Category Archives: FA Cup


Sunday is the fourth time that Liverpool and Aston Villa have met in the FA cup semi final, with the Reds winning two of the three previous meetings. Liverpool’s first victory came 101 years ago when they sprang a surprise by winning 2-0 against a Villa side who had won their fifth FA Cup the year before.

Liverpool had a fairly straightforward route to the last four beating Barnsley, Gillingham, West Ham and Queens Park Rangers, who were all lower division clubs. The semi final draw though paired them with Aston Villa, the current cup holders who were second in the league table. Eyebrows were then raised by the choice of venues for the games, with Liverpool and Villa having to play at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane and the other semi final, between Burnley and Sheffield United, taking place at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground.

Tom watsonIt may have seemed more logical for Liverpool and Villa to play at Old Trafford and Burnley take on Sheffield United at Villa Park, but the FA was just as strange in their venue choice back then as they have been in more recent years. Referring to the decision the Liverpool Evening Express commented that ‘it is a far far way to Tottenham’ and that ‘The FA have some funny ways.’ Manager Tom Watson was scathing about the decision to play the game there, pointing not just to the extra distance that Liverpool’s fans had to travel but also to Villa’s popularity in London. This meant that the opposition would be backed by the majority of the crowd and there was even speculation that a ground record for White Hart Lane would be set.

Liverpool’s players would spend five days in London preparing for the game. This was in contrast to Villa who remained in Birmingham but along the lines of the other two semi finalists who both spent a week at Lytham St Annes. A party of thirteen players accompanied by Tom Watson and director Mr Bainbridge set off from Lime Street station on the morning of Monday 23rd March. One player missing was inside forward Billy Banks, who had scored three goals in three appearances since breaking into the side earlier in the month. He was ineligible for the FA Cup though, having played in the qualifying rounds for Ashington earlier in the season.

Their base was the Royal Forest Hotel in Chingford, situated next to a hunting lodge used by Queen Elizabeth I. They arrived to wet weather but it was dry the following day and remained that way for the rest of the week. There was very little ball  training at Chingford, their preparation instead consisting of sprints and exercises overseen by Watson and Bainbridge. They relaxed by playing golf and billiards and visited a music hall in Walthamstow on the Tuesday night. Hotel management were pleased with the Reds players, referring to them as the ‘most gentlemanly and sociable party of footballers’ they had met. Plenty of others had stayed at the hotel and it was something of a lucky omen with Everton, Manchester United and Tottenham all having used it as a base prior to winning cup finals.

Photo Stephen McKay

Villa were the clear favourites given they were second in the league compared to Liverpool’s fifteenth. The prevailing nationwide opinion was that the Reds were just going to Tottenham to collect the gate money, but Watson believed this made his players only more determined to succeed. Watson was cautious about his team’s chances of causing an upset but felt that no team was invincible and Liverpool’s status as underdogs could work in their favour.   After observing them at their getaway a reporter from the Daily Post who was present with the team concluded that ‘if comradeship and bonhomie should suffice’ then Liverpool would be playing in the final. If Villa were to beat the Reds he claimed it would not be ‘so easily as their friends imagine.’

Captain Harry Lowe knew that despite the odds being against them there was a chance for the Reds, as long as the players didn’t relax and they contested every move. The half backs, he told the Post reporter, would have to be at their very best to counter the Villa forwards and ease the pressure on the full backs. Forward Bill Lacey, scorer of two goals in the 5-1 win against West Ham in the last sixteen, emphasised the coolness of the players in the run in to the game. When asked his thoughts by Watson he jokingly replied ‘Beat the Villa, why,  we would beat rows of houses.’

On the Friday the rest of the directors arrived and confirmed the team selection. There were no surprises as everyone was fit, meaning the versatile Don MacKinlay and full back Sam Speakman, both taken down as cover, were the two to miss out.

Four special excursion trains took Liverpool fans down to the match for a special fare of 12 shillings. The first left just after midnight from Lime Street while two more departed Central Station at 6.15am and another went from Birkenhead.  For those not able to go to London, they did have he opportunity of watching the reserves in action against Huddersfield Town at Anfield, where it was promised that the semi final score would be posted pitchside every fifteen minutes.

After spending the week doing gym work and taking brine baths Villa’s players didn’t leave Birmingham until the Saturday morning. On arrival in London they’d have found the local papers reporting that they were as good as in the final already. One wrote ‘Aston Villa are going to win the cup, on their best form they are a wonderful side.’ Another declared that Liverpool had no class in their side, commenting that Villa were superior in every single position.  The only reason the Reds were still in the competition they said was because ‘Liverpool have had an easy cup journey so far’ and if they were to win it would be bad for football as it would show that  ‘form counts for naught and pure skill is of no account.’

