Money First, Football Nowhere


Charlie Stillitano, what a guy. By putting forward a ludicrous proposal for a European Super League that only contains those clubs that have invested millions in football, and in his opinion are likely to generate millions of pounds from participating in football, he has managed to alienate the whole football world against him. The media, the pundits, the fans, former professionals; everybody. Not helped by his equally ridiculous assertions about who invented ‘soccer’.

But wait a minute. Even though his proposals are absolutely ludicrous and would be the end of football as we know it, effectively acting as a closed shop for the super rich clubs, has everyone who has expressed indignation at the idea the right to criticise it? Newspaper sports journalists, TV football presenters and pundits, former professionals have all jumped on the bandwagon of vitriol towards the man and his idea, but not one of them realises the irony of them doing so.

Those same journalists, TV presenters and former professionals and their employers have all been happy enough taking the devil’s dollar ever since the Champions League and the Premier League came into being in 1992. These two competitions were both borne out of the desire of an elite number of clubs to make money for themselves and to hell with the rest of them. These were the first ‘money first, football nowhere’ decisions to be made and year after year those in charge of football and in charge of the media have increasingly made more ‘money first, football nowhere’ decisions to line their own pockets. And those clubs at the top have happily gone along with it. And those journalists, pundits and their employers have all done very well out of those decisions, thank you very much. But football itself hasn’t done so well.

Don’t be fooled by those faux complaints. If this stupid idea is to come to fruition, it will only do so by being financially profitable to the football decision makers and the media companies. Only then would they embrace it. And you can be sure that they will embrace it once the price is right, because maximising money is the only thing that matters to these organisations. Football itself doesn’t. And who’s going to write about this new Super League? Who’s going to present it on TV? Those self-same journalists and presenters who now are so vocal about the insanity of it, that’s who. And they will do all right out of it, too, but football won’t.

Don’t believe me? Then consider Gary Lineker and his response on Twitter and beyond to the idea that there should be a European Super League that excludes his beloved Leicester City. Oh, suddenly he’s up in arms about a decision affecting football that was made out of maximising profit because his boyhood team wouldn’t be part of it. But where were his objections when profit maximising decisions to form the Premier League and the Champions League were made? Not only did he not object to them (and these decisions have been far more detrimental to football than this latest proposal would be because the irreparable damage has now already been done), but he has positively embraced them. A regular presenter on Match of the Day for the Premier League and this season a new presenter on BT Sport for the Champions League. Not doing too badly on the back of those two money obsessed competitions, is he? But football isn’t.

To highlight his duplicitous position the following is a Tweet by him in response to a criticism that he had forgotten the name of the stadium that Arsenal play in, a Tweet which epitomises everything that is wrong with modern-day top-flight football and why he has no right to be appalled at the latest proposals.

Lineker-page-001A presenter for a TV station that has paid millions to broadcast the Champions League is not allowed to mention the sponsor’s name of the stadium for the home team in the match that the TV station is broadcasting. And why not? Because that sponsor is not one of the official sponsors of the Champions League itself.  How utterly ridiculous, how utterly farcical, how sad for football that it has come to this. How far removed from what football is supposed to be about is it possible to get? How willing Gary Lineker is to kowtow to the money men when it suits him.

Despite what one may infer from my blogs and posts in the past I’m not actually against generating money in football. I recognise the importance of it in enabling football to have the worldwide appeal it does, and without money many nations and millions of people may never have been able to play the game or to have been given the chance to become a success in the game. But there is a massive difference between that money needed to ensure growth of the game, generate opportunity and provide accessibility, and that money secured just for the sake of maximising the amount of money acquired. It is this position of maximising money without regard for the game itself to which I have always been so opposed.

The reason BT Sport could not mention the Emirates as sponsors of Arsenal’s stadium was because of this approach of maximising profit. Those running the Champions League had decided to take a higher level of money on offer from their sponsors, a higher level which prevents TV companies from mentioning other brand names. Instead of just seeking the money needed to present and organise the Champions League whilst making a good profit, a sizeable fortune in its own right, those involved in the decision making process chose to be greedy and take a higher amount of money on offer for exclusivity rights. It is by taking this unnecessary extra money that proves that those in charge of football worldwide think of money first and football nowhere. And why eventually the idea of a European Super League closed shop is likely to come to fruition. Everything has a price to these people.

