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Wycombe v Bedford - The 1966 FA Cup epic
(Research, memories and words by Paul Lewis - First published 25th November 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary)
Those attending the FA Cup First Round encounter between Wycombe Wanderers and Bedford Town at Loakes Park on Saturday 26th November 1966 would not have been aware they were witnessing the start of what would become an encounter of epic proportion.
Having thrashed Cheshunt 8-0 in the final qualifying round tie Park before a 3,187 crowd at Loakes Park, the tie with the Southern League professionals was always going to be a tough encounter. Although struggling in their League games, ‘The Eagles’ travelled to Bucks with a decent FA Cup pedigree. They had reached the Fourth Round Proper in two of the previous three seasons – defeating Newcastle United in a Third Round tie in the 1963/64 season, while in the 1965/6 campaign had lost in the Fourth Round stage at home to eventual winners Everton before a record 18,407 attendance at their impressive Eyrie ground.
Popular Wanderers Coach Barry Darvill came up with a relatively novel approach to spying on the opposition before the tie at Loakes Park. Darvill, who shared his time coaching the Wanderers with working with local Wycombe furniture firm Gommes, was reported to have obtained a portable tape recorder that he had used to make a personal commentary of one of Bedford’s games. He then planned to play the tape to his players at the midweek training session prior to the Cup tie. Darvill said: “The Idea is to capture the atmosphere so that the whole thing becomes far more intimate than handing out notes to my players when we have our final tactical talk two days before the tie.”
Wycombe Wanderers 1 Bedford Town 1
FA Cup First Round Proper at Loakes Park
Saturday 26th November 1966
The first tie at Loakes Park attracted a gate of 7,488, with close to 1,000 travelling to support the Southern Leaguers. With both clubs sporting blue as their first choice kit, cup rules at the time dictated that both teams play in a change colour. Wanderers adopted red shirts and white shorts, while the vistitors choose a mainly white kit. And it was the ‘Amateurs’ in red from the Isthmian League who more than matched their ‘Professional’ opponents for the majority of the tie.
However, after Wanderers failed to find the target in the opening hour or so, it looked like the visitors would scrape a 1-0 victory after Ross Fogg netted from close range on 67 minutes following a rare fumble from Wanderers’ keeper John Maskell.
But Wanderers pressed for an equaliser and were rewarded with five minutes of the tie remaining when Paul Bates set away Les Merrick down the wing, the resulting cross being headed home by Keith Samuels, much to the delight of the home followers.
The replay was set for the following Wednesday at Bedford, with the winners paired with Oxford United when the Second Round draw was made on the Monday.
Bedford Town 3 Wycombe Wanderers 3
FA Cup First Round Proper – replay at The Eyrie
Wednesday 30th November 1966
The replay was to be a controversial affair. David Sturrock had given the home side the lead on 40 minutes but Wanderers equalised in the 53rd minute through a Paul Bates free-kick. Tony Horseman scored what was his 35th competitive goal of the campaign on 79 minutes to put Wycombe ahead for the first time but the home side drew level within 30 seconds of the restart when left-back Dave Skinn headed home a Sturrock corner. The tie then went into extra-time.
Seven minutes into the additional 30 minutes, Les Merrick scored what seemed the decisive goal for Wanderers but with just three minutes of extra-time remaining referee Mervyn Sinclair awarded the home side a penalty after he penalised Ian Rundle for handball. Chaos ensued, with the referee being jostled by Wycombe players and even several of the visiting Bucks contingent who had managed to get unto the pitch. A distraught Rundle was booked for his protests in an era when total bookings for the season rarely reached more than a handful.
After the chaos had died down, Sturrock thumped home the penalty to level the scores at 3-3 and send the tie to a third game.
National press reports from the tie say that “Angry Wycombe supporters surrounded the referee Sinclair at the end of the tie and he was escorted from the pitch by Bedford Chairman George Senior and Manager Ron Burgess”.
Wanderers Secretary Bill Hayter wasa lso quoted in the press as saying: “This was an incredible decision. I was astounded particularly as Mr Sinclair had refereed so well throughout.”
Paul Bates, Wanderers popular centre-forward, gave a more gentlemanly response: “We can’t argue. It was just one of those things. Whether it was a penalty or not? This is football. It was fair result.”
Wanderers Manager Barry Darvill was less tactful: “It was a diabolical decision. Even the Bedford players told me afterwards we were robbed.”
Meanwhile, Ian Rundle was said to have been in tears in the dressing room following the final whistle, claiming he was trying to chest the ball down on a surface that had cut up so badly, there was only grass visible on the wings. Referee Sinclair said after the game: “I had no hesitation in awarding the penalty. I saw his hand move.” Rundle added: “Impossible. I couldn’t have handled it, it hit my chest.”
The arguments didn’t end there as confusion over where the second replay should take place boiled up. A decision was eventually agreed, some 30 minutes after the final whistle, that a spin of a coin would determine the venue. Wanderers gaining the advantage – with the tie eventually scheduled for the following Monday.
