FA Cup Memories – Series 1:18 Ian Townsend

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This is the 18th in the first series of exclusive FA Cup Memories from all across the football spectrum.

Every day, having started on May 1st 2020, a new set of exclusive FA Cup memories are being published via this FACupFactfile blog, and today is the turn of the person who produces all the Isthmian League social media content.

SERIES ONE, No. 18

IAN TOWNSEND

Connection to the world of Football: I look after the website and social media for the Isthmian League.

Pic Ian Townsend

First memory of the FA Cup: Ian says, “My first memory of the FA Cup is a very brief one. I recall, aged 5, disinterestedly watching the 1973 Cup Final between Leeds United and Sunderland. I was probably the only person in the whole of County Durham who was disinterested, and as I later adopted Leeds United as my team it was a match I was reminded of regularly for the rest of my childhood, usually by a crowd of sneering Mackems who didn’t like to be told that they’d won nothing since and would never win anything again. 

That said, the very first football match I remember clearly is the FA Cup Final of 1975. It was only a short time after we became the proud ‘owners’ (it came from Radio Rentals) of a colour TV, and I sat in front of it to watch Fulham take on West Ham United. I recall that I decided to support Fulham, not because of any love for Bobby Moore and Alan Mullery – I had no idea who they were, I was a seven year old in a household where nobody else liked football – but because they wore white, the same as Leeds.

Sadly the comparison didn’t stop there; they also played just like Leeds tended to in finals, being deservedly beaten by two goals from Alan Taylor. Afterwards I memorised as many of the players’ names as possible and went outside to recreate the match by crashing my bright orange ‘Shoot’ football repeatedly against Mr Clarke’s privet hedge.

I’m sure it can be hard to grow up in a household where you are the only one who loves football, but even despite that it’s obvious that even Ian’s non-football-loving family stopped to watch the FA Cup, as most families did in the 1970s.

That Sunderland victory over Leeds seems to be a Final many of the contributors to this series of FA Cup memories recall as being the first Cup Final they remember seeing. It’s hard to know if it really was their first memory, or because they have been constantly reminded of it ever since.

How many other families first rented a colour television in order to watch the FA Cup Final? And how many other youngsters immediately went outside after the match was over to re-create the game? I’m sure there were many ‘Mr Clarkes’ who had their hedges, fences and walls battered by a cheap 70s football on those sunny Saturday afternoons in May.

Pic Z Alan Taylor West Ham 1975

 

Favourite memory of the FA Cup: Ian says, “Monday 10th January 2011 was cold and wet. I thought I was coming down with flu. But I was most definitely going to football nonetheless, despite the entreaties of my wife that I should “just watch it on the telly.” Crawley Town were about to entertain Derby County in the Third Round of the FA Cup, and I was the Chair of the Crawley Town Supporters Trust. By the way, just the idea that Crawley Town could possibly be “on the telly” was incredibly surreal. 

 I’d been “down south” since 1987, and fallen almost out of love with football for much of the intervening period, whilst still making the odd journey to Elland Road. After 13 years in London we moved to Sussex, and my youngest boy persuaded me to go and watch Crawley, who were riding high in the Doctor Martens Premier Division. They ended up winning promotion, and I was hooked.

And then it all went rather wrong, as a pair of wealthy local miscreants bought the club, then almost broke it due to terrible mismanagement – and I found that I cared. Deeply. To cut a rather long and occasionally painful story short, the club was bailed out and rejuvenated, and a period of years without an FA Cup victory had come to an end in dramatic fashion. We’d already defeated one League club, Swindon Town, in our run to the Third Round, so were we afraid of Derby County? A little. But we were united in our wish to make Robbie Savage miserable. 

The rain poured down, but it didn’t deter the supporters, many of whom got very, very wet indeed. On the half hour Craig McAllister put Crawley ahead, but we couldn’t hold onto our advantage despite dominating the match, and Addison equalised for the visitors just after the hour. 

