Giant killing, a smaller club beating a larger one for the uninitiated, is reserved solely for the so called lesser teams. Fans of the Arsenals and Manchester United’s of this world can only feel the defeat side of the giant killing. For us lesser mortals the other side of the coin will live in your memory for ever, never to be forgotten, burnt into your life and enriched by time. Years pass and something reminds you of the event and the memory and joy returns as if it happened only yesterday. Tears of joy well up in your eyes and a sense of well-being is with you. You tell the story to your kids, your friends anyone who will listen. If they do not want to hear the story you tell them anyway, even if they have heard it countless times before.
In 1968 when I left school and joined ,what was, then the Central Electricity Generating Board, I used to regularly speak to an old Millwall supporter called Bill, I never did know his surname. He told me of Millwall’s great cup run of the 1936/37 season, which ended at the semi final stage against Sunderland, a team many thought the best in the Country.
Bill had told me as a young man he had journeyed from London on the day of the game kitted out in his blue and white, with rosette and rattle. Two traditional items of attire rarely seen today. The semi final took place at Leeds Road, home of Huddersfield Town.
Apparently, over 60,000 turned up for the game mostly paying on the day, with many more locked out. He tells of an early Millwall lead and the anticipation of a famous victory and a first ever visit to the Twin Towers at Wembley. Bill told of the Sunderland kick ‘em up in the air tactics, used to stop Millwall playing, and of the two clear penalties we should have been awarded and that one of their goals was blatantly offside and only given because Sunderland were a bigger club.
I bumped into Bill, now well into his seventies, many years later at the pensioners lunch at Blackfriars in London, after the customary hallo and how are you unprompted and with real feeling Bill said that goal was offside and we should have had two penalties and we would have beaten Preston at Wembley that year, no doubt about it. How true that was is hard to gauge
I often think of Bills remarks and how after nearly half a century Bill still recalled that semi final and the hurt and anguish it caused a young man with his rosette and rattle.
This phenomenon is not with a few but thousands and thousands of football fans of all ages everywhere the game is played. The stories are part and parcel of the great game. Yeovil bringing down the great Sunderland side, Newcastle falling at Hereford, Walsall overcoming Arsenal and Colchester beating the mighty Leeds being just a few.
In the 1964 /65 Season it was Millwalls turn. Never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it. As a fourth division club the FA Cup started in round 1 with a two nil victory over non league Kettering Town, who had won at Millwall the previous year and a round 2 four nil success over Port Vale, both games being at home.
Just reaching the third round was great as over the years progress in the FA Cup had been to say the least a bit on the thin side. In the few years I’d been watching them only once had Millwall reached the second round.
So on the Monday lunchtime it was with great anticipation that I listened to the cup draw hoping for a home game against top opposition, hopefully Arsenal my Mum and brothers’ team.
It was with mixed emotions when the draw paired first division and London rivals Fulham with Millwall at Craven Cottage.
It goes without saying that I was eager to attend the game and my two uncles came up trumps by not only getting grand stand tickets for the match but also offering to take me to the game. With Fulham in the top division and Millwall in the fourth I was hopeful of a good result but really more concerned about a heavy defeat.
Fulham led two nil, and a heavy defeat could easily become a reality. However , a Hugh Curran goal before half time at least gave us a chance and when Millwall were awarded a penalty fifteen minutes into the second half cup glory was a real possibility. Harry Cripps our wonderful robust fallback who epitomised the Millwall spirit hit a soft penalty almost straight at the goalkeeper and when Fulham scored a few minutes later it was all over for another year. Or so it seemed as no self respecting first division team would or could lose a 3 – 1 lead to fourth division team with legend such as Cohen, Robson and Haynes in their ranks.
But this is the FA Cup. And as many teams before and since Fulham had not read the script and for that matter nor had Millwall. Whitehouse scored from 30 yards and with the thousands of away fans in fall voice Millwall smelt blood, chucking everything at Fulham who were hanging on for dear life. Now I don’t know when the equaliser went in but I think it was late, it was at the end just to the left of where I was sitting by the edge of the eighteen yard box but do remember that the Fulham goalkeeper made a mistake and Whitehouse scored his second and the Millwall supporters went wild and the cries of Millwall, Millwall, Millwall greeted the team at the final whistle. What a game, 3 –1 down away, a missed penalty and a grandstand finish. What a day. A replay the following Monday, no replay delays on Police instruction in those days. Oh well lets make the most of it as Fulham would not make the same mistake again, even if it was away from home.
In the sixties Monday was often the day chosen for midweek home games by Millwall and as expected my uncles managed to get tickets in the main, and only seated stand. I assume that they lined up from early Sunday morning to make sure of the tickets. I wasn’t bothered what time or for how long they waited just as long as they got them. That’s not to say I wasn’t very grateful of course.
Our seats were about five or six rows from the front of the stand, with standing in front of that, about a third of the way along from the Cold Blow Lane End, the traditional home terrace behind the goal.
Now apparently the attendance that night was 31339, however close to kick off it seemed to me that even in the main stand there were two seats for three people and sitting in the isles. The terraces were packed and heaving, it was later reported that gates had been forced and many thousands had got into the ground for free. There were also mounds up by the old dog track at the Ilderton Road end of the ground that gave a partial if not full view. This was often and unkindly referred to as Jews Hill.
Opinions differ on how many were in the ground that night. 35000, 40000 even 45000. All I know is that the place was packed and appeared fuller than when we entertained Tottenham in 1967. The true attendance we will never know. What we do know is that the atmosphere was incredible and that one of the great nights at the old stadium was to unfold.
Things hardly started well for Millwall, wing half Dave Harper hobbled off with a badly twisted ankle and in the days before substitutes came back on, his ankle heavily strapped, to play on the wing as little more than nuisance value. Or so we thought.
That night, I am sure with the help and encouragement or the crowd, Millwall fought and played wonderfully well. Perhaps bringing Fulham down to there level by chasing every ball, making every tackle and header count and not let the arguably more gifted Fulham team have time on the ball and play. That night Millwall were not to be denied even with ten fit men. The first and decisive goal came half way through the second half when the walking wounded Dave Harper scored and a second at the end by Barry Rowan secured victory.
At the end everyone went crazy and it was all I could do not to let my uncles see me crying with joy. As was often the case following a giant killing in those days’ people ran on to chair the players off.
Me all I wanted to do was cheer myself horse, go home and dream about what I had just witnessed. This was for me the greatest day of my life and we already knew whom we would be playing in round four, Shrewsbury Town from the third division. If we can beat Fulham then Shrewsbury won’t be a problem, no way they will be able to stop us.
Talk about coming down to earth with a bump. A big crowd, over 25000, a one nil half time lead and more cup glory or so I thought. Following the wonderful games against Fulham this was to be a major let down. Injuries didn’t help, we always say that. It had started well enough with Dennis John, our full back turned centre forward had given us a lead and we appeared in control. On a bright Saturday afternoon the second half turned somewhat gloomy as Shrewsbury first equalised and then scored a second to earn a fifth round tie at the mighty Leeds. It could have been us, we always say that.
So the 1 – 2 reverse brought to an end the cup run of 1964 / 65, it was not all gloom however as we had been performing well in the league, particuarly at home where I think we were unbeaten. As a consequence we ended up in second place and were promoted.
I had attended 56 games during the season, but the victory over Fulham would have no equal.
I often think back to that season and our two games against Fulham and then invariably think of Bill and his memories of 1937.
Fast forward to 2004 and our Semi Final against Sunderland and sweet if not a little belated revenge.
For me I will always love the FA cup.