Friday, 14 February 2014

FA Cup Replay Marathon

It was the longest FA Cup Semi-Final tie in history, lasting for an incredible four matches.  The season is 1979-1980 and Arsenal were the defending Cup holders having beaten Manchester United in an exciting Final the year before.  There was the prospect of the first ever all-Merseyside Final as both Liverpool and Everton had made it this far, and were drawn apart too.  Current League Champions and league leaders, Liverpool were up against Arsenal, who were also chasing a place in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final having come up against Juventus at the Semi-Final stage.  In the other Semi, Everton would meet West Ham, then a Second Division side.

Liverpool had reached this round beating Grimsby, Nottingham Forest, Bury and Tottenham without conceding a goal.  Arsenal had negotiated their way past Cardiff, Brighton, Bolton and Watford, needing replays against Cardiff and Bolton to progress.  These two had already met in the Charity Shield when Liverpool put on a brilliant performance to win 3-1.  The two then played out a goalless draw at Highbury in November.  That was the precursor to what was to follow.

For Arsenal the FA Cup Semi-Final in April 1980 was their 57th match of the season with Liverpool embarking on their 52nd match.  The first meeting was at Hillsborough in front of over 50,000 fans.  It was a tight-tense affair where neither side played particularly well or dealt with the pressure of the occasion, and it was a drab goalless draw.

Back in those days replays came along three days later and so the whole circus moved to Villa Park on the following Wednesday where David Fairclough put Liverpool in front shortly after half-time.  But just over 10 minutes later his goal was cancelled out by Alan Sunderland.  After another period of extra time the two couldn’t be separated and would now go to a Third Replay again at Villa Park.

As if this marathon cup tie wasn’t enough the two clubs broke off from their FA Cup exploits to play a league match at Anfield.  Kenny Dalglish opened the scoring early in the first half but Brian Talbot equalised to force yet another draw.  The following Wednesday saw Arsenal pull off a famous victory over Juventus in Turin when substitute Paul Vaessen scored a late winner.  In the League Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the table with a win over Stoke City.  Both clubs then suffered draws in league games at the weekend, before they were back to lock horns at Villa Park on the Monday.

Fixtures were coming thick and fast, as they often did in those days.  Nearly 43,000 packed into Villa Park where just before the game began a fan ran onto the pitch, pulled his trousers down and bared his bum.  This was all forgotten pretty soon as Alan Sunderland scored the fastest goal in a Semi-Final.  It was timed at 13 seconds and was the first time Arsenal had been in front in the tie.  The Gunners remained in front deep into injury time and then Kenny Dalglish grabbed a dramatic equaliser for force yet another period of extra time.  Neither side could find a breakthrough so they would meet again on Thursday.

Highfield Road, Coventry was chosen for the venue of the Third Replay.  Coventry had just played Aston Villa there on the Tuesday and remarkably two days later, Liverpool and Arsenal turned up to try and settle this Semi-Final.  West Ham had long since booked their place in the Final after beating Everton late in extra time in their replay.  The whole country was gripped with the drama of this never-ending story, and already there were discussions over various ways settle the tie.

Brian Talbot put Arsenal in front after 11 minutes and this time they managed to hang on.  Both the two sides and the country were physically drained, and it had been a marathon never to be seen again.  These days the tie would be settled on the day with a penalty shootout and other rounds just go to the one replay.  What foreign managers would’ve made of this tussle is uncertain but you cannot imagine them putting up with it for very long.

Two days later Liverpool travelled back to Anfield and beat Aston Villa, 4-1 to retain their League title.  Arsenal, on the other hand, remained in Coventry as they had a league match at Highfield Road on the Saturday and won 1-0.  It was Coventry’s final match of the season, yet Arsenal still had three more to play as well as two Cup Finals.  The following Monday they drew at home to Nottingham Forest and then had just 5 days to prepare for the FA Cup Final against West Ham.  They were beaten by a Trevor Brooking goal and then four days later were beaten in a penalty shootout by Valencia in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final when Graham Rix’s final penalty was saved.

By the time the seaon had finished Arsenal had played 27 cup ties to go with their 42 league matches and a Charity Shield game.  An incredible 70 games and not a trophy in sight.  In comparison, Liverpool had played 60 and Nottingham Forest played 65 but both had trophies to remind them of their exploits.

Saturday 12th April 1980, Hillsborough, Sheffield.  50,174
FA Cup Semi-Final
LIVERPOOL   (0)   0
ARSENAL   (0)   0

LIVERPOOL : Clemence; Neal, Thompson, Hansen, Irwin; Case (Fairclough), Lee, Souness, R.Kennedy; Johnson, Dalglish
ARSENAL : Jennings; Rice, O’Leary, Young, Nelson (Walford); Price, Talbot, Brady, Rix; Stapleton, Sunderland

Wednesday 16th April 1980, Villa Park, Birmingham. 40,679
FA Cup Semi-Final, Replay
ARSENAL   (0)   1   (Sunderland 62)
LIVERPOOL   (0)   1   (Fairclough 51)

LIVERPOOL : Clemence; Neal, Thompson, Hansen, Irwin; Lee, Souness, R.Kennedy; Johnson, Fairclough, Dalglish
ARSENAL : Jennings; Rice, O’Leary, Young, Walford; Price, Talbot, Brady, Rix; Stapleton, Sunderland

Monday 28th April 1980, Villa Park, Birmingham. 42,975
FA Cup Semi-Final, 2nd Replay
LIVERPOOL   (0)   1   (Dalglish 90)
ARSENAL   (1)   1   (Sunderland 1)

LIVERPOOL : Clemence; Neal, Thompson, Hansen, A.Kennedy (Fairclough); Lee, McDermott, Souness, R.Kennedy; Johnson, Dalglish
ARSENAL : Jennings; Rice, O’Leary, Young, Devine; Price, Talbot, Brady, Rix; Stapleton, Sunderland

Thursday 1st May 1980, Highfield Road, Coventry. 35,335
FA Cup Semi-Final, 3rd Replay
ARSENAL   (1)   1   (Talbot 11)
LIVERPOOL   (0)   0

LIVERPOOL : Clemence; Neal, Thompson, Hansen, Cohen; Lee, McDermott, Souness, R.Kennedy; Johnson (Fairclough), Dalglish
ARSENAL : Jennings; Rice, O’Leary, Young, Devine; Price, Talbot, Brady, Rix; Stapleton, Sunderland

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