The eve of this weekend’s match with Nottingham Forest marks the 48th anniversary of the culmination of an incredible FA Cup tie with them that quite literally will never be repeated. The 1974/75 season saw both clubs occupying unremarkable mid-table positions in the Second Division, (Championship in new money), but it became a hugely significant one for both clubs for different reasons.
For us, we belied our inconsistent League form with a marathon FA Cup run that took us to the final for the first (and still only) time in our history. Whilst for Forest, the appointment of Brian Clough as manager heralded an unprecedented period of success that saw them win the League title, two League Cups and two European Cups over the next 5 years.
If anyone had predicted that when the 4th round draw paired us they would have been considered mad, not least because both clubs faced away replays to even advance to the next round. Clough demonstrated the first effect of his genius by winning at Tottenham and then brought his Forest side to Fulham for a League game the following Saturday. By then we had drawn our replay at Hull and faced a third game with them on neutral ground the following Monday. Fulham were the dominant team against Forest but we were going through a dreadfully barren period in front of goal and the visitors stole the points with one of their rare chances.
Fortunately, the setback didn’t demoralise us and we settled the Hull tie at the third time of asking courtesy of Alan Slough’s fine goal at Leicester City’s Filbert Street. We were therefore through to face Forest at home just two weeks after the league match between the clubs. Heavy rain in the week prior led to an early postponement that day due to a waterlogged pitch and ground staff moved heaven and earth to get the pitch playable for the rearranged fixture on the Tuesday night. In truth, conditions were still pretty dreadful, and the teams played out a stalemate on a quagmire surface. In contrast to the league game though this time Forest were much the better side. Fulham captain Alan Mullery said afterwards “I honestly cannot remember us playing as badly. They completely outplayed us. The only consolation is we have a chance to get it right in the replay”.
That game took place in front of a season best crowd of 25,000 at the City Ground the following Monday and proved a much more entertaining encounter. The home side started on top but after weathering the storm, John Dowie gave us the lead on the stroke of halftime. We had chances to extend the lead after the break, but Neil Martin headed Forest level halfway through the half and that concluded the scoring for the evening despite chances galore at both ends and 30 minutes of extra time.
It meant another replay but with neutral grounds often bringing disappointing attendances the clubs had the FA’s permission to toss a coin to decide the venue of the next game and Fulham chairman Tommy Trinder’s call of heads saw the sides troop back to London for a third game just 48 hours later.
This time Fulham started on the front foot and Alan Slough gave us the lead halfway through the first half. Our Achilles heel of poor finishing cost us again though as a John Robertson free kick levelled matters just after the interval and then John Middleton in the Forest goal defied everything we threw at him to send the teams back to the East Midlands the following Monday for a fourth attempt to settle the tie. Brian Clough was always renowned for a quote or two and said afterwards ‘It’s just a slogging match now; if one of us doesn’t win on Monday, they should line all the players up against a wall and shoot them’.
So, Monday February 10th saw Fulham playing Forest for the 5th time in the space of a month and finally at long last we were to prove victorious. Ian Bowyer hit the bar for the home side early on but halfway through the first half a slick passing move saw Viv Busby give us the lead from close range after Jimmy Conway’s low cross.
Forest tried to respond but Bobby Moore was marshalling our defence in his usual impeccable style which gave us the chance for Busby to double our lead early in the second half. Finally, there was daylight between the teams and although Sammy Chapman was to halve the deficit, Fulham went on to a deserved victory and clinch a 5th round tie away at First Division leaders Everton. Manager Alec Stock praised match winner Busby but bemoaned the pressure the fixture schedule had placed on his team; “The players need a complete break. It has taken us seven games to reach the 5th round and we’ve now been playing a game every three days for weeks”.
Rest of course was out of the question with that 5th round tie at Goodison Park just 5 days later but Fulham rose magnificently to the occasion. Viv Busby scored a double again and another 2-1 win saw us through to the last 8. Quarter final victory at Carlisle followed and then we disposed of Birmingham in the semi (after a replay naturally) to conclude a record breaking 11 game run to the Final! With the way the FA Cup is now treated, with even one replay sometimes considered an optional extra, our record would seem secure for time immemorial. Certainly, as stated at the start, a marathon like we played with Forest back in 1975 will never happen again. I guess in the modern monied world of football you’d call that progress.