This piece follows on from my previous blogs on the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth rounds of the 1984/85 FA Cup, which you can view here, here, here, here and here.
On the face of it, the quarter finals of the 1985 FA Cup were hardly dramatic from a footballing perspective. All four teams expected to progress did so, although one Merseyside giant almost fell by the wayside before recovering to return the form book to its rightful position. But football in the 1980s was a complicated sport, with headlines not just confined to matters on the field of play. After the winter related headaches of the previous rounds, surely spring couldn't be any worse? There were even some small rays of sunshine enveloping English football on the Friday before the quarter finals, with the Daily Express reporting 'England Euro hopes rising' prior to a UEFA decision regarding the host nation of Euro 88. What the country needed now was for a quiet few days leading up to the UEFA verdict. What it got however, was anything but.
Although the Luton-Millwall match on Wednesday March 13 was the last tie to kick off, there really is only one place to start any round-up of the 1985 FA Cup quarter finals. The events of that night have been widely revisited in recent weeks - my personal favourite being Sean Ingle's piece for the Guardian - due to the same fixture coming out of the hat (or plastic bin) for the 2013 FA Cup Fifth Round, but it was only after researching this piece that I began to realise just how violent and destructive that evening was. Trouble started long before the match had started, as Millwall fans arrived in their thousands and began to cause havoc around town, although it would later become apparent that they were not the only visitors from London that day. Turnstiles were charged before the kick off, causing overcrowding in the away end, as fans armed with various weapons - knives, snooker balls and bolts were mentioned in the papers - entered the terracing and then made their way on to the pitch, forcing Luton fans to run for cover. It was becoming evident that the local police force were in drastic need of reinforcements from neighbouring counties, their original 200 swelled to 360 after the initial violence started. And then a game of football eventually broke out.
The match was only 14 minutes old before another crowd invasion forced referee David Hutchinson to take the players off. After a 25 minute delay, the teams returned, Luton's Brian Stein scoring the decisive goal just after the half hour, to book Luton a place in the semi-finals for the first time in 26 years. But come the end of the evening, this almost seemed irrelevant.
On the final whistle, players sprinted for the dressing rooms, as a vast army made their way from the away end on to the pitch once more. Seats and advertising boards were destroyed, and a directors box invaded, as the police battled manfully to contain the mayhem. In all, the damage caused in the ground ran to £15,000 plus, and when added to the cost to local residents and shopkeepers, along with over £45,000 worth of repairs needed to a British Rail train vandalised on the way back to London, the evening had proved an expensive nightmare. Even more so when UEFA awarded Euro 88 to West Germany. Well they were hardly likely to be impressed after the events of March 13 were they?
The reaction of the British press was understandably vehement. Writing in the Daily Express, Barry Flatman summed up the general feeling at the time: "Millwall were knocked out of the FA Cup last night in disgraceful scenes that took the already tarnished name of the club down to the gutter." Reports from the evening of Luton keeper Les Sealey having to avoid coins, bottles, and even knives were shocking enough, but there was worse to follow. During the riot, Police Sergeant Colin Cook had been felled by a lump of broken concrete and swallowed his tongue, and as Constable Phil Evans massaged his heart and tried (successfully) to revive Cook, he was kicked, punched and spat at. Hardly surprising then that Luton director Terry Bailey was damning in his verdict: "If we are ever unlucky enough to have Millwall here again, we shall put them in an enclosure and ask Whipsnade Zoo about the best way to control these animals."
In all there were 31 arrests made on that infamous evening, including amongst their number, some Chelsea and West Ham fans, obviously intent on one thing only. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher threatened violent clubs with closure, proposed stiffer jail sentences, and called for a ban of alcohol in and around grounds, whereas Labour leader Neil Kinnock waded into the row by taking the political opportunity of blaming the Government and unemployment for the rise in crime and violence throughout England. Amidst the mess of the whole sorry situation, the fact that Third Division Millwall had reached the quarter finals, knocking out top flight opposition in Chelsea and Leicester along the way, had been lost. Millwall's club statement provides us with some fitting final words on the subject: "If success means that we have to be tarnished by those few hundred animals who appear intent on destroying not only Millwall, not only football but society itself; we have to ask
ourselves: 'Is it worth it?'."
Back to footballing matters. On paper the Everton-Ipswich tie should have been a one-sided affair, the league table highlighting the chasm between the two sides. Luckily the FA Cup magically reduced this gap, and despite going behind to a Kevin Sheedy free-kick, Ipswich somehow managed not only to equalise but too take the lead through Kevin Wilson and Romeo Zondervan, the first goals Everton had conceded in the FA Cup since the same stage of the 1984 competition. Ipswich's hopes were then hampered by a controversial decision of referee Alan Robinson to send off Steve McCall for his first offence of the match, a rarity in the rough and tumble world of eighties football, and they now faced a grim struggle to fend off the league leaders. Newspaper reports at the time felt McCall's dismissal was harsh, so when Derek Mountfield levelled the match with five minutes to go, Ipswich manager Bobby Ferguson was irate: "We almost lost the game because of that sending off when we could have won it, even though we were getting tired after four games in eight days." All arguments were put to one side though when the sad news drifted through that former Everton manager Harry Catterick had died at the ground shortly after the match. Everton manager Howard Kendall and his assistant Colin Harvey, who had both played under Catterick, now had extra motivation to win the replay in memory of their former boss.
