FA Cup Special: Re-living Stevenage’s cup journeys
- Credit: Archant
In the first of a two-part special ahead of Stevenage’s big game against Everton on Saturday, Comet editor Darren Isted guides us through some of Boro’s FA Cup history...
If you want a team with a rich FA Cup pedigree, then Stevenage are sure-fire bets to give you endless decades of crazy tales, right?
Well actually Boro’s recent reputation for cup excess is just that, because until 1995 the club had never even reached the first round proper of the great competition.
In that year the soon to be Conference champs set off on a journey which would at least chalk their first ‘proper’ appearance when they were paired away with Hereford United of the Endsleigh League Division Three. It was the 13th time of asking that Stevenage had reached the heady heights of round one.
The draw was somewhat tarnished by the fact that rivals Hitchin had made the trip to Edgar Street a year before for their own slice of cup glory (and after grabbing a draw, actually won the replay) but it was history nonetheless. Of course for those with even sharper memories it almost didn’t happen as in an earlier round Boro nearly had their biggest FA Cup nightmare of all. Hands up who remembers the visit of Brook House from the Spartan League, some five divisions below the Conference.
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With the smart money on Boro (yes the Boro of Barry Hayles, Efe Sodje and Steve Berry) to smash double figures at Broadhall Way, Brook House nearly pulled off a shock when they grabbed a 0-0 draw and could have actually snatched a winner.
Parity was restored with a 5-1 thumping to teach the minnows a lesson in the replay and all was set for the date with destiny. Of course while destiny will always take over, it doesn’t always go to plan and although Boro and their travelling support were confident, the run ended where it had started with a 2-1 defeat at the home of the Bulls.
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With a taste for FA Cup glory, and the disappointment of still being non-leaguers despite winning the Conference, Boro hit the cup trail again and this time they were heading for glory and a place in the third round.
The qualifying rounds of 1996 were far too close to home as Boro kicked of in the first qualifying round with an ‘away’ clash against Arlesey. The Blues decided that a neutral venue might maximise the gate so it was off to Hitchin we travelled to see Boro ease through 3-0. The second qualifying round provided a home draw and it was one of the North Herts El Classico ties as Boro entertained Baldock, a side who were then in very potent form. The Conference hosts were expected to make light work of the Reds but Boro were again held, drawing 1-1 before they sneaked through 2-1 at a very noisy and cramped Norton Road.
Wins over Braintree and Gravesend meant Boro were again in round one and at 750-1 to win the cup, the pressure was off and they edged past Hayes after a replay.
So it was history once again as Boro ventured into round two and this time there was the whiff of real cup drama as they were drawn away to Leyton Orient.
Languishing five places from the bottom of Nationwide League Division Three (ask your dad what that means in new money) Boro knew they had a chance and with Peter Shilton in goal for the hosts (once again, ask your dad) the stage was set for a giant killing. Indeed with the veteran keeper homing in on 1,000 league games during that season, he was hoping for a decent run in the cup but it was Boro who booked a place in the third round. In front of 3,000 supporters (yes that’s right and that year Boro’s lowest Conference gate so far had been more than 2,000) the visitors emerged with a 2-1 win. For all of their subsequent high-profile ties over Newcastle and Spurs and even the retro glory of a soggy Swindon, it was the win at Brisbane Road that was the catalyst to putting Boro in the national cup consciousness.
It was bittersweet of course because just months earlier Boro had been denied the chance to play Orient as a league team when they had been denied promotion. But at least the non-leaguers had a money-spinner to come and when they were drawn at home to Birmingham City the David v Goliath merchants really went into overdrive.
Of course in those carefree happy days when the police advised that a game should be switched then it was, and of course the temptation of the clicking cash till went with it as Boro conceded home advantage, moved up to St Andrews for their first ever third round date and never really stood a chance. Indeed while the programme shows Stevenage as the home side and the club were allowed to ‘acclimatise’ a week ahead of the game, the odds were always stacked against them and even the live TV cameras stayed away.
The Blues, managed by Trevor Francis, proved accommodating to Boro and after treating them and the travelling support to a great day out they never looked in danger with a 2-0 win.
It was an anti-climax for the ‘home’ side and officials at the club vowed that they would never concede home advantage again. Just a year later they stuck to their principles on the matter and it was a decision which was to hit the front pages of the nationals…
Stevenage host Everton in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday. For match updates from the game follow us on twitter: @stevenageboro