Newspaper reports like these only made the Reds’ players even more determined, especially with such damning comments  as ‘Liverpool’s forwards are not good enough’ and ‘all clubs were hoping to be drawn against Liverpool.’ The ground was full an hour before kick off, 27,474 being present and they wiled away the time watching a band play, the performance only interrupted by an announcement that Cambridge had won the Boat Race. Watson’s fears over being heavily outnumbered in the crowd were unfounded as the London spectators gave the Reds a reception matching that which they gave to Villa, although there were  clearly more travelling fans from Birmingham than Liverpool there.

Early in the game though most of the play was in the Reds half, with Ken Campbell making a few good saves. When they did get forward Liverpool were given no assistance by the referee, who on one occasion stopped play to enquire if a Villa player was injured when he scratched his head. On another, a Villa player’s clearance cannoned off  a team mate and out of play but a goal kick was awarded, even though all players began lining up for a corner.

Villa’s undoing came when they began to believe in their own hype, over complicating matters and passing the ball around too much in exhibition style. Liverpool on the other hand were more direct and were rewarded on the half hour when  Jimmy Nicholl (below) headed home Jackie Sheldon’s cross. Villa had the better of the remaining fifteen minutes of the half but Campbell twice made good saves and Ephraim Longworth was outstanding at the back.jimmy nicholl

Nicholl was certain that he had made it 2-0 soon after the restart when his shot hit the bar and bounced back to Sam Hardy, the ex Reds keeper, in the Villa goalmouth. Liverpool’s players vehemently protested to the referee that the ball had landed over the line but he was having none of it . Undaunted by this disappointment Liverpool upped the pressure and Hardy was having a torrid time, on one occasion losing sight of the ball completely only for Bill Lacey to shoot wide. At the other end there was a scare when a shot caught Campbell full in the face but he managed to recover and continue playing.

Late in the game Arthur Metcalfe had a shot which hit the bar and rebounded to Nicholl who made no mistake in converting the rebound.   The cheers from all parts of the ground showed just how many Reds fans had made the journey. Villa knew they were beaten now and looked like they could concede again, only being saved from going 3-0 down when Lacey’s shot skimmed the post. Watson was so confident that he got up and left the directors box after the second goal, smiling at the pressmen as he walked past. At Anfield, play stopped in the reserves game as players congratulated each other and the crowd cheered at the news of Liverpool’s impending date at the Crystal Palace.

There was no arguing with the result, with a number of ex Villa players commenting on the Reds’ supposed inconsistency. Former captain  Howard Spencer said ‘Liverpool played a spendid game throughout’ and Charlie Johnston, a   player with the in the 1880s admitted ‘We cant cavil at the result, Liverpool were quite the better side.’

There was no time for celebrations in London for the players who finished getting changed in taxis that were lined up outside White Hart Lane to take them to Euston station for the express train.  Down at Piccadilly, where university students were enjoying merriment after the boat race,  ‘Northern Hordes’ invaded the gentlemanly celebrations with tricks and scams described by the Post as  ‘a disgrace to  a top hat brigade.’ When the Liverpool players arrived at Lime Street, they were met with ‘a scene of enthusiasm never before seen.’

Had Liverpool gone on to win the cup, the scenes of jubilation would surely have been surpassed further, but on 25th April they were beaten 1-0 by Burnley and would have to wait until 1965 for that first FA Cup win.


Fifty years and one day before Liverpool travel to the Emirates Stadium for an FA Cup 5th round tie, the two sides met at Arsenal’s old home of Highbury, Liverpool progressing thanks to Ian St John’s goal.

A week before the cup tie, the Reds were beaten 3-1 by Everton at Goodison Park, meaning they dropped to third in the table. But there was no time to dwell on the derby defeat for captain Ron Yeats, who travelled to Largs straight after the game with victorious opponents Jimmy Gabriel and Alex Scott for a Scottish national team training camp.

Melwood was quieter than normal on the Monday and Tuesday, with Yeats in Scotland and Roger Hunt, Peter Thompson and Gorson Milne at an England squad get together in Matlock. Bill Shankly was not happy about Alf Ramsay’s sessions at all, especially when Blackburn’s Keith Newton suffered cartilage damage. He told the Daily Post: ‘It might so easily have been one of our own players. This special training question is a matter of doing something that is going to be useful at the right time. It might have been better at the get-together to have been satisfied with talks and tactical functions without any real strenuous exertions. They actually played two games, players at this time of the season do not need extra training.’