Of course it’s always dressed up as ‘the more money we can raise, the more we can put back into the game’, but it is clear to see that only a small proportion of money generated through this exclusive sponsorship actually goes into supporting the game itself. Most of it is used to puff up the way the Champions League is presented. All those bells and whistles, all those luxurious hotels, all those extravagant draw ceremonies, that’s what the majority of the money goes on (as well as lining the already thick pockets of those involved in running the game). All of which, and this may surprise those Champions League organisers, is neither wanted nor needed by those who watch and play the game.

The irony of the pursuance of these exclusivity deals is that BT Sport will also have paid an extortionate amount to have exclusive rights to show Champions League matches meaning they have to toe the line when it comes to what they can or cannot say with regards to other sponsor’s names. The Emirates also will have paid over the odds to have exclusive rights to Arsenal and everything they do ensuring their name is used as the stadium name and expect it to be mentioned any time a broadcaster mentions the ground where Arsenal play their home matches. Both BT Sport and Emirates would have paid a higher amount to get for those exclusive rights and both the Champions League and Arsenal will have agreed to those exclusive rights in order to get that extra money, even though the money on offer without the exclusivity and the demands that go with it would still have enabled them both to do the things they wanted to do. It’s not as if either would have suffered without those exclusive deals, but ironically the Emirates ‘suffers’ because of them in this instance.

Look further down the football hierarchy, though, and you will see clubs, leagues and football organisations all struggling for the lack of money. Not for them the difference between whether they can sell many different carbonated soft drinks or just one brand of soft drink. No, for them sponsorship can mean the difference between offering football to their community or not offering football to their community. And the amount of money needed to make that difference is minuscule in comparison to the extra money sponsors pay for their exclusive rights.

So when it’s time for the Champions League to renew its sponsorship deals, instead of trying to maximise profit by kowtowing to sponsor exclusivity demands that are not beneficial to the game, take a lower amount of non-exclusive money and allow the game to be presented how it should be. Then take a greater proportion of that money and funnel it down to grass-roots football across the continent where it is needed the most. A small, percentage lost by the top end of the game will not be noticed, but this would convert to a large percentage increase to the bottom end of the game. And that definitely would be noticed.

And when the increasingly lucrative deals are put on the table for the European Super League that doesn’t allow for promotion and relegation, and they will surely come, then the decision makers should think about the effect that taking that money will have on the game overall. Football thrives on hope. If that is taken away then the whole concept of competition is taken away and football becomes less of a spectacle at all levels. So say ‘no’ to the silly money that’ll be on offer to create it and say ‘no’ to the sponsors prepared to give extra money for exclusive rights. Maybe a ‘football first, money second’ approach?

And maybe then grass-roots football will thrive and those making the decisions at the top level football will be much less thought of as being so out of touch with those who love football.



Crystal Palace and their run to the FA Cup Final in 1990

No. 6 in an occasional series.

Crystal Palace is one of only a small handful of clubs to have competed in the FA Cup more than 100 times and never to have been knocked out in the Qualifying Rounds.

The club were formed in 1905 and entered the competition that season, just like Chelsea, one of four clubs they beat in that inaugural FA Cup campaign. Competing in the Second Division of the Southern League Palace opened their FA Cup history with a First Qualifying Round 7-0 home win over Clapham from the Southern Suburban League (and Mid Surrey League). This was followed up by a 3-0 win at 2nd Grenadier Guards playing in the Great Western Suburban League. Then came Chelsea, who had inexplicably been placed in Football League Division Two in their foundation year. Palace showed the folly of that decision by thrashing Chelsea 7-1 (although Chelsea purportedly played a weakened team) before going on to win 1-0 at home to Luton Town playing in Division One of the Southern League.

By beating Luton the Eagles also became one of only a handful of clubs to make it to the ‘Proper’ Rounds of the FA Cup in their first season having started as early as the First Qualifying Round. Football League Division Two Blackpool were their opponents and Dick Harker scored Palace’s first FA Cup ‘Proper’ Round goal in a 1-1 draw. Ted Birnie scored in the replay, another 1-1 draw, with Blackpool finally winning the third game 1-0 at Villa Park.

Palace won Southern League Division Two title and were promoted to Division One, and in the club’s second season in the FA Cup they made it all the way to the Quarter Finals. A Fifth Qualifying Round 4-0 win over Rotherham County played on neutral territory earned them a trip to First Division Newcastle United in the First Round. Newcastle were the team of the FA Cup during the first ten years of the 20th Century and had been beaten finalists in both the previous two seasons, and would be twice again and win the competition too in the next four seasons. Ironically, all these Finals for Newcastle came at a ground called Crystal Palace and the club seemed to be cursed by the name, especially after Horace Astley scored the only goal of the game to give Crystal Palace a 1-0 win.

