This may startle you slightly, but the FA made mistakes back in the 1980s too. Take the first round draw for the FA Cup in October 1986. Twenty-three ties had been drawn out of the velvet bag before Darlington appeared. The only problem was that the north-east team had been wrongly placed in the southern section of the draw, and faced a 600 mile round-trip to Bournemouth. Cue panic at Lancaster Gate and an abandonment of the draw. After some jiggery-pokery, Darlington were rightfully placed in the northern section - Halesowen and Oldbury Town shifted to the southern half - and the draw for the first round proper of the 1986/87 FA Cup was concluded, well, properly.
Embarrassment would beset two other famous old institutions in Burnley and Wolves. Both lost to non-league opposition, but in the case of Burnley their defeat to Telford was not that much of a surprise. Telford had beaten nine league opponents in the previous four years (including a run to the fifth round of the 84/85 competition), were third in the Conference, unbeaten at home, and had not tasted defeat in their last nine matches. Burnley's manager, Brian Miller, would describe Telford "as good as a lot of fourth division sides", with Burnley stalwart Leighton James waxing lyrical about Telford's style of play. The 3-0 defeat left Burnley to focus on the struggle for survival, one which they would just win on the final day of the season. Just as well, as Telford highlighted the apparent quality that existed below the top four divisions.
Wolves' defeat against the Multipart League side Chorley capped a miserable period for the club. After a 1-1 draw at Bolton - Chorley forced to move the tie from their Duke Street ground due to safety concerns - Wolves blew their chance at Molineux, another 1-1 draw taking the teams back to Burnden Park. That Chorley fully deserved their subsequent 3-0 win spoke volumes as to how low Wolves had sunk, manager Graham Turner openly admitting that their opponents had been fitter, stronger and more worryingly possessing greater ability.
"I'm getting the brunt of the criticism but this is just the culmination of four or five years during which the club has been badly organised", declared Turner, who was facing mounting speculation over his job. Fortunately he had the backing of chairman Dick Homden, and truly the only way was up. A striker named Steve Bull would make his debut for the club shortly after the Chorley debacle, and the dawn was about to arrive after the darkest time for the club.
Another club that had plummeted through the divisions was made to sweat against non-league opponents. Swansea were lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw at Wealdstone, even though the home team had seen Gary Donnellan dismissed, Swans manager Terry Yorath unable to hide his delight at getting another bite of the cherry. The replay was postponed after 54 minutes with Swansea leading 2-1, a freak thunderstorm flooding the Vetch Field. Finally, the Swans would prevail, winning 4-1 in an ill-tempered contest which saw Swansea finish with nine men and Wealdstone ten. Veteran, and FA Cup trivia question, Tommy Hutchison scored the final goal, in a comfortable win for the Welsh side.
Swansea's rivals, Cardiff, had a much easier time of things in a derby with Abacus Welsh League side Ton Pentre. Cup fever hit the village in the Rhondda Valley with the population of 3000 understandably excited at the part-timers first foray into this stage of the FA Cup. Manager Des Bartle indicated that the routine of his players would not change a jot for the visit of their big neighbours: "It's training as usual on Monday and Wednesday nights, nothing special on Friday. I expect some of the lads will have a few pints".
On a big day for the local area - nearby Treorchy were entertaining Cardiff in the Schweppes Cup first round rugby union tie - Ton Pentre, spearheaded by their dynamic strike duo of Gareth Bees and Phil Green, put in a brave display, yet the gulf in class told as Cardiff won 4-1. But another fourth division club would not have such a good time in the principality.
Stockport were bottom of the fourth division at the time, so their trip to Caernarfon looked like a potential banana skin from the off. John King, who had contemplated applying for the recently vacant Stockport job, was turning around the fortunes of the Northern Premier League team. Indeed, the brilliantly named British Rail worker Austin Salmon, who scored the winning goal in the 1-0 victory, was gushing in his praise of King: "He's been brilliant, the best manager and coach I've ever known".
Sadly, the win was marred by a couple of pitch invasions involving Stockport supporters, 15 arrests made, as some fans even found their way into the dressing-rooms. The Welsh FA criticised the stewarding on the day, but cleared Caernarfon in an inquiry, before dropping the bombshell on the club, informing them that they would have to pay a four-figure bill towards the cost of the investigation. Caernarfon chairman, Arfon Roberts, resigned immediately, showing his disgust at having to shell out more money - the club had already spent £3000 on ground improvements. Luton's chairman David Evans, found £500 of his own money to help the Welsh team, but this was a row that would run and run.
Woodford Town also invested heavily in improving their Snakes Lane ground for the local derby with Orient. Club President Jimmy Burns described the occasion as "romantic and the biggest thing that's ever happened to us," so more than a few eyebrows were raised when the Daily Express reported seat prices increasing from £1.20 to £10, double the cost of "the best seats at Old Trafford", although having spent £7000 getting the stadium ready, the club felt fully justified in the price hike. On the pitch the team were certainly in credit, only losing the match 1-0, with 90 seconds to go.
Money, or the lack of it, seemed to be dominating a lot of the build-up to the first round. Halifax were only cleared to play their match against Bolton at The Shay on the Thursday before the fixture, the electricity board restoring power to the club that was facing debts of £424,000. Bolton, who would be relegated to division four at the end of the season, took three games to shake off their lower league opponents, though doubtless Halifax were happy for the extra gate receipts. One club seemingly happy with their lot was Kettering, who refused Gillingham's request to up their usual seat prices to £5. "We have put our seats up from £2.30 to £3 and that's enough," stated the resolute Kettering chairman Cyril Gingell.
