Fantastico.....County Cup Warriors Part 3. by Des Hinks.
Fifty years ago, County, rooted to the bottom of Division Four, embarked on an FA Cup run that captured the hearts of the nation.
Victories over Wigan Athletic and Grimsby Town had seen the Hatters reach round three where, against all the odds, they performed heroically to force a goalless draw at Third Division leaders, Bristol Rovers.
Our special four-part series looks back at the replay, when Edgeley Park shook to its’ very foundations on a night everyone lucky enough to be there will never forget!
As was the tradition before television took centre stage, the FA Cup draw took place on a Monday lunchtime, and the Cup fever that had already stricken the town took on epidemic proportions when County, or Bristol Rovers, were paired with Bill Shankly’s Liverpool, the current Football League champions, in their own Anfield fortress.
The Hatters’ replay was also on the Monday – before the days of police insistence of ten days notice to stage a game – and County, bottom of Division Four, don’t forget - were hoping for a crowd of up to 15,000. Expectations were way out, though, as more than 20,000 packed into Edgeley Park to witness what, for many, was the greatest game ever staged at the ground.
Two goals in a minute on the half hour, from Derek Hodgkinson and Frank Beaumont, seemed to set County on their way. But Rovers hit back after the break and silenced Edgeley Park when two long range efforts, from Ray Mabbutt and then Bobby Jones, levelled the scores.
Suddenly, County looked to be running out of steam and the Third Division title-chasers sensed victory.
Reporting for the Daily Express, Derek Hodgson takes up the story: “With 15 minutes left Ian Sandiford missed another chance and Stockport hearts were sick. Rovers were looking even more menacing as the minutes ticked away, and Liverpool seemed as far away as San Francisco.
“Weary captain Trevor Porteous signalled his line-up again. Rovers backed off warily, massing in their area. Then, 86 minutes gone, and County got a free kick.
“Ean Cuthbert floated the ball over, goalkeeper Hall leaped, but there was Sandiford’s dark head nodding the ball over a despairing defender in the goalmouth.
|....and the scramble to keep it out !|
“If Denis Law ever wins the European Cup with a goal at Old Trafford he’ll not get a greater reception than this. The whole ground erupted. Fans poured on to the pitch, and referee Maurice Fussey had to walk off the field before play could be restarted.
“And when the final whistle went Porteous and little Derek Hodgkinson were both chaired off as the whole park was flooded with fans.
“Stockport County may not have the best team, but their fans … FANTASTICO!”
Hodgson wasn’t the only hard-nosed hack moved by the sheer emotion that night. The Daily Mirror’s Derek Wallis wrote: “They clambered on the roof-tops, they scaled the floodlight pylons, they burst the barrier behind the goal and they stormed the pitch in their thousands at the end when County forced a last-gasp winner in last night’s FA Cup Third Round replay.
“I cannot recall such hysteria, such dramatic scenes on a football field since Everton won promotion to the First Division, at Oldham, many years ago.”
The Mail’s Frank Clough was also caught up in the atmosphere. He wrote: “Two thousand youngsters flooded the Stockport arena in a frightening frenzy of near-hysteria last night to carry off their Cup heroes shoulder-high in triumph.
“It was a fantastic, awesome scene. But a warm and wonderful tribute to County who had plucked this third-round replay from the precipice of extra time with a winner just four minutes from the end.
“It was bedlam, it was pandemonium. There’s never been a night quite like it at Edgeley Park.”
Writing in the Manchester Evening News Eric Thornton described the moments after Mr Fussey had blown the final whistle: “Trevor Porteous, County’s hero and five-star player, went under for a while, then suddenly reappeared, shoulder high and was carried off in triumph.
“Later, with shining eyes, he simply said: ‘Everybody was magnificent … magnificent … magnificent.’ And so they were.”
Certainly the atmosphere that night will live long in the memory of everyone present. Speaking several years later, Porteous remembered the night vividly. “The atmosphere was absolutely fantastic,” he recalled.
“It was at a time when the Cheadle End started to gather its momentum and gain its reputation for bouncing and singing and making an enormous amount of noise.
“I can remember them stamping their feet, and it just gathered and gathered and gathered. There was a danger of course, simply because it was a wooden floor, but they really, really created a marvellous atmosphere and without any doubt it inspired the players.
“We had big crowds before but they never created the same sort of atmosphere as the old Cheadle Enders. Against Rovers they were fantastic.”
So, next stop Anfield, and almost certain defeat – on the morning of the game the Daily Express even predicted a 10-0 scoreline in favour of Shankly’s champs – but once again County’s Cup Warriors hadn’t read the script.
Backed by a vociferous 11,000-strong travelling army, the magnificent Hatters silenced the Kop and came within half-an-hour of producing the biggest FA Cup shock of all time.
The final part of this amazing journey will appear here next month!