Friday, February 15, 2013

FA Cup Fifth Round Day - The Spartans Are Coming

It is the fifth round of the FA Cup this weekend and this was when it got exciting. The weather is now warmer (most years!) so games less likely to be called off. All the teams had won two games and were just three more away from Wembley. (Now, of course, it is two wins away from Wembley but that is an argument for another time).

My earliest memory of fifth round day was in 1977, completing my Roy of the Rovers wall chart and noticing that Southampton were paired up against Manchester United – a repeat of the previous year’s final. I recall that the boxes to put the scores in were very small and so if a game went to a replay, as this one did, you had to write tiny numbers.

But it is the following year which provides the clearest memory with the cup run of the wonderfully-named Blyth Spartans. To a ten year old, the name conjures up images of viking hoards, angry bearded warriors stampeding over the mountains, swords in the air, wild shouts, run for your lives ... ahem.

Blyth had beaten Stoke City 3-2 to get to the fifth round, an unusual achievement for a non-league team, recently matched by Crawley and, this year, Luton. They symbolised ideally the romance of the cup and were drawn away to Wrexham, then on their way to the third division title.

With Blyth one up with a minute to go, seemingly heading for the quarter finals, Wrexham had a corner which was safely gathered by the goalkeeper. Because the corner flag had fallen over, the corner was retaken – and headed home. Harsh justice perhaps. Wrexham won the replay 2-1, went on to lose to Arsenal, and Blyth bowed out to enter the great book of FA Cup stories. (Highlights of the game are below in two parts).

On TV that year, following our featured year of 1978.

Saturday 18 February 1978 – Match of the Day – BBC1
Wrexham 1-1 Blyth Spartans
QPR 1-1 Nottingham Forest
Arsenal 4-1 Walsall

Sunday 19 February 1978 – The Big Match - ITV
Orient 0-0 Chelsea
Bristol Rovers 2-2 Ipswich Town

Thank goodness for Arsenal giving the viewers somebody who had gone through.

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