Book Review: Bobby Stokes: The man from Portsmouth who scored Southampton’s most famous goal by Mark Sanderson

Whenever FA Cup Final day comes around each season, you can be sure that a montage of winning goals from the Final’s down the years will be shown on television.

The games are invariably tight, tense affairs and so often the day is won with just a single strike. Take the last ten Finals from 2006/07 (Chelsea vs. Manchester United) to 2015/16 (Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace) – five of these games finished 1-0. Inevitably the scorer becomes feted as the hero, with their name going down in the history books.

Bobby Stokes is one of those who will be remembered as scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final.

On Saturday 01 May 1976, First Division Manchester United played Second Division Southampton. United had finished third that season and Saints in sixth spot and the club from Manchester were red-hot favourites. However, with extra-time looking increasingly likely, on eighty-three minutes, a flicked ball inside from Mike Channon to Jim McCalliog was put through over the top of the United defence, which Bobby Stokes hit first-time low beyond the despairing dive of Alex Stepney in the United goal. The winning goal.

Sadly, just nineteen years later and aged just 44 Bobby Stokes died.

In Bobby Stokes: The man from Portsmouth who scored Southampton’s most famous goal, author Mark Sanderson is clear in stating that, “the book is not an analysis of every game Bobby ever played in, nor is it a blow-by-blow account of his entire life; that would be tricky, as sadly Bobby is no longer with us to re-tell it”, but adds, “he is brought to life in this book through the eyes of those who knew him, it is their voices and memories that tell the story”.

It is a story which takes the reader through from Bobby growing up in the Portsmouth stronghold of Paulsgrove, his playing career in England and in America, his life after football and his untimely death in 1995, through those that knew Bobby Stokes.

He was a Pompey fan growing up and he seemed destined to play for the club, but ironically was taken on by rivals Southampton as an apprentice instead, making his debut for them in 1969. Playing colleagues talk of his industry and goal scoring talent during his Saints career of which 1976 was the pinnacle. Within 12 months he moved on to sign for Portsmouth in what was a brief and difficult period for Pompey. The USA loomed next for Stokes and he played in the summer months in the North American Soccer League (NASL) for the Washington Diplomats, where he lined up with and against such world stars as Pele and Johann Cruyff. Those spells were his last as a professional as when he returned to the UK in the winter months he turned out for non-league teams, Waterlooville, Cheltenham Town and Chichester City.

Once he finished playing Stokes became a pub landlord, as many footballers did then. However, this was not a success and his life became more difficult as he separated from his wife and ended up working in his cousin’s harbour side café in Portsmouth. Then on 30 May 1995 Bobby Stokes died of bronchial pneumonia.

The perception from the book is that Bobby Stokes was a decent guy, nobody has a bad word to say about him, and that he wasn’t one to boast about the Cup Final winning goal. It gives an impression that he wasn’t one for the limelight, and given that this book has to create a picture of the man through others words, he feels perhaps unsurprisingly ethereal.

The author wanted the book to, “serve as a sympathetic, but hopefully objective assessment of Bobby’s life and career”. It is certainly sympathetic, since Sanderson only ever hints at the issues that Bobby Stokes suffered after his playing days ended and which led to his sad death. It could be viewed that it is perhaps too sympathetic in that the problems of Stokes’ later life could have been made more explicit as a lesson for others to heed. However, it serves as a timely reminder of the issues that players face once their playing days are over, then and now.

Bobby Stokes will forever be linked with FA Cup Final history and this book is a fitting tribute to the man who scored the winning goal that day and of football in a very different era.

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Book Review: Ryan Giggs – Fifty Defining Fixtures by Tony Matthews

The latest footballing figure to feature in the Fifty Defining Fixtures series from Amberley Publishing is ex-Manchester United and Wales legend Ryan Giggs.

These books are not intended as a full biographical analysis of a player or manager’s career, but rather an overview which the author illustrates through their choice of key games. And in that regard there is a place for this type of formulaic book, as long as they are done well.

However, in this case the result is a bit of a mixed bag. The Introduction including appearance statistics and awards provides a useful summary of Giggs’ career both as player and his management role at Manchester United.

There then follows the fifty games as selected by the author Tony Matthews. In amongst them are all those that you might expect, Giggs’ debuts for both club and country, significant wins and losses in various domestic and European competitions and that of his final appearance for the Red Devils in May 2014. Notes are produced for some of the fixtures detailed, something that would have been useful for all the games selected.

Given that Giggs played in 1,031 senior games for club and country trying to pick just fifty games is no easy task and many diehard Old Trafford fans will have their own ideas about the choices made by Matthews.

Where this edition lets itself down is with regard to the attention to detail. For instance, on page 12, the reader is told that, “as a schoolboy, Ryan also enjoyed a game of Rugby League and represented his school and starred for the Salford District XV.” Rugby League teams contain thirteen players, Rugby Union have fifteen. The book also contains a number of other typos which detract from enjoying the read.

