Blades v Gunners FA Cup 1978 - My first visit to BDTBL
I’d been pestering my dad to take to me to the Lane for ages and finally he relented. The game we picked was the home FA Cup tie against Arsenal in January of 1978. The Blades were in the old second division whilst Arsenal were of course in the top flight. The game was the last of what had been a very hectic christmas and new year programme of football.
Utd had beaten Leyton Orient 2-0 at home on Boxing Day. The day after they visited Luton Town and got tonked 4-0. They were back in action on New Years Eve away at Hull City and won 3-2. Two days later on the 2nd January Spurs came to Bramall Lane and played out a 2-2 draw. The cup tie against Arsenal was played the day after on the 3rd.
Arsenal had the same packed festive programme. On Boxing Day they beat Chelsea 3-0 at home and the following day won 3-1 at West Brom. New Years Eve saw them travel to Everton where they lost 2-0 but they got back to winning ways on the 2nd January with a 1-0 home win over Ipswich Town. So that was five games in nine days. This was normal back then. Can you imagine today’s pampered professionals putting up with such a gruelling schedule of games? Not likely!
Anyhow back to the cup tie. I was very excited as you’d imagine. My memories of the day are a bit hazy but a few things stand out really clearly. We stood on the Kop and after going through one of the turnstiles on John Street made our way up the steps towards the back of the Kop. I kept getting a tantalising glimpse of a football pitch to my left as we made our way up the steps. At the top I could see it in all it’s glory and soon found a spot against the wire fence to watch the game.
Only trouble was I was looking down on the old practice pitches which were behind the Kop on Shoreham Street which in my boyish enthusiasm I’d mistaken for the real mccoy. My dad and his mate soon put me right and off we went to take our place on the Kop.
I wasn’t at all prepared for the sights and sounds that greeted me as we went through the gangway entrance onto the top of the Kop. The thing I remember most clearly is the pitch, I’d never seen owt like it. The greenest lushest most beautiful grass in the World. It looked like a carpet and was green like no other green I’d ever seen before. Then there was all the people. I thought there’d been a lot stood on the steps and gangways to the rear of the Kop but my god here were thousands upon thousands of folk all crammed together. I’d never seen so many people in one place, all making the loudest din I’d ever heard too. I could barely hear myself speak.
We made our way down the gangway to the front. As a young lad there was no way I would’ve been able to see the game from somewhere in the middle of that heaving swaying mass of bodies. A spot was found for me at the very front of the Kop against the small white fence that ran a round the pitch. I crammed up against it, with my silk scarf tied around my wrist and I looked around in wonder and awe at the sight that greeted my eyes. At this magnificent football ground packed to the rafters with 32000 people. I looked across at the away end and can still see it now. Someone had made a big cardboard replica of the FA Cup. It was either painted silver or covered in tin foil for as it was held aloft, dancing above the heads of the Arsenal dans it glittered and gleamed in the cold January sunshine.
As for the game itself I can’t remember bugger all. It was a blur. I think I spent most of the time gawping at the crowd and really didn’t have a clue what was going off on the pitch. Except that the Arsenal fans kept cheering very loudly. Five times they cheered as their team trounced the Blades 5-0. I didn’t care though this was amazing being here in this place. I was hooked, a blade for life had been made.
Arsenal went on to reach the Cup final of 1978 where they lost 1-0 to Ipswich Town. Roger Osborne lashing in the winner from inside the penalty area. He prompty fainted, overcome with emotion and had to be brought round with smelling salts before being substituted.
As for the Blades they had a strange old season. This 5-0 home loss to Arsenal was the first of a three game run in which they conceded five goals each time. There was a 5-1 home defeat by Bolton and a 5-0 thrashing away at Sunderland. Yet the Blades home record was as good as anyone in the division but away from home it was a different story. Conceding 51 goals away from Bramall Lane this was amongst the worst in the entire football league that season. Only four clubs in all four divisions conceded more.The Blades only won three away from home all season yet this included a 6-1 win at Cardiff. I only hope it’s a similar scoreline this Sunday for our opening championship fixture of this season.