Laird on Stevenage's 2011 FA Cup win over Newcastle United
- Credit: PA
Scott Laird has many wonderful memories from the FA Cup.
He scored his 50th career goal in last season’s competition during Weston’s 2-1 win over Merthyr and netted against Manchester United for Preston in the fifth round in 2015.
But his love affair with the 150-year-old tournament began 10 years ago when he helped Stevenage Borough secure a famous win against Newcastle United.
“It was the first FA Cup I managed to draw a big side,” he recalled.
“The whole build-up, the cameras are there for the three, four days leading up to the game.
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“They bring the FA Cup down to the ground, you train in front of the cameras. Sky Sports are there, you are ok, the local news, everything.
“It’s the whole build-up and it’s great for the lower-league players because you don’t get to fill that every week like the Premier League players do.
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“To get a taste of that was brilliant. I was lucky after that we played Tottenham (in 2012), I got to the fifth round against Manchester United but that was the first time and it gave you that hunger to want more and to achieve it again. It was an unbelievable feeling to win the game.”
Both sides were drawn to play each other in 1998, where Stevenage held Newcastle to a 1-1 draw after Giuliano Grazioli’s header cancelled out Alan Shearer’s opener before the England international settled the tie with a double in the replay at St James' Park, as Gary Crawshaw grabbed the reply.
But the second time would be different as Boro overcame all the odds to beat The Magpies, who had six internationals in their side and had accumulated 991 Premier League appearances between them.
“The manager was incredible, Graham Westley,” Laird said.
“He just made us believe. The big names we played against, we shouldn’t be beating them, but on that day he made you believe we were better than Newcastle.
“He made us believe we should beat the Premier League players and that was an incredible talent to have. Together we were strong. We weren’t individuals, we were a team.”
The game with Newcastle coincided with the most successful period in Stevenage's history. They were in their first-ever season in the Football League after finishing as champions of the Conference and the 2010-11 season would see them record back-to-back promotions and earn a place in League One.
But the FA Cup tie would not only be the crowning moment of the campaign, but repel their season as Stevenage recorded their first win in two months, 4-2 against Barnet five days before ,as they sat in 13th place in League Two.
“The day before the game we we did an an exercise where we got into pairs, with the player you played alongside, and we wrote a few sentences, a few words about each other and how much they inspired you and why you love playing with them," said Laird.
"Something quite simple, something you might do as a team-building exercise in an office area but we all did that as individuals in a footballing environment and it inspired you to hear what your fellow teammates think about you and how much you inspire them and what they think of you.
"It really inspired us and it just made you feel I am not going to let my teammate and best mate down. It really drove us on and no one was really going to stop us.”
But Newcastle were buoyed with confidence and had overcome West Ham United 5-0 in their previous match, as Leon Best scored his first-hat trick for The Magpies to move his side up to eighth in the Premier League
Alan Pardew’s side came to Broadhall Way with back-to-back wins and the two teams were separated by 73 places.
Despite the big win against the Hammers, Pardew made five changes while Westley made three changes from Stevenage's win against The Bees.
The teams were - Stevenage: Day, Wilson, Laird, Ashton, Roberts, Henry, Long, Mousinho, Bostwick, Winn, Beardsley.
Newcastle: Krul, Coloccini, Williamson, Simpson, Perch, Nolan, Barton, Routledge, Smith, Lovenkrands, Best.
The stage was set and a valiant first-half display saw Stevenage create the better chances and keep Newcastle at bay as they went into half-time 0-0.
“We were very good at that, we knew the longer we were in a game mentally we were always going to finish stronger,” said Laird.
“We were one of the fittest sides not just in League Two but in England with the training we did, which is well documented in Stevenage. Mentally we were tough as as nails, we knew whoever we played - Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two, Conference - whoever we played going into the second half.
“And that was said at half time, the longer we are in this game the more likely we were going to win. I don’t think anything needed to be said, we just knew the way we played, second half especially, how we always became stronger as the game went on.
“We knew we were going to win that game and it was deserved. It wasn’t a fluke. We put Newcastle to the sword in all areas, whether that’s possession, shots, territory, everything.”
It all changed within the opening 10 minutes of the second half when Stevenage scored twice to stun their opponents.
Mike Williamson could only turn Stacy Long’s effort past Tim Krul before Michael Bostwick scored the hosts second from just outside the box, via the post.
Things went bad from bad to worse for Newcastle after substitute Cheick Tiote saw red for a challenge on Jon Ashton.
Joey Barton scored from 30 yards out to halve the deficit and give the visitors hope of a comeback but John Mousinho’s excellent pass found Peter Winn and he superbly lifted the ball over the advancing Krul to seal the 3-1 win in the final minute.
“That's what was special about Stevenage in my four years there, we were all together, not just the players but the fans, everybody knew each other. We weren’t a massive fan base, I know we had 6,500 for it (the game with Newcastle) but usually we would have 2,500 for a home game.
“We always went into the bar after the game so we could mix with the fans and talk to them all. Everybody knew each other. That was a massive pull for us, a massive strength.
“Everybody was behind us in the town. It was a massive upset. I can’t reiterate the feeling, I don’t think I’ve felt it before or ever again.
"Hopefully I will with Weston or whoever but you knew every game you went into with that team you knew you were going to win.
"It didn’t matter if it was Newcastle or Tottenham, Notts County or Accrington, whoever it was. We knew we were going to win and that was an amazing feeling to have."
Laird still keeps in touch with his former teammates to this day through WhatsApp. The team which defied the odds and gave a town in Hertfordshire so much joy.
"That group we had was incredible, it was a special four years with a group of lads. We are all best friends, we weren’t just teammates, we were best friends. We were motivated to win every single game of football and believed we could," said Laird.
"We achieved some incredible things, we are still best friends now, we still have got our WhatsApp group. We always talk on there and remember a story we put it in the WhatsApp group.
"We’ve been talking because it’s the 10-year anniversary of that game so we are always in the chat having a talk."
But the win over Newcastle will always go down in history as one of the game's biggest upsets and a special place in Laird's heart.
“To win any game of football, but to be a League Two football player against a Premier League player and beat them. They weren’t the FA Cup teams at the minute when the big boys are playing weakened sides. That was a full strength team we played against and it was a incredible achievement."