In terms of the writing, the overuse of the exclamation mark is a problem throughout the book and there is also some strange language used. On one occasion Matthews describes a corner as a “flag-kick” and on another the first-half of a game as the “first session”.

Another detail which proved to be irksome was the inconsistency around the listing of the home and away teams correctly, with Manchester United sometimes listed first even though they were the visitors. It might possibly seem a small detail, but when added up with the other problems it just makes this edition from the series feel sloppily produced.

Ryan Giggs will forever be regarded as a Manchester United great, so it’s a pity that this book doesn’t live up to his reputation.


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Book Review: Written In The Stars by Richard Stokoe

Every now and again a book comes along which wonderfully describes the idiosyncrasies and experiences associated with being a football fan – Written In The Stars by Richard Stokoe fits into that category.

From the moment the reader learns that the five-year old Stokoe became a Manchester United fan based on the fact he possessed a Subbuteo team featuring the colours of the Old Trafford club, you know this is going to be one enjoyable yet eccentric journey.

Stokoe uses a diary style format covering the period from 1975 to 2012 to look at his attachment to the game of football in general and in particular his relationship with three clubs – Manchester United, Chelsea and Wimbledon FC/AFC Wimbledon.

Whilst the book does follow a chronological timeline, Stokoe also on occasions drifts back and forwards in time in a cinematic manner. In essence this device is used to provide a sequence of events and outcomes that meets the authors desire to find a ‘happy ending’ to key games, rather than reality.

Indeed the filmic theme is extended to the clubs’ in Stokoe’s life, with Chelsea, cast as “the faithful, enigmatic wife”, Manchester United, “the jilted ex-lover” and Wimbledon FC/AFC Wimbledon, “the quirky down-trodden mistress”. This is translated in the book by Stokoe’s narrative on his early following of United, which is broken by a visit to Stamford Bridge in September 1984 and thereby starting his love affair with Chelsea that to this day survives, despite his brief flirtations with The Dons.

What is interesting is that Stokoe is open from the start in stating that despite not being a fan who attends games week-in, week-out at Stamford Bridge, he is one of many, “who are still adversely affected by the outcome of a game that they’ve chosen to avoid.” It is a fair point, since today satellite television, clubs’ own channels and the written and social media allow fans to watch and consume everything about their team without ever setting foot in the ground. This globalisation of the sport through modern technology has changed the fan experience and Stokoe successfully makes a case in this book that this new way to connect is still an emotionally engaging and demanding experience.

Overall, the book effectively captures so much of what it is to be football fan – positive and negative – whether this be match-day habits and superstitions, the feeling of dread at watching our team or the inevitability and fatalistic outcomes brought on by certain games and opponents. This idea of fate is reinforced through the title of the book, taken from Gary Neville’s commentary during the Second-leg of Chelsea’s Champions League Semi-final against Barcelona in 2012, and the destiny that sometimes besets our football experience as fans.

For all that is presented and maybe perceived as irrational thinking, behaviour or reaction by Stokoe the fan, the book itself is wonderfully and logically constructed, with links to relevant events and circumstances providing a strong connection throughout, with a good dose of humour thrown in for good measure.

Undoubtedly this book will appeal to Chelsea fans, but in reality has as a wider attraction for football fans in general, and in addition those who don’t follow or understand the game, yet have to endure the ups and downs of friends and family who do.


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Book Review: David Beckham – Fifty Defining Fixtures by Steve Tongue

Another offering from Amberley books in their expanding football series, Fifty Defining Fixtures. This edition by Steve Tongue focuses on David Beckham.

Beckham has come to transcend the game of football where he initially made his name, but in the Introduction, Tongue is clear on the direction of this book; “the focus here is on Beckham the footballer and the most memorable of his 800-plus matches”, adding, “selecting fifty games is not easy and cannot be definitive.”

Where Tongue has succeeded with his selection of the games is that it does reflect Beckham’s England career and marks the incredible achievement of winning league titles in four different countries – England, Spain, USA and France.

So there are details of the games you expect to see – the iconic lob over Neil Sullivan against Wimbledon in 1996, the sending-off against Argentina in the World Cup in 1998, the 2001 performance against Greece and THAT free-kick at Old Trafford and redemption against Argentina in the 2002 World Cup – but also others less familiar, including a couple of games from Beckham’s youth career, a loan-spell at Preston and his time with LA Galaxy in the MLS.

Tongue does an excellent job in ensuring that both the highs and lows of Beckham’s career are captured and the author is not afraid to detail the opinions of journalists who believe the former England captain was a player of limited ability, and in so doing enables the book to present a balanced perspective.

In addition the author successfully ensures that despite the timespan covered in just fifty games, there is a flow and connection so that the reader can easily follow Beckham’s career. What helps is that Tongue puts each game in context, so that there is a wider appreciation of the significance of the fixtures detailed.