Shankly was also not happy about Liverpool’s kick off being put back to 3.15pm, to ease congestion as Tottenham were also at home that day, starting at 2.45pm. The Reds’ party was booked to return on the 6pm train but despite protestations the kick off time was upheld and the Metropolitan Police promised to escort the players to Euston. Around 15,000 Liverpool fans made the journey to North London, with nearly 1,000 travelling with Ribble Motor Company, whose coaches set off at 11.30pm on the Friday night. A select group even travelled by plane, the Shareholders’ Association chartering a 58 seat Viscount aircraft which was £6 for the return flight and coach to Highbury. 


Following a poor attacking display against Everton, Shankly decided to make a change and dropped Jimmy Melia, bringing in young forward Alf Arrowsmith in his place. The teamsheet implied that Arrowsmith would be an inside forward as he was numbered ten, but when the players took up position it was clear he would be playing in the centre with St John taking up Melia’s role. This confused Arsenal as they were subjected to him chasing everything very early on, linking well with Ian Callaghan and almost forcing Ian Ure into a short backpass.  Arrowsmith was everywhere, on one occasion going down the right wing to put in a cross that was shepherded back to keeper Jim Furnell by Vic Groves, only for the Reds forward to run up and try to block the kick from his hands.

Arsenal were beginning to get on top early on, with Tommy Lawrence saving from both Geoff Strong and John Snedden and Ron Yeats needing to be his best to win the aerial battles. Then in the fifteenth minute the Reds took the lead with their first real chance of the game. Gordon Milne floated a ball into the box and St John ghosted in unnoticed at the far post to score with a low header that was greeted by pandemonium amongst the Liverpool fans amassed on the Clock End. Less than a minute later Arsenal were almost level when Strong hit a shot that Lawrence couldn’t hold but Gerry Byrne got there to clear the danger.

Lawrence had another escape when he dropped the ball from a corner and Yeats cleared but only as far as Eastham. He fired the ball low towards the goal but the Reds’ keeper made up for the previous error by turning the ball around the post. Arsenal then had a huge penalty appeal turned down when from a corner Eastham’s shot was blocked on the line by Ronnie Moran, with the crowd screaming for handball.  Photographs later showed it had been headed away but even if it had struck Moran’s hand it had been travelling so fast there was no way he could have got it out the way. They had two more appeals turned down in quick succession with fouls being waved away and this led to some oranges being thrown at the referee and linesman. They could only sportingly applaud Lawrence though when he made what Leslie Edwards described as the ‘save of a lifetime’ in that night’s Echo, the Reds’ keeper managing to adjust his dive in mid air to turn away a deflected Armstrong shot.

Seven minutes before half time Joe Baker and Yeats went down together after a foul on the Liverpool skipper. Both got up exchanging punches before Yeats went back down with a cut eye, leading to Bill Shankly coming onto the pitch to check he was ok. The referee, who had been following play, came back and promptly dismissed both men from the field and told Shankly to leave too, but not before he had quickly given some tactical instructions to players. It led to both sides having fiery tempers and St John was furious when he was denied a penalty after apparently being tripped from behind by Billy McCulloch. The Arsenal left back then turned his attentions to Ian Callaghan, fouling him near the touchline and receiving a booking, while the Liverpool winger needed treatment. There was little more goalmouth incident before the break, the only chance of note being a Strong header that was well held by Lawrence.

Thankfully for the Reds the half time interval did Callaghan good and he came out not showing no signs of limping. He was soon a danger down the flank and put in a cross for Arrowsmith but his volley was just wide. Arsenal were not playing like  a team that were a goal down in a cup tie, as they passed the ball around too much and didn’t try to break the strong Liverpool defence, which now had Willie Stevenson playing at centre half with St John dropping from inside left to left half. Too many times they resorted to long shots and the Reds were happy to sit back and try to catch them on the break for a second goal. Despite the beckoning of Strong, too many of the home players remained near the halfway line with only Eastham posing any real threat. Liverpool looked more likely to increase rather than surrender their lead and Peter Thompson had a low right foot shot well held by Furnell. Lawrence was first called into action when Armstrong crossed for Strong, whose downward header was caught by the keeper.