Palace then defeated Southern League rivals Fulham (1-0 after a goalless draw in the Second Round) and Brentford (1-0 after a 1-1 draw in the Third Round) before being drawn at home to Division One side Everton in the Quarter Finals. Astley scored again in the 1-1 draw, but Everton won 4-0 in the replay. It would be almost 60 years before Palace made it so far again.

The 1964-65 season was the club’s first back in Football League Division Two after 40 years away and so they were exempted until the Third Round in that season’s FA Cup. Cliff Holton scored a hat-trick as Palace beat fellow Division Two side Bury 5-1 at Selhurst Park, before despatching Southampton from the same Division 2-1 in the Fourth Round. A home tie against Nottingham Forest in the Fifth Round was won 3-1 and Holton scored his fifth goal of the campaign in the win. In the Quarter Finals Palace were drawn at Leeds United, flying high in Division One in their first season after promotion and at the start of what would be a golden 10 years for the club. Leeds United were too good for Palace on the day running out 3-0 winners.

Eleven years later Palace made it as far as the last four for the first time in their FA Cup history, becoming one of a handful of clubs playing in the Third tier to do so. An inauspicious 1-0 First Round win at home to Isthmian League outfit Walton & Hersham, with David Kemp scoring the only goal, suggested little about what was to come after it. Fellow Division Three side Millwall were beaten 2-1 after a 1-1 draw in the Second Round, and thanks to goals from Peter Taylor and Ian Evans, the Eagles scraped past Northern Premier League club Scarborough 2-1 in the Third Round. And then came the mighty Leeds United once again, still playing in Division One but now on the wane from their glory years, although still a force to be reckoned with. However, David Swindlehurst’s first half header proved to be the only goal of the game and Palace were through.

Peter Taylor struck twice, including a match-deciding free-kick, as Palace won 3-2 away at Second Division Chelsea in the Fifth Round to make the Quarter Finals for the third time. This time Alan Whittle scored the only goal of the game as Palace won 1-0 at Second Division Sunderland to earn a place in the Semi-Finals and a return to Stamford Bridge where they faced yet another Division Two side Southampton. However, the Saints proved too strong on the day and won the tie 2-0 before going on to shock Manchester United in the Final.

And then came 1990. Palace were back in Division One, but struggled all season, and the FA Cup became a welcome distraction from their League challenges. A goal from Geoff Thomas and an Andy Gray penalty gave Palace a 2-1 Third Round home win over Second Division Portsmouth. This was followed up by a comfortable 4-0 home victory over Third Division Huddersfield Town with Mark Bright scoring twice. Then came two successive ties against Fourth Division clubs both of which Palace scraped through winning 1-0, first Rochdale at Selhurst Park with Phil Barber scoring the only goal of the game, and then Cambridge United with Geoff Thomas on the scoresheet.

This set up a Semi-Final tie at Villa Park against the mighty Liverpool, the current FA Cup holders, winners of nine League Championships in the previous 14 seasons (plus would be Champions again at the end of the season), and 9-0 winners over Crystal Palace in the League earlier that season. Palace didn’t have a chance, did they? As it turned out they did, turning both the form book and expectations upside down with a terrific topsy-turvy 4-3 win after extra time, with Alan Pardew scoring the eventual winner.

Palace faced Manchester United in the final at Wembley with the odds equally stacked against them but with history almost repeating itself. Gary O’Reilly gave the Eagles an early lead before going 2-1 down, and then came Ian Wright off the bench to take the game into extra time. Wright then put Palace ahead in the first period of that extra time, only for the club to be pegged back with seven minutes remaining. Palace had missed their golden opportunity and Manchester United would go on to win the replay 1-0 (and, some say, save Alex Ferguson’s job in the process).

One more run to the Semi Finals five years later, with Manchester United once again defeating the Eagles after a replay, is the closest Palace has got to replicating that FA Cup Final appearance in 1990. However, only 57 different teams have ever appeared in FA Cup finals and the Eagles can feel rightly proud of being members of that exclusive club.

Bromley and their successive runs to FA Cup Second Round

No. 5 in an occasional series.

