1953 - Blackpool vs Southampton 5th Round

Last updated : 07 January 2011 By INOIT/Gerry Wolstenholme

In 1953 Cup fever gripped Blackpool as the campaign reached the fifth round and the Seasiders were again drawn at home against Southampton lying 21st in the Second Division.

Gerry Wolstenhome

Our grateful thanks to Gerry Wolstenholme for allowing part of his book Cup Kings 53 to be published in tribute to the boys of 1953.

Fifth Round,
Bloomfield Road, Blackpool, Saturday 14 February 1953, Attendance 27,543, Referee JB Flanagan, (Sheffield)

Blackpool 1
Perry 63

George Farm, Eddie Shimwell, Tommy Garrett, Harry Johnston, Johnny Crosland, Ewan Fenton, Stan Matthews, Jackie Mudie, Allan Brown, Ernie Taylor, Bill Perry

Southampton 1
Horton 84

John Christie, Bill Ellerington, Peter Sillett, Bernard Elliott, Henry Horton, Alex Simpson, Eric Day, Charlie Purves, Frank Dudley, John Walker, John Hoskins

Walthamstow Avenue's romance with the FA Cup had ended by the time of the fifth round draw but they had not disgraced themselves; in the fourth round they had come back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with mighty Manchester United at Old Trafford before losing 5-2 in the replay. Gateshead continued to carry the Third Division (North) hopes with a 2-1 fourth round win over Hull City and Second Division Rotherham United defeated one of the Cup favourites Newcastle United 3-1 at St James's Park. Bolton Wanderers had needed three attempts to finish off Second Division side Notts County and Southampton had won through by dint of a 4-1 victory over Third Division (North) side Shrewsbury Town.

The draw for the fifth round ties took place on Monday 2 February and, by the time seven ties had been drawn, there were only two teams left in the velvet bag, Blackpool and Southampton. The pairing was therefore known, the only uncertainty being which of the clubs would be at home; in the event, Blackpool were drawn first and had home advantage. Joe Smith's only comment on the draw against opponents lying twenty first in the Second Division was "if we can't win, we don't deserve to stay in."

Form suggested that Blackpool, riding high in the First Division, should win comfortably. In the League, Southampton had won only two games away from home in fourteen attempts and had conceded thirty one goals in the process, not much of a record to take along to a ground where the home side had lost only one Cup tie since the war, to Stoke City in a February 1949 fourth round replay.

The two teams had only met once before in the FA Cup, on 2 February 1924, when Southampton won 3-1 at The Dell. Five of the Blackpool team on that day still lived on the Fylde coast. Jack Charles had a masseur's practice in the town, Herbert 'Taffy' Jones, later an England international when with Blackburn Rovers, had a newsagent's business in Fleetwood and Billy Benton was still on the Blackpool staff as a junior team trainer. In addition, George Mee was licensee of The Shakespeare public house in the town centre and Andy Curran had retired and lived locally. Two other members of the side from almost thirty years earlier also had local connections. Goalkeeper Harry Mingay regularly visited Blackpool from Luton for his holidays and Sandy McGinn had not long since died having spent his retirement in Blackpool.

The weather was uncompromisingly bad over most of the country but that did not stop Blackpool once again going to Buxton for their pre-match build-up. However, when the team coach arrived near the town on Tuesday afternoon, it had to battle its way through towering banks of snow and was an hour late in arriving at the hotel in the early evening. The dreadful weather hampered preparations and, on Wednesday, the weather closed in dramatically and the team was marooned in its hotel while blizzards raged outside and mountainous snow drifts piled up all around.

The position was getting desperate and it seemed at one time as though Buxton would be completely cut off for a day or two when every road out of the town was closed to heavy traffic. Fortunately, word reached the hotel that a single railway line had been cleared by a snow plough and that a train was scheduled to run to Manchester. Joe Smith rounded up the players and made for a hasty exit, reporting from the snowbound town "We had to get out while we could. There was not a field within a radius of miles where the players could have trained. We took them to Buxton ice rink this morning for a few exercises. For the rest, there was nothing whatever for them to do."

The club's coach and driver had to remain in Buxton until the roads were cleared but the slow moving train got the party to Manchester where a coach was waiting at the station to take the team home. So, in a slightly less distressing way than Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, the retreat from the snowswept peaks of Buxton to the warmth and comfort of the Norbreck Hydro in Blackpool was complete, two days earlier than had been originally anticipated. The only player not to be involved in the drama was Jackie Mudie who, yet again, had a game to play on the Thursday for the RAF against Cambridge University. Southampton's Peter Sillett was also playing in the game and the pair was due to travel north together on the Friday after the game.

