printer friendly version
The FA Cup has always been loved by football romantics, chiefly
for the unique opportunity afforded for the most mundane of football
teams to be pitched into the national spotlight after being drawn
against one of the giants of the English game; rarely has there
been a starker contrast between Davids and Goliaths than in January
1970, when Leeds United were drawn to meet tiny Sutton United.
At the time, Leeds were reigning League champions and leading
the First Division table, through to the last eight in the European
Cup and hotly fancied to win the FA Cup; they were popularly acknowledged
as the most professional and hard to beat team in the country,
maybe even in the whole of Europe. In contrast, Sutton United
were a bunch of amateurs operating in the Isthmian League, or
as Albert Barham put it in the Guardian, "a collection which includes
a schoolmaster, jig borer, cable jointer, engineers and a panel
Describing the game as "the day of a lifetime" in his preview,
Barham wrote: "Halfway between Cheam, of Hancock's Half Hour memory,
and the suburbia of Sutton, a strip board sign leans back from
the road. 'Sutton United,' it states, yellow and permanent, 'versus
Leeds United' in temporary black and white. An arrow points down
Gander Green Lane. What more improbable place for the League leaders,
League champions and favourites to win both the FA and European
Cups, to play on Saturday?
"Here, instead of the customary Isthmian League match, Sutton
meet Leeds in the fourth round of the FA Cup, the first amateur
club to have got so far in 17 years. It is to this ground on Saturday
that Terry Howard will hurry after his dawn to midday stint at
Billingsgate market - 'I hope I can get in cos there's one entrance
in that's likely to be blocked - and I hope nobody asks me for
a ticket cost I haven't got one either.' Terry Howard has a delightful
broad Cockney humour. He is also the most experienced Sutton player
and looks not unlike Francis Lee.
back to top
"'I've been to four Amateur Cup finals, the Olympic Games. I've
played in quite a few internationals. But this will be the climax
to my career playing against a First Division side for the first
time and one like Leeds,' he said. Quite a number of professionals
had strong feelings about playing amateurs, surely? 'I'd feel
the same way. Football's their bread and butter - and I don't
envy them their job.'
"How does he feel playing against Paul Reaney? 'Paul's a Londoner
too so he'll know what I say when I go past him! But seriously
he's the best right-back in the land. I've gained a little bit
of heart over the years. I hope I give him a good game.' And Bremner?
'I've got height advantage over him - I'm an inch taller - so
he'll have to look up to me. I don't mean that seriously either.
We've done extremely well - played all our matches away from home
- and won well to get where we are. But to upset the tremendous
professionalism of this side we'll have to play as we've never
played before - get an early goal, we hope, and play our hearts
out for 90 minutes. This sort of game has never happened to the
boys before. We've a long way to go even to get a draw out of
this. They're the best team in the land.'"
Sutton had been around for longer than Leeds, being formed in
1898, and had joined the Athenian League in 1921, going on to
win the championship on three occasions. In July 1962, the club
appointed Norwich City coach and former Southampton boss Sid Cann
as manager. Cann had appeared in an FA Cup final with Manchester
City in 1933, and his appointment sparked a period of great success
for the club.
They earned a trip to Wembley Stadium in 1963, losing in the
final to Wimbledon, and a few months later were elected into the
higher status Isthmian League, which they won in 1967. They lost
another Amateur Cup final in 1969, and were battling stoutly for
the Isthmian League title with eventual champions Enfield in 1970.
However, their achievement in reaching the FA Cup fourth round
after beating Hillingdon Borough 4-1 in a third round replay was
rightly recognised as the icing on the cake.
Sutton secretary Dave Hermitage, who had played for the team
that lost the 1963 Amateur Cup final, spoke in glowing terms of
Sid Cann, saying, "We gave him a seven-year contract, the longest
contract ever awarded a manager by an amateur club. He came to
us in the 62 season and took Sutton to the Cup final. People had
not seen that happen before in Sutton. Then it was the semi final
and final again, and we won the Isthmian League championship.
We tried to show our faith in him - he's such an excellent coach
- and to give him some sort of security."
Cann himself looked forward eagerly to the battle with Leeds,
saying, "We are not worried; why should we be? No one expects
us to beat them, and who can seriously expect us to? Except us,
maybe. Leeds are the ones who have to do the worrying. They've
got everything to lose - we've got everything to gain. We've got
six amateur internationals in our team, I think we can put on
a good show."
In the week of the game, four Sutton players, Powell, Bladon,
Pritchard and Mellows, were called up for the England amateur
squad's game with Iceland at the beginning of February. But the
Sutton player who made the biggest name for himself in the game
was defender Dario Gradi, at that time FA southern area coach.