Wycombe Wanderers 1 Bedford Town 1
FA Cup First Round Proper - 2nd replay at Loakes Park
Monday 5th December 1966
The second replay at Loakes Park had originally been arranged for the proceeding Saturday but Bedford’s scheduled League opponents that day, Corby, had objected so both teams had to contend with another 90 minutes of action before the Monday evening tie. Wanderers gained some confidence with a 3-0 home victory over Bromley – goals from Peter Roystone, teenager Viv Busby (playing only his second game for Wanderers when replacing the flu bound Bates) and Len Worley, securing the points before an attendance of 2,100.
The evening of the replay saw Loakes Park lashed with rain right from the 7.30pm kick-off. However, the weather didn’t stop an attendance of 8,821 turning out for what developed into another dramatic evening of cup football, followed by more controversy after the final whistle.
Referee Mr A Dimond spent some time debating if the tie should start but was reported to be convinced the 11 foot Loakes Park slope would help with the drainage. He was wrong, the middle of the pitch soon turned into a muddy quagmire and as the game proceeded, conditions approached farcical.
Initially Wanderers adapted to the conditions better than their professional opponents but found themselves behind in the 25th minute. The impressive Danny Paton jinxed his way past what seemed like the entire Wanderers defence before seeing his shot strike the post and then end in the goal after Maskell’s attempt to gather the ball in the slippery conditions caused the ball to squirm over the line. However, seven minutes later one of the loudest cheers ever heard on a December evening in High Wycombe rippled the night sky when Keith Samuels headed home a Paul Bates corner past Alan Collier in the Bedford goal.
The second-half was more a case of who could make the fewer mistakes on an ever deteriorating surface. Indeed, the closest either side came to a winner was via a slip when Wanderers wing-back John Beck missed kicked an attempted clearance before Maskell managed to get down to prevent Fogg from converting the follow-up.
With the scores level at 1-1 after 90 minutes, it came as little surprise when referee Dimond abandoned the tie before the allotted 30 minutes of extra-time. There was then brief confusion as to where the 3rd replay would take place. FA rules stated at the time that ‘replays abandoned after 90 minutes should see a further tie replayed on a neutral ground, unless otherwise mutually agreed by the competing clubs’. An announcement was eventually made over the Loakes Park loudspeakers by Wanderers Secretary Bill Hayter, when he declared: “It’s at Bedford on Thursday”.
Bedford Town 3 Wycombe Wanderers 2
FA Cup First Round Proper – 3rd replay at The Eyrie
Thursday 8th December 1966
Just three days after the 2nd replay at Loakes Park, the two teams re-convened at Bedford’s Eyrie ground before another impressive attendance – this time 8,105 clicking through the turnstiles, including a four figure contingent cheering on the Wanderers.
Wanderers brought their own mascot to the game, a man dressed as Father Christmas who paraded across the pitch before the game with a sack of presents. After Wanderers conceded twice inside the opening 15 minutes, it provided an easy simile for the national press hordes that were now following the tie with huge interest.
The first goal in the 5th minute saw a further distressed Ian Rundle head past his own ‘keeper after he had chased back to try and deflect wide a Danny Paton header. Ten minutes later came ‘present’ number two from the Wanderers when John Maskell let a John Sturrock shot slip through his fingers and Chris Riley was on hand to put the home side 2-0 to the good and seemingly cruising into the Second Round.
But as the national press were preparing their ‘plucky amateurs had run out steam’ quotes, one can only imagine the sort of half-time team talk delivered by Barry Darvill. Within 30 seconds of the restart, Wanderers had pulled a goal back. A long ball from Len Worley found Tony Horseman, whose shot on the turn beat Collier.
Five minutes later Horseman silenced the locals with yet another goal during his net busting campaign. This time a Keith Samuels shot was too hot for Collier to handle and Horseman was there to poach the equaliser before being swamped by his team mates in a frenzied celebration.
Wycombe almost took the lead on two further occasions before Bucks hearts were finally broken in the 75th minute. The 15th and decisive goal of the tie came when Paton raced cleared down the right wing before delivering a cross that Fogg converted with a flying header. This time there was no reprieve for Wycombe who gallantly bowed out at the end of a cup marathon that will forever be remembered in the annals of the history of both Wycombe Wanderers and Bedford Town.
Bedford went on to beat Oxford United in a delayed Second Round tie before losing 6-2 at home to Peterborough United in the third round. Meanwhile, Wanderers’ ended the season in 3rd place in the League, behind Walthamstow Avenue and Champions Sutton United.
Footnote: Wanderers played all four games with Bedford with the same starting XI and used no substitutes in any of the ties. This may seem unusual by subsequent playing tactics but the 1966/67 season had seen the Football Association allow substitutes for the first time in competitive fixtures. However, these were generally restricted to replacement of players who were injured.
Wanderers first ever substitute had been Martin Priestly when he replaced the injured John Maskell during the Isthmian League clash with Barking at Loakes Park on 1st October 1966. – Maskell had been forced to leave the field with a cut eye after just nine minutes and was quickly sent to the adjacent Wycombe Hospital for stitches. Inside-right Keith Samuels took over in goal as Wanderers continued with ten players in the hope that Maskell might return. Samuels made several impressive saves and with Wanderers leading 4-1 with two minutes of the first-half remaining, coupled with the news that Maskell was suffering from ‘double vision’, it was Priestly who was introduced as Wanderers' debut 12th man for the remainder of a game where there were no further goals.
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