County`s Cup Warriors- Part 1 by Des Hinks
Friday, November 14 marked the 50th anniversary of County’s FA Cup first-round victory over Wigan Athletic, a victory that set the Hatters off on an emotional roller-coaster of an FA Cup run that captured the hearts of the nation; a run that saw Edgeley Park rock to it’s very foundations in a replay against Bristol Rovers; a run that saw the arrival of the inimitable Len White, one of the greatest players ever to pull on a County shirt; a run that saw the Hatters silence the mighty Liverpool Kop; and a run that was touched by heartbreak when inside-forward John Nibloe, who scored the winning goal against Wigan, was tragically killed in a car accident travelling home from a game at Newport a week before the second round tie against Grimsby Town.
To commemorate their wonderful achievements, County have designated the game against Stalybridge Celtic on February 7 as Legends’ Day, when the Hatters’ Cup-Warriors will be reunited for the first time in half-a-century.
|Ian Sandiford( pic by Ian Watts)|
Ian Sandiford, Mike Eckersall, Ken Mulhearn, Graham Beighton and Mike Harold have all confirmed their attendance; the late Frank Beaumont will be represented by his family, whilst there’s sure to be a wonderful Edgeley Park welcome for Maureen Nibloe, John’s widow, and his daughter Julia.
|Ken Mulhearn in glorious action ( pic by Ian Watts)|
More of that legendry team are also expected to join their team-mates as Guests of Honour at a pre-match meal, and again at a more informal fans get-together in the Bungalow after the game.
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Before we get to the Wigan game, though, it’s appropriate to paint a picture of life at Edgeley Park before the 1964-65 season got underway.
The Hatters’ financial position was critical, Chairman Alderman John Holland resigned, most of the backroom staff were axed as cost-cutting measures, and, just seven days before the season got underway, player-boss Trevor Porteous didn’t have enough players to name a team.
Speaking before his untimely death in 1997, Porteous – who served his beloved County in every capacity in a 41-year association with the club – said: “When pre-season training started I had just eight players, and a week before the opening game I brought in John Nibloe, Derek Hodgkinson, Peter Phoenix, Ian Sandiford and Dennis Hoggart, all youngsters, to make up the numbers.”
In the September, new director, Vic Bernard, told the board he wanted a ‘new image’ for County. However, after starting the campaign with an unwanted record of two draws and ten defeats from twelve games, cynics felt the Hatters wouldn’t need a new image as there was a real possibility they could follow in the footsteps of Accrington Stanley and fail to finish the season.
By the time the FA Cup came round in the November, County were still firmly rooted at the bottom of Division Four with a record of just three wins, three draws and fourteen defeats from 20 games played.
|Match Programme (courtesy Ian Watts)|
Opponents Wigan Athletic, on the other hand, were flying high at the top of the powerful Cheshire League having won no fewer than twelve of their fifteen games.
Latics’ were after a place in the Football League and they saw victory over the Hatters as an opportunity to gather votes when the re-election ballot took place seven months later.
And, when Harry Lyon gave the visitors a half-time lead, things seemed to be going very much to plan for the non-leaguers
However, with 20 minutes remaining, and Wigan still holding their 1-0 advantage, County were given a lifeline when Sandiford was upended in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.
With Johnny Watt missing the game through injury, Sandiford was the designated penalty taker, but he was still motionless following the foul. Player-boss Porteous, himself a passenger after picking up an injury early in the game – substitutes were still 12 months away from being introduced – asked for a volunteer. Up stepped Eckersall, the only part-time player in the County ranks, who beat Alan Halsall to level the scores. Before the Edgeley Roar had subsided, though, the referee ordered a re-take; a County player had encroached into the box. Ice-cool Eckersall put the ball in the same spot, sending Halsall the wrong way; the momentum was now with the Hatters.
With the atmosphere inside Edgeley Park at fever-pitch, the noise from the Cheadle End could be heard in neighbouring districts as the Lilywhites poured forward.
And, 10 minutes from time, the incredible vocal support was rewarded. When a Beaumont blockbuster came back off the bar Nibloe reacted quicker than the Wigan defence to nod home the rebound.
The vast majority of the bumper 11,570 crowd went home eagerly waiting the second round draw. County were paired Grimsby Town; surely the Third Division leaders would be too strong for this young and inexperienced Hatters’ side, even at Edgeley Park ... or would they?
To be continued ...