Great Uncle Bimbo’s Sporting Memories #2

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Gordon Banks covered in mud, they wouldn’t play in conditions like that night today!

Davidd and I are 57 years old next month and during those years we have watched some great sporting events. Today, we would like to continue our series of posts where we recall our memories of those events featuring some of our greatest heroes. We have lived through England winning the World Cup (we were a little young, though), Muhammad Ali’s greatest fights, Stoke City winning the League Cup and Botham’s Ashes. Some great times and even more great memories which we hope to share with you during the coming months. Today we would like to share our memories off

Way back in the 1971/72 Football Season, Stoke City were drawn against West Ham United in the Semi-Final of the League Cup. In those days the semi-finals were played over two legs and then if the match was still level – after extra time – there would be a reply. If that ended in a draw then there would be another reply… and another, etc. This semi-final ended up being four matches long and lasted no less than 49 days from first kick-off to final result.

The first match was played on 8th December 1971 and West Ham won 2-1 at Stoke’s Victoria Ground. West Ham’s fans were already starting to rehearse for a day out at Wembley on 4th March. Few people thought that Stoke could burst their League Cup bubble now. The second match at West Ham’s Upton Park saw Stoke leading 1-0 making everything level when West Ham were awarded a penalty with just minutes to go. Geoff Hurst stepped forward to take the penalty only for Gordon Banks to make one of the best saves of his distinguished career.

The Semi-Final now needed to go to a replay with both teams being level over the two legs. The match was played at Hillsborough and although it ended 0-0 after extra time it was not short on excitement. Gordon Banks had to do it again. The England goalkeeper made another of his great saves to keep the now five-and-a-half hour League Cup semi-final marathon going for at least another 90 minutes.

Gordon Banks

Gordon Banks reads of his heroics

The two teams had to meet again, this time at Old Trafford on 26th January 1972. West Ham – brave, suffering, heartbroken West Ham – lost the longest and richest League Cup semi-final on one of the greatest night’s football has ever seen. To Stoke went the prize of playing Chelsea at Wembley on 4th March. Few people begrudged them the chance they had craved, the chance to win a major trophy for the first time in more than a century of trying.

The real tragedy was that there had to be a loser of this mind-splitting fourth game climax to a marathon contest of the rarest footballing skills. The televised last act of the seven-hour semi-final was so full of drama and raw courage that even the sight of Bobby Moore saving a penalty seemed scarcely out of the ordinary. Moore, as befits the responsible captain of both his club and England, took over the green jersey during the 20 minutes in which injured goalkeeper Bobby Ferguson was being treated in the West Ham dressing room.

The thirteenth minute collision which damaged one of the stars of the previous three clashes, was partly the fault of Stoke’s Terry Conroy; but equally the product of a muddied pitch made more treacherous by the windswept rain. Conroy’s sliding leg hit Ferguson’s head and shoulder as the goalkeeper dived.

Jimmy Greenhoff had no sooner seen his goal from the rebound disallowed than West Ham officials were ministering to the fallen Ferguson. After seven minutes of attention, Ferguson was led shakily from the field.

Minutes later Moore was facing a penalty by Mike Bernard, a fearful test that followed John McDowell’s foul. Moore blocked the spot kick – only for Bernard to score from the rebound. However, West Ham achieved the impossible, and the magnificent Billy Bonds deserved the deflection off Denis Smith’s boot which lifted his equalising shot over Gordon Banks.

Then, with Ferguson restored to play, Trevor Brooking spectacularly volleyed West Ham ahead from Bonds’ cross. Yet in the fifth minute of the first half injury time a pass by George Eastham was swept in by Peter Dobing.

Four minutes after the restart, the Hammers conceded the decisive goal. Full back John Marsh crossed from the right, Tommy Taylor could only clear to the edge of the penalty area, and Conroy’s shot came skidding back beneath Ferguson’s body.

Probably the greatest game Davidd and I have ever seen was over and Stoke were through to the final. The four games of the semi-final lasted 420 minutes and were watched by 170,614 people attending the games. They had each payed just 35p to get in!

Some of the greatest players to grace the English game were in evidence during the four games. West Ham had Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking, Frank Lampard Senior and Harry Rednapp while the Stoke side featured Gordon Banks, Mike Pejic, George Eastham, John Ritchie, Terry Conroy and Jimmy Greenhoff.

Stoke went on to beat Chelsea in the final and lift the first and only serious silverware in their 154 year history!

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Great Uncle Bimbo

I was given to Davidd, The Bearkeeper on the 24th October 1960 in St Catherine’s Hospital when I was presented to him as a “birth” day present. I came home with him and have been with him ever since. We grew up together and, unlike many other people, he has never decided he was too old to have a teddy bear. I am the oldest bear here at Jammy Toast.


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