That favourite memory of the FA Cup arrived around half an hour later. Sergio Torres was our midfield dynamo, part of a partnership with a Dannie Bulman which was unparalleled in the Conference. He was a wonderful footballer, but not really a regular goalscorer – and yet when Dean Howell played a corner to him on the edge of the box we all knew what was coming. The ball arrowed into the back of the net, and the stadium erupted. We knew that Derby wouldn’t have time to respond, and indeed they didn’t. Crawley Town were into the Fourth Round – a club that only a short time previously got within ten minutes of oblivion had another chance of drawing, well, Manchester United. 

Pic Z Sergio Torres Crawley 2011 

We didn’t draw the other Red Devils, we instead drew Torquay United. But of course once the Gulls were despatched, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men came out of the hat for Round Five. That was a wonderful day as we outplayed United despite losing one-nil at Old Trafford, but no moment will eclipse that split second as Sergio’s shot hit the back of the net. It remains one of the greatest moments of my life; a moment I recreate in my head when depression hits to try and lift myself out of the gloom.”

What a fantastic memory for Ian, something that only the FA Cup can provide. A moment in time permanently placed in the memory cells encompassing the images, the sounds, and the emotions of that special moment, to be recalled when times aren’t so good.

Anyone who follows a football club will have at least one moment like this, and invariably that moment is connected to the FA Cup. The competition is more than just about winning the Trophy and playing at Wembley, as desirable as those two things are, but for most football fans it is mainly about those occasions when your team produced something special; a wonder goal, a giant-killing, a defeat of a local rival, or a fantastic come-back.

The FA Cup provides those kind of opportunities every season over and over for the fans of 700 or so clubs who’s teams never come anywhere near reaching the Final, but who all dream of one day being pitted against one of the more well-known clubs such as Manchester United. And when it happens, the memories stick with you forever.

 

Last FA Cup match attended: Ian says “Ill-health ruined last season for me, to the extent that I didn’t get to watch a match after the end of October. On that note the last FA Cup match I got to see was in the Third Qualifying Round, when I went to watch Canvey Island take on Bowers and Pitsea on Saturday October 5th.

It was the first time I’d been to Canvey in many years, and it hadn’t changed. It’s a ground I like, with a large collection of open terraces which reminded me of my childhood watching my home town club, Bishop Auckland. Luckily it didn’t rain, and as well as the football, any groundhoppers will have been delighted when an enormous container ship appeared on the horizon – that’s the quintessential photograph of Park Lane, as you’ll find if you search for an image of the ground on Google. 

SONY DSC

Canvey Island FC and Container Ship (Pic courtesy of Laurence Reade)

 The natives were – as always – friendly, the football was entertaining, and the three hour drive home relatively trouble free. The match ended one-one, with Bowers winning the replay – but that was as far as they got, as Chichester City knocked them out in the Fourth Qualifying Round.

I’ve been to hundreds of FA Cup matches involving two non-league clubs and everywhere I go the ‘natives are friendly’ as Ian describes. In fact, I’d go further and say, “The welcome at non-league grounds is exceptional”. Given that clubs at this level are invariably run by less than a handful of dedicated volunteers, the willingness to take time treating visitors as ‘special guests’ is outstanding.

Go to a top flight or football league club during the FA Cup (or any time) and try to get to meet the Chairperson, or access the boardroom, or get free rein to wander around the ground as you see fit where other club representatives will happily share their love for their club. This is what I encounter at every non-league club I visit.

I encourage everyone to try to visit a non-league club during the FA Cup, especially as the game gets back onto its feet after the current crisis. Even better, if you are an owner of one of the top 92 clubs, go and visit these lower level clubs to see first-hand the passion for the FA Cup that exists there.

 

Thoughts on the future of the FA Cup: Ian says, “At my end of the football spectrum the FA Cup still has the importance it had when I was a child. From this season’s competition alone supporters of Maldon & Tiptree, Chichester City, Kingstonian etc. have created tales which their supporters will still be talking about in forty-years’ time, the same way that I still bore my friends with Bishop Auckland’s FA Cup exploits in 1981-82.