Bromley played the first of their 105 seasons of FA Cup campaigns in the Nineteenth Century when as an original Kent League member they drew 3-3 at West Norwood in 1898 before winning 3-0 in the replay, beating West Croydon 1-0 in the First Qualifying Round before exiting the competition 3-2 at the hands of Metropolitan Railway in the next.

This initial run to the Second Qualifying Round wouldn’t be bettered until 1907 when as a Spartan League side the club beat Depot Battalion Royal Engineers 1-0 to face Maidstone United in the Third Qualifying Round to whom they lost by six goals to two. The Fourth Qualifying Round was reached two seasons later when Bromley were playing in the Isthmian League this time going down 8-1 at Southern League side Watford. This was still two rounds away from the ‘Proper’ Rounds, but the club almost made the step up in 1914-15 season when reaching the Sixth Qualifying Round. This time a 5-1 defeat at Luton Town was their undoing.

The Lilywhites came close to breaking into the ‘Proper’ Rounds of the FA Cup in each of the first two seasons after World War I, but they would have to wait until almost the onset of the Second World War before they’d actually crack it. Playing in the Athenian League in 1937-38 the club’s FA Cup run began in the Extra Preliminary Round with a 4-0 home win over Beckenham, a Kent Amateur League Western Premier League side who would eventually be absorbed into the Bromley club 30 years later. Darenth Park from the same League were beaten 4-1 in the Preliminary Round, and Aylesford Paper Mills from a league below were despatched 3-0 in the First Qualifying Round. London Paper Mills was next winning 4-2 before facing Sittingbourne in the Third Qualifying Round winning that tie by two goals to nil. Isthmian League side Wimbledon stood between Bromley and the First Round, but the Lilywhites had a comfortable 3-0 win to cap six victories with a grand total of 20 goals scored.

There was to be no Football League opposition now that Bromley had finally made it to the First Round, but their scoring spree continued winning 4-0 away at Eastern Counties League outfit King’s Lynn. Again the club wasn’t rewarded with League opposition in the Second Round coming up against Scarborough from the Midland League. This time it was Bromley on the wrong end of a 4-1 defeat.

As a consequence of making the Second Round Bromley was exempted from participating in the Qualifying Rounds the following season. Again they were to be drawn against non-league opposition in the First Round at home to Spartan League side Apsley (Hemel Hempstead Town) who they beat with a tight 2-1 victory. The Second Round sent the club to Football League opposition for the first time at last in the shape of Lincoln City from Division Three North. As it turned out the wait wasn’t to be worth it as the League side romped to an 8-1 victory.

Following the Second World War Bromley began their FA Cup campaign in the First Qualifying Round. They started with a 5-1 win at Sheppey United, followed by a 2-0 home win over Gravesend United, a 4-3 away win at Lloyds (Sittingbourne) and finally a 2-0 home win over Short’s Sports from Kent in the Fourth Qualifying Round to advance to the ‘Proper’ Rounds for the third successive time.

The FA Cup ‘Proper’ Rounds in the 1945-46 season were played over two legs because the Football League programme hadn’t resumed. However, Bromley were drawn against Slough United from the Corinthian League. The first game was abandoned because of fog with Bromley leading 2-1 after 80 minutes, a fortuitous event as it turned out because they went on to win the re-arranged first leg 6-1, losing the second 1-0 to progress on goal aggregate. Bromley were then drawn to play a Football League side for only the second time, Watford, ostensibly from the Third Division South. A terrific 1-1 second leg result at Vicarage Road was only marred by the 3-1 loss at home in the first leg.

Bromley would make the First Round on 11 more occasions facing League opposition on nine of those occasions, but they have yet to match that run of three successive Second Round appearances either side of World War II.

Blackburn Rovers and their runs to FA Cup Final in 1928 and 1960

No. 4 in an occasional series.

Blackburn Rovers has an FA Cup record about which any club and its fans would be rightly proud. Six times FA Cup winners and twice runners-up makes Blackburn Rovers the eighth best team in FA Cup history. The club is also the last side to date to win the trophy in three successive seasons, a feat only achieved by one other club, the long since defunct The Wanderers side. The problem for current Blackburn Rovers fans is that all this Cup glory happened before any of them were even born, and their last appearance in the Final itself is so long ago that there would only be a handful of septuagenarians and older who might have first-hand recollection of it.