Towards the end of the game Arsenal did increase the pressure, but Stevenson was doing a great job at centre half and on one occasion cleared a Snedden header off the line. Arrowsmith was by now playing as a lone striker and struggled to deal with the offside trap, but he did spring it once to round Furnell only to roll the ball wide. Liverpool continued to weather the storm, then in injury time Arrowsmith again broke clear and went past Furnell, only to be rugby tackled by the ex Reds’ keeper. A penalty was awarded but Hunt’s kick was saved by Furnell. There was no time for Arsenal to go down the other end and score and the final whistle was greeted with a pitch invasion by hundreds of travelling fans. Also with them was Yeats, who couldn’t bear to watch the game after his sending off so had instead changed and gone to a local coffee bar, arriving back just as Hunt was placing the ball on the penalty spot.

It was a great victory for the Reds. They hadn’t played attractive football but they had done what they needed to do and Bill Shankly said afterwards: ‘We knew it would be hard, we prepared for a tough fight. I was proud of Liverpool, every man Jack of them.’ St John called it a ‘real tonic after we were right down in the dumps after our showing against Everton.’ The Reds may have had a police escort to get them home but not all fans had it so easy. Twenty fans missed their coach and had to come home courtesy of British Rail, who agreed to let them travel without tickets providing they promised to pay when sent a bill. The Reds were through to the quarter finals for the second year in a row, but were surprisingly beaten 2-1 at home by Swansea in the next round.

Liverpool Overcome Valiant Effort

On 27th January 1964 Liverpool kept up their hopes of an League Championship and FA Cup Double when they overcame plucky Port Vale after extra time in a 4th round replay at Vale Park.

Just two days earlier the 1,000/1 outsiders from the 3rd Division has stunned Anfield when they held the Reds to a 0-0 draw. Liverpool Chairman T.V. Williams said afterwards that Vale did not deserve to lose a game in which former Reds reserve forward John Nicholson went close to scoring in the second half.

Not everyone else was quite as complimentary however, with forward Ian St John criticising them for putting too many players behind the ball, writing in his Daily Post column that ‘word seems to have got around that the only way to beat Liverpool is to bolt and bar the way to goal with a packed defence.’ in the Liverpool Echo, Reds correspondent Leslie Edwards was critical of St John and his fellow forwards, saying they had played too narrow and it was Vale who created the better chances.

The 1,200 fans who left Lime Street in the late afternoon on three football special trains were the last to do so for quite a few years. That morning, British Rail announced that following vandalism on a train carrying Evertonians home from their cup tie at Leeds on the Saturday, the latest in a long line of incidents, they would not be running any more specials from the city. Fans queuing for the trains expressed disappointment, as the specials fares were about 60% of the price of the regular services.

Bill Shankly took an unusually large squad of fifteen players to the game, making sure he had an extra man in each department should anyone still have any aches and strains from Saturday. When kick off approached he decided to make some changes and go for experience, recalling Ronnie Moran and Jimmy Melia in place of Bobby Thomson and Alf Arrowsmith. Moran’s return was no great surprise, but Melia’s inclusion raised some eyebrows. The winger was often made the scapegoat by the crowd when the team struggled and he was rumoured to be set for a move elsewhere. It was harsh on Arrowsmith, who had scored four in the previous round against Derby County and followed this up with a wonderful late winning strike against Chelsea the week after.

There was a huge crowd of 42,179 at the game and it was estimated that another 6,000 got in when the gates were rushed at the Railway End. A man from Leek died of his injuries a few weeks later, but such events were not seen as unusual at this time and the incident didn’t even get a mention in the Echo or Post.

Vale didn’t take the game to the Reds as expected, instead defending deep and employing a man marking system which shackled St John and Melia. It took half an hour for the Reds to have a meaningful shot on goal when Peter Thompson’s drive from outside the box shaved the bar as it went over. Five minutes later though Liverpool did take the lead, Roger Hunt breaking free of his marker to latch on to a long ball from Gerry Byrne and cleverly guide it past Tom Hancock.

The second half was no different from the first, with Vale seemingly accepting that their chance had gone. Tommy Lawrence didn’t make his first save until the hour mark, easily holding a low shot from John Rowlands, but despite being in control of things the Reds failed to up their game and finish the tie off. They paid the price with eleven minutes to go when Rowland beat Moran on the left flank and crossed to Stan Steele who nodded the ball down into the path of Albert Cheeseborough, a last minute replacement in the side for the injured Jackie Mudie. Vale’s stand in striker hit an unstoppable shot past Lawrence to the delight of the home crowd. Revitalised, Vale went for the jugular and only the solidity of Moran and Ron Yeats prevented them finding a winner before the ninety minutes were up.

