Kenny Dalglish

I have never liked him. A lot of it is that he played for and managed Liverpool, but at least half of it is that I just don’t like him. It happens like that sometimes.

There was an interview with him in the Guardian yesterday, on the eve of the premiere of a film about him, a film I won’t be going to see. In many ways, responding to the questions, he was the Dalglish I simply don’t like. But the subject came to Hillsborough. I learned, for the first time, that his then-15 year old son Paul was on the Leppings Lane End, though thankfully he was unhurt. Then they asked him about ‘closure’, in the light of the long-overdue exoneration of the fans from the decades of lies by the Scum newspaper. And he said this:

“I don’t know what closure would be for us,(…) As long as we’re living we will support the families. So … we wouldn’t have a closure. I wouldn’t have a closure. At least the families have been totally exonerated. The families have been punished doubly by losing their loved ones and by spending the rest of their lives trying to get justice and solace.”

I am still not going to like him. But the responsibility he took when that happened was unflinchingly to be admired, and this admission that there can never be a point at which he can put this behind him… I am relieved to admit that I cannot imagine what that must be like. But it changes and enhances my respect for Kenny Dalglish, and I can only hope that one day he can discover a kind of piece that comes without leaving this life behind.

And my implacable hatred for all the bastards responsible, and those who still wriggle to avoid the consequences of that responsibility, grows even hotter.


Up for t’Cup!

The Cup.

As it turned out, I watched a World Cup Final before I watched an FA Cup Final. England beat West Germany in the summer of 1966, after a month of football that may well have been the first football I ever watched on TV. The following May, 1967, I watched at least some of the Cup Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.
Nowadays, I could tell you, almost without thinking, that Spurs won that 2-1, to win the FA Cup for the fifth time, out of five appearances in the Final, and that it was the first London Derby Final, which, given just how many London clubs there are, was pretty overdue.
I could also tell you that Derby Cup Finals are pretty thin on the ground. There’s never been a Manchester Derby, or a Birmingham Derby Final, although there were two Merseyside Derby Finals within the space of four years. Incidentally, in the years since 1967, there have been four other London Derby Finals.
And I could expand from there. I could pick a stat here, a fact there, spiral ever outwards in incident, anecdote and statistic until you would forget that all this happy, obsessive detail started with the 1967 Final. And I didn’t even watch a full, start to finish Final, until the following year (West Bromwich Albion 1, Everton 0 in extra-time, goalscorer Jeff Astle).
You see, I like the FA Cup. In fact, I love it. I can be, in fact I am, an FA Cup bore. I can recite the FA Cup Final results back as far as 1953, and scorers to 1968. Any kind of fact, statistic, anomaly is grist to my mill. I fall upon questions about FA Cup history. Who are the only Cup winners to play only top-flight opposition in every round? Nine teams have lost their only Cup Final appearance but which club has frustrated the dreams of no less than four of them? (The answer’s the same team, by the way).
And I have just found out whole areas in which I am completely ignorant. Not just ignorant but bemused. Stunned at the opening up of an area of Cup history of which I was completely unaware, that paints a picture of the FA Cup – the World’s oldest football competition – in a light in which I have never seen it before.
The FA Cup wasn’t always as it is now (and I don’t just mean to hearken back to the days when it was respected by the clubs, who wanted to win it).
Something drew me, at long last, to the details of the FA Cup in its infancy. I was looking up Wanderers, the first FA Cup Winners, indeed the first team to two, three, four and five wins, all in the first seven seasons. The first team to win three successive Finals (it’s only been done once since, and not in either of the current or previous Centuries), which entitled them to keep the Cup in perpetuity. Except that they handed it back, on condition that nobody else ever be allowed to keep it.
Wanderers’ story is fascinating in itself. As well as being the first winners, they were the only team to reach the Final on a bye direct to the last game, at a stadium they were allowed to nominate. They were a peripatetic club, an association of ex-public schoolboys, who never had a home ground. They entered the FA Cup in each of its first eleven seasons, although they withdrew from the tournament without playing a game in each of the last two years.
Overall, they were five times FA Cup winners in nine years, during which they played only 30 games, winning 21, drawing five and losing only four. One of their games is still, 140 years later, the record score for an FA Cup tie. And their success was the cause of their demise.
Through researching Wanderers, I came upon Wikipedia’s detailed, season-by-season records of all the FA Cup results, an openly available resource that I’d never thought to even hunt for, let alone consult. It’s a record of a competition that bears no resemblance to the Cup as I’ve known it all my life, that’s so utterly removed from the fixed and repeating structure that endures today as to be almost impossible to reconcile. How can this be the same competition? How can these histories  be the same?
It’s almost January again, just eleven days until the Third Round, Football’s New Years Day. I’ll be dipping into the Cup’s history, a decade at a time, throughout 2016. Next year’s Final will be the 144th year the competition’s been around, the 134th such game. I’ll see if I can catch up to date in time.