Blackburn Rovers was formed in 1875 and five years later entered the FA Cup for the first ever time, along with 19 other clubs including another FA Cup trailblazer, Aston Villa. The Rovers won their first ever FA Cup match 5-1 at home to a club called Tyne Association in the First Round of the 1879/80 competition, before beating Darwen 3-1 in Round Two and then losing 6-0 at Nottingham Forest in Round Three. Just two seasons later, though, the club made it all the way through to the Final itself beating Blackburn Park Road, Bolton Wanderers, Darwen, Wednesbury Old Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday on the way. Blackburn Rovers was the first Northern club to make the final where they faced FA Cup stalwarts and previous winners, Old Etonians. On this occasion the old school won through 1-0 courtesy of a Reginald Macauley goal, but glory for the North and for Blackburn Rovers would not be far away.

A now defunct fellow Blackburn side, Blackburn Olympic, beat Old Etonians in the following year’s Cup Final, but then it was Blackburn Rovers turn, and for a while it appeared they would be FA Cup winners for evermore. From a 7-1 win over Southport Central in 1883 through to a 2-0 replay defeat at home to Scottish club Renton in 1887, Rovers won through 24 Rounds in the FA Cup, scored 87 goals, and won the FA Cup three times, twice beating Scottish amateurs Queen’s Park, and once beating West Bromwich Albion after a replay, the first FA Cup final not to contain a Southern amateur club. Those three FA Cup wins were quickly added to with two more consecutive triumphs in 1890 and 1891, thrashing The Wednesday 6-1 in the former and beating Notts County in the latter. This fifth win equalled the highest number of times any team had won the competition, and for the next 25 years Blackburn Rovers would hold the record as the best team of the FA Cup.

However, aside from five Semi-Final appearances, the club never came close to adding to their tally for almost 30 years during which time their great FA Cup rivals Aston Villa had secured the mantle of best FA Cup team. But that was all about to change in the 1927-28 season when once again Rovers would taste FA Cup glory. Blackburn were, at best, a mid-table Division One side whilst recent FA Cup runs had been chequered, and despite a healthy 4-1 Third Round win over Newcastle United, who had won the competition four seasons earlier and were reigning League Champions, only the most ardent of supporters would have expected the club to go on to win the Trophy. And that glory day at Wembley would have felt even further away after the club’s Fourth Round 2-2 draw at Third Division South side Exeter City. The lower league Devon side held their Division One opponents to a 1-1 draw after ninety minutes in the replay and only finally succumbed 3-1 after extra time.

A Fifth Round draw at home to Port Vale from Division Two should have been more straightforward than the 2-1 victory suggests, but Rovers had a more comfortable 2-0 victory at home to Division One strugglers Manchester United in the Quarter Finals thanks to a Syd Puddefoot brace. Blackburn Rovers were in the Semi Final again and now starting to believe the glory days would return. But ahead of them lay Arsenal, the previous season’s surprise beaten finalists, and a club on the cusp of their first period of dominance. The Semi-Final was played at Filbert Street in Leicester and Jack Roscamp scored the only goal of the game to see Rovers into their first FA Cup final for 37 years. In the Final they were to face the ‘Team of the 20s’ in the shape of Huddersfield Town who’d only just set their own record of three successive League Championships. But Blackburn took the game to Huddersfield with Roscamp scoring what was at the time the fastest goal scored in a Wembley Final after just 55 seconds to set up the 3-1 victory. Blackburn Rovers won the FA Cup for the sixth time, matching their rivals Aston Villa, and looked forward to more Cup success in the imminent future.

But that success was not forthcoming. FA Cup disappointment would quickly be followed by League disappointment as the club were relegated out of the top flight for the first time in their history at the end of the 1947-48 season. Bizarrely, the club did make the FA Cup Semi Finals twice whilst languishing as a Second Division club losing 2-1 to Newcastle United after a replay in 1952 and by the same score to Bolton Wanderers in 1958. Rovers didn’t let their Cup exploits distract them during that 1957/58 season and by the end of the year the club had secured its place back into Division One. And within two years of their return they would find themselves at Wembley once again.

A Third Round tie against fallen giants Sunderland, now playing in Division Two for the first time in their history, was won 4-1 after the two sides drew 1-1 at Roker Park. In Round Four fellow Division One side Blackpool were also beaten after a 1-1 draw, this time Rovers winning 3-0 at Bloomfield Road. Rovers were then drawn away at up-and-coming Tottenham Hotspur, a side on the verge of dominating both League and Cup the following season. However, Blackburn progressed without the need of a replay winning the tie 3-1 to set up a Quarter Final tie against Burnley who would go on to win the League Championship at the end of the season. An entertaining 3-3 draw at Turf Moor brought the two teams back to Ewood Park where Blackburn triumphed 2-0 to take the side into the Semi Finals for the third time in eight seasons.