 The problem – and I certainly won’t be the first to say this – happens from the Third Round onwards. The FA Cup wasn’t just England’s premier cup competition, it was the world’s premier cup competition. How many foreign footballers of the past arrived in this country and immediately regaled the press with dreams of playing in the Final at Wembley? Perhaps I’m romanticising this, and imports to Spain and Germany were similarly effusive about the national cup competitions there, too; but I doubt it very much, unless World Soccer Magazine was deliberately trying to mislead me when I was a teenager. I’m still reading it, by the way, so they must have done something right.

The FA are entirely at fault. They govern the English game, yet they have repeatedly devalued their own cup competition in favour of the Premier League, Champions League and even the ridiculously overblown Europa League. If we have fixture congestion it is entirely because of the expansion of European football, and many of those midweek nights are meaningless. They certainly weren’t meaningless when I was a child and they were full of FA Cup Replays – matches in which nobody would have even considered fielding a weakened side, or putting out the reserves, because not only did they want to win, but their own supporters wouldn’t have tolerated it.

My memories might be a little rose-tinted, admittedly, but how many of the teenagers of today will be talking of the excitement of a midweek FA Cup replay from their youth when they have grandchildren? I can still take you back to 1991, when Leeds fell to defeat against Arsenal in a THIRD replay (the year that Gazza knocked them out in the Semi-Final by scoring THAT free kick).

These days the FA Cup is important to all sides below the Championship. The top forty-four clubs – and the organisation who run it? Not so much, sadly.

There are so, so many football fans out there who feel exactly the same way as Ian does, and not just those fans below the top forty-four clubs. The FA Cup is still very special in the eyes of football fans the world over, but that sense of wonder is not echoed by those that own the bigger clubs and those that run football competitions.

The FA Cup is the only competition that links the modern game to its roots, the only competition that links grassroots football with the top level, and critically the only competition where ‘one defeat and you’re out’ exists. It’s this link to its heritage, the link of hundreds of village and small town clubs to the Premier League, and the excitement of a ‘to the death’ finish that places the FA Cup in high regard the world over.

The FA has to do more to prevent the FA Cup’s position in the football calendar from eroding still further. There’s no other competition like it and it will be sadly missed should it be allowed to die. The 150th anniversary of the competition occurs in 2021-22 season. There’s no better time than that to redress the balance.

 

I really want to thank Ian for sharing his very personal recollections of the FA Cup and for his in-depth views on the future of the competition. I wish him a speedy recovery and hope (like for all of us) he is back at a football match again soon.

 

No. 19 in this FA Cup Memories series, the recollections from a serial manager of non-league clubs who holds the managerial record for the longest undefeated run in English football, can be read by clicking on this link: https://facupfactfile.wordpress.com/2020/05/19/fa-cup-memories-series-119-dave-anderson/

No. 17 in this FA Cup Memories series, the recollections from an ITV Sport and BT Sport Score presenter, can be read by clicking on this link: https://facupfactfile.wordpress.com/2020/05/17/fa-cup-memories-series-117-mark-pougatch/

You can read this exclusive FA Cup Memories series from where it all started with BBC 5 Live Commentator John Murray by clicking on this link:   https://facupfactfile.wordpress.com/2020/05/01/fa-cup-memories-series-11-john-murray/

Follow @FACupFactfile on Twitter for news of when future memories are published.

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The FA Cup Factfile is THE most comprehensive resource for FA Cup facts & stats. Spanning almost 150 years of FA Cup history, covering over 3,200 clubs playing more than 71,500 FA Cup matches, the FA Cup Factfile contains facts and stats for Arlesey Town to Arsenal, from Liversedge to Liverpool, and from Mangotsfield United to Manchester United. Visit my website https://facupfactfile.co.uk/ for more details on how you can access my vast FA Cup database

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