The replay was not without incident, as again Robinson found himself at the centre of Ferguson's post-match comments. In a nip and tuck encounter in front of Ipswich's biggest home attendance so far that season (27,737), both teams hit the woodwork - Ipswich twice (Cranson and McCall) and Everton once (Steven) - and Andy Gray had a goal chalked off for bundling Mark Grew into the net, a nice 'welcome to the game' present for the keeper only playing due to an injury to regular Paul Cooper. As the game drifted towards extra time, second half substitute Russell Osman was adjudged to have handled the ball in the area, allowing Everton's Graeme Sharp - returning to the team after a four match injury absence - to put Everton through to the last four with his 22nd goal of the season. The reaction of the Ipswich players, who hounded Robinson after he had awarded the penalty, and of Ferguson after the match, stressed how contentious the moment had been. "It was a harsh decision. We have lost an important tie on the referee's interpretation tonight, just as we lost an important player when McCall was sent off by the same referee at Goodison," commented an angry Ferguson, who now only had a relegation battle to play for. As for Everton, their quest for a league, FA Cup, and Cup Winners Cup treble continued apace.
In the days leading up to West Ham's visit to Manchester United, a lot had been made of the Hammers' little and little partnership of Tony Cottee and Paul Goddard, who had both scored hat tricks during the cup run. An altogether bigger threat was lurking in West Ham's ranks though, as a day before the match a flu bug struck the squad, resulting in manager John Lyall contacting the FA to sound them out about a postponement. With flu affecting Alan Devonshire, Alvin Martin, Steve Walford, Dave Swindlehurst, Bobby Barnes and Goddard, and with injury doubts to four other players, West Ham were hardly in the best shape to take on Ron Atkinson's United, and when you also factor in that United had won the corresponding league fixture 5-1 in October, it was easy to see why West Ham were heavy underdogs.
Yet in the opening twenty minutes it was West Ham making all the running, as Alan Dickens, Neil Orr, and the tiny terrors of Cottee and Goddard all wasted good opportunities to put the Londoners in front, before Mark Hughes showed them how it was done, his great turn and early shot giving United the lead. Fortunately for West Ham, United's centre back Graeme Hogg was kind enough to give them a helping hand, as he sliced Paul Allen's cross into his own net to give the visitors a deserved equaliser. In a pulsating match, played out in front of 46,769 fans that helped create the type of atmosphere that you can only dream of nowadays, Norman Whiteside gave United the lead before the break, and when he scored again in the 74th minute it looked as if it was game over. Allen gave West Ham brief hope late on, before Whiteside completed his hat-trick and sent United into the semis, his penalty two minutes from time finally putting the tie to bed.
As an aside, the two teams would meet in the league at Upton Park on the Friday after their belter of a cup clash. The match would end in a 2-2 draw, although the reason I mention this game is the television coverage afforded at the time by the BBC. West Ham wanted to move the kick off to 7.30pm, but the BBC refused to budge, as a later start would mean a delay to the Nine O'Clock News. To go that little bit further in being really unhelpful, the BBC chose not to cancel the Wogan show, meaning that when live coverage of the match finally started, the first fifteen minutes had been played already. Now there is an insight into football coverage during the eighties for you.
At least ITV provided us with the full ninety minutes of Second Division Barnsley's match at Oakwell against Liverpool, the match screened live on the Sunday afternoon. For identical twins Ron and Paul Futcher, the motivation to try and get one over on their opponents was even greater, both having had unsuccessful trials with the Anfield club when they were 15. Defender Paul was realistic regarding Barnsley's hopes though: "It is a tall order but we are playing well and stranger things have happened." After early season wobbles that left Liverpool languishing in 20th place in October, the return from injury of Ian Rush helped the team recover their legendary swagger, even if they were still inevitably feeling the pinch of losing Graeme Souness during the previous summer.
After manfully keeping Liverpool out until the 55th minute, Barnsley would eventually fold to a 4-0 defeat, as an Ian Rush hat-trick, along with a Ronnie Whelan goal, sent the Red Machine through to their first FA Cup semi-final in five years. Ian Rush's ninth Liverpool hat-trick had Barnsley manager Bobby Collins questioning the tactics required to negate the Welshman: "How do you stop him? You aren't allowed to take guns on the field." Collins may have wished to use any spare ammunition on some of his players though, as a Clive Baker fumble and a poor back pass by Billy Ronson gifted Liverpool with their first two goals, Joe Fagan's men hardly in need of any handouts.
So then there were four. Fortunately from this point on the FA Cup would receive a much needed boost through four dramatic matches, classics in their different ways, each played out in cauldrons of noise that still do funny things to the few remaining hairs on my neck. The route had been littered with obstacles aplenty, from the cloud-based white stuff that just would not relent to the missiles hurled around various parts of a Bedfordshire town on a sad Wednesday night. But as British Summer Time began there was some rays of light around the corner for the competition, a blessed relief after what had gone before.