In the Semi Final they faced Sheffield Wednesday at Maine Road in Manchester where a Derek Dougan double saw Rovers win the tie 2-0 and return to Wembley for the first time in 32 years. In the Final they faced arguably the best team in the land at the time. Wolverhampton Wanderers had won the League Championship in each of the previous two seasons and had only just missed out on a treble being pipped at the post by a point to the title by Burnley, and so it was no real surprise when Wolves ran out comfortable 3-0 winners on the day, Blackburn’s cause not helped by being reduced to ten men owing to Dave Whelan breaking his leg.

But this Cup Final appearance wasn’t to lead to another golden age for Blackburn Rovers and the club has never yet appeared in the Final again, with just two Semi-Final appearances in the first ten years of the Twenty-first Century the closest the club has come to repeating former glories.

Croydon and their run to FA Cup Second Round in 1980

No. 3 in an occasional series.

There have been many clubs representing the Croydon name in the FA Cup since the competition began in the late Nineteenth Century, but only one has ever made it as far as the Second Round Proper, the current Croydon club formed in 1953 as Croydon Amateurs.

Croydon Park was the first of these clubs entering the 1893-94 competition but being on the wrong end of a 10-0 scoreline in their only match at home to 2nd Scots Guards in the Second Qualifying Round. West Croydon from Southern Suburban League Division One came next in 1899 losing 1-0 at home to Bromley in their only match that year in the First Qualifying Round, and not winning an FA Cup match until two seasons later a 5-0 home win over West Norwood. The club made the Third Qualifying Round in 1902-03 season after wins over Bromley (2-1), Godalming (1-0) and Richmond Town (2-1) before losing 3-1mto Lowestoft Town and disappearing from the FA Cup altogether.

Croydon Wanderers were next, entering in 1902 and making five appearances in total, reaching the First Qualifying Round three times before scratching in 1906 and disappearing altogether. A 3-2 win over Godalming the club’s only FA Cup victory. The first club playing under the name Croydon entered the FA Cup in 1903 season for the first time. Playing variously in the Southern Suburban League, the Mid-Surrey League and the Southern Amateur League, this club entered the FA Cup on 14 different occasions reaching the First Qualifying Round on half of these occasions before folding at the start of the 1922-23 season. Ironically the club’s first win was a 2-0 victory of Croydon Wanderers.

The first Croydon team of note entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1907, Croydon Common of the Southern League. The club were formed in 10 years prior to their first entry and folded 10 years after it, but in that time the club appeared in the First Round Proper on six separate occasions. However, apart from a couple of draws with Woolwich Arsenal and one with Leicester Fosse (City), the club never actually managed to win a ‘Proper’ Round FA cup match. But they had plenty of wins in the Qualifying Rounds: 10-1 over Farncombe, 9-0 over 1st Grenadier Guards, 7-0 over London Caledonians, before folding during World War I, the only Southern League club not to return after the Great War.

A Croydon Rovers club entered the FA Cup in 1951 but scratched before playing their Preliminary Round match at Dorking. Croydon Amateurs was formed at the end of the following season and entered the FA cup in 1966 as an Athenian League side. That first game ended in a 2-1 home defeat to fellow Athenian League side Hornchurch. The club’s first FA Cup win came two seasons later, a 4-0 win at Staines Town before going out in the Second Qualifying Round to the original Brentwood Town. The club dropped the Amateur moniker in 1973 and joined the Isthmian League Division Two the following season. A season later they made it all the way to the Fourth Qualifying Round to set a new club record. Wins over Erith and Belvedere (3-1 after a replay), Bromley (2-1) and Molesey (4-0) saw them face Wycombe Wanderers in the Fourth Qualifying Round. Unfortunately, following a 2-2 draw, Croydon was thwarted in their attempt at making the First Round by losing 5-2 in the replay.

By the 1979-80 season Croydon were an Isthmian League Premier Division side. A 2-0 win against Sussex County League side Bexhill Town on neutral territory in the First Qualifying Round was followed by an identical 2-0 win at Southern League Ashford Town in the next round. Another Southern League side, Bognor Regis Town, was beaten 1-0 in the Third Qualifying Round before fellow Isthmian League Premier Division side Leatherhead were despatched 3-0 after a 1-1 draw to take the club into the ‘Proper’ Rounds for the first and so far only time.

