The Giant Killers

Subtitle

 

All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 99

 

Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-2 Birmingham City

 Third Round

Saturday January 9th 1954

Attendance: 36,786

Molineux, Wolverhampton

Scorers: Wilshaw {14} Rowley {16}, Murphy {67}

Russia stopped demanding war reparations for East Germany, Eddie Calvert was topping the charts with his version of 'Oh Mein Papa', Robert Morely was starring in the Story of Gilbert and Sullivan at the cinema and the passengers of the BOAC781 Singapore to London Comet flight were relaxing in Rome before embarking on the final leg of a journey they would sadly never complete the following day when the plane disintegrated over Elba. 

In the early 1950s, Birmingham City had established themselves as a regular crusher of top flight cup hopes and yet they couldn’t get the consistency required to reclaim the top-flight place they’d lost in 1950.

Bob Brocklebank was the modest pre-war Aston Villa player who’d come in to try and save the Blues from that drop to no avail. The City board kept faith to see if he could get them back to the top flight.

Brocklebank’s team was built in front of the club linchpin, Gil Merrick, the keeper who’d joined the club the last time they went down in 1939 before helping them back to promotion in 1948. Ken Green was the only other player at the club from their ’48 promotion side, having joined as an amateur during the war.

The remainder of the side was one built by Brocklebank, who had a particular fondness for raiding far away Plymouth Argyle for the best the Third Division side could offer. Club captain, Len Boyd gave the Devon club their record funds of £17,500 in 1949 when Jackie Lane had also been signed from Non-League Football. Four years later in 1953, Argyle were raided again to secure the services of Len Astall and Scotsman, Alex Govan.

Norwich’s Noel Kinsey also came from Division Three in 1953 to join a club that had also brought in top flight experience in Ken Rowley from Wolves in 1951 and Peter ‘Spud’ Murphy the following year after he’d played a minor part in Spurs winning their first ever League title.

Jeff Hall was another amateur who joined the Blues in 1951 while Johnny Newman was the only member of the side to progress through the youth ranks to the first team.

City made a great start to the season and with Murphy and Ted Purdon both scoring well, Blue’s fans began to cautiously hope a promotion campaign might be on the cards. The season wore into an incredibly tight battle though and it was a bitter sweet moment when Purdon’s final goal for the club helped them sit just a point outside automatic promotion at the turn of the year.

The South African forward was lured north by the big spending of Sunderland and Birmingham would have to face not only the rest of the season but also an away cup tie at high flying Wolves without their top scorer.

City’s Midlands rivals had emerged just prior to the war as a major force in English Football with the highlight being cup final victory in 1948. The crown of Champions of England continued to elude the Molineux club however, having regularly gone close but always falling just short of the crown.

Now, with men like Billy Wright, Dennis Wilshaw, Bill Slater and Jimmy Mullan among their line-up, the 1953/54 season was shaping up to be another great title bid. To make matters more exciting in the West Midlands, West Bromwich Albion were the team fighting out the title race with them.

Freezing weather befell the whole of the country in the week leading up to the game and right up until Friday many pundits expected the third-round cup programme would be decimated. Molineux was expected to be fine and when Saturday morning dawned with a thaw, the rock-hard pitch quickly softened and by lunchtime, looked distinctly on the soft side.

Birmingham started the game well but much of Wolves’ game depended on the speed with which they could break on other teams. The Second Division visitors learned it to their cost on the quarter hour mark as their own attack broke down and Wolves pounced. The speed of the title chaser’s attack had the Birmingham back line scrambling before Dennis Wilshaw finished the move. Even at this early stage, most in the ground thought he’d finished the tie as well.

You’re never at your most vulnerable than when you’ve just scored and the Wolves back line forgot. Their statuesque defence simply became spectators when their ormer team mate, Ken Rowley saw a bit of daylight in Nigel Sims goal and let fly for it from distance. Sims was getting nowhere near it as it crashed into his net for the equaliser.

