• Matthew Whiley

Famous FA Cup Giant Killings

Updated: Jan 14

Happy New Year! I hope you had a peaceful Christmas, and wishing you all the best for 2021.


Given that we're all hoping for some good news this year with regards to *gestures at all the general calamity that's going on*, I thought it might be nice to get into that mindset early and get 2021 underway with a feel-good post.


Just as luck would have it, the third round of the FA Cup kicks off the footballing year this weekend, and we have some VERY tasty looking ties. I mean, come on. Eighth-tier Marine hosting Premier League Tottenham Hotspur? Beautiful *chef's kiss*.


When watching as a neutral, there's not much in football that can top witnessing a lower-league team dump out more illustrious opposition, so in honour of that I thought we'd take a stroll down memory lane and look back to five of the very best FA Cup giant-killings of yesterday.


Sutton United 2-1 Coventry City, 7 January 1989

First Division Coventry City were just 18 months removed from winning the FA Cup, having themselves upset the odds by defeating Tottenham 3-2 after extra time in the 1987 final. The Sky Blues rolled into South London sitting fifth in the top flight, while Sutton occupied a spot in the Conference.


The 8,000 capacity Gander Green Lane crowd was whipped into a frenzy as the U's took the lead when skipper Tony Rains took advantage of some suspect goalkeeping by Steve Ogrizovic to head home a corner three minutes before half time. However, they were pegged back just seven minutes after the break when David Phillips picked up a defence splitting pass to fire in the equaliser.


Normal service resumed? Not if Sutton had anything to do with it. Less than ten minutes after Coventry had drawn level, Barrie Williams' men edged back in front. A tidy short corner routine resulted in a lovely inviting cross being met at the far post by Matthew Hanlan.


This time, the lead would remain intact, to ensure the match took its place in footballing folklore. Sutton went on to suffer an 8-0 thrashing at the hands of Norwich City in the next round, but even that would struggle to detract from their famous, famous win.


Chelsea 2-4 Bradford City, 24 January 2015

This is the only entry on this list I can actually remember, and while I'm sure people who can remember all five might disagree, it is to me the greatest FA Cup shock in history. Once you've factored in Chelsea's wealth, both sides' respective leagues - Chelsea were top of the Premier League, having not lost at home all season, while Bradford were in League One - and the fact that the visitors had to come from two goals down, it takes its place as number one for me.


The Blues had taken the lead midway through the first half when Cesar Azpilicueta's corner was tidily flicked in at the near post by Gary Cahill, and then pulled further in front when Ramires was teed up by Mo Salah - yes, *that* Mo Salah - just over 15 minutes later. Supporting your football team is of course about never giving up, ever, but even the hardiest of Bantams fans must have been wondering how they were going to get out of this one.


The initial answer to that arrived in the form of Big Jon Stead. He's really big - 190cm to be precise - and he halved the deficit four minutes before the break with a cracking strike from the edge of the box into the top corner. And then, dear reader, then came the real fireworks. With fifteen minutes to play, James Meredith launched a long throw-in into the box. Petr Cech blocked Billy Knott's initial attempt, but that left Filipe Morais - a former Chelsea youth-teamer during Jose Mourinho's first spell in charge - free at the back post to fire in the equaliser!


Bradford had pulled it back, and they would then spin the match completely on its head seven minutes later, when Andy Halliday's curling strike beat Cech's desperate dive directly in front of the euphoric visiting fans. Halliday's celebration, clasping his hands over his face in disbelief, told the story. Mark Yeates' injury-time fourth merely put the icing on the cake, as a shell-shocked Chelsea were dumped out in one of the most notable FA Cup games in years.


Mourinho's Blues would not let the shock bother them too much, as they went on to win the Premier League title that year without losing another home game. Bradford reached the quarter-finals of the tournament, eventually being dumped out in a replay away to Championship Reading, before they concluded their season by finishing seventh in League One, four points outside the playoffs.


Hereford United 2-1 Newcastle United, 5 February 1972

I may have nominated the game above as the greatest upset ever, but I think there will be more than a few football fans who remember this famous afternoon at Edgar Street clamouring for it to be number one instead. In actual fact, they may well have a point, and the story of this game is quite something. The fifth-tier Bulls had already pulled off a surprise, if not a full shock, by holding First Division Newcastle to a 2-2 draw in the initial game at St James' Park. The replay had been postponed three times, and the pitch was barely usable on the day it was actually played, but by now the show had to go on.


It took 82 minutes before a goal arrived, and it looked as if it would be the one to break Hereford hearts. Malcolm Macdonald leapt highest at the back post to powerfully head home Viv Busby's cross from the right. For Newcastle, the simple problem was - this was the FA Cup, so what happened next? Naturally, with five minutes remaining, 28-year-old carpenter Ronnie Radford picked up the ball thirty yards out, played a one-two, and blasted in one of the tournament's most famous goals ever. The scores were level once more, Radford was running off with both arms famously aloft, and the replay was going to to extra time.


