This piece follows on from my previous blogs on the first, second, third and fourth rounds of the 1984/85 FA Cup, which you can view here, here, here and here.
Turbulent is as good a word as any to describe the nature of the 1984/85 football season. Hooliganism and crowd disturbances were forever making headlines in Britain, the situation spiralling out of control and hurtling towards the inevitable, sad and unnecessary conclusion at Heysel in May. The British weather was also contributing to the feeling of chaos surrounding the sport. Over 250 Football League games had been postponed by mid-February, causing fixture congestion that would make the modern-day manager and player wince, and bringing with it the possibility that the season would stretch on and on, finishing just before the start of Live Aid, if you believed some of the more alarmist elements of the press. The FA Cup was heavily involved in this mess; violence and snow blighting the famous old competition throughout the year.
Added to this cocktail was a battle between TV bosses and club chairmen that began to brew during the Fifth Round of the FA Cup, eventually leading to football disappearing from our screens at the start of the 1985/86 season. In summary, the TV men wanted to screen more live matches, the chairmen refusing to sanction this on the grounds that attendances would drop and that the sport would suffer from over exposure (laughable to think in the Sky era that the league chairmen were concerned by an increase to 19 live matches). The chairmen, led by the determined trio of Robert Maxwell, Irving Scholar and Ken Bates, wanted a shorter term deal - two years instead of four - and surprise, surprise, more money, the £16.7 million deal not to the liking of the league clubs. The row would continue through the rest of the season and into the summer months, until in December the league chairmen finally backed down. Come the early 1990s though, the lessons had obviously been heeded; the formation of the Premier League and the associated TV money that floats around in the game today really could not be any further away from 1985. The clubs may have lost the battle back then, but we all know who won the war.
The live television coverage of the 1985 FA Cup Fifth Round consisted of the 7.15 Friday night match between Second Division table-toppers Blackburn Rovers, and Ron Atkinson's Manchester United. On paper an upset was a possibility, even more so considering that Bryan Robson was still recovering from his dislocated shoulder injury that he had suffered back in January. Gary Bailey had recovered from his own dislocation though - only a finger in his case - and as the match progressed, he was called into action to save bravely from Chris Thompson and Jimmy Quinn. Bailey's interventions came after a dream start for United but a nightmare for Mick Rathbone, as the Rovers defender failed to deal with the difficult surface, allowing Gordon Strachan to pounce and give United the lead after six minutes. Strachan spurned the chance to put the tie to bed, missing an 81st minute penalty - his fourth miss from his last 13 penalties - although fortunately for United it was not costly. Paul McGrath's clincher at the death put United into the last eight, and Atkinson's cup specialists were on the march again.
Of the remaining ties, only two matches went ahead as scheduled on the Saturday (York v Liverpool and Everton v Telford), the wintry weather again taking hold across most parts of the country. Liverpool would need a replay to see off giant killers York, Ricky Sbragia's late equaliser at Bootham Crescent giving the Third Division side a dream trip to Anfield. For Sbragia the goal signified a dramatic change in fortunes; three years previously he had been on the dole for five months and had written to 40 clubs in an attempt to continue his career, but the faith that Denis Smith had shown in him was fully repaid with his money-spinning goal against the reigning champions. In a match where two goals were controversially disallowed (one for each team), the behaviour of both sets of fans was again brought into question, Liverpool supporters reportedly throwing bottles after the York equaliser, with York fans invading the pitch and goading the away contingent after the match. Alas, the sight of mounted police and dog handlers on a pitch was not an unfamiliar one during the 1980s, yet it seemed a shame that York's achievements had been overshadowed by these scenes.
"They will probably tear York to bits and hurl them to us dogs of the Pressbox on Wednesday at Anfield" noted the Daily Express' Alan Thompson in his match report. He was not wrong. Liverpool's 7-0 win in the replay, including a John Wark hat-trick, was inspired by Kenny Dalglish, who earlier in the week had been to Buckingham Palace to pick up his MBE. Denis Smith was honest in his assessment of the match: "It was embarrassing really. Some of our lads froze", but through their cup run, and the associated money that went with it - York had earned over £16,000 from their home ties with Arsenal and Liverpool - Smith had every reason to be proud of his team's efforts. A true tale of an FA Cup underdog defying the odds.
