastle United, briefly equalising the Cup Winners Record, were the only two-time Winners in this decade, Blackpool were the only first-time winners, and Luton the only first-time finalists. The decade’s most popular location was Manchester, with City and United appearing in four successive Finals, though between them only taking the Cup home once. But the true mark of this decade would be the fact that in five Finals a team would be reduced to ten men through a broken leg, leading to increasingly powerful demands to permit substitutes.