The Giant Killers

Every F A cup giant killing since 1888

All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 28 

 

Swansea Town 1-0Blackburn Rovers

First round: Saturday 9th January 1915

Vetch Field, Swansea

Attendance: 16,000

Scorer: Bob Benyon {20}

Marie Dressler was in the title role of the rich farmer's daughter who is seduced by city slicker Charlie Chaplain in 'Tillie's punctured romance', Clarice Mayne had a huge music hall hit with 'I was a good little girl 'til I met you' and Europe was coming to terms with the fact the war that everyone said would be over by Christmas had escalated into the bloodiest conflict in European history.

For a Southern League second division side to beat the champions is impressive enough but when you consider that the Swans finished the game reduced to nine men it makes the result incredible. Swansea had come into being just three years earlier, the latest in a series of bids to bring the association game to the Rugby Union stronghold, and like most of the clubs from South Wales it was to the Southern League that the newly formed Swans turned for competitive football, joining the second division in 1913. Swansea played in the cup for the first time that season and in just their second competitive season they had drawn th plum tie of the Champions themselves.

Unfortunately for Swansea; actions hundreds of miles away in Belgium four months earlier were to cast a shadow over the occasion as the German invasion of that country had sparked the United Kingdom's entry into the first World War. The early optimism and patriotic fervour stirred up across the nation had already begun to sagg as Christmas had come and gone without even a hint of the war drawing to a conclusion. Indeed from the first battle at Mons in late August the public had adjusted to the harsh reality that this war could be a long one. The Football League and Football Association had both decided to continue the 1914/15 season as normal, amid much criticism as one politician stated that "This is no time for games." But Sir Frederick Wall, the President of the Association had decided not to suspend football because by the declaration of war in August the teams had secured contracts with players and rents on their grounds and stood to lose over £500,000 collectively. In effect Football had no choice but to slug it out until the end of the season and though the FA had already privately decided that the 1915/16 season would not be played out, they were holding back the announcement until the end of the current season to see how the situation lay. For the public, unaware of this decision, Football had become distasteful and those who both played and watched, save for those on leave from the front, were considered wasters who were idling while their brothers were dying in Belgium and France.

Rovers weren't keen on a trip to The Vetch field and offered a vey tempting but undisclosed offer to the directors of Swansea to switch the tie to Ewood Park. Swansea wasted no time in rejecting this offer and despite the wider public distaste at Football and rapidly dwindling League gates, the cup tie was still able to attract 16,000 souls to see if the Champions could be humbled. Rovers brought with them a team containing four England Internationals, Crompton, Bradshaw, Latheron and Hodkinson while Aitkenhead was a former Scottish International but there were concerns in their forward line which was missing both their title winning top scorer, Danny Shea and his replacement, Percy Dawson, though Johnny Orr was a highly experienced replacement and certainly no reserve.

Swansea were a team without virtually no experience of playing at the highest level. Club captain Thomas Hewitt had been a Welsh international during his days in the Second Division at Chelsea and Amos Lloyd had been a regular in the West Bromich Albion side which won promotion in 1911 but both had been discarded by their clubs on entering the top flight, Hewitt being sold and Lloyd struggling on to make just nine First Division appearances in three years in which he watched from the sidelines as his team-mates played in the 1912 cup final. John Bulcock had also been a reserve at Bury eight years earlier, making just five appearances for the Shakers while Harry Read has made just three starts in two years for Sunderland before helping Chelsea to promotion in 1912. Like Hewitt and Lloyd, he too was discarded before the top flight campaign. In addition Swansea would face the Champions with a sixteen year old amateur centre forward, Benny Benyon who turned to Soccer only because amateur rugby had been suspended.

Swansea were under extreme pressure right from the kick off as Blackburn's front line poured forward but found themselves unable to find any way past Hurst while Thomas Hewitt was a rock in defence as Joe Bulcock and John Duffy did their best to relieve the full backs and provide an outlet for the forwards. The home side were always going to get one chance on the counter and when it came it fell to the youngster Benyon who took it with relish. The move started in Swansea's penalty area as Benyon himself was back to do his share of defending, pushing the ball out to Amos Lloyd whose pace up the wing got the better of Aitkenhead before crossing into the Rover's penalty area. There was only one white shirt up with the play but it was enough as Benyon took one touch before shooting low past Robinson to open the score. 

The half time whistle brought relief but the second half was going to be long and traumatic for Swansea and the home fans as they were reduced to ten through injury early on. It was Joe Bulcock who stood out as a giant among heroes during a nerve jangling forty five minutes in which McGhee, Walmsley, Orr, Latheron and Hodkinson all thought they had found the vital breakthrough only to be denied by a last ditch challenge or top quality save from Hurst.