Another side representing this aspect of the FA Cup were Gola League team Telford. Their remarkable run to the Fifth Round was pure fantasy stuff, and they were fully rewarded with a trip to Goodison Park to take on eventual champions Everton. Manager Stan Storton was realistic about Telford's chances: "...this is the biggest day in our history and it would be fantastic if we could make it truly historic...although that's stretching imagination a bit far", but Everton boss Howard Kendall certainly was not underestimating the minnows, describing them as "the best non-League side I have ever seen". To prove the point, Telford exceeded all expectations by frustrating their hosts for an hour, before strikes from Gary Stevens, Kevin Sheedy and Trevor Steven ended their resistance. In the days before squad rotation, the Everton win had come at a cost. Already without Adrian Heath, there were now injury doubts cast over Graeme Sharp, Andy Gray, Gary Stevens, Peter Reid, and Paul Bracewell, prompting speculation that manager Kendall was planning a transfer market raid for Peter Davenport. For Telford these dizzying heights would never be reached again, and although they would continue to cause the odd shock through the years, sadly by the end of the 2003/04 season they were no more, as the club was forced into liquidation. Through the tireless work of the club supporters, AFC Telford United rose from this sorry situation, and in 2004 the reincarnation were just one game away from emulating the achievements of their previous existence, before losing to eventual finalists Millwall in the Fourth Round.
Where York failed, third tier Millwall succeeded in knocking out First Division opponents, although a home tie against struggling Leicester was admittedly a far more appealing prospect than taking on Liverpool. Millwall rode their luck a little, keeper Paul Sansome denying Gary Lineker and John O'Neill, as Leicester spurned numerous chances in the first half. Just before the break Leicester were punished for their wastefulness; a fine solo effort from John Fashanu giving Millwall the lead, and as chances came and went in the second period, the majority of the 16,160 crowd were beginning to dream that this could be Millwall's day. Indeed, the match was neatly summed up when O'Neill hit the bar in the 79th minute, only for Fashanu to set up Alan McLeary a minute later for the goal that saw Millwall through to the last eight. According to the strangely fascinated press reports, Fashanu celebrated his fine performance with a lime and lemonade, though to be fair the thought of a teetotal footballer at the time was as a rare as a cheerful story on the newly launched Eastenders. The stock of manager George Graham was growing by the day and would continue to do so, until he landed the Arsenal job in May 1986. For the time being though, Graham was doing his best to accentuate the positives in Millwall's resurgence: "I hope now that people will start talking about the team and the football and not about hooligans". You cannot argue with the sentiment behind Graham's statement, though after the events of the next round at Luton, he must have wanted to bang his head against a brick wall.
The other four ties would be delayed until March, due to a combination of the weather, and a set of World Cup qualifiers that took place on February 27. Second Division Barnsley caused a genuine shock, defeating the 1984 semi-finalists Southampton at The Dell. When Steve Moran scored for the third round in succession, it appeared as if everything was running to plan, until fourth choice striker Steve Agnew began to write his own script. The 19-year-old, only playing due to the absences of Calvin Plummer, Rodger Wylde and Ian Walsh, levelled things up just eight minutes after Moran's goal, and won the decisive penalty in the 40th minute, as Kevin Bond's foul led to Gordon Owen's winner. Agnew's dad Maurice was expected to be on crowd control duty in the next round just six days after the Southampton victory. Thanks to his boy, Agnew Senior could now look forward to a busy day at Oakwell, with the visit of Liverpool in the quarter finals.
Wimbledon had already triumphed in a clash of footballing styles in the FA Cup, defeating Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in the previous round, so when the Fifth Round draw paired them with West Ham, more column inches were filled with long ball criticisms and related tennis puns (lob and volley, battering from the baseline etc). Portsmouth's manager Alan Ball was scathing in the direct style of play adopted by Wimbledon and others: "They belt it forward as quickly as possible. There are no frills, it is percentage football", adding "I hope West Ham win, because I wouldn't like to see another side at Wembley like Watford last season." Strong stuff. John Lyall, probably reluctant to give Wimbledon any extra incentive, was more diplomatic: "The game will provide a conflict in styles, but you won't catch me criticising anyone who plays the way Wimbledon do, especially when they do it as well as they do."
