1948 – 1949: PART TWO OF THREE – MIGHTY SUNDERLAND HUMBLED AT HUISH
Having reached the Fourth Round of the FA. Cup early in 1949, Yeovil Town were then drawn at home to Sunderland. Bury (whom they had defeated at Huish in the previous round) were one thing, but the Wearsiders were something else! They kept company with the gods on Mount Olympus!
At the time they were one of the finest First Division clubs in the country and – having built a star-studded side costing over £60,000, a fortune in those days – were known as the ‘Bank of England’ side.
Over 45,000 applications for tickets were received, but the ground could hold only 17,000. Inevitable frayed tempers were commonplace in the scramble to secure one. Meanwhile, the bookies had cut Yeovil’s odds from 5,000-1 to 500-1, whilst the players took the week off for special training and to give press interviews. Sunderland arrived on the Thursday, staying at the Manor Hotel, and were refused permission to train on the pitch in order to become familiar with the famous ‘slope’.
Saturday, 29th January arrived. By the time the gates were opened at 12 noon, the main queue was six deep and half a mile long. Unfortunately, regular Yeovil ‘keeper Stan Hall had to drop out of the side through injury during the morning, his place being taken by 23-year-old amateur Dickie Dyke, who had just one first team game to his name.
Yeovil’s team was: Dickie Dyke, Arthur Hickman, Ralph Davis, Bob Keeton, Les Blizzard, Nick Collins, Bobby Hamilton, Alec Stock, Eric Bryant, Ray Wright and Jack Hargreaves.
Yeovil went ahead after twenty eight minutes when centre half Les Blizzard lobbed a mid-field free kick to inside-left Ray Wright. He slipped a waist high ball to player manager Alec Stock who swivelled on his right leg and smashed a beautiful shot well to the left of the vainly plunging Mapson.
The lead was held until the 62nd minute when Dickie Dyke made his only mistake of the match. After a succession of fine saves he missed a long ball into the goal-mouth played in by full back Barney Ramsden and Robinson tapped it over the line for the easiest goal of his life.
At the end of ninety minutes the score stood at 1-1. Normally, this would have meant a replay at Roker Park and a very different story, but this was the final post-war season when extra time applied to original ties if they were drawn.
As the extra period began thick mist enveloped the ground. Now there was a new matter to consider, the distinct possibility that this historic match would be abandoned on a heart breaking note of anti-climax for Yeovil. If it was, surely Yeovil would never play so well a second time, or Sunderland so badly?
Suddenly, the fog lifted and, with only seconds remaining to the end of the first period of extra time, it revealed Shackleton with the ball on the half-way line. Shackleton, the man who was dubbed ‘the Clown Prince of Soccer’, Shackleton, a ball juggler with few equals in the history of the game, Shackleton, as mercurial and unpredictable a man as he was a player. He was facing his own goal. He could turn with it and dribble or pass. He could hook it out
to either wing. He could pass it back or belt it into the crowd. Any one of these things he could have done and Sunderland would probably have escaped with a replay. But being ‘Shack’ he tried an overhead kick to his centre forward. Nine time out of ten, being ‘Shack’, he would have succeeded, but this was the exception. He caught the ball with the toe of his boot and it flew straight up the middle towards his own goal – a perfect through pass for Wright, the Yeovil inside left. Wright gathered it to him greedily, paused then pushed it into the path of the onrushing Bryant, thundering up like the Wells Fargo Stage. Mapson started to come out but Bryant hit it sweetly and truly into the net.
But this was not the end – oh no, far from it. A further 15 minutes of extra time had to be played and that quarter-of-an-hour seemed almost as bad as being roasted over a slow fire. At last Sunderland shook off their lethargy and Yeovil, physically handicapped and spent, reeled back in the face of withering attacks. The Press was by now as wildly and unashamedly partisan as the home fans. Never did minutes tick away with such agonising slowness.
Outside the ground thousands of supporters who had been unable to secure a ticket for the match listened to the B.B.C. commentary by Raymond Glendenning on the radios of waiting police cars – volume turned fully up.
Inside the ground it was the men in green and white who now had to defend, and how they defended! They banged the ball forwards as if it was their mother-in-law …. towards Sunderland’s corner flags, into touch and over the stand or, better still, over the Brutton’s End terrace and half way down Middle Street! Then the mist rolled down again.
For Yeovil it was a race against time whichever way they looked at it. Three minutes left and one final piece of irony threatened to rob Yeovil of a victory torn straight from the pages of pulp fiction.
The referee blew for a free kick to Sunderland just outside the Yeovil penalty area. The crowd thought it was the final whistle and over the railings they came in their thousands.
Within seconds the pitch looked like one of those photographs of the first Wembley Final, when the public stormed the gates. It seemed Yeovil might be robbed of their triumph by the hysteria of their own supporters.
Somehow, the Yeovil players arms waving like maniacs, pleading, cajoling, threatening, got the crowd back behind the barriers and the last three minutes were played out.
When the final whistle did blow and there was no mistake about the nationally sensational news of Yeovil’s victory, a great many people remained in their seats and places, drained of all emotion, just staring in front of them as if in a trance…. Yeovil had done it!!
The triumph of Yeovil’s band of part-timers, a collection of publicans, glove cutters, clerks, warehousemen and what have you, lives on and will do so as long as a ball is kicked in these islands.