One Rule for All

Readers of this blog who follow the sports posts may remember the excessively long one I posted here about the crazy events of the 2008/9 FA Cup Second Round tie between Droylsden and Chesterfield, which went to four games, two of them abandoned, before Droylsden beat their League One/Two opponents to qualify for the Third Round proper for the first time ever, only to be expelled from the competition for fielding an ineligible player.

History has now repeated – or rather reversed – itself as Chesterfield, who won this season’s Second Round Proper tie against MK Dons have been proved to have fielded an ineligible player.

Just as with Droylsden, six years ago, there’s no suggestion that the player was played deliberately, and that his inclusion in the team was purely an accident. And, just as with Droylsden, Chesterfield have been expelled from the competition for fielding an ineligible player, and MK Dons have been reinstated, to go into the Third Round tie against Scunthorpe United or Worcester City.

Unfortunately, that’s where the parallels end. Chesterfield have NOT been expelled from the FA Cup. Instead, they have been ordered to replay the tie as soon as possible.

So, let’s just pause to check what that means. It means that a non-League club who field an ineligible player whilst beating a Football League club get expelled, whilst a Football League club who do exactly the same thing get the chance to win the game anyway, this time legally (oh, yes, and to pull in another gate for the replayed home game). Where’s the consistency in that? Where’s the fairness in that?

The circumstances do differ: Sean Newton played for Droylsden due to an oversight about his one-game suspension, whilst George Magreitter, an on-loan player, did not get written permission from Wolves to play in the FA Cup (and therefore become cup-tied). And Sean Newton scored both goals by which Droylsden beat Chesterfield and I have no information as to whether George Magreitter played any decisive role in aiding Chesterfield to their 1-0 victory, other than being a part of their eleven.

But when it comes to ineligible players, it is and always has been an absolute offence. They don’t need to have affected the result, they just need to have stepped out onto the field of play, and the club loses all benefit they take from the game: points, qualification, the lot. Teams have been expelled from Europe for having brought on an ineligible player as a sub with eight minutes to go and a winning margin already.

I imagine there’s some pretty pissed off people around Droylsden right now, and I don’t blame them one little bit. The salt in the wound is that this isn’t just inconsistency, but that it benefits Chesterfield, who benefited from Droylsden’s offence in the most direct way.

One rule for all, or not it seems.

56, but not 43?