Spurred on by the (official) crowd of 14,313 who had packed into Edgar Street - in actual fact it was probably much higher, with reports of people finding vantage points atop trees and floodlight pylons - Hereford completed the turnaround halfway through extra time. Substitute Ricky George, who had come on after full-back Roger Griffiths had broken his leg (initially, Griffiths played on. He played on!), did the honours. He received the ball just inside the box and fired across the goal, finding the bottom left corner and sent those thousands of spectators into euphoria.


The Bulls would go on to be eliminated in the fourth round by another First Division side, West Ham United, as following a goalless draw at Edgar Street, Geoff Hurst scored a hat trick in a replay at Upton Park. That's the most famous game Hurst scored a hat-trick in, right? Meanwhile, is Hereford's triumph over Newcastle the most famous win ever? Personally, in the modern era of Premier League ultra-riches, I'll still say it's Bradford's comeback, but I certainly won't argue if you put this one down as the best of all time.


Shrewsbury Town 2-1 Everton, 4 January 2003

When Premier League Everton arrived at Gay Meadow for this third-round tie in 2003, they brought with them an 18-year-old by the name of Wayne Rooney, who was making his debut in the FA Cup. Their hosts were Division 3 Shrewsbury Town, managed by the Toffees' most successful captain, Kevin Ratcliffe.


Sometimes, you can just feel when a giant killing is coming, and with Ratcliffe at the Shrews' helm, there must have been something in the air. Whatever it was certainly settled upon the shoulders of Nigel Jemson, who brilliantly put the hosts ahead with a curling 20-yard free-kick that nestled in the top corner of Richard Wright's net. The Toffees restored parity when Niclas Alexandersson came off the bench to fire Scot Gemmill's pass beyond Ian Dunbavin, but much like the Sutton/Coventry tie 16 years previously, the underdogs were not to be bowed.


With two minutes remaining, the Shrews won another free kick, this time on the right of the box, when Stephen Jagielka - brother of future Everton centre back Phil - was fouled. Ian Woan took the responsibility, sending it towards the near post, and who else came gliding in to deftly head it home but Jemson, who, at the age of 33 and playing for his 13th club, had just sealed another of the FA Cup's greatest results.


Shrewsbury faced further Premier League opposition in the fourth round, but their luck didn't continue and they were defeated 4-0 at home to Chelsea. Meanwhile, in the end, the defeat didn't shake Everton too much, as they went on to finish a comfortable seventh in the Premier League. That Rooney, though; he'll never amount to anything...


Halifax Town 1-0 Manchester City, 5 January 1980

Sorry, I couldn't not. Maybe the least talked-about one on this list, but for me, it's just as good as any other, and it's mainly on here to keep my Dad happy. Heading into this third round clash at the Shay, my local team Halifax Town sat 11th in the old Division Four, while their opponents Manchester City were 16th in the top flight.


Watching the highlights, it's a surprise for someone like me who's young enough to have only ever seen league football played on lush green carpets - with the possible exception of Newport County's Rodney Parade, until a few years ago - to see the mud bath that would host the game.


Despite the 62 league places between the sides at kick off, it was the Shaymen that took advantage of the conditions. Paul Hendrie tucked home John Smith's pass from inside the area with fifteen minutes remaining to net the only goal of the game and send City packing.


If you're reading this post on the day it's been published, today is indeed 41 years to the day of one of Halifax's most famous victories. That win sent them through to face Bolton Wanderers in the fourth round at Burnden Park, and despite losing that game 2-0, they did achieve the feat of being the only Yorkshire side to make it to that stage of the 1979/80 competition.



There are many more besides, and it's hard to pick just five. Honourable mentions have to go to Wrexham 2-1 Arsenal (1992), Stevenage 3-1 Newcastle United (2011), Norwich City 0-1 Luton Town (2013), and Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City (2017).


Incidentally, striker Andre Gray, currently of Watford, played in both of those last two games. He won at Carrow Road with then-Conference Luton, before losing to Lincoln with Burnley, which meant he both won with a non-league side at a Premier League ground, and then lost to a non-league side at a Premier League ground.


Meanwhile, I can't put it off any longer; Liverpool have suffered no fewer than three notably ignominious defeats in the FA Cup over the years - 2-1 reversals away at Worcester and at home to Barnsley in 1959 and 2008 respectively, alongside a 1-0 loss to Wimbledon in the Wembley showpiece in 1988.


That's the magic of the cup, though; the Football Association Challenge Cup is the oldest national cup competition in the world, and this November will mark 150 years since Barnes beat Civil Service 2-0 in the very first game. Had Civil Service won, that might have gone down as the very first shock result, too; not because they were in a lower league, but because they only had eight players!


I had a right chuckle upon reading part of the Wikipedia article about the final in 1871-72 between Wanderers and Royal Engineers, too: "The Engineers were leading exponents of the tactic of passing the ball, which at the time was known as the "Combination Game" and considered extremely innovative..."


Passing the ball was extremely innovative? Good job Pep Guardiola wasn't around in 1872, otherwise he'd have been chased out of town!


Signing off,

Matthew

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