The great thing about January in the football calendar is the FA Cup 3rd Round. Some teams never make it this far and their fans are left to dream about what might have been. For those that have battled through the early rounds the adventure can take a further twist with a tie against a “big” club in the 3rd Round. Clubs coming into the Cup at this stage can view the competition as a distraction from their dismal League campaign or from the goal of attaining promotion. However you view it, like the Grand National, the FA Cup 3rd Round captures the attention of the nation.
Whether your club has won the Cup or not, fans have their own special memories. Fulham have never won the FA Cup, although did reach the Final in 1975 losing 2-0 to West Ham. Whilst the run to the Final had some highlights in a record breaking 11 game journey to The Twin Towers, my most memorable games don’t come from that season and may in fact seem strange choices. What makes them stick in the mind is that they both occur in a period of change and very much have a sense of foreboding, although for different reasons and in different circumstances.
The early 70’s in Britain was a time of economic strife and especially of rising inflation. One of the government’s methods of dealing with this was to cap pay rises. This measure caused unrest amongst trade unions in that wages were struggling to keep pace with spiralling prices. By mid 1973, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had encouraged their members to work to rule, which resulted in coal stocks slowly diminishing. This, combined with the effects of the 1973 Oil Crisis, drove up the price of coal. The Tory government under Edward Heath entered into negotiations with the NUM, but were unable to strike a deal. Therefore in order to reduce electricity consumption, and so conserve coal stocks, a series of measures were announced on 13th December 1973 by the government, including the “Three-Day Work Order”, more commonly known as the Three-Day Week, which came into force at midnight on 31st December 1973. What it meant was that commercial use of electricity was limited to three consecutive days each week. In January 1974 as an eleven year old I was too young to understand any of this. In fact nights sat without power listening to the radio and playing family games by candlelight were more of an adventure than a hindrance. Although I’m sure my parents didn’t quite see it in the same way.
Just five days into the Three day Week, it was FA Cup 3rd Round day. Fulham drew then fellow Second Division rivals Preston. Incredibly given the situation in the country, football continued pretty much unaffected. There were some knock-on effects though. Fulham like other clubs had hired generators to aid their electrical supply and I clearly remember seeing and hearing the machinery situated at the back of the Cottage. Games were also brought forward to 2pm so that less time was required for putting on floodlights. Programmes too were affected, with a four page black and white edition on sale. Nearly 7,000 turned out that day and the Fulham faithful were rewarded with a 1-0 win and progress into the 4th Round and a home tie with First Division Leicester City later that month.
By 1986 Fulham had dropped into the old Third Division and there was an air of crisis around the club. The promising side that missed out on promotion to the First Division, losing 1–0 to Derby away on the last day of the 1982/83 season, had gradually been sold off as the club had debts to pay. By now I was in my early twenties and knew it was a club in turmoil. Not only was the team struggling on the pitch, crowds dropped lower and lower and the ground showed serious signs of neglect. Therefore the FA Cup 1st Round in November 1986 came as a blessed relief from the doom and gloom of life in Division Three and crisis off the pitch. After a draw at Edgar Street a 4-0 win in front of just 3,562 at the Cottage over the Bulls saw Fulham progress to Round Two. By the time Newport County visited London in December 1986 for the 2nd Round fixture, the club was in dire straits. However, a 2-0 win over the Welshmen was secured and a glamour tie was hoped for in the next Round. Lady Luck had a chuckle as she sent Swindon Town to Fulham in January 1987 for the 3rd Round game and the visitors went away with 1-0 win. By this time with the club “gagged” as part of a property development deal to build on the ground, rumours about the future of the club became wilder. The reality was that in 1987 the club was perilously close to going out of business. However, this didn’t come to pass or thankfully did the ill-advised merger attempt with QPR.
Whilst today the club is not facing the crisis of that 1986/87 season, in 2011 all is not well at the Cottage as the team start the New Year hovering around the Premier League relegation zone. Thank goodness for the FA Cup 3rd Round….Bugger! Peterborough United at home – could be a banana skin! Whatever you team, try and enjoy this weekend…