This is a useful addition to books on Beckham in the on-going debate as to the players place in football history.


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2011/12: FA Cup 3rd Round – Sheffield United v Salisbury City

Friday 06 January 2012 (01.00 pm)

So here we are in 2012  and the FA Cup 3rd Round which extends to four days, starting tonight with the North-West derby between Premier League Liverpool and League One Oldham Athletic, ending on Monday with the game at The Emirates between Arsenal and Leeds United.

Liverpool last met Oldham in the Cup at Anfield in the 5th Round in the 1976/77 season. Liverpool made the Final that year, only to lose to Manchester United. With the Reds already in the League Cup Semi-Final, Kenny Dalglish will be relishing another Cup run. Oldham beat Burton 3-1 in the 1st Round and after a replay, overcame Southend United 1-0 at Boundary Park. Just as Liverpool have progressed in the League Cup, The Latics have had a good year in the knock-out competitions, having made it to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy North Final against Chesterfield and are just one match away from a Wembley appearance.

No doubt the Reds will juggle their pack for the game, but they will have to be wary of an Oldham team that manager Paul Dickov will have fired up for the occasion. It could be quite a tie tonight.

Friday 06 January 2012 (11.00 pm)

Liverpool (2) 5 – 1 (1) Oldham Athletic

Football is a game riddled with clichés – and there is a reason for this, they are invariably true. Take the Cup-tie this evening. Let’s start with, “…you have to take your chances Oldham started the game brilliantly and had three excellent goal scoring opportunities in the opening twenty minutes. None were taken and instead of having any sort of lead the game remained at 0-0. However, the Latics did eventually score through Robbie Simpson, with a stunning thirty yard strike on twenty eight minutes. “…Teams are at their most vulnerable just after they have scored…” Oldham didn’t take heed and Liverpool were level just two minutes later through Craig Bellamy. “…The worst time to concede is just before half-time…” With time added on at the end of the first half Oldham gave away a penalty and Steven Gerrard did the rest to send the home team in with a 2-1 lead.

The visitors came out fighting the second half but were killed off on sixty eight minutes when Shelvey slotted in to give Liverpool a 3-1 lead. Finally, “…the score-line didn’t reflect the game…” To rub salt into the wounds Oldham conceded two late goals to Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing; 5-1 was harsh on The Latics. So Liverpool are through and the they can put their feet up and watch the rest of the Third Round unfold.

Saturday 07 January 2012 (10.00 am)

It’s a return to Bramall Lane today as The Blades face Blue Square Bet Conference South  opposition (and lowest ranked team in the Third Round), Salisbury City. The Whites have hardly set their League alight this season and currently sit in the lower half of the League table. However, the FA Cup has been a real adventure for the team from Wiltshire. City entered the FA Cup at the Second Qualifying Round stage, beating Southern League Premier side Swindon Supermarine 3-0. Poole Town were demolished 6-1 by Salisbury in the Third Qualifying Round and entry into the First Round was clinched with a 2-1 away win at Bishop’s Stortford. Arlesey Town were no match for The Whites as City won 3-1 and earned a Second Round tie at home to Conference Premier side Grimsby Town. The tie went to a replay after a 0-0 draw at The Raymond McEnhill Stadium. The replay at Blundell Park turned out to be a night of drama. Dan Fitchett gave City the lead in the second half and it looked enough to take The Whites through. However, in time added-on Rob Duffy headed Grimsby level. In extra-time Duffy scored again to put The Mariners ahead, but back came City and Brian Dutton brought the scores level at 2-2. The Cup upset was complete with eight minutes to go, when Stuart Anderson converted a penalty to put Salisbury into the FA Cup Third Round for the first time in their history.

However, it has not all been plain sailing for The Whites in recent years. In 2007/08 City were promoted to the  Conference Premier Division and in their first season finished a creditable 12th. In the following season Salisbury finished 16th but off the pitch all was not well as financial problems hit the club. City completed the 2009/10 season in 12th place, even after being deducted 10 points for entering administration. Further punishment came The Whites way when they were demoted two divisions (to the Southern League Premier Division) for breaking Conference finance rules. Despite this set-back, last season City started the climb back up the Leagues after gaining promotion to the Blue Square Bet Conference South following victory over Hednesford Town in the Play-Off Final.

The Cup is full of superstition and coincidence and for The Blades there has been a bit of a pattern in their two FA cup fixtures this season. In both games Sheffield United have been at home, have scored three goals in each game, with Ched Evans scoring two goals in each fixture. The Blades opponents in both Rounds have been from the Npower League One, both Oxford and Torquay wore all yellow strips and both clubs like Sheffield are ‘United’s’. Many of these coincidences are broken today by the visit of Salisbury City, but will Sheffield United manage three goals today? Will Ched Evan’s bag another brace?  

