TUSSLES in the FA Cup between Manchester United and a variety of Yorkshire opposition have, down the years, had a little bit of everything.
As Huddersfield Town prepare to host the Red Devils this tea-time in an eagerly-awaited fifth-round tie, a stroll down memory lane reveals joy, heartache, record crowds, memorable giant-killing acts and even a semi-final that went to two replays before being settled.
Then there was arguably the most poignant Cup tie of all time as Sheffield Wednesday travelled to Old Trafford just 13 days after the Munich air disaster for the first act in the resurrection of a football giant.
The match-day programme that evening – the 60th anniversary falls next Monday – remains one of the most sobering reminders of a tragedy that claimed 23 lives, as the usual predicted starting XI for the hosts in the centre pages was left blank due to club officials simply not knowing who would be available to play.
A United side, comprising mostly reserves, beat the Owls 3-0 and Michael Parkinson, in the crowd, once famously wrote: “The Wednesday players might as well have played in ballet shoes, so careful were they not to bruise their opponents or in any way offend the anguish of the multitude.”
Such restraint on the part of the Yorkshire side was understandable. Losing so many of the ‘Busby Babes’ had plunged the country into mourning and if the Cup could be awarded on public sentiment alone, the 1958 final would undoubtedly have gone the way of the Red Devils rather than eventual winners Bolton Wanderers.
That defeat for Wednesday is one of 26 suffered by the county’s clubs against United in the world’s oldest knockout competition. It also remains one of the more resounding, with these ‘War of the Roses’ tussles tending to be hard-fought affairs.
This was certainly the case in the Don Revie era at Leeds, when five Cup meetings with their big rivals from over the Pennines during that period yielded just two goals.
Happily for Leeds, Billy Bremner netted both. The first came just two minutes from the end of a semi-final replay at the City Ground to book a first trip to Wembley in 1965.
Jack Charlton, in his excitement at learning of his first selection by England, rushed to tell brother Bobby the good news within minutes of the final whistle. “Ah, yeah, well congratulations, great,” was the response from sibling to sibling amid a disconsolate dressing room. Others, though, were not so restrained, with one unnamed Red Devil adding: ‘Now, **** off out of here”.
Five years on from Charlton’s faux pas, the two clubs met again in the semi-final and this time it took two replays before Bremner settled matters with an opportunistic strike at Burnden Park. Big Jack wisely stayed in the victorious dressing room this time.
The next two Cup tussles between the two Uniteds went the way of Manchester, but revenge came via Jermaine Beckford in 2010 as League One Leeds inflicted one of the competition’s bigger upsets.
Hull City were also in the third tier, albeit one split along north and south lines, when Matt Busby’s United visited Boothferry Park in 1949 for a quarter-final tie that set the club’s record attendance of 55,019.
It was clearly a bumper year for attendances with Bradford Park Avenue travelling to Maine Road – Old Trafford was still being rebuilt after bomb damage in the Second World War – for a fourth-round tie that was watched by 82,771.
It remains the biggest ‘home’ crowd for the club, who prevailed in a replay.
United also triumphed at Boothferry Park to reach the last four, but Hull exacted revenge three years later.
The Tigers were bottom of the second tier, but stunned a side destined to lift the League title four months later thanks to goals from Syd Gerrie and Ken Harrison.
Fourteen years after an upset still spoken about fondly in East Yorkshire, Rotherham United headed to Old Trafford with the odds similarly stacked against them.
The Millers could be found in the upper echelons of the Second Division, but the hosts boasted not only the ‘Holy Trinity’ of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton but also the likes of Nobby Stiles and Pat Crerand.
Any notion, however, that this would be a stroll for the reigning champions was soon swept aside as Keith Pring, who sadly passed away last month, hit the post twice with Harry Gregg well beaten. There was little doubt who was the more relieved to hear the full-time whistle blow and the score still goalless.
“Rotherham United’s draw at Old Trafford in the FA Cup was the finest achievement in their history,” read the following Monday’s Yorkshire Post, suggesting perhaps that hyperbole is not a modern phenomenon.
“The game’s star, outshining Manchester’s 11 internationals, was Rabjohn, who has only a dozen first-team games behind him. He outwitted Charlton completely and looks a real England prospect.”
Queues started to form for replay tickets at 5am the following day. All 23,500 were quickly sold, including 6,000 in Manchester, to prompt Leonard Holmes, the club’s secretary, to remark: “Clearly we could have sold 50,000 tickets had the ground been big enough.”
Hopes of an upset, however, were dashed with John Connelly netting the only goal five minutes from the end of extra-time.
More modern classics include that Beckford-inspired win for Leeds, a 2002 triumph for Middlesbrough on an afternoon when a fans’ boycott over ticket prices left the Riverside almost half-empty and a night that will live long in Barnsley folklore.
Peter Schmeichel’s mistake in the fifth round at Old Trafford had gifted John Hendrie an equaliser and the Reds a replay.
Such was the clamour for tickets that some hardy fans slept overnight to guarantee their place. Such a sterling effort was rewarded in fine style as Scott Jones netted twice and Hendrie the other to send Barnsley through to the quarter-finals.
Huddersfield’s target is to repeat that success 20 years on. The odds are firmly against the Terriers, even allowing for last October’s triumph over Jose Mourinho’s men at the same venue. But, as history tells us, nothing can be ruled out when Yorkshire clubs go head-to-head with Manchester United.