He became assistant coach at Chelsea a year later and went on
to spend 24 years as manager of Crewe Alexandra.
As the club drawn first out of the hat, Sutton had the option
of switching the tie to a larger ground elsewhere to give the
chance of earning higher receipts. In the end they passed up on
the opportunity, instead choosing to play the game at their tiny
Borough Sports Ground in Gander Green Lane. They borrowed some
temporary benching from the nearby Oval cricket ground, boosting
the ground's capacity from the normal 8,000 to 14,000.
Dave Hermitage on the decision to play at their normal ground:
"The players wanted that badly and it is an encouragement to our
supporters. We worked on the theory that we would get £3,000 from
Elland Road if we switched the tie - and there would be expenses
to pay. Now, this should put our gates up for the rest of the
season and already we've had applications from people who want
to become vice-presidents, and others to join the supporters'
club. They're not after tickets, either, they went ages ago ...
We could have sold another 15,000 tickets. This tie will bring
us £3,000. It will put us in the black for a few seasons. We are
never much in debt but a little goes each season. Our £2,000 deficit
was written off by the money we got from the Hillingdon games
and now there will be a nice balance. It's a wonderful achievement
for Andrew Letts, the chairman, too. He's put a lot of money into
the club and he always said his ambition was to see the ground
full. Well, he's got it now, though I never thought we would."
back to top
Don Revie was decidedly
apprehensive about the tie, making all sorts of complaints about
the arrangements, and particularly the threat that excited supporters
might gatecrash the ground and force their way onto the pitch:
"Our team is insured for a million pounds, and it is up to me
to do all I can to see they're safe. The security arrangements
must be watertight. Sutton have been working all week to improve
their ground capacity, and they've also been erecting strong barriers
on the low walls which separate the pitch from a recreation ground,
but as I understand them I don't like the arrangements because
the seats give instant access to the pitch and so to the players.
It wants only one mug with a bottle or a brick and a player worth
a quarter of a million is out injured, possibly at the worst for
life. I don't like the set up, and I told the police I didn't.
They have arranged to meet me when our team calls at the ground
on Friday afternoon on the way to the hotel."
Dave Hermitage countered: "I think it's a bit of gamesmanship.
I spoke to the local police after Mr Revie telephoned them, they
came round, and we measured the distance between the touchline
and the nearest seat at 12 yards. Maybe one in 20 First Division
grounds can match that. We could put a fence up in front of the
seats, but Mr Revie would presumably then go back to his original
argument about the danger of injury to players running off the
pitch. I can assure Leeds that no Sutton supporters will run on
to the pitch."
Leeds went into the game without first choice goalkeeper Gary
Sprake, who had returned to his home town, Swansea, after the
death of his mother in the week leading up to the game. Don Revie:
"Especially now that Gary will not be playing, we couldn't be
treating Sutton any more seriously than if we were playing at
Goodison or Anfield.
"I watched Sutton beat Hillingdon, and I came away impressed.
Maurice Lindley and Syd Owen have also seen them. That's three
times we've taken a look, which is more than we saw Ujpest Dozsa
before meeting them last year in the Fairs Cup. I've tried to
instil into my players that all opposition, no matter how easy
they may think it's going to be, have to, must be, treated with
the respect any opponents deserve.
"Look what almost happened in the third round. I'd told the team
all week that Swansea were not going to be easy meat. We were
to respect their claims to a place in the fourth round. They have
a number of more than useful players. Then we went out like a
team which had been thrown together. Eight of the side seemed
determined to show off their skills, and consequently played like
strangers. We could have lost, and that's not going to happen
again. I don't think we've got a lot to worry about, but neither
are we complacent."
Revie had said after seeing Sutton's victory over Hillingdon,
"I never dreamt Sutton could play so well."
In a typical example of his obsession with thorough preparation,
Revie arranged a special practice match in the days before the
Cup-tie. He arranged usage of the Skelton Road ground of the East
End Park Working Men's Club in Leeds to gain experience on a ground
similar to Sutton's. "One of the main things I wanted the players
to get used to was the sky line at this sort of ground," said
manager Revie. "The amount of sky behind the goals, and the small
stands makes a very different picture compared with what they
see on First Division grounds. Skelton Road gives them a good
idea of what they will see on Saturday, and what points arising
about passing and shooting they should note. I am very grateful
for being allowed to use it."
The capacity crowd were all packed into the tiny ground two hours
before the game, which took place on a springlike Saturday afternoon.
The pitch, one of the best in amateur football, looked in good
condition, apart from a soggy patch in the centre circle which
had been heavily sanded.