Saturday 07 January 2012 (11.20 pm)

Sheffield United (1) 3 – 1 (0) Salisbury City

Before kick-off there was a minute’s applause as a mark of respect at the death last week of Gary Ablett. He was known predominantly for his time at Liverpool and Everton, but Gary Ablett also had a loan spell at Bramall Lane in 1996. Both sets of supporters observed the tribute respectfully.

Of the game itself, this was always going to be a difficult one for Salisbury given the recent good form of The Blades and the difference in league status between the teams. Sheffield United dominated from the outset, never allowing the visitors to settle on the ball. Within the opening fifteen minutes United had created a number of excellent chances, with Neil Collins header superbly saved by Mark Scott, the best of the opportunities. The Blades were patient in their build-up and were using the wings and switching play to drag the Salisbury defence out of position. This ploy paid off on eighteen minutes when a cross-field ball by Kevin McDonald was picked up by Lee Williamson who drove at the City defence. His pass found space beyond the Salisbury back-line and Chris Porter slipped it in under the advancing Scott to put United ahead. The Blades continued to press and City were thankful that keeper Scott was in such good form as he saved well from Ryan Flynn and Chris Porter. However, United couldn’t increase their lead and went in at the interval just one goal to the good.

In the opening fifteen minutes of the second half, Salisbury had a sustained period of possession, without really creating a guilt edged goal chance. However, the game swung firmly in favour of the home side, when on the hour mark after a goal-mouth scramble, McDonald’s shot was fortuitously deflected in by Ched Evans, to maintain his record of scoring in every round so far. United were now comfortable and continued to create chances. One such opportunity included a scramble which saw efforts by Ched Evans, James Beattie and Michael Doyle all repelled in a frantic passage of play. Eventually though The Blades scored again. On seventy two minutes the ever dangerous Evans cut inside and drove a cross shot into the Salisbury penalty area, which Danny Webb deflected into his own net. With the game won, The Blades intensity dropped and Salisbury enjoyed more possession in the last five minutes. The travelling City fans were rewarded for their excellent support of their team when substitute Lloyd Macklin fired in on eighty six minutes. Salisbury buzzed around for the closing minutes, but were unable to trouble The Blades defence further.

Another Cup win for United and their record of scoring three goals in each Round continues. Will the draw tomorrow see The Blades at home again? For now one half of Sheffield can look forward to the draw. The blue and white half has their chance to progress on Sunday with a difficult looking tie with West Ham to come. This is one of four fixtures on Sunday, which also includes, the Manchester derby (City v United), a repeat of the 2010 FA Cup Final (Chelsea v Portsmouth) and The Posh against The Black Cats (Peterborough v Sunderland).

Sunday 08 January 2012 (6.00pm)

In terms of the other Cup “trail” fixtures, there was little romance or Cup magic. Aston Villa won comfortably at Bristol Rovers 3-1. A Marc Albrighton goal on thirty five minutes gave Villa a half-time lead. Gabriel Agbonlahor (a second half substitute) doubled the lead just after the hour mark and Ciaran Clarke added a third on seventy eight minutes. Rovers got a goal back on ninety minutes through Scott McGleish and he could have brought even more respectability to the score-line, but McGleish had a penalty saved in time added on. Premier League Fulham overcame League One leaders Charlton Athletic with a convincing 4-0 win. Clint Dempsey scored a hat-trick with Damien Duff scoring The Cottagers final goal. League Two Macclesfield sniffed an upset in their tie with Premier League Bolton, when Arnaud Mendy put them 2-1 ahead with twenty two minutes remaining. However, David Wheater headed Wanderers level after seventy seven minutes to take the game back to a replay at The Reebok Stadium.  

The games today started in dramatic fashion with an incredible first half at The Etihad Stadium. Debate will rage over whether the sending off of City captain Kompany was the right one. However, United lead 3-0 at the break with a Rooney double and a well taken Danny Welbeck volley. Credit to City who reorganised in the second half and not only stifled their Manchester cousins, but clawed their way back into the game with goals from Kolarov and Aguero. 3-2 the final score in an incident packed derby.

With their city rivals already through, Sheffield Wednesday had a difficult home game with high-flying Championship team West Ham United. However, The Owls came through after keeper Nicky Weaver saved a second half penalty from Sam Baldock. With a replay looming, Chris O’Grady struck for Wednesday on eighty eight minutes to clinch a 1-0 win and create a Cup upset.

Portsmouth held Chelsea for the first forty five minutes at Stamford Bridge, but two goals from Ramires, and one each from Mata and Lampard ensured the London club went into the Fourth Round draw. Also going through are Sunderland with a professional 2-0 win at Peterborough. Sebastian Larsson put the Black Cats ahead on forty eight minutes and the game was wrapped up just ten minutes later with a goal from James McLean.

