Monday, February 18, 2013

The Blyth Spartans Cup Run

A correction to my last piece. I started by saying that all the teams in the fifth round of the FA Cup had won two games. This should of course have read ‘at least’ two games. For those from the third tier and lower, it would have been more than that.

By way of clarification and apology, and as I featured Blyth last time, here is a record of the Spartans cup run of 1977-1978. As you can see, they won eight games in that memorable season.

1st Qualifying Round
17 September 1977 – Shildon 0-3 Blyth Spartans

2nd Qualifying Round
8 October 1977 – Crook Town 1-1 Blyth Spartans
12 October 1977 – Blyth Spartans 3-0 Crook Town

3rd Qualifying Round
22 October 1977 – Consett 1-4 Blyth Spartans

4th Qualifying Round
5 November 1977 – Bishop Auckland 0-1 Blyth Spartans

1st Round
26 November 1977 – Blyth Spartans 1-0 Burscough

2nd Round
17 December 1977 – Blyth Spartans 1-0 Chesterfield

3rd Round
7 January 1978 – Blyth Spartans 1-0 Enfield

4th Round
6 February 1978 – Stoke City 2-3 Blyth Spartans

5th Round
18 February 1978 – Wrexham 1-1 Blyth Spartans
27 February 1978 – Blyth Spartans 1-2 Wrexham

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.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Television and the Heysel Stadium Disaster

On Wednesday 29 May 1985, at just before 7pm, I switched on the television (NB: ‘switched’ – no remote controls then, you had to walk over to the TV to press a button) and settled back into my armchair. It was the night of the European Cup Final between Liverpool, holders and, by now, the team we were used to seeing win it, and Juventus.

The programme was introduced … by Terry Wogan! In the 1980s, barely a day went by without the Wogan face appearing somewhere on our screens – he was, and still is, an enormously popular personality and was a major asset to the BBC. Wednesday at 7pm was the usual time for one of Wogan’s thrice-weekly chat shows – these shows were famous for Terry Wogan talking and various guests listening.

On this occasion, in a scenario now very familiar to fans of Coronation Street, the Wogan show had been pushed aside to make way for the footy. So Terry was only on for five minutes, barely time to introduce his sole guest, Bruce Forsyth. With a table of beer cans and glasses, it was clear that the plan was for them to watch the game and then return afterwards to, presumably, toast a Liverpool victory.

Bruce opened a can and began drinking from it.
Wogan: ‘Don’t drink from the can, what do you think the glasses are for?’
Bruce: ‘This is football!’
It was then over to Jimmy Hill in the football studio.
‘How’s the chin, Jim?’ says Bruce. ‘Fine’ says Jimmy, ‘and you’. Cue both parties jocularly respectively stroking their famously oversized chins.
And then as we leave Wogan, Jimmy Hill assumed a sombre expression to tell us there had been some trouble.


The reason this all sticks in my mind so clearly is the completely surreal atmosphere when we consider what must have been known then, and what we all knew afterwards. By this stage there had been hundreds of injuries at the game we were about to watch (although I don’t recall if we knew about any deaths). The wall causing most of the injuries had by now already collapsed and so the first pictures we saw were trouble from the Juventus end in retaliation – I recall one fan with a Juventus scarf around his mouth, throwing fireworks into the Liverpool end.

With confusion and chaos going on, the news of deaths amongst the Juventus fans, and both captains (Phil Neal, in Liverpool’s case) pleading for calm over the public address system, it was naturally assumed the game would be called off. Jimmy and his guests (Terry Venables and Graeme Souness) chatted aimlessly while Barry Davies tried to keep us in touch with what was happening.

Although English clubs had been involved in crowd violence for over a decade – for example, Leeds at the European Cup Final 1975, Manchester United being kicked out (but reinstated) of the Cup Winners Cup in 1977, West Ham United having to play a game behind closed doors, this was the first time that Liverpool fans had caused trouble – indeed, they had always received much praise – which made this all the more surprising.

Crowd trouble had also long been a problem in the domestic game since the early 1970s. Just the previous few weeks of 1985 had already seen famous and violent scenes as Millwall fans rioted at Luton, while Leeds fans did the same at Birmingham City.

Surprisingly, the European Cup Final went ahead! It was felt that was necessary to prevent further crowd trouble but I am sure that, because people had died, today the decision would have been different. The match kicked off an hour late. It was hard to work up any enthusiasm. I recall it was a dull game, Juventus won 1-0 with a penalty where the foul was clearly outside the box, and Liverpool was denied a clear penalty at the other end. Conspiracy theorists accused the referee of ensuring that Liverpool did not win the cup as punishment for their fans’ behaviour.

The subsequent events with the ban of English teams from Europe are well known and chronicled. As a Norwich fan, I had been at Wembley to see my team win the League Cup in March 1985 and looking forward to our first UEFA Cup campaign, so naturally I did not agree with the ban. My view, perhaps matched by Everton fans looking forward to a European Cup campaign after winning the League title, was that Liverpool, and only Liverpool, should have been banned.

One further TV memory. Later that week, the main topic of ‘Points of View’, then presented by Barry Took, was hundreds of complaints at the BBC for showing the game. Here I have sympathies with the BBC – which of us as producer would have taken the sole decision to cancel the programme despite the match still going on?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

FA Cup Fourth Round Day

After the anticipation and excitement of round three, round four soon came round three weeks later with a different atmosphere. Usually (but not always) the weather was better, and the chance of cup shocks was reduced. And by the end of round four, there were only 16 teams left – so those of us who had teams still in did wonder that, having won two games, it might be our time. For the rest of us, our Wembley dreams were shelved for another year.

The giant killers of round three were either promptly put in their place (e.g. 1989, after beating First Division Coventry 2-1, Sutton United were beaten 8-0 at Norwich) or carried on some sort of momentum (e.g. in 1992, Wrexham beat the champions Arsenal 2-1 then drew at West Ham 2-2 before losing the replay 1-0).

My first memory of the fourth round is in 1978 when Blyth Spartans defeated Stoke City 3-2 away – a midweek game after bad weather postponements.

So staying with the featured year of 1978, what were the games on television?

Saturday 28 January 1978 – Match of the Day – BBC1
Manchester United 1-1 West Bromwich Albion
Newcastle United 2-2 Wrexham
Arsenal 2-1 Wolves

Sunday 29 January 1978 – The Big Match - ITV
West Ham United 1-1 Queens Park Rangers
Middlesbrough 3-2 Everton
Bristol Rovers 2-0 Southampton