Wolves had been in front barely two minutes but Birmingham’s response turned the game into a cracker in the mud. Both goals led a charmed live before the interval as Jimmy Mullen thought he’d put the home side back in front only to be denied by the woodwork while Sims was at his best to keep out further efforts from Boyd and Murphy. Twice Jackie Lane was unable to get enough on efforts to properly trouble the Wolves keeper but the biggest surprise came just before the interval when the normally lethal Roy Swinbourne somehow managed to again send the ball off the woodwork when it would surely have been easier to score.

There had been much to entertain the crowd in the first half but tired limbs and energy sapping mud began to slow the game in the second period. However, Birmingham fans were gaining heart from the fact that Wolves just didn’t appear to be their usual selves, although Billy Wright remained capable of mustering any team into action.

Wolves were clearly a side beginning to get the upper hand and as the game passed the hour mark they naturally looked the more likely to win. Birmingham were by no means a team waiting for defeat and while their chances became fewer, they remained a danger. ‘Spud’ Murphy’s long-range drive midway through the half reminded everyone the tie was very much alive and kept Sims on his toes, pushing the effort away for a corner.

The ball was whipped deep into the box and slapped around the penalty area amid a flurry of flying boots before Murphy stabbed the ball cleverly through a gap in the crowd, into the net. Wolves had twenty-three minutes to save their League and Cup double ambitions.

It wasn’t going to be Wolves’ day and despite a strong response to going behind, they were fading at the finish and it was Birmingham who were in the ascendancy when the final whistle blew. The disappointed Wolves fans leaving into the Wolverhampton darkness would son enjoy the comfort of the club’s first League Title three months later.

Two League victories in the weeks that followed took Birmingham into the promotion spots of Division Two and buoyed the 6,000 fans planning to take the excursion trains to Third Division South leaders, Ipswich for the fourth round of the cup. The players who enjoyed the mud of Molineux so much, found the rock-hard ground of Suffolk less to their liking. Both sides played well within themselves on a pitch bordering on dangerous that was settled in favour of the home side midway through the second half. It would take almost seven hours for the bitterly disappointed Birmingham fans to make their way home on a train strewn with discarded rosettes.

Birmingham’s promotion bid also faltered in February and their cup win at Wolves would prove the highlight of a season that promised much but ultimately delivered disappointment.

That disappointment wouldn’t last long as Brocklebank’s team yet again struggled for consistency and languished in mid table by the time he resigned in November. Arthur Turner took charge and instantly transformed the team into the side that would clinch promotion at the end of the season.

Of the cup tie side, only Ken Rowley missed out, having virtually retired through injury at the end of the previous season. With his chances increasingly limited in a promoted side, Jackie Lane dropped back into Division Three with Notts County.

The remaining nine players would all enjoy the ultimate accolade of playing at Wembley as Birmingham won their way through to the cup final. Despite being favourites on the day, they failed to rise to the occasion, even arguing at half time before losing 1-3 to Manchester City.

That was as good a team as Birmingham have ever produced but it rapidly broke up after the cup final. Len Boyd played at Wembley despite not being fit and he never properly recovered, John Newman left the following season for ambitious Leicester. A broken-hearted Alex Govan was sold to Portsmouth in 1958 while Noel Kinsey went to Third Division Port Vale.

The departures of all the players prior to 1959 was put in stark contrast to the fate of Jeff Hall whose death from Polio would act as a catalyst for the public to get immunisation that would ultimately help eradicate the disease in the UK.

On a happier note, Birmingham’s remaining players played a major role in them being the first British side to play in a European Final in 1960 when Gil Merrick, Gordon Astall and Spud Murphy all played in the side’s losing Fairs Cup Final in 1960.

 

By that time Merrick was at the helm as manager and he, along with Peter Murphy retired at the end of the season with Len Astall dropping into the lower divisions the following year. Two years later, Merrick the manager, finally delivered the trophy Birmingham fans longed for, the League cup in 1963.