The Giant Killers

Subtitle

 

All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 51 

Yeovil Town 2-1 Sunderland

Fourth Round: After Extra Time

Saturday January 29th 1949

Huish Park, Yeovil

Scorers: Alec Stock {28}, Jackie Robinson {62}, Eric Bryant {105

Mandatory 18 months full time National Service was introduced in Great Britain for all healthy men aged 18-26, Betty Grable & Dan Dailey were married vadeville performers whose marriage hits problems when he hits Broadway in the musical movie "When My Baby Smiles At Me" and Evelyn Shaw had a hit with "A Little Bird Told Me" 

Over in the West Country, Football rarely made the news and it looked likely that nothing would change in that respect as local side, Yeovil trailed Lovell’s Athletic 0-2 in their F A cup 4th Qualifying Round tie in October 1948. Then lady luck shone her way and changed history. With Lovell’s seemingly coasting into the First round of the cup, an unfortunate defender overcooked a back pass to his keeper, turning it instead into a thunderbolt of a strike that any goal getter would have been proud of. Yeovil took full advantage of their good fortune and ran out 3-2 victors.

Their run to the third round was quite routine as non-League Romford and Weymouth were both crushed 4-0 to ensure a tie against mid table Second Division outfit, Bury.  The Shakers were described on the day as a curious mixture of nerves and complacency as the tension of a cup tie on a non-League ground appeared to get to them. Another major factor was great timing of Yeovil’s goals.  Jack Hargreaves gave the Glovers a much desired lead just seven minutes in and although Bury recovered to equalise midway through the first half they were stung on the stroke of half time by Ray Wright.

The second half was a somewhat turgid affair in which Bury rarely mustered a meaningful attempt on Stan Hall’s goal and they were finished off by Bobby Hamilton’s effort with twenty-five minutes remaining.

That result, played out in front of the newsreel cameras of Gaumont, was sufficient to propel Yeovil into the national spotlight, especially when the draw for round four landed them a home tie against Sunderland. Off the field the Rokerites were creating headlines a plenty with the big money signing of Len Shackleton, being dubbed the ‘Bank of England club’ in the process as they tried to bring back the glory days from before the war. Back in the thirties they had won both League and cup in consecutive seasons but only Len Duns remained from that team and the present line up were well off the title race in mid table and without an away win in four months and ten attempts.

In the week leading up to the tie the media descended on Yeovil’s Huish ground to meet the men plotting Sunderland’s downfall and also to check out their pitch, which could slope to as much as six feet on the diagonal. Keepers could find that, at one end of the pitch, if they took their expected position at the near post to deal with a cross they could be deceived and beaten at their far post, which on a level pitch wouldn’t happen. Yeovil keepers knew to stay back and encourage a winger to shoot for the near post instead.  That said, the advantage of the slope remained minimal and only rarely did a keeper get beaten in such a manner, although Alec Stock refused to allow the Sunderland players to train on the pitch to ensure any uncertainties were used to maximum advantage.

The Yeovil players meanwhile were filmed in their evening training session, done under the light of a single spot lamp in one goal mouth, before being asked to sing the club song at a local pub where they played skittles. The players complied, armed as they were with pints, even though most of them were tee total.

The Glovers’ one major concern in the lead up to the tie was regular keeper Stan Hall’s battle to recover from a shoulder injury. Reserve keeper Dickie Dyke was placed on standby, having only played one game for the club before being advised the evening before the game by Alec Stock. “Stan won’t make it. You’re playing.”

In front of Dyke was full back, Arthur Hickman at one time touted as a future star at Aston Villa but like so many others, his chances of playing at the highest level were dashed by the Second World War before taking  the role of Yeovil’s groundsman. By contrast Hickman’s partner was Yeovil through and through, local lad, Ralph Davis.

Bob Keeton, Les Blizzard and Nick Collins formed the half back line. Keeton would surely have been a legend at Torquay had seven years of conflict not limited him to just seventy-seven official appearances. He arrived at The Huish in 1948 as his career began to draw to a close. Blizzard’s career was delayed by the war, making his debut for his local club QPR in 1946. A broken leg on his debut for Bournemouth stalled his career and led him to part time Football, earning his living as an electrician in the employ of Yeovil Chairman, Albert Smith. Collins was the landlord of the Wellington pub, where the team would gather for a game of skittles after training and was also one of the more experienced members of the side, having spent many years at Crystal Palace.

