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Wycombe v Middlesbrough - programme cover Wycombe Wanderers 0
Middlesbrough 0
Saturday 4th January 1975
FA Cup Third Round Proper
Press reaction special

Wanderers' tie with Middlesbrough on Saturday 4th January 1975 brought unprecidented media coverage to the Club. The reaction to Brian Lee's side 0-0 draw with the First Division side also earnt universal praise for the Isthmian Leaguers, while Jack Charlton and his team were condemned in some quarters for their style of play and attitude during and after the tie.

Before the tie, Wanderers Manager Brian Lee had given his side 'no chance' of beating the First Division side. He explained his reasoning after the tie, saying: “Before the game I didn’t think we had a chance to win and I still stick by what I said. We must assume Middlesbrough didn’t play as well as they are capable. I think we got a points decision today. Middlesbrough are not used to this kind of pressure and enthusiasm they received."

Brian Moore introducing The Big Match the day after the Wycombe v Middlesbrough tieBrian Moore, the ‘Big Match’ commentator who presented extended highlights of the tie on the Sunday following the game at Loakes Park said: “It was a pleasure to be at Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday. I would like to thank the officials for making it such an enjoyable day.” Moore managed to persuade Middlesbrough manager Jack Charlton to visit the Wanderers dressing room after the tie, where he said: “We won’t be put on the rack as much as we were today for a long time. With 25 minutes left I thought we’d never make it and on the day Wycombe really deserved to win. They caused us lots of problems.Brian Moore introducing The Big Match the day after the Wycombe v Middlesbrough tie We couldn’t string passes together and we certainly didn’t expect to see Wycombe putting in so much running and challenge. Their backing up and chasing made life very difficult for us but! was delighted with our back play. They had to be strong and resolute and they were just that. I thought they were magnificent."But the former Leeds and England International went on to bemoan the 11 foot slope on the Loakes Park pitch: "That slope is frightening It must be an advantage. I’m telling you it’s dead flat at Ayresome Park and Wycombe are going to get a chasing. Nevertheless, I thought Wycombe Wanderers were magnificent today."

Many of Wanderers players were also asked for their opinions. Micky Holifield, who broke his wrist in the previous round away to Bournemouth said: “My wrist didn’t bother me much during the game. I fell on it once but came through O.K. I was really shattered - at the end"

Striker Keith Searle said: “Everyone worked so hard I felt we deserved it today. I thought we might have nicked a goal late in the game but there was nothing clear-cut. The effort by everyone was great and the vocal support was tremendous.”

Goalscoring legend Tony 'Bodger' Horseman added: “They were big and quick at the back a we didn’t get the breaks. You only get one or two anyway in these kind of games. Still, we gave them a good game and I think we’ve got a chance in the replay.”

Goalkeeper John Maskell: didn't hide his disappointment with the game: “I wasn’t half as excited as the games with Bournemouth, in fact I felt a bit deflated. I expected far more from Middlesbrough. This must have been one of my quietest games for a long time.” He added: "We expected to lose by at least 3-0 but now we’re kicking ourselves because we didn't beat them."

Midfielder Terry Reardon: “I was disappointed with Middlesbrough. I expected far more from a First Division side. They should have shown their class and authority but I heard them say shut up shop midway through the second half.” Reardon, who managed to shut out Scottish International Graeme Souness, throughout the tie, went on to add: "Their display was a terrible indictment of the First Division and British football. All Souness did was kick me when the ball had gone and the referee pulled him up only once. But the worst thing is that they have so many non-triers in the team and so many of them kept niggling at each other all through. A First Division team should have shown their superiority and class against us. Instead, one of them even shouted. 'Let's shut up shop’ with all of twenty-five minutes left. I ask you.”

Keith Mead talking to Brian Moore on The Big Match after the Wycombe v Middlesbrough tieDefender Keith Mead:, widely praised, along with fellow defender Alan Philips for his performance, was asked if he felt Wanderers had missed their chance of the beating the First Division side: "No, I don't think so. We showed in patches what we can do and I think we must have had them worried. Alan Phillips' header was just wide. These sort of things could have turned the game completely. I thought if we had of scored we would have won the game. But it's all square when we go back to Ayresome Park and I think we have got a very good chance."

The national press coverage were not kind on the Middlesbrough team and their Manager.

Robert Oxby of The Times said: Frankly, the First Division side were awful: a shambling, nerve wracked parody of themselves, brainwashed by fears of the notorius slope which, other professionals have assured me, is less intimidating than it appears. Without the towering defiance of Maddren and Boam, Middlesbrough would have faced the humiliation of all time. Elsewhere, Souness was their one player of genuine artistry but he, too, lost his composure well before the end.