It’s FA Cup Semi-final weekend coming up and, since Manchester United have chosen yet again not to future-proof their station as most prolific Cup Winners (stuck on 11 since 2004), I’ve an unenviable weekend ahead.
On Saturday, I’ll be cheering on my temporary allegiances to their first Cup Final appearance, and on Sunday I will reluctantly be cheering on a team that I loathe and despise to beat a team that I loathe and despise even more, in the sure and certain knowledge that whichever of these loathsome and despicable clubs actually do win, they’re odds on favourites to nail down the Cup against my short-term soft-spot.
But, as a lifelong Cup enthusiast and a collector of Cup statistics, not to mention a Mancunian with a perpetual liking for Wigan Athletic – whom I recall playing in Non-League football – I’ll be singing them on to be number 56, with no real hope that they will also be number 43.
What do these numbers mean? Given that Wigan are the only team in the semi-finals not to have reached the Cup Final, the first of these numbers becomes self-explanatory: a win for Wigan over Millwall (who, themselves are number 54) will make the ‘Latics the 56th team to reach the FA Cup Final since those long-lost days of amateur and public school clubs and the meeting of Wanderers and Royal Engineers in 1872/3.
And with that definition, it should be simple to work out that if they were to actually prevail over either Chelsea or Manchester City, Wigan will become the 43rd team to win the oldest Football competition in the world.
First Time Finalists seem to have come along on a semi-regular basis in recent years. I remember that, when I first started studying such statistics, the relevant figures were 52 and 42: 52 different finalists and only ten in all that time who had never won the Cup. But since then there has been Middlesbrough (1997), Millwall (2004) and Stoke City (2011) to extend the list, altering the balance back towards the scenario I’d have envisaged.
New winners are a rarer breed, the last one having come along in 1988, when Wimbledon became the second First Time Winners in successive seasons (after Coventry City). If Wigan do reach the Final, it’s Lawrie Sanchez who holds the door of hope open for them: everybody but everybody expected an absolute slating by Liverpool, and a second Double, but the Dons won, and became the first Wembley Finalists to save a penalty kick on the way.
Wimbledon’s win upset an awful lot of apple-carts. For one thing, they became the fastest League-entrants-to-Cup-Winners in over a century, their victory coming in only the Club’s eleventh season in League football, and no-one had won the Cup faster than that since the Football League ended its eleventh season!
But then Wimbledon set their own record too, when the Football League allowed them to sell up and decamp to Milton Keynes: up till that point, only the first eight Cup Winners, the amateurs and gentlemen of the Victorian Age, and the unlikely northern upstarts, Blackburn Olympia, had ceased to exist and to no longer participate in the FA Cup, and here were Wimbledon, going that same route. The improbability of this in the modern era is further delineated by the recent revival of Wanderers as an amateur club: first winners, and the first team to win 2, 3 4 and 5 FA Cups are back with us whilst the last team to do it a first time no longer exist.
Discounting them for the moment, there are 46 professional clubs that can claim an FA Cup Final in their history, and 33 who record wins on their Roll of Honour.
Let’s not forget that, on Saturday, Millwall will be out to deny Wigan’s addition to the rolls. If they do, then they too will affect FA Cup History. They, like Wigan, would be bidding to be Winners number 43, but if they lose they would be diverted into a smaller and much more exclusive group, which currently numbers three, and which has been confined to that set of three since 1972: Clubs who have lost more than just a single Cup Final and never won the trophy.
When Leeds United won the Cup for the only time in 1972 they left behind Queens Park, Glasgow, Birmingham City (two apiece) and Leicester City, unwilling holders of the unwanted record of four FA Cup Finals and four defeats. A Millwall final and defeat would join them to Birmingham and Queens Park.
But there’s more fun, as well as County pride, to be had from Wigan Athletic increasing the ranks of those teams to have reached The Cup Final and, as Wimbledon once demonstrated, maybe another unlikely winner can break that 25 year barren spell.

