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The Pirate’s pieces of past: 1976 FA Cup

Submitted by on May 12, 2010 – 10:09 amOne Comment

It’s the FA Cup final on Saturday. Remember, the competition that United ruined by winning it too many times or something.

Cos we have no involvement in it, let’s cast our minds back to the halcyon days of the late 1970s when we were seemingly walking down Wembley Way every bleeding year.

We have an old pirate in our ranks, who has travelled the seven seas watching his beloved team over fair waters and rough waves. Here is his take on the 1976 FA Cup campaign. Bear with him, he’s getting on a bit so his mind wanders and so do his apostrophes…

Bobby Stokes ruined my life
by Fletchermoss

He was halfway up the hill at Harrow when he latched on to ex-red Jim McCalliog’s pass to slide his shot past Stepney in the 82nd minute and break mine and many another red’s hearts.

The story of the 1976 cup final, however, started much further back on a cold day in January when 41,082 turned up at Old Trafford to see the reds beat Oxford United with two Gerry Daly penalties.

Britain was in the grip of an economic recession and a Labour chancellor was begging the International Monetary Fund for a bail-out as the country was broke. The early sounds of punk was replacing the usual stuff on the radio and in the clubs. The mood was sombre everywhere except on the pitch and in the mass ranks of the red army following an exciting Tommy Docherty team as it stormed back into the first division after a season in the second.

From being at an all time low in recent history the Doc’s team with its blend of experience and youth was up with the pace setters in division one and as we set off on the cup run the talk was of a possible double first season back.

The draw for the fourth round after Oxford had been sent packing brought third division Peterborough to Old Trafford in front of a crowd of 56,352. They were to be beaten 3-1 with goals from Forsyth, McIlroy and everyone’s hero Gordon Hill. One of the things I remember from that game was standing in the Scoreboard Paddock and seeing about 3,000 Boro supporters in the Scoreboard End. This was unusual as visiting fans at that time for the most part didn’t turn up in any numbers at Old Trafford and they definitely didn’t wear scarves or sing. I thought they created a decent atmospere. Needless to say they got mullered all over the Warwick Road at the full time whistle.

Next up was a tough away fixture at Leicester City, a decent team at that time in the top half of the first division. However 34,000 people saw us win with goals from Macari and Hill in a 2-1. Police estimates claim that over 15,000 reds were in the crowd.

The next game saw us drawn at home to second bottom Wolves. As we were joint top at the time, we felt this game was an easy pass through to the semi-final. It was not to be so simple. The game in front of 59,433 at Old Trafford ended in a 1-1 draw with an equalising goal in the 70th minute cancelling out Richards’s opener. It was one of those games where we hit Wolves with everything but it was never going to produce the winner.

However, what it did produce was a replay in front of 44,000 people, that many reds from the era class as one of the best games seen for a long time and a great night. The game was a lock out at the pay-at-the-gate United end with at least an hour to go before kick off. As a result United went en masse into the Wolves end and mayhem took place throughout the game. One well known red broke his wrist hitting at a crush barrier in the confusion, while another sparked out his own brother in the close quarter bedlam that was taking place. This was to continue all the way back to the train station and on into the early hours in Wolverhampton town centre.

There was also some action on the pitch…and what action. United were two down in 20 minutes and the game looked over, Richards hit a post at 2-0 and then had one cleared off the line. Pearson threw the reds a life line before half time and then when Greenhoff hit an equaliser in the 73rd it was game on. The gooning when Sammy Mac hit the winner in extra time was as good as I`ve seen before or since.

The semi would be against what was a great side in Derby County. They had won the league only a couple of seasons earlier and contained a number of the best players in the division.

Over 55,000 turned up at Hillsborogh with Derby clear favourites and aiming for a league and cup double being one point behind second placed United in the league with a game in hand. However Gordon Hill hit a belter to give United the lead in the 12th minute to settle nerves. It was then all hands to the pump as Derby went at United. It looked as if they would grab an equaliser but Hill ended the game with a goal in the 82nd minute. In fact Derby crumbled and were never to be the force they had been in the English game from that moment.

So United were at Wembley in the FA Cup final only two years after being relegated. We were to fall away in the league and finish third (magnificent considering the previous season had been spent in division two) but that didn’t seem to matter as much as the anticipated victory over then second division Southampton. After all we`d gone through the previous two seasons this was to be but a lap of honour.

The United team had lost two league games in the build up and had looked tired. They started the final in the same way. In fact the flying wingers in Coppell and Hill hardly had a kick. These two had ripped teams apart for two years now yet Hill was even taken off later claiming he`d never had such a shit game.

Our best scoring chance against a team that didn`t leave their own half most game came early in the second half when Sammy Mac hit the bar from a corner. Extra time loomed and we felt we would turn the game in that period due to our youthful players. Until…Jim McCalliog, who had scored goals that nearly kept us up the season we were relegated, played a through ball to the clearly offside Bobby Stokes.

The linesman put down the programme he had been reading at the time, picked up his flag and tried to keep up with play, the blind get. Stokes was through on Stepney who came out to close him down with the speed of a crippled hippo and could do nothing as he slotted it away. And the game was up, with the linesman dancing on the pitch wearing his Southampton scarf.

At the time, as a teenager, I was gutted. We rushed round at the end of the game to congratulate the Southampton fans as they left the ground. Massive crowds were to flock into town the following day to cheer the beaten finalists as they arrived in Albert Square. Yes we were allowed parades in those days even if we lost.

One game remained and all chants and eyes were on it that day in Albert Square…beat the blues was the chant. We were to play City mid week and a tired United were to beat them 2-0 in a game that was carried over until after the final. I also remember my dad, a blue, saying to me after the final, you`ll be back at Wembley one day and see your team win things.

Even Tommy Doc was saying we’d be back the following year, though few believed him. If you could have told me all the things I’d have seen United win over the next 30 odd years at the time I’d have thought you mad. To this day I struggle with the memory of that season end…and I can be found in many a pub in Manchester propping up the bar alone, screaming: “BOBBY STOKES WAS OFFSIDE!” to anyone who may or may not want to hear it.

- The above article was published in AFLM:SPG issue 2. Copies are still available. Call in at the Working Class Movement Library on The Crescent, Salford, to get hold of one. Alternatively, email us at: content@afinelung.com and we’ll let you know how you can get one by post.

One Comment »

  • teddy says:

    Fine footage of said semi (no not like that) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImLywgV0gao

    A mate of mine who is slightly longer in years got locked out of the match and so went up to a nearby hill to try and see in. There was quite the crowd, but the police apparently came along and waded in to them to try and clear them away. South Yorkshire Police working at Hillsborough, never the best it would seem…

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