Yeovil’s most experienced players formed their forward line as Scottish winger and school teacher, Bob Hamilton and centre forward, Eric Bryant were joined by Ray Wright, a fringe player in the great pre-war Wolves side who now earned his living as an aircraft fitter when not pottering in his garden. Jack Hargreaves had been a stalwart of the pre-war top flight Leeds team.  The forward line was completed by the man who built the side.  After failing to force his way into Tottenham’s plans in the thirties, Alec Stock’s career had been spent largely as a guest player for a host of teams during the war before taking the unusual role, for the times, of player manager at The Huish. Stock felt that his side had an even chance of beating Sunderland and that “Whatever happens, we’ll have a rattling good game.”

The whole town was buzzing as the game approached with one local businessman donating an entirely new kit for the occasion of the cup tie.

Saturday dawned cold and sunny and by lunchtime the queues were long around the tiny Huish ground as it seemed the whole of the town of Yeovil was closing down for the day to cheer on their local heroes in their new green shirts with white sleeves. By the time the Yeovil players emerged into the sunshine there were almost 20,000 people clinging to every vantage point to get a glimpse of the action.

Yeovil started well too and Sunderland’s keeper, Johnny Mapson was easily the busier of the two custodians in the early exchanges. Twice the fans held their collective breath as it looked like Yeovil might be on the brink of breaking the deadlock but on both occasions a combination of good fortune and bad finishing ensured Sunderland’s goal held firm. The large contingent that travelled from Wearside to pitch up behind Mapson’s goal watched on nervously for their First Division heroes, especially when Mapson lost a cross and was left helpless as Ralph Davis shot on the turn for an empty net.

Fortunately on that occasion two Sunderland backs were on hand to get back in time to clear the danger but Yeovil kept coming and in the twenty-eighth minute were awarded a free kick just inside the Sunderland half. Hickman lofted the ball towards the penalty area where it was only partially cleared to Keeton who headed back towards Collins on the edge of the box. The centre half’s first touch wasn’t great but it allowed the ball to fall for Ray Wright to tee up Alec Stock for a crashing first time drive that left Mapson grasping in vain.  Three sides of the ground erupted while those behind Mapson’s goal got that sinking cupset feeling.

Sunderland responded well, to their credit and Dickie Dyke and his backs were busy men in the last fifteen minutes of the first half to preserve their lead. In the second half though, Sunderland’s pressure paid off but only after Dyke misjudged a cross and gifted Jackie Robinson a tap in to level. It was tough luck on both Dyke, who had otherwise been an outstanding deputy in goal, and his team mates who had worked so hard throughout the tie. 

Now, with just under half an hour remaining, Sunderland’s superior fitness was expected to reap its reward as the heavy pitch began to drag on the calves of the Yeovil part timers. Spurred on by the home crowd, Yeovil kept Sunderland at bay until the final whistle.

In most other years that might have been the end of the tale with a replay at Roker Park, which Sunderland would have been expected to win at a canter but the National fuel shortages necessitated travel restrictions that required replays to be avoided if at all possible. The solution was extra time in the first tie and so the 18,000 fans stayed on into the gathering gloom to watch an extra half hour but it nearly proved short lived.

Barely a minute into the first period a pea souper fog, so synonymous with the era descended on the ground and had the referee questioning whether the tie could continue. With both teams eager to keep going, the game carried on, though Sunderland would regret it. Right on the end of the first period, Len Shackleton, of all players, mishit a pass straight to Ray Wright who, with speed of thought, put Eric Bryant clean through to fire Yeovil back into the lead.

There was barely time for Sunderland to kick off before the whistle signalled the end of the first period to a crescendo of cheering. Now Alec Stock and his men looked anxiously towards the end of the pitch. If the referee couldn’t see both goals from the half way line he would have no choice but to render Yeovil’s efforts void but the Gods shone literally on the little Somerset town as the dying sun made one last call to cast long shadows over the pitch and clear the mist away. But for Stock and his men this had been a punishing examination of their stamina against top quality opposition and the final fifteen minutes were agony for some of the part timers as they hung on for grim death as Sunderland desperately tried to force a replay.

Then came the relief of the final whistle, only for the referee to quickly advise the players that it wasn’t and that a free kick had been awarded. Within seconds however thousands of jubilant Yeovil fans had poured onto the pitch to celebrate and for almost ten minutes the game once again hung in doubt as the referee informed Stock that if the pitch could not be cleared before the last of the light faded, he would have no alternative but to abandon the game. The word eventually got around the celebrating fans that there was still a good three minutes to be played and they crammed back into the stands and around the touchlines to watch the resultant Sunderland free kick come to nothing. The ball was cleared and drilled back into the Yeovil half in regular pattern as Mapson became the only player in the Sunderland half of the field until finally the referee called time and relieved the pressure.