Meanwhile, Southampton, who had a game of golf at a New Forest course cancelled on the Wednesday due to sleet and strong winds, were making their own plans to travel to Blackpool. Their training schedule was also badly hampered but they did manage one final session on the Thursday before fourteen players plus officials took a train from the south coast and arrived at their Clifton Hotel headquarters around 11 o'clock on the Friday morning. On arrival, team manager George Roughton, whose last visit to Bloomfield Road had been as a Manchester United full back in war-time football, was asked about his team's chances. "I'm not pretending that we're favourites" he said. "We can't be that — but in the Cup, you've always a chance, must have one and we've one tomorrow. Everything to win — not a lot to lose — that's how we go into this match and it's worth something."

The Southampton supporters who were following in the team's wake also hoped that their team had a chance. Dozens of coaches had cancelled their trips north due to the weather so the supporters had to make fresh arrangements and were due to leave Southampton at 11 o'clock on Friday night in two special trains which arrived in Blackpool at 7-30am on the Saturday morning.

When they did arrive, the sleeping seaside town was rudely awakened with the noise of bells, rattles and bugles as 1,200 supporters, in merry mood considering their frosty, overnight journey, left the train at Central Station. The local cafés were aware of the Southampton supporters' travel plans and had prepared for their early arrival by arranging Cup-tie breakfasts which were soon being demolished by the hungry Southampton fans. Those who had not visited the town before invaded the shops and piers. Typical were the Gladwyn family who were obviously intent on enjoying themselves and whose view was "We've never been to Blackpool before so we intend to make the best of it. Our train doesn't leave until 11 o'clock tonight and, before then, we want to visit the Winter Gardens and some of the other entertainment centres." And, of course, they would be going to the big game in between times.

With the country still gripped by wintry weather, the Squires Gate Meteorological Office released a statement on Friday which read: "It is too early to say anything definite yet but it is possible that snow will fall on Saturday. We may have some hard frost tomorrow, too." As it happened, Saturday dawned with no snow and only a mild overnight frost — so everything was set fair for the game to go ahead as planned.

The match programme boldly declared: "The Saints', not very well placed in the Second Division table, should, on present form have only an outside chance of entering the next round", adding a note of caution, "but, as we have seen in some of the results of matches in earlier rounds, giant killers keep turning up."

There were 25,743 present when the two teams took the field, just under 2,000 fewer than attended the Huddersfield tie. Alex Simpson won the toss for Southampton and decided to defend the south goal. There was little constructive football early on, it was cut and thrust, typical Cup tie football and referee, JB Flanagan, was in the action as much as anyone, blowing for twenty free kicks within the first quarter of an hour. The first clear-cut chance surprisingly fell to Southampton when Day escaped down the right wing and put over a dangerous cross which eluded the Blackpool defenders. Fortunately for them, Purves lashed wildly at the ball and missed completely as it bounced dangerously across the six-yard area.

Johnston, with a deft header out of defence, set up a Blackpool attack. Brown picked up the ball, laid it off to Mudie who carried it forward before transferring it to Ernie Taylor whose somewhat wayward pass went into open space with no Blackpool forward within striking distance. This attack was at least a sign for Blackpool to show their superior class and Matthews twice rounded Sillett, the first time having his cross blocked, the second time finding Mudie but the inside forward's shot hit the onrushing Ellerington and the danger was cleared.

Blackpool continued to assert themselves but they also experienced a few worrying moments particularly when Shimwell, seeming to play at less than full pace because of his recent injury, was repeatedly passed by winger Hoskins. Then, to the shock of the home crowd, Dudley chased a through ball and Southampton had the ball in the net. The Southampton players celebrated and pandemonium broke out among their supporters. It was only when the euphoria had died down that everyone realised the referee had blown a few seconds earlier, awarding a free kick to Blackpool on the edge of their own penalty area. It remained 0-0.

With ten minutes to go to half-time, Blackpool increased the pressure and the Southampton goal had a lucky escape when Christie, lost in a crowd of players, could only watch in despair as a shot from Taylor bobbled tantalising past the post. The final action of an exciting half was a cross from Matthews that was headed away for a corner by the grateful Ellerington and the sides went into the break with no goals scored.

