Fulham 1 – 0 Birmingham City (FA Cup Semi Final Replay 1975 at Maine Road, Manchester)
John Mitchell (‘120)
This was Fulham’s 11th Cup tie in a remarkable run that had seen them take seven games to get past the first two hurdles in fellow Second Division sides Hull and Nottingham Forest. A stunning victory at First Division leaders Everton and a more fortuitous win at Carlisle had seen us reach the 5th FA Cup Semi Final in our history. Our four previous semi finals had all ended in defeat although we had been unlucky to succumb in replays in 1958 and 1962. Our opponents were Birmingham City who were a decent mid-table First Division side with a smattering of star names in Howard Kendall, Kenny Burns and Trevor Francis. We had our own sprinkling of stardust in skipper Alan Mullery and the legendary Bobby Moore and a number of established players like Les Barrett who could step up on the big occasion.
I was lucky enough to be at the first game at Hillsborough where a thunderous John Mitchell strike put us into a thoroughly deserved lead. Joe Gallagher scored a scrappy equaliser just a few minutes later which rescued a draw for the Midlanders. There was a real sense of disappointment that our performance didn’t get the victory it deserved . There was a feeling before the replay that we would struggle to play any better while Birmingham would be unlikely to play as poorly again.
The Fulham Team
Peter Mellor – John Fraser, John Lacy, Bobby Moore, Les Strong – John Dowie, Alan Mullery, Alan Slough, Les Barrett – John Mitchell, Viv Busby. Sub. Barry Lloyd.
Young John Fraser had stepped in for John Cutbush at right back whilst Scottish utility player John Dowie replaced the injured Jimmy Conway from the first game. John Mitchell had just returned from a long-term injury to partner Viv Busby up front. Otherwise, it was a pretty familiar Fulham line up with the vastly experienced Moore and Mullery having the time of their lives in the twilight of their careers.
As we had feared Birmingham were much more on their mettle than they had been at Hillsborough and gave us far less time on the ball. They dominated the early proceedings and we were grateful that Peter Mellor was once more in the form he’d shown in his match-winning display at Carlisle in the quarter-final. He made a stunning point-blank save from Gordon Taylor but was also fortunate the ref didn’t punish him when he appeared to bring Paul Hendrie down in the box. Fulham grew more into it as the match progressed but it was attritional fare with chances few and far between. After our marathon in the third and fourth rounds, we had no fear of extra time and we did look the stronger side as the stalemate forced the extra 30 minutes.
However, the deadlock showed no signs of being broken as the prospect of a second replay at Highbury on the following Monday night loomed. Being a school night I’d had no chance of attending the game in Manchester but as I listened nervously with my Dad to the game on the Radio (no live TV coverage in those days) I did manage to force a promise from him to take me to the third game.
Then without warning the Radio commentator’s voice grew an octave as Alan Slough threw one final cross into the box. John Dowie headed it down and John Mitchell stole in and toe-poked it goalwards where it hit Dave Latchford and rebounded into some part of SuperMitch’s body as he fell forward. The contact was enough to force the ball forwards and the ball dribbled apologetically into the net. It triggered delirium not only at Maine Road but so too at the Clarke family household where my Dad and I hugged and danced around the living room in absolute delight.
The crestfallen Birmingham players slumped to the turf in the knowledge there was no time to come back and moments later the final whistle confirmed that little old Fulham had finally made it to the Cup Final. Eleven games is a record for the number of games taken to get there and with the advent of penalty shootouts is a proud achievement that will remain Fulham’s forever.
Back in the 1970’s, the FA Cup Final was still the showpiece game of the season and Fulham’s run had captured the imagination of the country. Alan Mullery was awarded the Football Writer’s Player of the Year on the back of it and there was further romance in the fact that the final would be against Bobby Moore’s old club, West Ham.
Unfortunately, that was where the fairy tale ended. Poor Les Strong who had been ever-present in the run at left-back was ruled out by injury. We played well enough in an even first half but Alan Taylor struck twice in a matter of minutes in the second period and the dream was over. Peter Mellor was deemed at fault for the goals with one going through his legs. It’s rumoured he apologised to manager Alec Stock afterwards and said he should have kept his legs closed to which the veteran boss allegedly responded, ‘No, your mother should have!’
I wish I’d heard this story at the time as it would have cheered a heartbroken 12 year old up. I comforted myself in the knowledge we’d soon be back at Wembley. It’s a good job I’m a patient man.