The Most Surreal F A Cup Tie Ever

Third Time Round… and More to Come

I’ve been to three Cup Finals with United at the Empire Stadium, Wembley, winning the Double on each occasion and, whilst I was never blind to the manifest flaws of the decrepit old pile, I am thankful for the experience of taking part in such an historic occasion.
But some of my most memorable FA Cup experiences have been at the other end of the competition, with the non-Leaguer’s Cup Final, the Fourth Qualifying Round and, occasionally, their prize of a place in the early rounds of the Cup proper.
There have been two spells in my life when I’ve been an active, avid fan of Droylsden FC, a long-standing semi-professional club lying to the east of Manchester. From 1969 to 1980, and again from 1995 to 2003, I was a regular at The Butchers Arms ground on Market Street, and for the last five years of that second spell I was the editor and main contributor for the match-day programme. But I’d given up that role, and stopped going regularly (after a bust-up with owner/chairman/manager Dave Pace) by 2008, when the club finally emulated its late seventies success and got through to the FA Cup proper.
It was only the eighth time ever that the Bloods had even reached the Fourth Qualifying Round, four of those occasions coming in a five year spell in the late Seventies, two more in 1998 and 1999, and the most recent the previous season, when Droylsden had been humiliatingly knocked out by a non-League team two levels below them. I’d seen three of those ties, defeats all: on the three previous occasions we’d gotten through to the First Round, I’d been missing (the first time because the game clashed with my 21st birthday, and I wasn’t allowed to miss the party).
I’d been to the five games we’d played in the Cup Proper, and it was saddening that, with the Bloods drawn to play away at Darlington, I was forced to break my record because of the cost of petrol for the trip. But Droylsden achieved a creditable 0-0 draw, and my wife and I were at the replay, which we won 1-0 (though I missed the goal, the Bloods having the bad grace to score it whilst I was at the tea bar, getting refreshments for us). The reward, as we already knew, was an away trip to Chesterfield in the Second Round, the barrier before the opportunity of the highest in the land, the tie to be played on Saturday 29 November.
We set off from Manchester on a cold, misty afternoon, but found cool, clear skies once we had gotten onto the moors between Manchester and Derbyshire. But as soon as we began to descend towards Chesterfield, it was clear that the ground fog was thick in the valley, and we grew increasingly concerned that the fog would be to thick, and the game postponed. By the time we reached the centre of Chesterfield, and were struggling through Saturday afternoon traffic to find Saltergate, it seemed impossible for the match to go on. But once we’d found parking, and walked back, then walked round three-quarters of the ground to find the Away end entrances, the game had started. We found our old mates behind the goal.
The Bloods were defending the Away end. The scene was amazing: we could only see to the half-way line, and if the action was in the Chesterfield half, we could neither see nor hear anything of what was going on. Presumably the referee could see the goalposts at either end from the halfway line, which is, as I understand it, the criterion for starting a game, but it was absurd and surreal that the match should have been played in those conditions at all. Only those supporters sat or stood on the halfway line could have seen any kind of play developing: supporters at either end could only see what went on in their half of the field.
I’ve never seen anything like it when at the football. The only comparable situation, to which my mind flashed back instantly, was an early Seventies midweek European game featuring Leeds, which had been played in conditions of thick fog, during which play had been suspended for 25 minutes in the (realised) hope that the fog would lighten. Before this, the fog was so bad that the TV cameras could not pick up anything beyond a line about ten yards in from the further touchline, leading in turn to the surreal moment when the commentator had to announce, “And the ball’s gone out to Eddie Gray on the Leeds left, at least we assume it’s Gray, we cannot see the player but that’s where he should be…”
The proof of the abnormality of the situation came after 35 minutes, when Droylsden took the lead, and the first we (and our goalkeeper) knew of it was when celebrating players crossed the halfway line on their way back for the kick-off (the goal itself was barely visible on the BBC cameras for that tiny flash on MOTD that night).
At half-time we were still ahead, the Bloods’ goal having been in no real danger yet. The interval was, understandably, quiet, marooned in our little segment of visibility, but initial enthusiasm started to turn to concern when the interval carried on longer than it should have, and talk started to turn to the fear that the match was being abandoned. Then players and coaches appeared out of the mist to tell us that that was indeed the case. Just about visible, in front of the Main Stand in our half, a raging argument was going on between Pacey, the referee and their Chairman, but to no avail. Pacey accused the referee of giving in to pressure to abandon because Droylsden were ahead, that the game would have gone on if Chesterfield were leading. I’ve no doubt but that he was right. The honest truth was that that game should never have been started, that it was being played in conditions that were impossible, especially for the spectators who had paid £10 a head to ‘watch’ the match, but that as the situation had not deteriorated one bit during half-time, if the game was fit to play in the first half, it should have continued.
