Thursday, 5 January 2012

Cup glory - or the lack of it...

Tottenham Hotspur v Cheltenham Town. I shall keep saying it over and over until it finally sinks in.
In 48 hours time, we will be reflecting on a great day, either hideously drunk in celebration of an upset, hideously drunk and awaiting a money-spinning replay, or hideously drunk as we get ready to concentrate on the promotion push.
Whatever emotion it is, we will be proud of the players' efforts and will have savoured one of the greatest days our club has ever seen.
But it was not always that way, and this game has given me the time to go down memory lane, raid my programme box and recall a time when our FA Cup fortunes were not so good, thanks to Trevor Senior, Matt Lazenby, Chris Yates and Chris Souness.
Who? Well, yes, you might well ask, but they all made me thoroughly miserable in the 1980s.
For less than 30 years ago - reaching the first round of the FA Cup (let alone round three...) was, for us Robins fans, the Holy Grail.
In fact, the final qualifying round was something we very rarely managed.
We got that far, in 1981-2, but an 18-year-old whizzkid called Trevor Senior knocked us out with a hat-trick in Dorchester's 3-1 win en route to a successful career at Reading and a disastrous spell at Watford (I think it was karma...).
The following season, we were even closer o that promised land of the first round proper. I remember the conga on the pitch at Thame United after Jimmy Gough's last minute winner, then we demolished Gloucester 5-1 and beat Trowbridge after a replay.
Weymouth v Cheltenham Town
replay programme
In our way then stood Weymouth. They were a big club - in the Alliance Premier League (Conference to you and me...) and we drew 0-0 at home in front of 1,805 - a big crowd then - and I remember bunking off English for the replay (sorry Mum).
Windsor and Eton v Cheltenham programme
We lost 4-0, well beaten on the night, and we thought, OK, maybe next year...
But we failed again in 1983-4 as well. Glastonbury, Bridgend and Barry Town were the vanquished giants as we headed for Stag Meadow, the home of Isthmian Leaguers Windsor and Eton.
We were in the Southern Premier by now, and they were managed by the soon-to-be Woking legend Geoff Chapple, and it was a scrappy game, heading for a replay until disaster struck, John Murphy stood on the ball and Chris Yates scored the winner.
That was made worse when Windsor drew Bournemouth in the first round. They lost, and two rounds later, on this corresponding weekend 27 years ago, Bournemouth beat then-holders Manchester United 2-0. It could have been us...
Bournemouth's manager that day? Harry Redknapp. An omen? who knows...
I'm glossing over 1984-5 as we got hammered at Merthyr, but the following two seasons really represent the nadir of our FA Cup fortunes during my Robins-watching time.
1985-6 was our first season in the Gola League (still the Conference to most of you...) and this was going to be our time - the FA Cup run was going to happen.
We were drawn at Minehead, of the Western League, and I remember watching us run out at Irnham Road, slightly concerned at the sight of Brian Hughes, our star goalscoring midfielder and now manager of Cirencester, in the goalkeeper's kit...
The Bideford programme

The programmes from our defeat
by Minehead, first game and replay

He only played a half in goal as Neil Hards' car broke down, but Matt Lazenby scored and only a very late own goal by Alan Impey earned us a very fortuitous replay. Never mind, we would do the job this time.
Er, no. We wouldn't actually, as Lazenby scored twice at Whaddon Road and we were out. Again.
The following season was worse as we lost 4-3 at home to Bideford, another Western League side, with Chris Souness scoring twice. That defeat was made worse when I later went to work in Plymouth and Souey became a good friend of mine, along with another Bideford player that day, John Hillson, and they constantly reminded me about it.
The following season we cracked it - thanks to a bloke called Brett Angell, who gave us a memorable day at Wolves - well, for about a minute after scoring a cracker. Then Steve Bull scored a hat-trick and some blond winger called Keith Downing got one as we were well beaten 5-1.
But it didn't matter. We had cracked the first round of the FA Cup at last - but we came down with a bump the following season as Gloucester City beat us 3-0.
We went through the '90s towards our arrival in the Football League with those epic games against Exmouth Town, a narrow loss at Birmingham and replay defeats against Bournemouth and Peterborough, and more recently those Newcastle, Fulham, Burnley, Oldham and West Brom games have given us some good memories to savour.
More will be made on Saturday at White Hart Lane, and I will enjoy it as I am sure every Cheltenham fan will - but I will tip a nod towards Lazenby, Souness, Yates and Senior, who upset the odds against us back then and wondering if there is a hero amongst our lads waiting to be crowned...