As often happens in the FA Cup the club’s First Round opponents were Wycombe Wanderers and an opportunity for the club to exact revenge for that earlier Fourth Qualifying Round defeat to the same club a few years earlier. Despite having to travel to Loakes Park Croydon won the match comfortably 3-0 with goal each from Rod and Andy Ward and one from Constable. That win was rewarded with a home draw to Football League opposition in the shape of Division Three Millwall. The tie was switched to be played at Selhurst Park and in front of almost 10,000 people Croydon held their League opponents to a 1-1 draw thanks to another Rod Ward goal. The replay three days later couldn’t separate the two sides after 90 minutes with Constable scoring twice for Croydon and Millwall eventually winning the match 3-2 after extra time.

Two Fourth Qualifying Round appearances in 1985/86 (4-1 defeat to Bath City) and 1987/88 (3-0 loss to Merthyr Tydfil) are the closest the club has got to reaching the ‘Proper’ Rounds again. Still this is one round further than local rivals Croydon Athletic ever reached in their 23 FA Cup campaigns and AFC Croydon Athletic has yet to win an FA Cup match in three attempts.

Darlington and their run to FA Cup Fifth Round in 1958

No. 2 in an occasional series.

The 1957-58 season would result in the last major shake-up of the Football League constitution before the advent of the Premier League, 70 years after it began as a 12 team league in 1888. The Football League had expanded from that original dozen teams to the more familiar 92 clubs, and Darlington had been amongst them since Division Three North was established in 1921. Darlington’s FA Cup history, though, goes back to three years before the Football League was formed, having first entered the competition just two seasons after their own formation.

Darlington’s early foray into the FA Cup was less than spectacular having been progressed along with their opponents Walsall Swifts from the First Round in 1885/86 season only to be soundly thumped 8-0 by Grimsby Town in Round Two (still a record FA Cup defeat for the club). These pre-Football League days of the FA Cup didn’t have Qualifying Rounds and after being beaten 3-1 by Horncastle in their second season, Darlington finally won their first FA Cup match 3-0 at Gateshead Association in the First Round the season after that. The Quakers also beat Elswick Rangers 4-3 after extra time in the Second Round before going down 2-0 at home to Shankhouse in the Third.

When the Football League started the following season Darlington would have to play in the Qualifying Rounds, becoming a Northern League founder member the following year but not making the ‘Proper’ rounds again until 1910-11 season by which time they had transferred to the North Eastern League. Victories over two League sides, Division One Sheffield United 1-0 in the First Round and Division Two Bradford (Park Avenue) 2-1 in Round Two, took Darlington to their record equalling Third Round where they lost 3-0 at home to Swindon Town.

Even after they helped form the original Division Three North, Darlington still had to compete in Qualifying Rounds until the FA Cup was restructured in 1925 to resemble something close to, but not quite the same as, how it operates today with League clubs exempted until the First Round ‘Proper’. Darlington were promoted to Division Two after winning the Division Three North title in 1925 (only one team got promoted in those days), and two seasons later were exempted until the Third Round of the FA Cup where they defeated Rhyl Athletic from the Welsh National League 2-1 to make the Fourth Round for the first time ever. In that Fourth Round the club would face another Welsh side, this time in the shape of historic eventual winners Cardiff City from Division One, who ran out 2-0 winners.

Darlington were relegated back to Division Three North at the end of that 1926/27 season where they would remain until the aforementioned re-structure at the end of the season, the season that would be remembered by the club for their historic FA Cup run in 1957/58. The club twice made the Fourth Round again in the intervening years losing 2-0 at home to Division Two side Chesterfield in 1933 and 3-2 away to Division One side West Bromwich Albion in 1937. It was announced by the Football League at the beginning of the 1957/58 season that the bottom two divisions would be split into Division Three and Division Four with the clubs in the bottom half of the current North and South Divisions forming the Fourth Division. But it was the FA Cup that was to focus the hearts and minds of The Quakers’ faithful that season.

