Since we started the Throwback Thursday column last year we’ve dipped repeatedly into the FA Cup for material. As the oldest competition in football, its lengthy history serves as a sort of repository for much of the sport’s own distinguished past. The FA Cup has outlived players, managers, clubs, and even the British Empire itself.
As we’ve noted in previous instalments, one thing that keeps people coming back to the Cup year after year is the promise of major upsets. The possibility of a small club meeting one of the giants of English football on equal terms and emerging triumphant lends a romantic quality that’s singularly intoxicating.
There have been many Cupsets in the tournament’s long history, and over the past year we’ve covered but a small smattering of them. But one in particular stands out, and it’s one that we haven’t managed to write about— until now.
This week, we look back at a tie that defined the ‘Cupset’— February 1972, Edgar Street, Hereford United v Newcastle United.
In the 1971-72 season, Hereford United were playing in the Southern Football League. At the time it represented the fifth tier of English football (it’s currently the seventh and eighth), putting Hereford solidly among the ranks of amateur football. As such, they had a longer and harder road to their meeting with Newcastle. The Bulls came in at the Fourth Qualifying Round, getting off to a good start by beating Cheltenham Town 3-0. But they were forced into replays in the First Round Proper against now-defunct King’s Lynn and again in the Second Round against Northampton Town. Somehow they made it all the way to the Promised Land for nonleague clubs— the Third Round.
As one of the big fish in the old First Division, the Third Round represented Newcastle’s entrance into the competition. They were drawn as hosts, and the sense was that the Magpies would coast to victory. Star center forward Malcolm Macdonald, who we’ve written about previously, was quoted as saying he would score 10 goals against Hereford and break a record. (He later denied he said that.)
Yet Hereford showed early on that they weren’t going to roll over. They took the lead after just 17 seconds thanks to a free kick awarded shortly after kickoff, stunning the 39,000 plus crowd at St. James’ Park into silence. Newcastle would score twice within the first fifteen minutes to reset expectations, but player manager Colin Addison equalized with a stunning 25 yard strike and ensured a replay at Edgar Street.
And that’s where history was made.
Due to several weather-related postponements, the replay was held on the same weekend as the Fourth Round ties. The crowd was easily one of the biggest in the club’s history, with more than 14,000 packing the stands and fans climbing trees and floodlights to get a view of the game. The pitch was in horrible condition before kickoff due to the rain, and the next 120 minutes of football managed to turn it into a cold swamp.
Despite the weather and the pitch conditions, both teams came out ready for a fight. Newcastle (wearing red) came out swinging, with several close calls from Macdonald and company being kept out only through an absolutely heroic performance from Hereford keeper Fred Potter. Macdonald managed to score in the first half but his goal was disallowed due to a foul in the box. Hereford slowly worked their way back into the game, with winger Dudley Tyler harassing Newcastle’s backline and creating some promising chances. Somehow, both teams went into the tunnel at halftime scoreless.
Most of the second half played out the same way— combative, lots of back-and-forth, but no reward for all their fighting. The breakthrough didn’t come until the 83rd minute, when Supermac headed in at the far post from a Viv Busby cross. After the goal, Hereford made their one substitution, taking off right back Roger Griffiths— who broke his leg earlier in the game but played through it, because English football— and sending in winger Ricky George.
After the change, with the away fans still celebrating the apparent gamewinner, Hereford started throwing men forward. They didn’t have to wait long for their reward; two minutes after Macdonald’s goal, midfielder (and part-time carpenter) Ronnie Radford hit an absolute screamer from 30 yards, homing in on the top corner and sending Edgar Street into absolute pandemonium. After the subsequent pitch invasion was cleared up, both teams pushed for a winner but neither could find one before Dennis Turner blew for full time.
When extra time started, both sets of players were clearly feeling the effects of fatigue and the pitch was nearly unplayable. The proceedings devolved into what could only be described as football in a fairly generous sense of the word. Yet before halftime of extra time, the defining moment came.
Radford found George on the right. The substitute took a few touches, evaded a challenge from Bobby Moncur, and hit his shot just out of Willie McFaul’s grasp. Edgar Street exploded once more, the fans invaded the pitch again, and that, for the most part, was that. Newcastle couldn’t manage to recover. Hereford held on for not only their most distinguished victory but one of the defining matches in FA Cup history.
The loss characterized a fairly ho-hum season for Newcastle. They went on to finish in 11th place, a full 17 points behind eventual winners Derby County. Macdonald played four more campaigns for Newcastle, posting the best numbers of his playing career, before moving to Arsenal for two seasons and finishing his career in Sweden with Djurgårdens IF.
Hereford’s run in the cup that season wouldn’t last much longer. They went on to face West Ham in the Fourth Round, playing out to a 0-0 draw at home just four days after the Newcastle win and losing 3-1 at Upton Park on Valentine’s Day. But the rest of their journey was more harrowing.
Hereford progressed all the way up to the Second Division for the 1976-77 season but were relegated at the end of the campaign. The next few decades were marked by poor football and a seemingly endless parade of financial difficulties. The fans’ worst nightmare came true at the end of 2014, when a series of scandals perpetrated by ownership and the Board of Directors brought them under scrutiny from an Independent Regulatory Commission. In December of that year, the FA suspended Hereford from all football activities. The suspension was lifted the next day after new owner Andy Lonsdale made assurances to resolve the club’s tax liabilities, speculated to be around £116,000. Yet Lonsdale was late to a court hearing involving creditors and HM Revenue and Customs, and the judge ordered the club to be dissolved. More than 90 years of history had vanished amidst paperwork and broken promises.
Shortly after, the fans organized into a Supporter’s Trust and formed a phoenix club to carry the legacy of Hereford, in the same tradition as AFC Wimbledon and Accrington Stanley. The new club’s motto reads: “Our greatest glory lies not in never having fallen, but in rising when we fall.” It’s a motto worthy of the squad that ran out onto the soggy, torn up grass at Edgar Street on that cold February day in 1972. Players come and go, clubs rise and fall, but some days, some moments, refuse to fade. Games like Hereford v Newcastle are why English football endures.