Kettering lost 3-0, not the only non-league side to struggle against league opposition. Nuneaton lost by the same score to Rochdale, prompting player-manager Jimmy Holmes to resign two days later; Southend thrashed Halesowen 4-1, Bristol City beat VS Rugby 3-1, and Swindon saw off Farnborough 4-0 in a match switched to Swindon's County Ground, prompting Farnborough manager Ted Pearce to request that the goal should be boarded up to keep the score down; and the biggest win of the round saw Bournemouth trounce Fareham Town 7-2, Fareham's midfielder Simon Jackson, a teacher at Twynham School, failing to get any inside information from a 14-year-old Jamie Redknapp, who was a pupil at the school: "I've asked him about his dad's team all week but he won't tell me anything, he's staying loyal to his father". One of those top, top quality quirky tales that makes the FA Cup so appealing.
Generally though, the non-league clubs gave a good account of themselves. Bobby Hope's Bromsgrove Rovers lost 1-0 to third division Newport County, and Port Vale scraped through by a single goal against Stafford Rangers. Whitby Town were just ten minutes away from knocking out Doncaster, before losing a replay 3-2; Tranmere needed two penalties to see off Spennymoor United by the odd goal in five; Scunthorpe defeated Southport 2-0; and Colchester beat Bishop's Stortford in a replay, the non-league side forcing a second match after equalising in the stoppage time added on after aggro on the terraces had forced many fans on to the pitch.
There were plenty of non-league teams in the hat for the second round draw, however, seven courtesy of victories over fellow non-leaguers. Former England winger Dave Thomas couldn't prevent Bognor Regis Town losing to Slough Town in a replay, and Runcorn also needed a second match to knock out Boston United. Replays were very much the theme in the remaining all non-league ties, only Bath City's 3-2 win over Aylesbury United being decided at the first time of asking, Aylesbury's first loss in 23 matches (a defeat for manager Trevor Gould on a ground that his brother Bobby shared as Bristol Rovers' boss - more of which later).
Three second half goals from Martin Duffield, Steve King and Nigel Keen saw Enfield end Dartford's run, with Chelmsford City beating a Woking side that ended their replay with nine men; Lloyd Wye dismissed in the last minute for a professional foul, with Ade Cowler sent-off for protesting too much (from the resultant penalty, Paul Wilkins missed, but it mattered nonetheless). Two promotion chasing clubs had emphatic replay wins; Altrincham thrashing Frickley Athletic 4-0, and despite Graham Hobbins having led Welling United to the Southern League by 23 points in the previous season, his side were no match for Maidstone United, losing 4-1 at the old London Road ground.
Fourth division table-toppers Northampton continued their fine form, a captain's performance by Trevor Morley inspiring them to a 3-0 win over Peterborough, in front of a crowd of 9,144, Northampton's best gate in four years. Preston, who like Northampton would gain promotion, handed out a 5-1 thrashing to third division Bury, the second time in three years that North End had knocked out Bury in the first round.
If Bury were sick at the sight of Preston, then Mansfield must have experienced similar feelings towards Darlington. The Stags had only lost one league game in the 86/87 campaign, a 2-1 loss at Darlington, which was repeated in the first round of the cup too, Mansfield probably wishing that their bogey team had stayed in the southern section. Middlesbrough joined their north-east neighbours in the next round with a straightforward 3-0 win over Blackpool, but Hartlepool failed to do so, losing 2-1 to Wrexham.
Chester needed three games to progress against Rotherham, with Notts County and Cambridge United also requiring replays to defeat Carlisle and Exeter respectively. And a brace from the recently re-signed Gordon Davies helped Fulham to a 4-0 win over Hereford, after a six-goal thriller in the first match at Edgar Street.
Elsewhere, Aldershot defeated Torquay, and Walsall beat Chesterfield 2-0, although striker Trevor Christie landed himself with a disrepute charge after using offensive language to a linesman. Crewe were no match for a York team that had already enjoyed cup success in the mid 80s, and Wigan defeated a Lincoln side that were destined to suffer the agony of relegation to the Conference on the last day of the season.
And so to the last tie of the round to be decided. A fixture that "seemed to have the duration of the hundred year war", to use the description written in The Times. Bristol Rovers and Brentford were still battling for the right to play Cardiff in the next round as the majority of second round ties were taking place on December 6. However, there was no replay marathon involved with this tie, as the two teams were constantly frustrated and beaten by pitch conditions at Twerton Park.
The original match had been delayed a day so that Bath City, whose ground Bristol Rovers shared, could play their match against Aylesbury. But come the Sunday the game was called off due to a waterlogged pitch, the first of six postponements before the two finally met on December 3. Such was Brentford's annoyance at the situation, that after the fifth cancellation they appealed to the FA for the game to be played on a neutral venue. Their request fell upon deaf ears though, as the FA decided that come rain, or hopefully shine, this match would go ahead.
Of course, just to prolong things a little, when the teams did play the match was inevitably drawn, but luckily the tie was put to bed at Griffin Park, Brentford gaining revenge for their FA Cup exit at the hands of Rovers the year before. Even this match did not run smoothly though, as Brentford's Jamie Murray was sent off, only to be called back by referee Martin Bodenham, after a case of mistaken identity.
From the farce of the two draws, to a player dismissed and then recalled; the first round of the 1986/87 FA Cup had its fair share of dramas, shocks, and controversies. And there was more to come in the second round, as the competition continued to produce more column inches, with the forty remaining lower league clubs fighting for a chance to join the big boys in January's third round.