Chris Harrigon said: Salute the Wycombe Wonders! The amateurs who had given themselves no hope, ended up giving mighty Middlesbrough one helluva fright on the field — and a blasting off it. Wycombe trooped off at the end of a match they should have won angry at the tactics their big-time opponents adopted in clinging on for a face-savinf draw.

Wycombe v Middlesbrough - press cuttings from the national press
Former England International cricketer and now journalist Denis Compton said: Middlesbrough failed miserably to overcome the notorious slope and adjust their play to its subtlties. We all thought the referee blew the final whistle three minutes short of time, and when after the game, this was nisnetioned to Jacky Ohariton he immediately replied: "Thank God for that."

Lance Masters said "Three gentlemen perched preceariously on a gasometer, many more watching from a hospital overlooking the ground, and a capacity crowd of 12,000 witnessed the huge embarrassment of Middlesbrough wobbling from one crisis to the next. It was an astonishing performance, full of fire and conviction, by the Rothmans Isthmian League champions, which poked fun at the much quoted assertion of their thanager, Brian Lee, that his team had “no chance.” The notorious Loakes Park slope, which tilts the pitch like a ski run, cannot be used as an excuse by Middlesbrough for the litter of mistakes and lack of compelling rhythm that marked their inept challenge.

Jeff Powell, Chief Soccer Correspodent for the Daily Mail also laid into full-time professionals in general after a day when Wimbledon had won at Burnley, Altrincham drew at Everton, Leatherhead had beaten Brighton and Stafford Rangers held Rotherham. He said: In the game I saw, Wycombe should have beaten Middlesbrough by at least a couple of goals. There was a time when First Division giants - like Manchester United, Spurs and Wolves - went away in the third round of the Cup and put on a show, waved the flag for football, gave the little clubs a hiding... and a rewarding 90 minute glimpse of how the game should be played." He added: "Wycombe, Wimbledon and the rest offered on Saturday a reason for rejoicing among those eager to teach a lesson to those well-paid prima donnas who are taking the fun out of top football."
Jeff Powell - click to open larger image

But as the dust began to settle following the first tie at Loakes Park, Boro boss Jack Charlton began to place more blame on the sloping pitch at Loakes Park. The former Leeds and England defender said: "The replay will be so different. I give Wycombe no chance. I wouldn’t back them with bad money. All right, we didn’t play well but then it is impossible to play well on this ground, When you hit a ball down the hill it goes out of play. When you hit a ball up the hill, it slows down and stops. The only way to do it is to kick and chase, and that is not our game. That is Wycombe’s game and all we could do against it was keep back behind the ball.”

Frank McGhee of the Daily Mirror commenting on Charlton's excuses said: In all the many years I have know Charlton he has always been honest, sometimes brutally, self destructively honest. But I can’t help wondering whether he is deluding himself this time. It feel that the real truth is too many Middlesbrough players allowed that slope to loom like a mountain in their imaginations from the moment they walked out an hour before the match.

Brian Lee and Jack Charlton before the tie at Loakes ParkA day before the replay, Charlton went on to say: “I honestly believe it is degrading for professional footballers to have to play on a pitch like Wyconibe’s. We took a lot of hammer from the critics on Saturday because we only managed a goal-less draw. Yet in truth it was magnificent achievement. Their pitch was at least 15 yards narrower than ours, It sloped from touchline to touchline and the surface made any attempts at reasonable ball control hopeless. When a Football League side is drawn away in the F.A. Cup I think the tie shouid be switched to the nearest League ground to the little club. Believe me, there are teams in the First Division who would have had no chance at Wycombe on Saturday. We got a replay simply because we worked like hell for it. We had to.” But Charlton was adamant that Boro would go through without any problems in the replay at Ayresome Park the following Tuesday, adding: "On that pitch [Loakes Park], Wycombe’s tactics were brilliant. But I am afraid if they play in the same way at our place, they’ll have no chance at all."

Commenting on Charlton's outburst Brian Lee accepted that the replay would be an entirely different game but added: "I am disappointed in this. I would accept it if they said ‘we didn’t like the pitch. That’s fair enough. but to blame your performance on pitch well that’s too much, coming from professionals. Are England going to use that as an excuse when they play in Cyprus, Surely professional footballers should have the skill and ability to adapt to different situations.”

Tue 7th Jan 1975 - Middlesbrough v Wycombe Wanderers - FA Cup Third Round Proper replay

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