50 years on - When Colchester United stunned mighty Leeds United in the FA Cup
Don Revie’s all-star cast were gunned down by little Colchester United of the old fourth division in front of 16,000 delirious Essex folk at ramshackle Layer Road in a fateful FA Cup fifth-round tie, which saw the hosts joyously triumph 3-2 on February 13, 1971.
But for many in white jerseys that day, the wounds remain fresh following a result which caused footballing folk across the country to shake their heads in incredulous disbelief, followed by a fair bit of mirth.
Long in the tooth, Colchester’s side – nicknamed ‘Grandad’s Army’ – may have been, but what they lacked in youthful energy and exuberance, they made up for nous and experience under the canny leadership of Dick Graham, a playing team-mate of Whites chief Revie in the post-war years at Leicester City.
Never one to leave anything to chance, fastidious Graham almost played Revie at his own game.
Recognising Leeds’s predilection to play on wide open pitches, he made the already tight Layer Road pitch tighter by placing chairs and benches around its edges.
In the week prior to the tie, his side also spent an indeterminate number of hours practising crossing into the penalty areas due to the perceived weakness in the air of Gary Sprake, castigated for conceding the decisive goal that saw the Whites turned over by Liverpool the previous weekend.
Graham’s tactics worked a treat, with veteran U’s frontman Ray Crawford assuming particular legendary status after scoring twice in the first-half – including a thumping header.
Ahead of the tie, Crawford – the son of a professional boxer – boasted that he always played well against Jack Charlton, who returned for the game after a fortnight out with a broken nose, labelling the World Cup-winning centre-half as his “rabbit’s foot.”
The striker certainly ended up a happy bunny against Leeds, who were without Billy Bremner and Eddie Gray, while Allan Clarke played despite being under the weather after having a temperature of 106 overnight,
David Simmons added a third to put the hosts – 74 places below their mighty opponents – in dreamland.
Second-half strikes from Norman Hunter and Johnny Giles hinted at saving face for the illustrious visitors, but the day belonged to Colchester’s wily old stagers, six of whom were over thirty – with the result then acknowledged as the biggest Cup upset since Third Division minnows Walsall beat Arsenal in 1933.
The only saving grace from a wretched day was that its horror memories arguably helped provide some of the fuel for United’s successful silverware sortie in the world’s most famous cup competition the very next season – with Revie’s star-studded troops lifting the cup for the first time in the centenary final against Arsenal in May, 1972.
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