FA Cup Special: Memories of Newcastle and THAT temporary stand

Remembering Stevenage's previous forays into the FA Cup

Remembering Stevenage's previous forays into the FA Cup - Credit: Archant

In the next part of a special feature ahead of Stevenage’s big game against Everton on Saturday, Comet editor Darren Isted guides us through some of Boro’s FA Cup history...

These programmes are good collector items for Stevenage fans

These programmes are good collector items for Stevenage fans - Credit: Archant

Remember Newcastle? Shearer and the goal that wasn’t, the temporary stand fiasco and the good, bad and ugly publicity that Boro attracted?

Well everyone does but the story of the cup run of 1997/98 began not with a bang but a horrible whimper. It began in Carshalton on a dull day grim enough to be Blue Monday, even though it was Saturday November 15.

It was a first round day alright and there was a smattering of interest from the national media. But any poor soul that made the trip would want to forget it in a hurry. It was a 0-0 draw that was truly unforgettable only for the fact that it was the worst Boro game I have ever seen. The worst. One shot on goal in the dying minutes, it was the equivalent of a very bad hangover. Hands up who saw the 0-0 draw at Merthyr in the FA Trophy? Yes it was even worse than that.

Expectations of a long run for the Conference big hitters were therefore limited but Boro did annoyingly hammer Carshalton in the replay, dishing out a 5-0 beating to at least show the ICIS League side (yes remember that name) that Boro, who sat mid-table in the Conference, were not to be messed with.

In the second round Boro were handed the chance of an upset with a short trip to Nationwide Division Three side Cambridge United. Their neighbours were struggling at the wrong end of the table but this was a Boro in transition. Names such as Sodje and Hayles had moved on and Steve Berry was no longer commandeering the midfield.

Even so Boro were developing a cup reputation and it was enhanced with a 1-1 draw at the Abbey Stadium which could have been so much better. Gary Crawshaw slotted home a penalty kick and it was only the sending off of Ryan Kirby and a late bombardment which saw United pull level and grab a replay. It’s also worthy of note that the non-leaguers took 2,000 supporters across the border. Boro were developing a buzz.

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And that buzz became a roar when Paul Fairclough and his men hit the headlines, booking a third round slot for the second season in a row with a 2-1 win in the replay over the Cambridge side managed by Roy McFarland.

Yes Boro had done it again. The previous year they had finished third in the league, reach the semis of the FA Trophy and of course bowed out at the third round with the tie against Birmingham.

There could be no doubt that this time the side was weaker and yet here they were back in the third round, although it would be a lie to say there wasn’t a tinge of disappointment as the reward for success was a trip to Swindon. They may have been riding high in Nationwide League One but it wasn’t the payday Boro had hoped for. What they did go looking for was the outside shot of a draw and a second chance at Broadhall Way.

Instead Boro supporters had probably their greatest (and wettest) cup away-day yet as the Conference side won 2-1 in a weather-dominated game which simply had everything.

My abiding memory was the stunned but very sporting Swindon director and jockey Willie Carson wh,o wishing Boro all the best after the game, was not really sure what he had just witnessed. What he had seen was the epitome of a cup upset.

Boro battled with a strong Swindon side to earn the win, the weather not only drenching away fans on an uncovered terrace behind the goal, but also causing the ball to move around in any number of ungodly ways. And finally the arrival of one Giuliano Grazioli, the man who grabbed the winner and who later confessed he had signed for the club on Boxing Day for the princely fee of two mars bars and a coffee.

If they weren’t already big time, then Boro went truly global when the draw saw them paired at home with Newcastle. On the Monday Paul Fairclough apologised to the local media because he had spent more time than anticipated talking to the South China Post. (True).

Top flight, with Kenny Dalglish in charge and fielding a host of legends such as Shearer, John Barnes and Stuart Pearce this was a big time club in their pomp. But it wasn’t even the game that set the pulses racing. After the Birmingham ‘deal’ of the previous year Newcastle expected the tie to be switched and their Geordie jaws dropped when they paid a visit to the New Town to take a look at the ground and what they deemed to be an unsafe temporary stand put up for the game. Stevenage were staying at home.

There was ill-feeling between the clubs and the media loved it. The Mail slated Boro saying that the rest of non-league hated them while The Sun put their weight behind the Conference side and virtually bought the game from advertising hoardings to a full hour of exclusive dressing room access after the match.

And so to the match. To be honest it’s a blur. I commentated on it and have never seen it again but it began with fears of a drubbing as Boro fell behind to that man Shearer on two minutes. The ship was steadied before the legend of the Graz was born as our man Giuliano earned a lifetime of free beers in the Boro with the leveller.

After that, despite a stunning stop from Des Gallagher, there was to be no more excitement and Boro had booked a dream replay up at the Toon.

Coach upon coach left for the journey up the A1 and in front of 37,000 people Boro, and let’s be honest not the greatest ever Boro side that has taken to the field, were beaten 2-1.

There were accusations of foul play over the winner with the majestic Mark Smith looking to have hooked the ball away before it crossed the line. But the journey finally came to an end for Boro and in the aftermath of the chaos of the run the memory banks had been stocked up with enough mad memories to last a decade.

The thought then was that if only there were a way we could face the Toon again because Cloughie was convinced a Stevenage side could beat them...

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