FAMOUS FIVE: City in the FA Cup first round

City may not be in the FA Cup first round, but most of us can remember a time when we were always in it – and more pertinently, seldom got any further. As this weekend heralds media over-use of the word ‘proper’, we though we’d have a proper (ahem) hark back to days when City found themselves at the very start of ‘the road to Wembley’…

1: Bradford Park Avenue, 1965/66

The significance of this game was two-fold, and only apparent with a few months of hindsight. But at the time it looked like, and indeed was, an opportunity for City’s rampant Third Division side, scoring and conceding for fun, to put up a cricket score against a team who were a division below and drifting in mid-table.

That was the view when the draw was made anyway, and by the time the game arrived on November 13 1965, City had failed to score in only one league match thus far, with Chris Chilton, Ken Wagstaff and Ken Houghton already on 27 goals between them. The game at Horton Park Avenue was something of a zinger, befitting City’s tendency that season to leak like a sieve almost as prolifically as they scored, and a topsy-turvy tie ended 3-2 to the Tigers, with Houghton, Chilton and Ian Butler on the scoresheet.

City went all the way to the quarter finals, disposing of two higher division sides in the process, and later won the Third Division title. However, Bradford Park Avenue faltered in the bottom division to the extent that they were deselected in 1970 (replaced by Cambridge United) and went out of business in 1974. A team against whom City had battled regularly in the pre-war era and the post-war regionalisation was no more, with the FA Cup tie the last ever meeting between the two. Bradford Park Avenue instantly reformed as a Sunday League club and are now in the (badly-named) National League North, duelling with Ferriby, among others.

2: Morecambe, 2004/05

And to date, the very last FA Cup first round tie in City’s history. Going against the trend of expectation dominated by despair that one assumes when looking back at City’s achievements, the Tigers actually managed to win this, an experience not common during this period, and also tinged with minor regret because of the absence of ground-tickery nerdism made possible by a replay on the Lancashire coast that was four minutes away from happening.

It was no picnic, either. Morecambe led early on with a header from defender Jim Bentley, whose association with the club as a player lasted nine years, and he remains their manager to this day. City responded with a lovely curling shot from Stuart Green and the game was level at the break. Bullet dodged, all would be well.

Ah. Ex-Manchester United trainee Michael Twiss  ran on to a flicked goal-kick in the second half and put the non-league side back in front, but a judicious substitution by Peter Taylor helped City equalise quickly – the newly-introduced Jon Walters made an instant impact by pulling a clever ball back to Michael Keane to shoot into the roof of the net. At 2-2, City weren’t going to let this go now.

Walters steered in the winner – his first goal for nearly a year – with four minutes left and for the first time, City led. The heartbreak in the Morecambe players at the final whistle was visible but their day would come with promotion to the league in two years time. City, meanwhile, even managed to beat Macclesfield in the next round before coming a cropper against Colchester at the Circle in the third, in a game that made Taylor sign Craig Fagan afterwards. It was City’s first trip to the third round in five years, an achievement masked completely by promotion to the Championship in the summer.

And yes, a replay wouldn’t have been a ground tick under some people’s rules because Morecambe weren’t in the league. But they soon would be – so would it have been a ground tick then? Someone needs to come up with a final set of regulations, or alternatively, view more naked women. Maybe City did us all an extra favour by actually winning.

3: Stalybridge Celtic, 1932/33

The 8-4 victory over Whitby Town in 1996/97 might have broken numerous club and competition records, but 8-2 is evidently a more impressive scoreline. Just with that bit of armoury (and the fact that the Whitby game has been discussed to death here and elsewhere) we give a few lines of acclaim to Haydn Green’s marvellous side of 1932/33.

Three seasons before, City had managed a remarkable Jekyll and Hyde turn by being relegated from Division Two while reaching the FA Cup semi-finals, beating a couple of giants along the way. Green’s first full season was the recovery season, and how. Champions of Division Three (North) via a 100-goal attack and an unbeaten home record, they also bullied mercilessly the Cheshire County League side who weren’t long out of the league pyramid.

The season as a whole belonged in individual terms to new signing Bill McNaughton who scored a ludicrous 41 goals in 41 league games, but he was overshadowed at Bower Fold by inside left Russell Wainscoat, who stuck four into the opposition net with McNaughton managing a meagre one. Jack Hill, Fred Forward (a forward), and Charlie Sargeant completed the scoring. The home side, who’d scored also in the first half, got their second late on, meaning the chance to equal the 8-1 scoreline in the qualifying round of 1905/06 (against Grimethorpe United, pleasingly) had been scuppered, though it remains City’s biggest winning margin in the first round. They eventually went out to Sunderland in the third.

4: Hednesford Town, 1997/98

Eurgh. Who would have thought City would’ve sunk so low after appointing a vibrant young manager who could charm the birds from the trees and make rainbows appear with a click of his fingers? Hindsight is everything, but the Mark Hateley era stank from start to finish, yet nothing quite summed up his wretched period at the helm as this defeat to high-spending but still insignificant Conference nonentities.

There wasn’t much to blame the Hednesford players for, to be truthful. Carl Beeston made the most of his contact with Gregor Rioch in the box, and Duane Darby evidently wasn’t happy, but Rioch had no business sticking his leg out and remains vilified for the tackle to this day. Mick Norbury, the ultimate in awkward, limited non-league centre forward brutalists, put away the spot kick and the visitors led at the break.

Darby missed his kick in the six yard box with the goal at his mercy in the second half, then hit the bar with a far post header, before Rioch was robbed from a cleared free kick and Joe O’Connor ran without a moment’s worry to slot the second home in injury time and secure a famous win.

Not Rioch’s finest hour, nor the referee’s, and certainly not Hateley’s. His opposite number, John Baldwin – tinted pilot spectacles, ‘tache, grey suit – didn’t endear himself to the City fans by capering on the pitch at the final whistle, but one suspects to this day he really doesn’t care. Darlington beat his team by a solitary goal in the second round.

5: Rochdale, 1981/82

Three months after this tie was finally settled on neutral territory, it was announced that City would probably go out of business. The club had run out of cash and everyone – and everything – was up for sale. City had only just gone out of the FA Cup, thanks to a third round replay defeat at home to the (not so) mighty Chelsea, and the team were playing well, showing youthful exuberance, talent and no little promise.

What a strange time this was. It was in the Fourth Division, fresh terrain for the club after a hideous, hurtful relegation the year before, and although wounds took a little while to be fully licked, there was an element of peace around the place (barring the odd set-to when Bradford or Scunthorpe were in town). Then the FA Cup campaign began, and Rochdale came out of the hat first, with City following.

They were divisional rivals (though yet to face each other) and the first game at Spotland ended 2-2, with Billy Whitehurst and Steve McClaren scoring. The return at Boothferry Park finished in the same manner – Whitehurst this time joined on the scoresheet by Gary Swann. Extra time couldn’t separate them this time, so a third game was needed. Coin tosses were too controversial so Elland Road was hired, and again with 30 minutes tacked on, City finally won with a solitary McClaren goal.

The three games took place in nine days flat, and City did over Hartlepool at the first attempt in round two before falling – eventually – to Chelsea and then seeing the bottom fall out of their world. Six games can get you to the final of the FA Cup when you’re in the top two divisions; in this case, six games didn’t get City past the third round, but at least they got there. Not yet sick of the back teeth of Rochdale, they went on to win both league games against them with the axe hanging above, before the end of the season brought Don Robinson, Colin Appleton and much relief.