Half time saw very little action, with both sets of players tiring after playing ninety minutes for the second time in three days. There were just two minutes left when Gordon Milne hit a hopeful shot that cannoned off a defender into the path of Peter Thompson, whose volley flew into the top corner. This led to delirium amongst the thousands of Liverpool fans in the ground, two of whom fell through the roof of the railway end and had to be taken to hospital along with another supporter his by falling debris.

For the remainder of the game the Liverpool supporters sang ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ and ‘We Love You Yeah Yeah Yeah’, then the final whistle was greeted by a mini pitch invasion. Although there was some over exuberance, the behaviour of fans was otherwise exemplary, with none of the special trains being damaged and the licensee of the nearby Star Hotel telling the Post reporter: ‘I have never met a finer lot of people than I did last night. They drank well and behaved well and if they ever come to Burslem again there will always be a welcome for them and their supporters.’

In the next round Liverpool beat Arsenal 1-0 at Highbury, only to be sensationally knocked out by 2nd Division Swansea Town at Anfield in the quarter final. In the league they more than made up for it though, clinching their first title since 1947 with three games to spare.

Liverpool Giant Killers

Liverpool have many a time been on the wrong end of an FA Cup upset, but the fact they have been in the top division for most of their history means they have rarely been giant killers themselves. Only three times during their Division 2 days did they beat teams from the top flight, the first occasion being in 1893-94 when Preston North End were defeated at Anfield.

After being elected into Division 2 of the Football League following their Lancashire League success of 1892-93 Liverpool easily coped with the step up and would earn promotion after remaining unbeaten all season. In the FA Cup they beat fellow Division 2 side Grimsby Town 3-0 in the 1st round but despite their league form, Preston would see them competing against a completely different level. They had not finished outside the top two in the first five seasons of the Football League and although they were in the bottom half of the table this time around, they had shown their strength in the 1st round of the cup, thrashing non league Reading 18-0.

The tie of the round was undoubtedly league champions Sunderland at home to current runaway leaders Aston Villa, but the game at Anfield was next in importance. On 10th February, the morning of the game, the Liverpool Mercury predicted that play ‘promises to be of the keenest kind’ with Preston seeking to ‘regain lost prestige.’ Liverpool had demonstrated their ability by beating top flight Burnley and Newton Heath at Anfield earlier in the season and the Mercury believed that there was a ‘fair prospect that they will again carry their flag in triumph.’

Such was the interest in the game that the gates were locked some time before kick-off with 18,000 inside Anfield giving Preston a warm sporting reception when they took the field. They became more vociferous though when Andrew Hannah won the toss to determine ends and roared with approval when Joe McQue was the first to try his luck on goal, but his shot from distance was over the bar. After slowly working their way upfield by winning  series of throw-ins Preston earned a free kick but they failed to get it on target.

In the fourth minute Liverpool took the lead in bizarre fashion when the ball pinged around the box and when Bob Holmes kicked clear, it rebounded off David Henderson’s legs into the net. Preston responded strongly and spent long periods in the Liverpool half, but they were unable to get any shots on target to test keeper Billy McOwen, although one effort from William Greer skimmed the crossbar.

David Henderson
David Henderson

After weathering this storm the game turned into a tense midfield battle with little side giving much away, but Hugh McQueen did manage to get in a shot that bounced back off the bar. Then shortly before half time Malcolm McVean made it 2-0 out of nothing, scoring with a cross-shot that deceived keeper Jimmy Trainer. Straight from the restart Preston pulled a goal back when Jimmy Ross converted John Cunningham’s cross.

Malcolm McVean
Malcolm McVean

When the second half started a Preston onslaught was anticipated but Liverpool’s half backs were able to keep them in check, and from a long clearance by Duncan McLean McVean almost scored a second. However Preston did find an equaliser, Frank Becton scoring after some good build-up play.

When the second half started a Preston onslaught was anticipated but Liverpool’s half backs were able to keep them in check, and from a long clearance by Duncan McLean McVean almost scored a second. However Preston did find an equaliser, Frank Becton scoring after some good build-up play.

Neither side was happy to settle for a replay and the game was end to end, with Liverpool finding the all important winning goal, Henderson scoring after a good run and pass by Frank Gordon. Preston tried their best to get back into it, while Liverpool remained dangerous at the break and there was an almighty cheer when the whistle went to confirm Liverpool’s victory.

Liverpool were unable to continue their giant killing in the next round, when they went down 3-0 to Bolton Wanderers at Pikes Lane. However they were promoted at the end of the season following a test match victory over Newton Heath. Preston had to play a test match to avoid relegation themselves, beating Notts County 4-0. Liverpool’s only FA Cup other victories against teams in a higher division have been against Everton in 1954-55 and Chelsea in 1961-62.