Idle Thoughts on the FA Cup

West Ham Opinion

I have, on a previous occasion, mentioned the story my Uncle Tommy used to tell, of the day, way back in the early 1930s, when, having finished his shift down the mine, he walked into Sunderland for the big match, paid his tanner to get in and, once inside, would have paid a shilling to get out again, such was the crush inside the ground as Sunderland recorded their biggest-ever attendance.

The record books show this to have been a Sixth Round F. A. Cup replay against Derby County in March 1933. Following on from a 4-4 draw at Derby, a crowd of 75,118 paid £4,565 to see the visitors win that replay 1-0 after extra time. Perhaps one reason for my Uncle’s discomfort lay in the fact that such crowds were very much NOT what he was used to at Roker Park, where the average crowd for Football League matches that season worked out at a paltry 17,000-odd, less than a quarter of the number that turned out for the Cup-tie against Derby.

Fast-forward 31 years to March, 1964, when West Ham were at home to Manchester United in a First Division match, losing 0-2 in front of a crowd of 27,000-odd, with the crowd, the players and the managers all acutely aware that the two teams were to meet again a week later to fight out an F. A. Cup Semi-Final in front of 65,000 people at Hillsborough. Manchester United’s team at West Ham showed five changes from that which was to take the field the following week, their manager, Matt Busby, choosing to rest star players such as Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best, a strategy which proved fruitless, with Bobby Moore and Co. dominating in the Hillsborough rain, wind and mud as the Hammers recorded a famous victory.

What these two above-mentioned episodes remind us is that, once upon a time, the F. A. Cup had such an aura about it that Cup matches were seen as the icing on the cake. Whereas League matches were the norm, the bread-and-butter stuff, Cup matches were something special and it was in these matches that you fielded your strongest team.

With so many millions of pounds dependent upon a club’s Premier Division status, the pendulum has long since swung the other way, with the Cups seen as opportunities to rest first-team regulars and so give a run-out to fringe players. How different it was back in 1964, when the eleven players who saw off Charlton Athletic in the Third Round of the F. A. Cup went on to play every single minute of every single Cup match, right up to the moment when Ronnie Boyce scored that last-minute winner in the Final, four months later.

Maybe the pendulum will swing back the other way one day, but in the meantime the Hammers will no doubt rest some players for the visit to Shrewsbury. The Hammers have met Shrewsbury on four occasions at First-Team level, Shrewsbury performing the double against West Ham in 1979/80 and the Hammers securing a double the following season. In the first of those seasons, the Hammers won the F. A. Cup, in the second they won the Second Division Championship. Since then, connections between the two clubs have been non-existent, although it should be mentioned that, in the late 1980s, a certain David Moyes made nearly a century of appearances for Shrewsbury and, according to Wikipedia, it was here that the current West Ham manager first took an interest in coaching. Let us hope that his return to his old stamping ground proves successful.