For the Fourth Round, the “trail” fixtures are as following:

Arsenal/Leeds United v Aston Villa

Everton v Fulham

Macclesfield/Bolton Wanderers v Swansea City

Sheffield United v Birmingham City/Wolves

Monday 09 January 2012 (7.00am)

The last game of the FA Cup Third Round takes place later today in North London between Arsenal and Leeds United. These two teams have met on sixteen occasions and have produced some memorable matches.

The first meeting was back in the 1949/50 season in the Sixth Round at Highbury, when First Division Arsenal took on Second Division Leeds United. United acquitted themselves well, but lost 1-0 to a goal from Reg Lewis on 52 minutes. The Gunners went onto the Final that year at Wembley where they beat Liverpool 2-0.

The next meeting for these teams was in the 1972 Centenary FA Cup Final, when Allan Clarke scored the only goal which meant the Cup went North to Elland Road for the first time in their history, with the clipped commentary of David Coleman declaring, “…Clarke…One Nil…” sweet music to the ears of Leeds supporters.

By the time these teams met again in the Cup (1982/83), Leeds had once more been relegated to the Second Division. A Peter Nicholas own goal just after the hour gave Leeds the lead, but Arsenal were level within a minute as Alan Sunderland sent the game to a replay. In the game at Elland Road, an upset looked on the cards as Aidan Butterworth put Leeds ahead in the last minute of extra-time. However, Graham Rix dramatically scored an equaliser with seconds remaining to force a Second Replay. A coin was tossed to see who would host the Second Replay and it fell in favour of the Londoners. Tony Woodcock put The Gunners ahead, only for Terry Connor to bring the game level. However, with eight minutes remaining, Graham Rix proved to be the Arsenal saviour as he scored the winner to take them through 2-1.

Given the change of rules regarding replays, the events of the 1990/91 ties will never be repeated. Arsenal and Leeds needed four games to settle this Fourth Round tie. Sadly today in the current FA Cup competition, all teams get is a replay, extra-time and the cruelty of penalties. Those epic ties were part of the history and tradition of the FA Cup – and people wonder why some magic has gone out of the competition. The original tie at Highbury ended 0-0 and the replay at Elland Road resulted in a 1-1 draw. Lee Chapman put United ahead, with Anders Limpar replying for The Gunners. Back at Highbury in the Second Replay, the stalemate continued with a goalless draw. The tie was finally won by Arsenal 2-1 at Elland Road, with Paul Merson and Lee Dixon on the score sheet.

The Fourth Round game at Highbury in 1993 once again proved to be classic. Lee Chapman and Gary Speed had given Leeds a 2-0 half-time lead and seemed to be enough to send them through to the Fifth Round. However, Arsenal clawed their way back with goals from Ray Parlour and Paul Merson for a 2-2 draw. The replay at Elland Road proved to be just as memorable. Alan Smith put Arsenal ahead, but goals from Carl Shutt and Gary McAllister gave Leeds a 2-1 advantage. It looked all up for The Gunners as full-time loomed. However, Ian Wright levelled to send the game into extra-time and he grabbed his second and the Arsenal winner with three minutes left on the clock.

By comparison the next two FA Cup meetings between these rivals were tame. In the Fourth Round of the 1996/97 competition, ex-Arsenal boss George Graeme returned to Highbury with his Leeds United charges. In a well organised display a goal on 12 minutes from Rod Wallace was enough to sent Leeds through. Seven year later, Arsenal travelled to Elland Road for a Third Round tie. Mark Viduka gave United an early lead, but goals from Henry, Edu, Pires and Toure gave The Gunners a comfortable 4-1 win in a season which saw also Leeds relegated from the Premier League.

So to the most recent Cup encounter, which took place last season at The Emirates, Leeds took the game to Arsenal and lead 1-0 through a Robert Snodgrass penalty. With ninety minutes on the clock, and the Leeds fans whistling for full-time, Arsenal were awarded a penalty of their own. Up stepped Cesc Fabregas score and set up a replay at Leeds. At Elland Road, The Gunners got off to a flying start and were ahead within five minutes through Sami Nasri. Arsenal seemed to be cruising when on thirty five minutes Sagna doubled their lead. However, within two minutes Bradley Johnson dragged Leeds back into the tie. On this occasion there was no comeback for United and a Robin Van Persie goal with just less than fifteen minutes to go, sent the team from London through. There has been some drama over the years, will the 2011/12 tie live up to some of the classic encounters?

Monday 09 January 2012 (10.00pm)

So what a way to end the Third Round action. The game overall could not be considered to be a classic, but in “Roy of the Rovers” fashion, Thierry Henry returned to his spiritual footballing home and scored the winner against Leeds. The first half had few highlights and it seemed as though the second half was going the same way. However, on sixty eight minutes the home crowd came to life when Henry came on for Chamakh and within ten minutes the fairy-tale return was complete as he scored from Alex Song’s through ball.  Leeds never really threatened to spoil King Henry’s return as the final minutes ticked away.

