“The greatest day in the football calendar”, say some. “A day off to go on the lash”, say many a first team player. FA Cup third round day has lost some of its charm today, but it does still hold some great memories. And of course, a few crap ones – quite a few, in City’s case. We have five City-centric days in the last *keeps multiplying by two* 64 of the competition for you…
1: 2014 v Middlesbrough
It’s rare that Teesside can act as the location for the beginning of something uniquely beautiful, but all successful FA Cup teams have to start their run somewhere, and for once, City were destined to be a successful FA Cup team in 2014. Of course, nobody knew this when the draw sent us up to the Riverside in January, and Steve Bruce made sure everyone’s dreams of victory, progress, Wembley, Europe, global domination even, were stiffly dulled by picking a half-strength side, allowing fringe strikers Aaron McLean and Nick Proschwitz a rare game.
But the two players in question didn’t read the script, if there ever was one. They propelled the new issue pink ball into the Boro goal once each as City’s run all the way to the final commenced professionally and emphatically, but they were nowhere near the remainder of the adventure, as Bruce sold the pair of them before the month was out. There’s gratitude for you.
2: 1931 v Blackpool
So there was the glorious run of 2014 that ended in defeat to Arsenal in the final, then it was very much a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show, as we got Arsenal – again – in 2015 and went out very, very early. A return to the norm. Prior to 2014, City’s best run in the FA Cup had been as a relegation-doomed Second Division side in 1930, which inexplicably beat a handful of seriously big teams before succumbing to, erm, Arsenal in a semi-final replay. It’s not quite symmetrical, but it feels like a pattern nonetheless.
The Tiger Nation who supported the club during the Depression era (which could be any generation of the Tiger Nation, all told) were presumably not blaming the FA Cup run for their relegation and couldn’t wait to embark on yet another life-enhancing escapade in the competition when it swung round again the following season.
City, despite being now of Division Three North, were given a bye from rounds one and two and in the third round were paired up with Blackpool, who had left the second tier in the opposite direction the previous season. Though the two sides were now two divisions apart, Blackpool were struggling in their new surroundings and City, with home advantage, felt capable of a mini-shock and another jaunt to glory in the FA Cup, especially against a side whom they had dispatched in the fourth round the previous season. The divisional gap felt almost incidental; the omens were just too good.
So naturally, City lost 2-1. The Depression era felt even more real.
3: 1975 v Fulham
Significant FA Cup tie between Second Division rivals for two reasons, though neither were apparent at the time. Firstly, the initial game at Craven Cottage saw the last FA Cup appearance in City colours of Ken Wagstaff. Having scored City’s goal in a 1-1 draw, he didn’t make it to the end of the match due to a knee injury which would force him into retirement before the end of the calendar year, and an iconic City career was over.
Secondly, once Fulham finally beat City by a single goal in a neutral third game at Leicester City’s Filbert Street (the replay at Boothferry Park had ended 2-2), they embarked on a run that would see them reach the final, where they lost to West Ham United and two goals scored by future City striker Alan Taylor. Aside from their being outplayed completely at Wembley, it was City who gave them their toughest test on the way to what remains their only FA Cup final appearance.
4: 2009 v Newcastle
While the first game at the Circle was a goalless draw that irritated everybody involved, the replay was quite an occasion for City. The context was set down firmly, with Newcastle a basket case of a club thanks to boardroom meddling and paperclip appointments leading to Kevin Keegan quitting and the notorious ‘COCKNEY MAFIA OUT’ banner going on a tour of St James’ Park on the day City won there in the Premier League.
We didn’t expect to play Newcastle again quite so soon, so the third round draw felt like an opportunity. City twice hit the frame of the goal in a largely uninteresting first game, so it was back up to Tyneside. City took a huge number of supporters, sang retro songs all evening (a tradition as important in FA Cup ties of the era as Phil Brown’s change to a black shirt) rode some luck with Michael Owen missing a sitter and Nicky Butt hitting the bar, and then won the game in the 82nd minute with Daniel Cousin sliding in a cross from Richard Garcia. It was, remarkably, City’s first success in a third round tie for 20 years.
It was also the one time that season – and the final time ever – that City wore the very popular white away kit of 2007/08, avoiding an embarrassing repeat of the Premier League game when City, with a flint-coloured away kit, had to wear Newcastle shorts and socks. Meanwhile, Newcastle’s joke of a manager Joe Kinnear got so worked up after a touchline row with Phil Brown that he ended up needing heart bypass surgery.
The FA Cup run continued to the quarter finals, when it was – YES – Arsenal who brought it to an end, while Newcastle did City yet another favour by not winning on the final day of the Premier League season and taking the last relegation place.
5: 1992 v Chelsea
City were back in the third tier after a seven year period of careful avoidance, thanks to a wretched 1990/91 season under principally the overspending, outspoken, unpleasant Stan Ternent, who was sacked by the club for the first time. Still, we had Terry Dolan now in charge, so all would be well…
Dolan did six years with City but in truth the final two seasons are the ones which make him reviled for life by supporters who were there, as although the football under his tenure was never exactly watchable, he built teams that could be hard to beat and not afraid of being out on their feet by the final whistle. However, the first signs of Dolan’s difficulty in outwitting opponents came during the same period when an underperforming Chelsea were drawn out of the hat for a visit to Boothferry Park in January 1992.
City had sold prolific striker Andy Payton for £750,000 in November 1991, and the barren run immediately began. It was no coincidence. Chelsea arrived seven winless games into what would eventually be a total of 11, and won more than comfortably with a headed goal in front of Bunkers by a gleeful Vinnie Jones and a second half shot from Dennis Wise, both of whom had won the FA Cup with Wimbledon four seasons earlier. City simply did not compete in the game and there were much mutterings that a very ordinary Chelsea team had triumphed so easily.