But there was no arguing: the game was abandoned, and was re-scheduled for Tuesday week, December 9, at 7.30pm. Chesterfield, to their credit, announced that entry to the second game would only be £1.
So, on a cold Tuesday night, we left Manchester as soon as I got home from work, drove through a cold, frosty night, parked in the same car park, walked the same long walk and were inside and joining our mates a couple of minutes after kick-off.
There was no fog tonight, everything was cold, crisp and clear. Unfortunately, as we had suspected would be the case, it was Chesterfield who got on top, and were 1-0 up at half-time. However, a short cross from the left and a superb glancing header put us level early in the second half. Then, with twenty minutes to go, the tie descended into the bizarre again.
Chesterfield player was down inside our half, and our defence, obligingly, put the ball out for a throw-in about thirty yards from goal. Treatment over, play resumed. The ball was thrown to Chesterfield’s no. 9, who I shall not name (but he knows who he is), who took one step with the ball, shaped to knock it to our keeper, then dug his foot under the ball and lofted it over his head into the net.
There was instant fury. We were howling with anger and rage, but our fury was mild and restrained compared to the Droylsden bench, who instantly charged Chesterfield’s bench. It was a mini-riot, and how the entire bench – especially Pacey – escaped being red-carded, I don’t know. I can only assume that the referee took account of the unusual provocation and made allowances.
The problem was, the goal was perfectly legal. It stood. Chesterfield have always maintained it was an accident on their striker’s part but, I’m sorry, there were no visibility problems that night, and I’ve watched enough football to know when someone means something, and that guy meant it.
It was a full five minutes before the game resumed, during which there was much discussion as to what should and would happen. But, credit again to Chesterfield, when the game kicked-off once more in an atmosphere of not-very muted tension and resentment, the ball was rolled forward, Droylsden’s skipper, Steve Halford, collected it and, with the Chesterfield team standing around casually, he jogged down the pitch with it, walked it past the keeper and knocked it into the net. It was only justice, but to actually watch that happen only heightened the surreality of the whole event. No matter how justified it might be, seeing an entire side step back like that felt curiously wrong, as if the very spirit of the game was being overturned.
It ended 2-2, and a replay was duly arranged at the Butcher’s Arms the following Tuesday night, December 16. Sean Newton, the Droylsden left back, received a yellow card during the game. This may seem irrelevant, but bear that in mind.
Surely the game would be completed at the third attempt, and one or other of the two sides would go through to meet Ipswich Town away in the Third Round. The Third Round: that’s what everyone was playing for.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be the Bloods. This time the gulf in quality between Blue Square North and League Two counted. Chesterfield were 2-0 with eighteen minutes to play, and looking far more likely to extend their lead than Droylsden were to cut into it. Then the floodlights failed.
This was the fourth time this had happened to me, although the previous examples included one set of floodlights failing to come on at half-time, and one side of Old Trafford losing all its electricity literally seconds after the final whistle. It’s weird. Your first instinct, strangely enough, is to laugh. one moment, the game is in progress under lights, the next, in utter silence, the world changes abruptly and you can’t see a thing. It had happened once, a few years earlier, away to Ashton United, when we were 2-0 up with thirteen minutes left to play (the game was abandoned and we lost when it was played again).
A fuse had blown, affecting not just the floodlights, but the whole ground: the Social Club were stuffed, the electric beerpumps wouldn’t work! And the game had to be abandoned, with the Chesterfield fans furious, and throwing around accusations that we’d switched the power off to avoid being beaten. Exactly as we’d said about Ashton when the lights went out at Hurst Fold, though it was clear that the entire area had been hit with a power cut.
So a fourth game was now required, to be played at the Butchers Arms, the following Tuesday night, 23 December. It could have been arranged for Monday night. If it had, maybe the strangeness of this whole tie might have ended there.