Southampton started the second half as though they were going to settle the game within a few minutes of the restart. Johnston had to make a last-ditch clearance from Hoskins who dallied just long enough on the ball before attempting his shot and Garrett headed away a dangerous centre with three eager Southampton forwards waiting behind him. Yet, within a minute of these scares, Blackpool were on the attack and a long Shimwell free-kick was punched clear by Christie as he collided with the onrushing Brown.

The end-to-end action continued; Crosland had to concede a corner as Dudley pursued another telling forward pass, Walker hit a shot high into the south stand and, at the other end, Perry was felled as he chased a pass from Mudie resulting in loud Blackpool appeals for a penalty. Mr Flanagan rightly ignored the pleas and the game continued at the same break-neck pace as Johnston surged through and shot from thirty yards only for Christie to make a comfortable save high to his left.

Blackpool continued to press and, with eighteen minutes of the half gone, they took the lead almost by accident. An aimless ball through the middle was chased by Perry, the only Blackpool forward near enough to make an attempt. The fleet-footed South African reached it as Christie and one of his defenders converged on him. The goalkeeper aimed to narrow the angle and the defender was determined to make a tackle; neither succeeded as the three collided. Perry was a fraction quicker than the Southampton players and was able to hook the ball towards goal and watched as it bounced on and on until it eventually crossed the line into the net. The noise from the partisan crowd was as loud as if Blackpool had won the FA Cup.

One goal in front, Blackpool pressed to put the issue beyond doubt. Southampton were under great pressure but, with twenty minutes to go, committed themselves to attack. With just six minutes left, Taylor conceded a disputed free kick, Sillett floated it into the crowded penalty area and centre half Henry Horton outjumped the Blackpool defenders to send a thunderous header into the back of the net. The Southampton supporters went wild and the cheers from just a few hundred were in marked contrast with the deadly silence of the home crowd.

For the remaining few minutes, Blackpool pressed desperately but every man in a red and white shirt was behind the ball preserving his side's draw. Blackpool supporters made their way home wondering how they had failed to beat a lowly Second Division side and whether or not their Wembley dream would end in heartache at The Dell. Although Blackpool had not lost, the result was regarded as a shock by the football world. Southampton were justifiably regarded in the Sunday press as "starkly efficient saboteurs". Blackpool felt that they had played the wrong game, short passes, too many of them, being neatly intercepted by the eager Southampton half backs and the forwards, accustomed to the pace of the First Division, did not seem to have time to settle on the ball before the tough-tackling Southampton defenders were upon them.

After the game, some supporters congregated outside Bloomfield Road expressing the view that they would not travel to Southampton; "What, go 260 miles to see that lot again?" was the general opinion. However, when 800 tickets went on sale for the replay, 500 were snapped up in no time at all and a special train was organised from Central Station, departing shortly before midnight on Tuesday, and six planes of the Lancashire Aircraft Corporation were chartered for an 11 am take-off on Wednesday morning. "It's probably the first time there's been a sleeper on a Cup tie special from Blackpool" declared Central Station's Mr G.A. Addy and the eight guineas per person package from Squires Gate Aerodrome included a specially prepared packed lunch!

There was dramatic team news for Blackpool as Jackie Mudie, travelling to Uxbridge to play in an Inter-Command final was pulled off the train at Preston. Just after the train had departed from Blackpool, news came through to Bloomfield Road that he had been released by the RAF and Joe Smith immediately telephoned Preston station with the message "Call Aircraftman Mudie off the train." Mudie reported to the stationmaster's office to be given the news that he was to be allowed to play in the Cup tie. The RAF authorities acted similarly in the case of Southampton's Peter Sillett who was also due to play in the same RAF game.

This resolved one problem for Joe Smith, the other was the fitness of Eddie Shimwell. He had played most of the first game suffering from a recurring groin injury and was under constant treatment at Bloomfield Road. The manager's optimism through when he announced that he had "a good chance of being fit for Wednesday", which meant that a full strength squad would depart from Blackpool on Tuesday afternoon bound for London where they would spend the evening before taking a train for Southampton shortly before noon on the day of the game.

Another problem presented itself to the Blackpool manager concerning the re-arranged League game with Charlton Athletic, postponed because of the Saturday Cup tie. The Football League had originally declared that it should be played on the following Wednesday but because of the Cup replay that was out of the question. The League, therefore, decided that it should be played on the Monday of the following week. This meant that, if they won the Cup replay, Blackpool would meet Arsenal at home in the League, Charlton away in the League and then play the fifth round Cup match all in the space of ten days.

Look out for our follow-up article when Blackpool met Southampton in the 5th Round replay at the Dell.