Hereford United and their run to FA Cup Fourth Round in 1971/72

No. 7 in an occasional series.

Hereford United’s Third Round replay victory, that Ronnie Radford goal and the Parka clad pitch invaders are as synonymous with FA Cup giant-killing as it is possible to be. Whenever the FA Cup Third Round comes around images of that fantastic replay win over Newcastle United in 1972 are beamed all over the TV channels.

Hereford United began life in 1924 following an amalgamation of Hereford St Martin’s and RAOC (Rotherwas) and entered the FA Cup that same season as a member of the Birmingham Combination. That first FA Cup campaign went the same way as the three for Hereford St Martin’s had done with an Extra Preliminary Round exit losing 7-2 to Kidderminster Harriers then of the Birmingham and District League. Two seasons later the club managed their first FA Cup win with a 6-1 victory over Birmingham Combination rivals Halesowen Town, but their first real Cup run didn’t happen until four years further on when reaching the Fourth Qualifying Round in the 1930/31 season.

By now the club was competing in the higher Birmingham and District League and faced Birmingham Combination outfit Bloxwich Strollers in the Extra Preliminary Round of that season’s FA Cup. A comfortable 6-1 home win pitted Hereford with fellow Birmingham and District League club Bilston United in the Preliminary Round. A 1-1 draw was followed by two 3-3 draws before Hereford finally won 6-4 at the fourth time of asking, a total of 24 goals to settle the tie. Birmingham Corporation Tramways were defeated 2-1 in the First Qualifying Round and Oakengates 1-0 in the Second Qualifying Round before a trip to Hednesford Town in the Third Qualifying Round saw Hereford come away with another tight 2-1 victory. Former Football League side Gainsborough Trinity, now playing in the Midland League, a level above the Birmingham and District League, were Hereford’s Fourth Qualifying Round opponents and the difference in standard paid off with a 3-0 win for Trinity.

Hereford missed out on a First Round ‘Proper’ appearance that season, but they only had to wait two years before finally stepping beyond the Qualifying Rounds. Bilston United scratched before facing them in the Extra Preliminary Round (maybe not fancying another marathon FA Cup tie), and the original Atherstone Town from the Birmingham Combination were beaten 4-2 in the Preliminary Round. Successive victories over three fellow Birmingham and District League rivals, Worcester City (5-2), Brierley Hill Alliance (4-0 after a 1-1 draw) and Shrewsbury Town (3-1), took Hereford to one step away from the First Round once again. This time they were pitted against Eastern Counties League outfit Kettering Town and this time it was their turn to win 3-0 to progress. Hereford were drawn against Football League opposition for the first time, too, away at Accrington Stanley, who beat them 2-1 with Billy Hann scoring their first FA Cup ‘Proper’ Round goal.

It would be 16 years before Hereford United appeared in the First Round again. Having been promoted to the Southern League following the end of World War II the club had a sustained period of reaching the First Round 22 times over the 23 seasons from 1948-49 to their famous 1971-72 campaign. During that period the club made the Third Round twice, losing 3-0 in Division One side Sheffield Wednesday in 1958 and fellow Southern League side Bedford Town in 1966, and managed to beat five Football League clubs as well (Exeter City 2-0 in 1953/54, Aldershot 3-2 in 1956/57, Queen’s Park Rangers 6-1 in 1957/58, Millwall 3-0 in 1965/66 and Northampton Town in 1970/71). All of these clubs were competing in one of the bottom two Football League divisions. But then came the famous 1971/72 campaign.

Exempted until the Fourth Qualifying Round Hereford United started their Cup run with a 5-0 home win over Kidderminster Harriers then playing in the West Midlands Regional League Premier Division. The First Round draw sent the club to fellow Southern League side King’s Lynn where they gained a goalless draw. The replay at Edgar Street four days later saw Tony Gough score the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win. Fourth Division Northampton Town were next and it took three attempts and a 2-1 extra time victory at The Hawthorns for Hereford United to defeat the Cobblers for the second successive season to set up a dream tie at First Division Newcastle United.

Hereford stunned their top flight opponents when Brian Owen opened the scoring within a minute, although Newcastle recovered to go 2-1 up before the quarter hour mark. But Colin Addison equalised for The Bulls to earn the non-league side a remarkable draw. But that was nothing compared to what came next. In front of almost 14,000 crammed in spectators, Newcastle took the game to Hereford and eventually converted one of their many chances late on only for that famous Ronnie Radford thunderbolt five minutes from time to send the match into extra time. Ricky George scored the winner in the first period of extra time sparking the second of three pitch invasions and Hereford held to progress to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup for the first time ever. There was a very credible goalless draw at home to another Division One side West Ham United in that Fourth Round, but history was not to repeat itself in the replay with the Hammers winning 3-1 and Billy Meadows scoring for Hereford.

That victory of Newcastle United and the FA Cup run to the Fourth Round coupled with a second place finish in the Southern League earned Hereford United a place in the Football League at the expense of Barrow. However, despite reaching the Fourth Round on seven more occasions, the Bulls never did make it to the last 16 before folding during the 2014/15 season. None of those other Cup runs to the Fourth Round, though, are anywhere near as memorable as that iconic 1972 campaign which will never be forgotten for as long as the FA Cup goes on.

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