All looked in vain for Swansea however when the referee pointed to the penalty spot and Rover's spot kick specialist, Billy Bradshaw placed the ball to face Hurst from twelve yards. Bradshaw had netted thirty-six consecutive spot kicks but his effort here at a hushed Vetch was weak and wide and a roar greated the kick as if The Swans had scored a second goal themselves.

There was little chance of that happening and their plight became even more difficult with ten minutes remaining when Harry Read left the field and was unable to continue. Swansea were now hanging on with nine men and switched to an all out defensive display in the latter stages which, if anything, made it even more difficult for Rovers to break through. The final whistle signalled the first major result for a Welsh side in the F A cup as this time, at least, the Dragon and not St George had been victorious.

{image left: Action scene comes from 100 years of Swansea City - by kind permission}

In the second round Swansea would be made to travel without the offer of an inducement as they were drawn to face a Newcastle side desperate to rekindle the cup exploits of the previous decade. The great Magpies side of the 1900s was breaking up and despite it being one of the most wide open of title races in history, which would ultimately be won by a record low percentage of points, the Geordies were not involved, trailing well off the pace with one eye looking back at the relegation battle. They still had stars though and Swansea were again under the cosh from the off. Again Hurst and Bulcock stood out, the former with a string of excellent saves and the latter clearing off the line when Hurst was beaten. Newcastle also hit the woodwork three times but were only able to take the lead through a Billy McCracken penalty. It looked certain to be enough until Amos Lloyd silenced St James' Park with an equaliser six minutes from time. Swansea hadn't yet earned their replay though as the wartime circumstances necessitated extra time at the first time of asking. Incredibly Swansea held firm for the extra half hour and forced a replay at The Vetch which answered the prayers of the cash strapped directors who had genuinely feared for the club this season without the extra income of a cup run. The Newcastle fans, renowned as among the most sporting in the land, rose in appreciation of the team described in the match programme as nothing more than plucky and persistent and applauded them off the field just as they had done eight years earlier when Crystal Palace had won there. 

So delighted were the Swansea public with the performance of their team that a service of thanksgiving was held at St Nicholas Church the next day with Swans manager, John Bartlett reading the lesson. Bartlett had more reason than most to want to enjoy this cup run. The previous summer he had come within a whisker of accepting an invitation to take charge of the South German regional Football Association, joining many well known British Football faces in coaching  the country, most notably Steve Bloomer. As Bloomer and his colleagues now languished in internment camps Bartlett prepared a team for another crack at the Magpies. Again injury played a part as this time Bulcock was reduced to being a passenger and without him Newcastle could not be stopped with goals from King and Pailor seeing them though to a third round trip to title chasing Sheffield Wednesday.

Swansea's cup exploits for 1915 didn't end there though for the Welsh Association, unlike their counterparts in Scotland and Ireland, who had issued bans on their clubs playing in the cup in the 1890s, had never seen any problem with clubs in their jurisdiction playing in the F A cup and likewise allowed those who did to take part in the Welsh version, including English clubs if they so chose. Naturally Swansea were a big fish in this competition which they had won in 1913 and won through to the final again this year where they were to face the best North Wales had to offer in the shape of Wrexham. War restrictions deemed that the game had to be played at Wrexham where Swansea gained a draw before losing a contentious replay at Cardiff. Meanwhile the Second Division of the Southern League had been reduced to farce and with teams dropping out regularly it was with relief that the season drew to a close.

The players meanwhile were released from their contracts in order to go and play a greater game. Among those who made the ultimate sacrifice was Blackburn's young star Eddie Latheron whose loss was reported with sadness by the press of the time. Joe Bulcock joined the 9th Batallion of the Welsh regiment and lost his life on April 9th 1918 and lies where he fell in an unknown grave.

Goal hero Benny Benyon also joined up and returned from the horrors of war, though understandably he reverted back to rugby, gaining two caps for Wales against England and Scotland before the WRFU decided Benyon was a professional for his pre war Soccer links. Despite protestations that he had remained amateur, he had his second cap witheld and he was forced to move to Oldham were he played out the rest of his career in Rugby League.

Swansea Town: 1:Hurst, 2:Thomas Hewitt, 3:, 4:Joe Bulcock, 5:John Duffy, 6:, 7:, 8:Harry Read, 9:Benny Benyon, 10:, 11:Amos Lloyd

Blackburn Rovers: 1:Alf Robinson, 2:Bob Crompton, 3:Arthur Cowell, 4:Percy Smith, 5:Billy Bradshaw, 6:Wattie Aitkenhead, 7:Alex McGhee, 8:Albert Walmsley, 9:Johnny Orr, 10:Eddie Latheron, 11:Joe Hodkinson

Thanks to http://www.historicalkits.co.uk/ for background image