Arsenal loves Thierry Henry and Thierry Henry loves Arsenal.






FA Cup 6th Round 2010/11: Cup half empty or half full?

The weekend saw this seasons FA Cup Sixth Round fixtures come and go and has left the nation with the prospect next month of a Manchester derby and a battle between the Trotters and the Potters. The 2010/11 FA Cup campaign has taken place against a backdrop of yet more murmurings in the media about the death of the competition and outline plans of tinkering by the FA to keep the appeal of the oldest Cup tournament in the World.

For me the reasons for the change in perspective of the FA Cup lay across the football community. The FA itself is complicit in damaging the competition in a number of ways. Firstly, there was the decision to allow Manchester United to opt out of the 1999/2000 FA Cup to take part in the revamped World Club Competition. This decision was part of the political gamble by the FA at the time, as they tried to sway FIFA in awarding England the hosting of the 2006 World Cup. And we all know how that worked out. Secondly, there was the ruling to have ties settled after a single replay (excluding the Semi-Final and Final itself). Personally, a major part of the glamour and thrill of the Cup was the odd occasions when a particular tie within a round went to a number of replays. As a Fulham fan I remember vividly the 1974/75 Cup run when we played Hull City three times to get through the Third Round and Nottingham Forest an incredible four times to make it through the Fourth Round. However, those Fulham fixtures were nothing compared to the record breaking fixture in 1971/72. Alvechurch played Oxford City in the 4th Qualifying Round. It required six games before Alvechurch emerged 1-0 winners. Sadly epic battles like that are a thing of the past. Thirdly, because of the burden of rebuilding Wembley Stadium, Semi-Finals now take place at the famous ground. This in my opinion also works to devalue the competition as the act of making it to Wembley and the Final are cheapened. Reaching a Final should be special. Certainly for me in 1975 seeing Fulham in the Final (despite defeat) was and is a treasured memory.

UEFA too has played its part in destabilising the FA Cup. How you may ask have this done this? Well quite simply by the reorganising of their own competitions. Once the 1999 winners Lazio had left Villa Park after defeating Mallorca with the trophy, the European Cup Winners Cup (ECWC) disappeared from view and with it the European prize for the FA Cup winners. Now we have the winners going into the poor relation of the bloated greedy cousin that is the Champions League – the Europa League. For me, if we had a return to the European Cup, the ECWC and UEFA Cup things would be a lot better. Quite simply, the European Cup should be for clubs who have won their domestic League. The Cup Winners Cup for domestic Cup Winners and UEFA Cup either domestic League Runners-Up or in England’s case the winners of the League Cup. This way there are only three European places up for grabs in each country. It would mean that there isn’t the importance placed on the Premier League and the scramble to finish in the “top four” and that both the FA and League Cup would be must win competitions if clubs had intentions of playing in Europe.

However, it doesn’t do away the fact that teams could still place more importance on League survival than the domestic Cup competitions. This is where Sky, the Premier League and implicitly clubs must take some of the blame, since the money involved in being part of that elite group means Chairman and their Boards want Premier League survival delivered as the first priority. So far you could be reading this article thinking what an “old fart”, what a “stick-in-the-mud traditionalist”. Well just to show that I can be a little radical, what about this idea? For the teams reaching the Finals of the League and FA Cup, award the finalists 6 bonus points which are added to their respective League totals? Surely that would be an incentive for clubs to put out full strength teams in the Cup competitions?

Finally are fans excused from being to blame for the troubles with the FA Cup? Well, I believe that fans have been taken in by certain sections of the written media telling us that the competition is on its last legs. Fans also react in terms of attendance according to how seriously their clubs treat the Cup competitions. TV has brought more football into our homes, but does stop people going to the ground as does the shifting of kick off times to all hours and days of the week. Perhaps only the FA Cup Final should be shown “live” and all other Rounds only as highlights? The trouble is that the whole relationship between television, broadcasting rights, clubs and money has taken us down a path which only goes in one direction.

What’s wrong with tradition and history? To me nothing, but the reality is that my views would be seen as nostalgic, unrealistic and naïve by the “powers-that-be”. I fear for the FA Cup and truly hope that it is not watered down even further by those in charge. As fans all we can do in the future is get out and support the FA Cup. It isn’t as special as it was, because the things that made it special are slowly being taken away.

2010/11: Barclays Premier League – Wigan Athletic v Man United

I don’t expect fans, managers and players to be totally impartial, unfortunately it goes with the territory that is football. However, how can you defend the indefensible? Wigan Athletic v Manchester United, the opening ten minutes and with the game at 0-0 an off the ball incident sparks a major reaction from the home crowd. The Match of the Day replays show without dispute Rooney running into James McCarthy and delivering a blow at the head of the Wigan defender. The referee awards a free-kick and the thug Rooney gets no more than  a word from the ref. It’s quite clearly a red-card offence. Did the official not see the incident? He awarded a free kick to Wigan, so he saw something.  I’d love to see his match report and his view on the incident.

