3. Feb, 2022


The Magic of the FA Cup, it is a well worn cliché that gets trotted out before every round. These days the phrase has a rather hollow tone. Elite clubs have bigger fish to fry, the top 6 are more concerned with winning the league or qualifying for the lucrative Champions League. While those lower down the food chain sole concern is staying in The Premier League and the riches it provides. As a result top flight clubs often field weekend teams, resting the first team for bumper pay days.

Back in the 1980's things were very different. The FA Cup was the golden ticket, a good cup run attracted large crowds through the turnstiles. Reaching the final would also boost the coffers, as fans snapped up souvenir hats, scarves and flags. Glamour also played a part. Before 1983, the FA Cup Final was the only domestic club game to be broadcast live on British TV. The showpiece was broadcast by both BBC and ITV, with tv coverage starting at 11am. The FA Cup Final was a major national event and every club wanted to reach it. On the way there were genuine cup shocks as the First Division giants were beaten by smaller clubs.
In 1985 Third Division York City were drawn at home to the mighty Arsenal. The 4th round tie had all the ingredients of a classic FA Cup shock. Arsenal were enduring an indifferent spell. They had not won a trophy for 6 years and manager Don Howe was under pressure.

In contrast, York were riding high. They won the Fourth Division Championship in 1984 and were now challenging at the top end of the Third Division. Their manager had history with the Gunners. Denis Smith had been a fine defender in his playing days. He made 407 appearances for Stoke City, his home town club. Smith was part of the Stoke team which won the 1972 League Cup. However, the Potteries club were twice beaten in FA Cup Semi Finals by the Gunners. On both occasions Stoke City were on the wrong end of dubious refereeing decisions.

In 1971 the two sides met at Hillsborough, the home ground of Sheffield Wednesday. In those days FA Cup Semi Finals were held at neutral club grounds giving the day an unique atmosphere. Wembley was therefore a reward for reaching the final, like many I feel this should be the case today. Stoke looked to be heading for Wembley when they led 2-0 at half time. Peter Storey pulled a goal back for Arsenal midway through the second half. Stoke were annoyed when referee Pat Partridge added four minutes of injury time. There had been no major disruptions during the second half.  

With the massive stadium clock showing 4.44pm Partridge blew his whistle, not for full time but to award Arsenal a corner. Stoke again went mad, claiming goalkeeper Gordon Banks had been fouled before clearing the ball. George Armstrong's corner was headed goalwards by Frank McClintock. With Banks stranded, Potters midfielder John Mahoney was left with no option, he palmed the ball away and Arsenal were given a penalty. Storey held his nerve and beat Banks. Arsenal had escaped with a replay. The last minute drama had knocked the stuffing out of the North Staffordshire outfit. Arsenal won 3-0 at Villa Park. They went on to beat Liverpool in the Final. The Gunners had completed the historic double having been crowned League Champions three days before the Wembley triumph

All this meant nothing to a fine Stoke team managed by Tony Waddington. But 12 months later Waddington's men were handed the chance of revenge. Their 1972 semi final was to prove equally dramatic. The first game ended 1-1 at Villa Park. Denis Smith scored Stoke's equalizer, beating stand in goalkeeper John Radford. The striker had replaced Bob Wilson who had sustained a second half injury. Despite heavy pressure City were unable to find the winner. The replay took place at Goodison Park, Stoke again led through a Jimmy Greenhoff penalty, the striker beating the returning Wilson. Arsenal replied through a Charlie George penalty, a decision which appeared on the soft side as Peter Dobing nudged George Graham in the box. But it was John Radford's winner that sparked fury from Waddington's men. Now back in his day job, the striker raced clear before shooting past Banks. Replays seem to suggest Radford was miles offside with the player beyond 2 white shirted Stoke defenders. At the very same moment a program seller had been strolling down the running track at the side of the pitch (behind Radford). The program seller was wearing a white coat, the linesman caught a brief glimpse of the seller and mistook him for a Stoke player. The goal stood and the Potters were again left empty handed.

No doubt those memories were revisited when Smith crossed swords with Arsenal again. York is a beautiful city. The splendid York Minster Cathedral is surrounded by picturesque shops. But Arsenal did not want to be there on Saturday January 26th .1985, particularly when they saw the state of the Bootham Crescent pitch. A heavy snow storm had hit North Yorkshire 24 hours earlier.  York made an urgent appeal asking supporters to help clear the playing surface. The fans' hard work paid off as referee Don Shaw deemed the pitch playable.

Don Howe was not taking any chances. He named a very strong Arsenal team that included Charlie Nicholas, Tony Woodcock and Paul Mariner. The Gunners side cost £4 Million while York's team cost a more modest £45,000. But that meant nothing as both teams struggled to master the tricky conditions. Chances were at a premium, Mariner was foiled by City goalkeeper Mick Astbury. While Keith Walwyn came closest for the home side. The striker saw his lob cleared off the line by Tommy Caton. Martin Butler was the undoubted Man Of the Match, York's 18 year old midfielder posed a constant threat to the Gunners defence. He saw a well struck shot just sail over John Luckic's crossbar. Then with 90 minutes on the clock Butler picked up the ball on York's right. Meanwhile City striker Keith Houchen made a beeline for the Arsenal penalty area. All the time he was been tracked by Gunners midfielder Steve Williams. First Williams tugged Houchen's shirt, but to no avail. Then with Houchen inside the box Williams stuck out a leg and tripped Houchen. Referee Shaw saw the offence and pointed to the penalty spot.  Houchen picked himself up before cooley slotting the ball past Luckie (Pictured Above).

Unlike 71 and 72 Arsenal were unable to respond. Lord knows what thoughts were crossing through Denis Smith's mind This time the football gods had smiled on him. Maybe it was poetic justice. It was York City's greatest day in 30 years. In 1955 they had reached the FA Cup Semi Finals, a fantastic achievement for a Third Division team. In 1985 Liverpool beat them in a 5th round replay. After a highly creditable 1-1 draw at Bootham Crescent, the Reds romped to a 7-0 victory at Anfield..

Denis Smith went on to have a fine managerial career, He took Sunderland from the Third Division to the First Division. Keith Houchen had begun his love affair with the FA Cup. Two years later he helped Coventry City to win the trophy. He scored 5 goals in the run including a magnificent diving header in the final. Sadly the fates were not so kind to Don Howe. In 1986 he was sacked by Arsenal and replaced by George Graham.