Chapter Eighteen – Bottom Of The Bill (cont.)
For Fulham, these Cup battles came as a relief from the hard, grinding introspective campaign of the League as it went into its final spring flurry. Now the entire season had taken on an odd similarity to 1957-58. Then Fulham had reached the semi-final of the Cup, losing only after a replay with Manchester United. Then we were on the eve of a World Cup final series. Then we had had a tremendously tense season, only then we were trying to get into the First Division and now we were trying to stay there. This time we were to meet Burnley in the semi-final, the Burnley who led the First Division, who were bent on recapturing the champion title they had yielded to Spurs the year before, who were set in fact for a repetition of the ‘double’ that was Spurs’ proud boast.
The pundits gave us no chance – how could they with an entire League division separating us. We did not mind in the slightest. As we packed off to Worthing for a week at the seaside we felt certain that we would reach the final and all we wanted at Wembley was a crack at the Lords of Tottenham. We expected them to beat Manchester United in the other semi-final. Our attitude to the match was sensible. We felt that Burnley had much more to lose than we did, that the strain on them would be much more severe. We believed that our play was much better than our position indicated and we thought that our Cup form and our very presence in this semi-final made the point. I preached this to all the players all week at Worthing, and when we set off for Villa Park, Birmingham, we were like a pack of young lions, convinced that this was to be our day. It so nearly was. Only rank bad luck foiled us. We started at tremendous speed, playing fast, open, vigorous and uncomplicated football which gave us a clear edge on Burnley. They never found the rhythm of the smoothly-patterned game which has brought them such success.
We were a goal up at half-time. Burnley equalised in the second half, but when the battle was at its height, some ten minutes from the end, this time it was Fulham that got the rough edge of luck’s hand. Maurice Cook broke right through. Adam Blacklaw the Burnley goalkeeper came out to challenge with a flying feet-first tackle. Cook played the ball round him but was brought down as he tried to round the goalkeeper. Penalty screamed the Fulham fans in the crowd – and the Fulham players on the field. No penalty said the referee. In the capacity crowd the friends of Craven Cottage raised the roof and were justified in doing it, but it was no penalty. The score stood 1-1, the replay was billed for Leicester.
After the passions and tensions of the match were over, it came to me quite suddenly that we had missed our chance, that the Cup Final of 1962 was not for us. My mind went back to that previous semi-final replay four years earlier. I said nothing to the other players. They were still highly confident that we could beat Burnley. Yet I had this strange slight feeling that we had missed our chance, our golden chance. If I ever wanted to be wrong in my life this was the time. But I was right. At Leicester we never recaptured the flair and dash we had at Villa Park and although Burnley got their goals luckily – low crosses from the byeline from Pointer and McIlroy rushed home by Robson – I would say that they deserved to beat us on the night. Our goal came late, from Jimmy Langley, and we were out of the Cup, just one short but impossible step from Wembley. There was nothing left but to try to be noble about it and console ourselves that there was always another year. But defeat in the semi-final is desperately hard to take. You always wonder just how many years are left. You feel so close to Wembley, to the marching guardsmen and the lush green grass and the special magic of the Cup Final. We won only one leg of our ‘double’, safety in the First Division. When it was all over, the club threw a party for us in the Criterion, in the heart of the West End. There were about 150 people there and time had erased much of the disappointment and it was all wonderful fun. Some of us reflected that if we had finished so much better, perhaps sixth in the First Division, there might not have been any party!
It's All In The Game was published by Arthur Baker Limited.
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