Now I’m not saying that against ten men, Wigan would have changed the result, but the game would have undoubtedly taken a different course. What was incredible was the post match comments from Manchester United’s lap-dog of an assistant manager Mike Phelan, who lamely stated, “…we can’t dispute the referee’s decision…he’s kept the game flowing and we’re happy with that…”. So Michael lets fast forward to Tuesday night at Stamford Bridge and in the opening five minutes of the game, Anelka assaults Vidic, Rooney style. No card for the Chelsea player and he goes on and scores in a 2-0 win for the Blues. Will the Manchester United management team take the same stance?

As if Phelan’s words weren’t pathetic enough, Ferguson then states that having watched the incident, “..there’s nothing in it…”. WHAT? Is he truly blind. Sticking by your players is one thing, but in this case it was a physical assault. Instead we get the usual defence mechanism that is a characteristic of the Old Trafford media machine in deflecting the attention away from the brute Rooney. Would it have been too much for the manager to say that Rooney had been lucky to get away with it and he would be disciplined internally?

I’m sick of the acceptance of this type of behaviour from players and clubs who condone it. Unfortunately we seem to moving ever nearer to a game and an England team that reflects the worst elements of our countries traits – greed, intolerance, hedonism, thuggery, cheating and deception.

Does it really hurt so much to tell the truth occasionally?

2010/11: FA Youth Cup 5th Round – Leeds United v Aston Villa

Tonight at Elland Road, Leeds United juniors go up against Aston Villa in the FA Youth Cup Fifth Round, hoping to progress and get a step closer to bringing home the trophy for a third occasion. The trials and tribulations surrounding the Academy set-up at Thorp Arch and indeed Simon Grayson’s attitude to home-grown players has been a talking point at the Yorkshire club this season. So rather than focus on the negative, this article instead will focus on the previous two triumphs by Leeds United.

Both Leeds triumphs in the FA Youth Cup occurred within the nineties. The first in the 1992/93 season was secured over Manchester United, with the second in 1996/97 against Crystal Palace. The first triumph is probably best remembered by Leeds fans given the opposition and the reputation of the Manchester United youth team who were the Cup holders.

The 1st Leg of the Final took place at Old Trafford and an incredible crowd of 30,562 turned up as Leeds take a 2-0 advantage (with goals from Jamie Forrester and Noel Whelan) back to Elland Road for the 2nd Leg. For the return Leg back in Leeds, the attendance topped that in Manchester as 31,037 cheered on Paul Hart’s team to a 2-1 victory on the night and a 4-1 aggregate win. The squads for the respective teams was as follows:

Leeds United: Paul Pettinger, Andy Couzens, Kevin Sharp, Mark Tinkler, Kevin Daly, Rob Bowman, Lewis Atkinson, Matthew Smithard, Mark Ford, Noel  Whelan, Simon Oliver, Jamie Forrester, Alex Byrne, Steve Tobin, Darren Kerry.

Manchester United: Darren Whitmarsh, Phil Neville, Steven Riley, Chris Casper, Gary Neville, Keith Gillespie, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Richard Irving, Colin Murdoch, Robbie Savage, Ben Thornley, Nicky Butt, John O’Kane, Mark Rowlinson.

When you look at the names the interest for me is not with those progressed into the Leeds United first team squad, but rather those who didn’t. Of that 1993 squad, Jamie Forrester, Noel Whelan, Rob Bowman, Kevin Sharp, Mark Tinkler, Mark Ford and Andy Couzens did play for the senior team – although their total appearances were less that 170 and therefore none of them could ever be considered as regulars. In terms of the remainder of the squad, goalkeeper Paul Pettinger spent four seasons at Elland Road without making a first team start, before a career mainly taking in a number of Non-League clubs and he is currently plying his trade at Sheffield FC. Like Pettinger, midfielder Matthew Smithard also spent four seasons at Elland Road without making a first team start. In 1996/97 Smithard moved to Bradford City, where he made just one appearance as a substitute. Injury plagued his career in spells with Farsley Celtic, Ossett Town and Guiseley. Forward Steve Tobin also followed the Non-League path taking in Macclesfield Town, Altrincham, Leek Town, Hyde United and Mossley (amongst others) along the way – last playing in the early part of 2010 at Salford City. Simon Oliver was playing for Thackley in the Northern Counties Eastern League up to the end of the 2006/07 season. In terms of trying to trace Kevin Daly, Lewis Atkinson, Alex Byrne and Darren Kerry, I’ve drawn a blank, so would be grateful to anyone who can throw light on whether they stayed within football.

