by Richard DJJ Bowdery.
Following Chelsea’s humbling at the hands of Bradford City last month, many on social media called it the biggest FA Cup shock ever.
But for my money – and without taking anything away from Bradford’s magnificent result – two other clubs have a better claim to that honour: Sutton United and Hereford United. Unlike Bradford who are a League One side, the third tier of English football, when the two United’s made the headlines, it was as Non-League clubs.
In 1989 Conference side Sutton beat First Division Coventry City 2-1 in the third round. This coming only two years after Coventry had lifted the FA Cup following their dramatic 3-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Now on a cold January afternoon in south-west London, they were made to eat humble pie by their lowly opponents.
Yet I believe a greater feat was achieved when Hereford beat Newcastle United in a third round replay.
The first game was drawn two apiece at St. James Park. The replay at Hereford’s Edgar Street stadium was postponed several times with the game finally going ahead on 5 February 1972, before a crowd of over 14,000.
Newcastle took the lead when Malcolm McDonald rose to head the Geordie side ahead with only 8 minutes left on the referee’s watch. It seemed Hereford’s valiant effort would come to naught; that was until Ronnie’s rocket.
With three minutes remaining, Ronnie Radford played a one-two thirty yards from goal before launching a thunderbolt that left Newcastle’s keeper grasping at thin air. The underdogs had drawn level.
In the first period of extra-time substitute Ricky George, who had come on towards the end of normal time, picked up the ball deep into Newcastle’s half. With only one thing on his mind he took aim and fired Hereford into round four. Cue wild celebrations on the pitch.
In the fourth round they met West Ham United and again the game went to a replay. This time there was no fairy tale ending. West Ham won 3-1 with Geoff Hurst scoring a hat-trick. I guess if you’re going to lose when further glory beckons, then losing at the hands of a World Cup hero might soften the blow a little.
My reason for choosing Hereford’s exploits over Sutton’s is simple: their respective positions on the football pyramid. At the time of their heroics Hereford were plying their trade in the Southern League, the 7th tier of English football. Whereas, when Sutton beat Coventry they were playing in the Conference which is two leagues higher.
Before Hereford, the last time a non-league team knocked out a top-flight club was in 1949 when Yeovil beat Sunderland. And the next after Sutton United? Conference side Luton Town who, in 2013, knocked out Premier League side Norwich City in the fourth round, with the game’s only goal.
Yet despite the big money slushing around at the top of the pyramid, who’s to say another Non-League sides won’t humble a club from English footballs elite? As Jimmy Greaves used to say: “It’s a funny old game…”