Last Minute Drama at Atherstone
Those who were there on 4th May 1991 witnessed arguably Farnborough Town’s greatest ever league victory. It was the 1990/91 season, Farnborough’s first in the Southern league. Going into the final week the title race was down to 2 teams, Farnborough Town and Gloucester City. Gloucester were 3 points behind but with a game in hand and slightly better goal difference. News filtered through on the Tuesday night that they had only drawn 2-2 at home at home to VS Rugby which meant that going into the final day, Boro had a 2 point lead and the title was in their hands. The standings at that point were:
A good crowd travelled up from Hampshire in high spirits. Farnborough had the easier match on paper. Atherstone were in the bottom half of the table while Gloucester had to get a win at 5th placed Bromsgrove to have any chance of taking the title. If only it was that simple. 12 minutes into the match and Atherstone obviously hadn’t read the script and took the lead. There were no more goals in either match until 5 minutes from time. On 85 minutes Paul Coombes equalised for The Boro then 2 minutes later Colin Fielder gave them the lead with a rocket from the edge of the box causing the travelling supporters to go wild. The final whistle came and the Boro fans streamed onto the pitch safe in the knowledge that they were returning to the Vauxhall Conference.
Things were not so clear at Bromsgrove though. Gloucester scored a last minute winner to claim the 3 points and then word spread that Atherstone had made it 2-2 with the last kick off the game. The Gloucester supporters and players were convinced that they had won the league and even the local radio claimed as such. The mood soon changed once City Chairman Les Alderman clarified the situation over the PA system. What was one of our greatest days was also no doubt one of Gloucester’s worst.
The 1991/92 FA Cup Run
After thrashing Salisbury City in the 4th Qualifying round and Halesowen Town in the 1st Round, Farnborough Town found themselves in the 2nd round of the FA Cup for the first time in history. They were drawn to play Torquay away. Torquay were struggling at the bottom of League Division 3 but were still big favourites and had beaten Birmingham City 3-0 at home in the 1st Round. A shock was on the cards when Simon Read gave Boro the lead but a The Gulls snatched a late equaliser so it was back to Cherrywood Road for the replay 10 days later.
In those 10 days Boro discovered not only that the 3rd round draw resulted in a jackpot home tie against Billy Bond’s West Ham for the winners, but also that Sky TV were going to beam the replay live to the nation. Boro had hit the big time and many thought that the team would get stage fright. I don’t think anyone could have predicted what was to happen that night. A bumper crowd of 2285 packed into Cherrywood Road and temporary terracing on the PRE was put in place to ensure everyone had a good view.
Torquay dominated the early stages of the match and it was a bit of a surprise when Boro took the lead. On 35 minutes Mick Doherty’s shot was heading wide but fortunately got deflected into the path of Dean Coney who fired home. Rather than sit on the lead, Boro kept attacking to try and extend it. They did exactly that 4 minutes before half time. Brian Broome played a through ball to Simon Read who slotted home past the despairing dive of ex Boro stopper Gareth Howells.
As in the first half, Torquay had the better of the early exchanges in the second but again couldn’t find a way past John Power. Boro made it 3-0 on 65 minutes. Read headed down the right wing and swung in a cross which was met by Doherty’s diving header in front of the PRE. The surge from the crowd behind the goal caused the barrier to collapse and some of the crowd to spill onto the pitch. This didn’t stop Boro scoring another goal minutes after the restart. A Jamie Horton free kick into the box was only cleared out to Broome on the edge of the area who somehow managed head the ball over Howells and into the far corner of the net. 4-0 up with around 20 minutes to go, everyone thought it was game over.
Torquay had other ideas of course. Homes(75), Rowbotham(77) and Colcombe(87) made it a nervy last few minutes. Torquay should have tied the game with almost the last kick of the match but Darby somehow missed from 8 yards out. Boro held on to become the first non-league side to win against a league team live on Sky. They had booked their place at Upton Park and as soon as that final whistle went, the Farnborough fans joined the players on the pitch in celebration.
Farnborough were actually drawn to play at home but it was decided that Cherrywood Roadwasn’t suitable for the occasion due to crowd safety concerns. The extra gate receipt cash wouldn’t go amiss either.
Over 20 coaches were booked up to take the Farnborough fans over to East London for a bargain £5 each. Free yellow and blue balloons were given out and everyone set off to their ‘home match’ looking forward to a great day out whatever the result. West Ham were struggling at the bottom of League Division One but their fans could still be excused for thinking that the tie would be won without too much fuss. They were, after all, the professional team and in the previous season had made the Semi Final of the FA Cup.
Upton Park was a packed house with 6000 of the 23449 crowd firmly behind the Boro. The Hammers lack of confidence was apparent from the start. In fact you would have been hard pushed to spot which was the top flight team. Boro matched West Ham in both skill and commitment. In a first half of few chances, Dean Coney had the chance to put Boro ahead on 15 minutes but shot wide. Midway though the 2nd half West Ham took the lead. Mike Small laid the ball onto Julian Dicks who fired home from the edge of the box. Rather than opening the floodgates to more West Ham goals, Boro pushed forward in search of an equaliser.
The historic moment came 8 minutes from time. A Boro attack saw Jamie Horton’s shot blocked but was only cleared to Dean Coney. Coney’s goal bound shot was then blatantly handled on the line by Dicks. The penalty was rightly awarded but Boro’s usual penalty taker Mick Doherty had been subbed for Andy Rogers 2 minutes previously. Dean Coney stepped up and although Ludek Miklosko dived the right way, the shot was hard, low and squeezed under The Hammers keeper into the net right in front of the Boro masses who went crazy. Boro held on to the final whistle and were given a fantastic ovation by both sets of fans. Had Wrexham not also caused a shock by beating Arsenal in the cup that same day, the back pages surely would have be owned by Boro.
The replay was played 10 days later and the travelling Boro masses turned out again, this time with a real belief that history could be made. Local side Aldershot had also taken West Ham to a 3rd round replay the year before but The Shots lost that match 6-1. Boro were determined not to end up with a similar result. Another bumper crowd, this time of 23869, jammed into Upton Park. Boro actually had 2 good chances in the first 10 minutes to take the lead. Mark Fleming put Simon Read clean through on goal but his shot was parried by the knee of Miklosko. From the resulting corner Andy Bye’s header was cleared off the line by Kenny Brown.
From then on West Ham had more of the play with Boro having to resort to counter attacks but there were still no clear chances on goal. Farnborough held West Ham at bay and it looked as though the match was heading into extra time before Lady Luck broke Boro hearts. 2 minutes from time John Power’s attempted clearance from Tim Breaker’s cross rebounded off Wayne Stemp and straight into the path of Trevor Morley who had no problem finishing from close range.