Leeds second Youth Cup came in 1996/97 after a 3-1 aggregate win against Crystal Palace. This team produced a crop of players who were later to be part of the period of Premier League and Champions League football at Elland Road. Robinson, Woodgate, Kewell, McPhail and Smith provided the mainstay of the first team during that period. Whilst Alan Maybury and Matthew Jones also made their contribution in the first team games they played. Of the rest of that squad, Tommy Knarvik came on as a substitute against Portsmouth in an FA Cup tie which proved to be his only outing in a first team shirt, before returning to the Norwegian League and he now plays for Tromso. Lee Matthews made three appearances in the first team and suffered an injury hit career before finally retiring in 2007 after a stint with Livingston and is now a football agent. Midfielder Wesley Boyle had just one substitute outing with the first team and is still playing for Portadown in Northern Ireland. Neither Kevin Dixon nor Damien Lynch made it into the Leeds senior team, with Dixon returning to his native North East playing for a number of Non-League teams including Seaham Red Star, Newcastle Blue Star, Sunderland Ryhope and Bishop Auckland. Lynch returned to the Republic of Ireland after his time at Leeds United and Nottingham Forest and carved a career in the League of Ireland with Bohemians, Drogheda United and St Patrick’s Athletic. Perhaps the most interesting story involves the last member of the 1997 squad Stuart Gore. The following piece is taken from the website of AC Crusaders a football team in the USA who are due to make their debut in the Northeast Keystone Division of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), the fourth tier of the American Soccer Pyramid, in 2011.

“…Stuart Gore brings a fantastic playing experience to the AC Crusaders. Having been exposed to some of the game’s most successful soccer coaches, Stuart has used his experiences to develop into a forward thinking coach with a strong tactical sense.

As a player, Stuart was part of the youth team with Leeds United, helping them to win the FA Youth cup. He has also represented the England national team at under 16 and under 17 level. Stuart then attended college here in the states at the University of Montevallo, after which he return to pro soccer with UD Lorca of the 2nd division in Spain.

As a coach Stuart has been coaching with Luton Celtic soccer club and AFC Dunstable, where in 2007 he was given the position of “Head of Coaching and Player Development”. Stuart also served as the vice chairman of the Dunstable schools soccer league in which his team won back to back titles in 2006 and 2007, winning the league cup in 2007.

He holds a UEFA B license, Level 2 in Futsal coaching and is a native of Dunstable, England.

For those players lining up tonight, a place in the next round of the Youth Cup will be the main thing on their mind. The future? Well as the teams of 1992/93 and 1996/97 demonstrated even Cup victory is no guarantee of a successful career. Sometime you just have to enjoy the here and now.

My thanks to the following websites in providing background information used in this article; AC Crusaders official website, The FA, Soccer Base and Wikepedia.

Leeds United FA Cup 1972 (Part 1)

“On what grounds are you applying to read English at Liverpool of all places?” my mystified English teacher asked me. How could I tell him the grounds were Anfield and Goodison Park?

I was studying at Liverpool University the year Leeds United won the Cup. I had applied there for the sole reason that Leeds played in the city twice a year (London, with five games, had turned me down). I wasn’t able to get back for the Third Round tie against Bristol Rovers but when we were drawn at Liverpool, it made my going there worthwhile.

A group of us went to the match and arrived at the ground as soon as the gates opened at midday. That might seem a little keen for a 3.00 pm kick off but the match was not all ticket and by one o’clock, the Anfield Road Stand was completely full with a majority of Leeds fans separated from a large minority of Scousers by the thin blue line of Bobbies. Sways and surges up and down the terracing meant that we lost one friend, carried off by a particularly high wave. We didn’t see him again until in the pub afterwards. My main memory of a close, tense affair was being sandwiched in the packed terraces of a 56,000 crowd, with no possibility of moving anywhere. Somebody nearby had a pork pie dashed from his hands and I spent an entire 45 minutes sliding around on its gristly lubrication before somehow escaping to dry land. It was not a great match but we survived to take them back to Elland Road.

The replay was an afternoon kick off so because of the ‘Three Day week’. I had to forego the pleasures of Charles Dickens and also of the Metaphysical poets. Lectures had to somehow manage without me as I desperately thumbed a lift home. Since the fair city of Liverpool invented the ‘sickie’, it was only right for me to employ one on this occasion. The match ended in 2-0 win, we were the better team and it was goodbye to our friends from Merseyside.

Success in the Fifth Round gave us a home tie against Tottenham, the last team to beat us in any competition. Much has been said and written about the thumpings Leeds gave Manchester United and Southampton prior to the Cup game. Yes, they were thumpings but for me the win against Spurs was the best that team ever played because Tottenham Hotpsur were a good side and they actually played very well. Leeds were magnificent and stormed back after conceding a fluky goal. Birmingham City were then swept aside in the Semi-Final and that set up an encounter with the previous season’s double winners, Aresenal.


Author: Graeme Garvey