West Ham would need a replay to see off their Second Division opponents. The first match at Plough Lane saw Alan Devonshire make his return to first team action after fourteen months out after knee ligament damage. It looked like Devonshire had marked his return with a goal, but his effort, and a later one by Neil Orr, were judged not to have crossed the line, although replays seemed to suggest both players were a little unlucky. Amazing to think that nearly thirty years on, we are still talking about the same old thing. Anyhow, Tony Cottee's strike was cancelled out by Stewart Evans, and a resilient West Ham performance, led by the immense Alvin Martin, meant a replay at Upton Park would take place, just two days later. Class would tell second time round, as a Cottee hat-trick helped the Hammers claim an easy 5-1 win. One up for lovers of the beautiful game.
Relegation threatened Ipswich put aside their poor league form, disposing of Sheffield Wednesday in a gripping tussle at Portman Road. Stripped in recent years of talents such as Thijssen, Muhren, Mills, Mariner, Wark and Brazil, and massively in debt due to the construction of the £1.5 million Portman Road stand, the Suffolk side were at least providing their fans with the boost of a decent couple of cup runs in an otherwise depressing season. Wednesday twice took the lead in the match through Mick Lyons and Imre Varadi, but Ipswich refused to be beaten, George Burley and Romeo Zondervan equalising on each occasion. Alan Sunderland's controversial 88th minute winner, which to many looked clearly offside, finally settled the tie, as Ipswich's progress along the road to Wembley in both competitions gathered pace. Unfortunately for Ipswich, their Milk Cup journey was blocked in the semi-final two days later by, of all teams, their East Anglian rivals Norwich, the backlog of fixtures hardly helping their cause. Ipswich would ultimately survive relegation by the skin of their teeth, whereas Norwich - who went on to win the Milk Cup - were not so fortunate. It was merely delaying the inevitable though; a year later Ipswich were relegated, with Norwich promoted as champions, a cruel twist of fate for Town supporters, who were already suffering enough due to the decline of the team in the post-Robson years. But at least they had the memories of that glorious era.
The final match to be decided was the Herts-Beds/M1 derby between Watford and Luton. A year previously, Watford gained the local bragging rights, beating Luton after a Third Round replay, on their way to the final. "Perhaps this time it will be our turn to win, and go on to Wembley. What a lovely thought," said Luton manager David Pleat, who would come agonisingly close to fulfilling this wish. The first match at Kenilworth Road was by all accounts dreadful, so much so that the Daily Express did not try and hold back in their match report: "If either of these teams reaches Wembley the old stadium will have to be fumigated". Watford were without the guile of John Barnes for all three matches, not that this seemed to matter when the Hornets went 2-0 up in the first replay with goals from Les Taylor and Steve Terry. But with just 13 minutes to go, Luton hit back, Emeka Nwajiobi and Ricky Hill scoring to send the match into extra time, the blame for the first goal being laid firmly at the door of Lee Sinnott, who had naively attempted to push up for offside. With no further goals in the extra half hour, Watford then lost the toss for the choice of venue for the second replay, a match which would finally divide the teams. Wayne Turner, only in the Luton team because recent signing Peter Nicholas was cup-tied, scored the winner on his 24th birthday (FA Cup quarter final day too), meaning the five hour saga was over, and bringing with it the conclusion to a Fifth Round spanning 22 days.
So after what had seemed an (ice) age, we were now down to just eight teams in the 1984/85 FA Cup, after a Fifth Round involving postponements, rows over TV money, crowd trouble, teams repeatedly playing two games in 48 hours, and a replay marathon. The snow and ice may have cleared from this point on, yet the pathway was anything but smooth for the rest of the season, as the sport in England lurched from one crisis to the other. Naturally the FA Cup played a key role in writing the remaining chapters of the campaign, reflecting all that was good and bad about the game at the time. The 1984/85 season was anything but uneventful.