Lee Hurst, debutant at The Dell in 1991
It’s FA Cup Third Round day but sadly what was once one of the most exciting days in the domestic football calendar is now a mere shadow of its former self with so many clubs putting out weakened sides. The fans have got wise to it of course and gates at FA Cup ties this weekend will continue the downward trend see for the last 10-15 years. The decline in attendances is largely to do with the fact that clubs have such a large number of season ticket holders these days. Most clubs charge their season ticket holders extra for cup games and many supporters cannot afford £20 plus in the week after Christmas. City’s home gates in the competition in recent years bear this out. The big clubs may show little respect for the famous old competition but fans of lower division clubs will turn out in force when they get a smell of a Cup upset. Just last season only 8,000 turned out at the Ricoh for the Crystal Palace third round tie, less than half the crowd a week earlier when QPR were in town. But three weeks later over 5,000 City fans travelled to St Andrews for the fourth round tie. I read that Andy Morrell’s Wrexham are taking over 2,000 fans to Brighton for their big day out. Similarly I would expect Salisbury City, Tamworth and Stevenage to have the biggest away followings in their history for plum ties at Sheffield United, Everton and Reading respectively. The romance of the FA Cup lives on!
Today’s gate against Southampton will be affected by the Save Our City-organised protest but unless there is a sizeable following from the South Coast I wouldn’t expect the crowd to be much higher than last season’s Palace gate.
City and the Saints have been drawn against each other three times previously in the competition and Saints have the edge having progressed twice to City’s once. It is exactly 100 years ago that City won the first FA Cup encounter, 2-0 at the Dell. ‘Boxer’ Turnbull and Harry Parkes scored the goals in front of a 12,500 crowd. City, who had a reputation as giantkilling in those days, by virtue of their famous 1910 Cup run, were rewarded with a plum home tie with First Division Manchester United but in front of a 17,000 Highfield Road crowd were thumped 5-1.
The second encounter with the Saints came in the first round in 1959 when the clubs were vying with each other for promotion from Division Three. City failed to capitalise on home advantage and were held 1-1 and got a 5-1 hammering in the replay at the Dell. It was a similar story on the last occasion the clubs were drawn against each other, in the fourth round in 1991. An Alan Shearer penalty cancelled out a Brian Kilcline goal in a 1-1 draw at Highfield Road and an injury-hit Sky Blues travelled to the Dell more in hope than conviction. Missing key players Trevor Peake, Paul Edwards, David Speedie and Kevin Gallacher, they were further hampered by an early injury to Steve Ogrizovic. Goals from Jimmy Case and Rod Wallace sent Saints through to round five but City were lucky to get away with only a two-goal defeat. One City youngster, midfielder Lee Hurst, made his debut as a substitute that night, coming on to play out of position at left back.
The defeat at West Ham made it 14 away league games without a victory for the Sky Blues and some readers wondered if a record was getting close. The club record is 28 away games without a win set over two seasons between January 1924 and April 1925. The latter season, 1924-25, saw City relegated from Division Two – hope that’s not an omen. The post-war record is 25 set between November 1954 and December 1955, whilst the worst run since relegation from the Premiership was 16 between March and December 2005 when Micky Adams was in charge.