Until the Police first insisted, in 1992, on having ten days notice before providing the statutory cover for football matches, FA Cup ties had to be replayed to a result. At least every other year, there would be one tie in which three, sometimes four replays were required before one of two exhausted teams, now playing every other night, caved in and lost. In the Seventies and before, all replays after the First had to be on neutral grounds. This tie had assumed the proportions of one of those fabulous dinosaurs, and I don’t know what it was like for fans in that era, who knew this was on the cards, but in the Noughties this was unreal. We seemed to be doing nothing except play Chesterfield, and it was now only days before Christmas, with the Third Round on the first Saturday in January. It had to be settled tonight, extra-time and penalties of needed, but given the history of the tie so far, what else might happen?
The Chesterfield fans turned up super-disgruntled, their complaints abut the probable fraud over the floodlights exacerbated by the fact we were charging £5 for entry at the gate after they’d charged only £1 when it was their turn. You can’t blame them, really, although our economics were different to theirs.
However, they were jubilant about half an hour in when our keeper dallied over a back-pass, allowed that **** of a number 9 to charge the kick down, the ball rebounding into the net. Our despair was short-lived because, within ten minutes, Sean Newton, advancing into their half, drilled home a brilliant thirty-yard daisy cutter into the bottom corner.
I’d taken my wife’s mobile phone along to update her as to developments, so this called for a loud, jubilant call to roar about the equaliser, but it was nothing to the incident in the second half, abut an hour into the game, when there was a foul in the area and we were awarded a penalty. I was on the phone immediately, to give live commentary, with an exultant roar as Sean Newton blasted the ball into the net to give us the lead. And for all Chesterfield’s efforts, we refused to give way, and the final whistle, the very very very long overdue final whistle, we were through to the third Round Proper, for the first time ever in the club’s 100 plus years history. “Are you ready for a trip to Ipswich?” I husked down the phone to my wife, who came from East Anglia in the first place.
At last it was over, after four games or almost-games over 24 days. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
We went to bed not that long after I got home. If we’d sat up, and had been on the Droylsden Message Board at about 12.30am, we’d have had the first inklings that this tie was continuing to wreak havoc with everyone’s lives.
Sean Newton’s yellow card, collected a fortnight earlier at Saltergate, in a game that was only being played because of the fog abandonment, was his fifth of the season. Once this was reported, the FA notified Droylsden that Newton was suspended for one match taking place after Monday 22 December, in accordance with standard rules. The Club received this fax on Monday 15 December, checked the first list, acknowledged the suspension and confirmed that this would be applied to the Club’s match on 26 December, away to Vauxhall Motors. The following night, the floodlights had failed and the Club suddenly had an extra match pitchforked into its schedule. Like I said, it could have been played on Monday 22nd or Tuesday 23rd, and, presumably in the interests of extra recovery time from the weekend’s league game, the Club went for Tuesday. The day Newton’s suspension came into effect. In the fuss and bother of arranging yet another meeting, no-one noticed. Until after the match on Tuesday night.
Droylsden had played an ineligible player. What’s worse, he’d only gone and scored both the bloody goals we’d won by.
It was an accident, a calamitous accident, an all-too-easy oversight, but intentions are irrelevant in that kind of situation. The moment I learned of this blunder, I knew that we would be expelled from the Cup, and that Chesterfield would be reinstated and would play Ipswich in the Third Round. Any other outcome was impossible.
A lot of people refused to accept that. It was an accident, we could have played Monday night and he’d have been eligible, we’d already agreed with the FA which match he was going to be suspended for, Chesterfield were trying to cheat us after we’d beaten them fair and square. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair.They were all deluding themselves, unable to accept that, through our own fault, we had disqualified ourselves from this magical, once-in-a-lifetime achievement. One of those was Dave Pace, appealing against the FA’s decision and, of course, losing.
Chesterfield played Ipswich Town at Portman Road on Saturday 3 January 2009, and lost 3-0.
It was the final touch of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot insanity that, given everything that had happend in that tie, we should have seen coming. Winning the tie, in the end, was never going to be the end. It would have been a complete anti-climax if it had been.
I’ve drifted completely away from Droylsden since then. In 2010, they made it to the Second Round Proper again, forcing a replay away to Leyton Orient, and leading 2-0 only to be overrun and lose 8-2, the last six goals coming in extra-time. Currently, they’re second bottom of Blue Square North, have lost their last two home games by an aggregate of 0-12, are nine points from safety having played more games, and being kept off the bottom only by a club under financial restrictions, unable to play anyone other than Juniors. A return to the Evo-Stik (Northern Premier) League is all but guaranteed. It’s a far cry from the year the Bloods technically made it into the Third Round, but when they did, I was there.