Pitch invasion number two was a welcome one for the Yeovil players and they were mobbed as they left the field. Sunderland took their defeat with grace and quietly slipped into their dressing room. Got showered and dressed and quickly left the scene, although not before offering the young keeper, Dyke a full time contract. Perhaps sensibly realising it was a spur of the moment gesture; he rejected their offer, instead taking improved terms with Yeovil.

The victorious Glovers made their way from the ground to the Conservative club at nearby Princes Street where the party went long into the night to celebrate. Sunday was probably a quiet day in the town as more than a few sore heads were nursed while on Monday, life returned to normal. The Yeovil heroes all went back to work but at lunchtime everything stopped again when the draw for the fifth round of the cup was broadcast live on the wireless. “Bradford or Manchester United….will play….Yeovil Town”

Second Division Bradford were themselves giant killers of note, having won at Newcastle this year and Arsenal last year. That said, they followed their win at Highbury by losing at home to non-League Colchester last year so Yeovil had every reason to fancy themselves should they need to go to Horton Park Avenue.

Alec Stock had no interest in such a venture and declared very publicly that his team only had interest in going to Maine Road; Old Trafford was still being rebuilt after wartime bomb damage, to face the cup holders, and title contenders, Manchester United. The player manager and his team were made to wait when the replay again failed to divide the teams before United romped through at the third attempt.

At Maine Road regular keeper Stan Hall returned while Jack Hargreaves also missed out through injury but it mattered little on a day when United and Jack Rowley in particular were rampant. Rowley completed a hat-trick in just over twenty minutes with Stan Hall being injured in a collision on the third goal. His injury played only a minor role in an otherwise clinical display from the top flight side as they romped to an 8-0 victory. Nobody in Yeovil shed any tears. Their glory had already been written and defeating Sunderland would live longer in the memory than their eventual exit. A £3,000 cheque for their share of the gate receipts certainly didn’t hurt either.

Alec Stock’s men continued their cup exploits to win the Southern League cup at the end of the season but it was the start of a glorious management career for Stock. He left early the following season to take up the lure of League Football with Leyton Orient, quickly returning to The Huish to recruit the services of Collins and Blizzard while Eric Bryant also followed Stock to London via Plymouth. Stock spent a brief spell in Italian Football but it was at Queens Park Rangers where he really made his name, winning the League cup while still in the Third Division before taking Fulham to the 1975 F A Cup final. Stock retired from the game in 1980 and passed away aged eighty-four in 2001. The popular Paul Whitehouse pundit character, Ron Manager is loosely based on Stock’s nostalgic punditry style, although Stock himself only occasionally performed in such a role during the 1970s.

Under Stock’s management, Les Blizzard was a regular in his Leyton orient team of the 50s. He hung up his boots in 1957 and passed away in 1996. For Bob Keeton the ’49 cup run marked the end of a long career. He lived out his days in Torquay where he passed away in 1996.

Yeovil would continue to build a fearsome reputation as a giant killer of lower division League clubs for many years, although no further major slayings occurred before Yeovil themselves reached the ranks of Football’s second tier in 2013.

Ralph Davis continued to remain a strong supporter of Yeovil through all those years and was a central figure in their promotion celebrations before he too passed away in 2004 to leave just Dickie Dyke, as the sole survivor of the tie, to recall the tale first hand. As the 60th anniversary approached, Dyke was to be the guest of honour at a dinner and charity match but sadly he too passed away just days before the event.

Yeovil: 1:Dickie Dyke, 2:Arthur Hickman, 3:Ralph Davis, 4:Bob Keeton, 5:Les Blizzard, 6:Nick Collins, 7:Bobby Hamilton, 8:Alec Stock, 9:Eric Bryant, 10:Ray Wright, 11:Jack Hargreaves {Player-Manager-Alec Stock} 
 
Sunderland: 1:Johnny Mapson, 2:Jack Stelling, 3:Barney Ramsden, 4:Willie Watson, 5:Fred Hall, 6:Arthur Wright, 7:Len Duns, 8:Jackie Robinson, 9:Ronnie Turnbull, 10:Len Shackleton, 11:Tommy Reynolds {Manager-Bill Murray} 

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