Billy Bremner won the toss and opted to kick off. United went
straight onto the attack with Terry Cooper overlapping down the
left and goalkeeper Dave Roffey had to catch a cross from Norman
Hunter to prevent Bremner getting on the end of it.
Sutton had some decent attacks afterwards without really threatening
to score, though Hunter had to foul centre-forward Pete Drabwell
to break up one early move and David Harvey had to save a swerving
drive from Larry Pritchard. The amateurs were proving their gameness,
but predictably it was Leeds who opened the scoring
after 14 minutes.
Hunter was involved in a chase for the ball down the left with
a Sutton defender and beat him to it near the byline, lobbing
a cross towards goal. The Sutton keeper went to catch it at the
near post but could only palm the cross up and on towards the
back upright. Allan Clarke was rushing in at the centre and his
uncanny ability to see the opportunity before it arose left him
the easy job of stooping forward to nod it over the line despite
the attentions of a wildly swinging defender. It was a poor goal
from Sutton's perspective but a clear example of Clarke's predatory
The score took a little of the wind out of Sutton's sails and
Leeds began to dominate proceedings, driving the home side back
There was panic in the Sutton rearguard with deflections off
two defenders before the ball went behind for a United corner.
Then Roffey had to save smartly from a Mick Jones header after
a free kick by Johnny Giles.
back to top
Jack Charlton had to go
off for treatment after jarring an ankle in a tackle and then
sustaining a head injury in an aerial clash. When he returned
five minutes later he was sporting a plaster on his forehead.
Sutton were showing themselves to be no defensive mugs with centre-half
John Faulkner coping admirably with the threat of Clarke and Jones,
but Leeds struck twice in quick succession just before the break
to put themselves in absolute control.
In the 41st minute Peter Lorimer got the ball tight on the left
touchline about 25 yards from goal. He shaped to head down the
line before cutting infield to shoot from about five yards outside
the area. His low shot was not one of his fiercest and it went
bobbling straight at Roffey, but the keeper let it slip through
his hands and between his legs. He turned in anguish to try to
recover but could only watch the ball go rolling slowly on over
the line to put Leeds 2-0 ahead.
Three minutes later Lorimer went outside his man down the right
to hit the touchline before firing across a low centre. Clarke
was on the edge of the goal area and calmly flicked it up into
the roof of the net with the most nonchalant of finishes.
The 3-0 score at the break was somewhat hard luck on Sutton,
though probably no more than Leeds deserved.
Clarke had the ball in the net again shortly after the resumption
but his effort was chalked off for an offside decision.
Sutton responded instantly with Pritchard striking the bar in
the 53rd minute with a great shot, but Leeds swiftly silenced
the crowd, who had been rallied by the effort. Within three minutes
Lorimer looped over a centre from the right flank to the back
post. Clarke rose behind his man to head the ball against the
upright. He was not to be denied, however, and, reacting more
quickly than anyone, he slammed home the rebound to complete his
It was soon 5-0. Hunter made his way down to the far right corner
and pulled the ball back across goal. First Clarke and then Jones
dummied to take it but let it run on to Lorimer coming in around
the penalty spot. He flicked the ball up with his left foot as
if preparing to volley powerfully, fooling the diving Roffey and
two Sutton defenders, before calmly toe poking it through all
three and into the net. It was a masterly finish.
In the 65th minute Drabwell and Faulkner challenged Harvey and
the centre-half got the ball in the net. The home crowd rose as
one in joyful celebration but were soon groaning their disappointment
as Hereford referee Jim Finney disallowed the effort for a clear
foul on the keeper.
Back came United and Bremner's shot flicked over off the bar
before Roffey saved a Giles shot.
With 13 minutes remaining Leeds went away on another swift raid.
Lorimer pushed the ball down the middle between two Sutton defenders
for Clarke to collect. He left the defenders in his wake as he
raced on through the centre and on into the penalty area before
firing it accurately into the net to make it 6-0 with his fourth
goal of the game.
Five minutes from time Drabwell miskicked with the goal at his
mercy and really should
have given the home side a measure of consolation. It would have
been no more than they deserved for the spirited way the amateurs
had competed with their classy visitors.
Leeds had never really been stretched, but their gallant hosts
had performed admirably and United lined up in a guard of honour
to applaud them off at the end.
Sutton defender John Faulkner, 22, had given an impressive performance
and United manager Don Revie had seen enough to earmark him as
a possible successor for 34-year-old Jack Charlton. Revie won
the chase for Faulkner's signature a few weeks later in the face
of competition from Arsenal and Spurs. Unfortunately, Faulkner's
spell at Elland Road was disastrous; before the end of the season
he had conceded an own goal and broken his knee cap in the two
games he played for the club.
back to top