A Ron Harbertson double would see Darlington safely through the First Round away at fellow Division Three North side Rochdale, a club with the unenviable record of being knocked out of the FA Cup in the First Round a record 51 times. Harbertson scored twice in the Second Round alongside a hat-trick from Dave Carr thus avoiding a banana skin at home to Midland League outfit Boston United, although the 5-3 scoreline suggests the club were made to work for their win. There would be no glamour tie in the Third Round as Darlington were sent to Norwich City currently playing in Division Three South. Darlington had only played the Canaries once before in the FA Cup, a resounding 5-0 win in the Sixth Qualifying Round when both sides were still non-league clubs the first season after World War One. This time it was much tighter with Darlington eventually prevailing 2-1 with Harbertson once again on the scoresheet alongside Tommy Moran. And then The Quakers were drawn against Division One opposition in the Fourth Round away at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.

Chelsea of the late 1950s may not be regarded on a par with 21st Century Chelsea sides, but just three years previously they had been crowned Champions of Division One and had a respectful FA Cup record with one Final appearance and five other Semi Finals appearances under their belt. Darlington were not to be overawed by their more illustrious opponents and stormed into a three goal lead with Harbertson (again), Carr and Keith Morton scoring the goals. Chelsea, containing a young Jimmy Greaves in their side, fought back and eventually managed to secure a 3-3 draw, and would have expected to go on to win the tie having dealt such a blow to their lower league opponents. The replay was held four days later and another 90 minutes couldn’t separate the two sides as Tommy Moran’s opener was cancelled out by The Blues. Three quick goals in extra time from Moran, Keith Morton and Ron Harbertson and there was no coming back from three goals down this time for the higher league side, so Darlington won the tie 4-1 to progress to the Fifth Round for the first time ever.

In the Fifth Round the Quakers were drawn away to Wolverhampton Wanderers who would go on to win their first of two consecutive League Championships at the end of the season. Unfortunately Harbertson was unable to add to his impressive seven goal FA Cup haul and Darlington were unable to replicate their heroics of the previous round going down 6-1 with Harold Bell netting their consolation goal. Darlington would never make the Fifth Round again, coming close on just two further occasions in successive seasons in the 1980s when first Plymouth Argyle and then non-league Telford United ended their dreams in the Fourth Round. That 1957-58 season, though, will be long remembered by the Darlington faithful, although the season did end on a bit of a low with the club finishing the campaign in 20th position and being ‘relegated’ to Division Four in the shake-up.

However, the club can still boast to this day that they hold an unbeaten FA Cup record against the Blues of Chelsea.

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FA Cup 2015/16 5th Round Review

Blog to be updated as ties are settled

Shrewsbury Town 0 v 3 Manchester United

Premier League Manchester United finally end Shrewsbury Town’s best FA Cup run in 25 years to book a place in the Quarter Finals for the 41st time, matching Arsenal in joint second place in that ranking. That’s eight Quarter Finals now in the 12 years since Man Utd last won the FA Cup.

Chelsea 5 v 1 Manchester City

Chelsea comfortably see off a second string Manchester City to reach the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup for the 34th time. Chelsea halve the deficit against Man City in FA Cup victories, now standing at 2-4, with a first win in the competition over the Citizens in 101 years. City are now clear out on their own in second spot for most FA Cup exits in Fifth Round with eighteen.

Tottenham Hotspur 0 v 1 Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace progress to the FA Cup Quarter Finals for the first time in 21 years and now lead Spurs by three-to-two in terms of FA Cup victories. Crystal Palace FA Cup trend is to progress one round further in each of the last four years.

Blackburn Rovers 1 v 5 West Ham United

Despite going behind early on in the match the Premier League club comfortably progressed to the Quarter Finals for the 20th time, whilst Blackburn are knocked out of the competition at the Fifth Round stage for a record 19th time. West Ham now hold a 4-3 win record over Rovers in the FA Cup.

AFC Bournemouth 0 v 2 Everton

The Cherries were made to rue a missed first half penalty in their first appearance in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup in 27 years as Everton went on to win the match with two second half goals. This win puts the Toffees into the Quarter Finals for a record 45th time.

Reading 3 v 1 West Bromwich Albion

Reading came back from a goal behind to beat West Bromwich Albion for the fourth successive time in the FA Cup. Reading were also the last lower league side to knock the Baggies out of the competition, and by the Royals making the Quarter Finals this year it means it is now 10 successive seasons that there has been at least one non-Premier League side in the last eight.

Watford 1 v 0 Leeds United

In this first ever FA Cup meeting between these two sides an unfortunate own goal settled the tie in favour of the more dominant Premier League outfit. It’s Watford’s third 1-0 win in this season’s FA Cup and takes the club into the Quarter Finals for the first time in nine years and for the tenth time in total.