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Jan 7, 2011

Radford rocket slays Newcastle

This weekend is one of the most anticipated in the English football calendar as the great and good of football are matched against those clubs scraping away in the lower leagues in the third round of the FA Cup. This stage of the competition has a special allure and giantkillings litter its history, but one, above all else, sticks firmly in the memory.

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If one solitary moment, plucked from the passage of time across 139 years of FA Cup history, could be said to encapsulate the romanticism and mysticism of the competition, then that moment came on February 5, 1972, on a mud-caked pitch at Edgar Street, Hereford, as a swing of Ronnie Radford's right boot helped ensure one of the greatest upsets of all time. Top-flight Newcastle United had been defeated by a bunch of part timers, and the ultimate giant-killing template had been set.

It is a result that still reverberates every time the Third Round takes place, and has become so synonymous with upsetting the odds that the FA has, this season, introduced a 'Ronnie Radford Award' for the club that performs the most impressive giant-killing act. Clearly, Radford's name is inextricably and inescapably linked with the FA Cup, and it will be for years to come.

A son of Yorkshire and a joiner by trade, Radford played as an amateur for Sheffield Wednesday and although he would later sign professional terms with Leeds United, he lasted only one season at Elland Road before moving to Cheltenham, his humble beginnings as a footballer in stark contrast to the fame he would later enjoy. Leeds cut Radford from their squad in order to accommodate the signing of the great John Charles from Juventus. As Radford explains: "I missed the great man, who had been one of my heroes, but our paths were destined to cross."

Indeed they were. It was Charles, a three-time Serie A champion with Juve but by then in more prosaic surrounds as manager of Hereford, who spotted Radford at Newport County and brought him to Edgar Street in 1971. But while it was the man known to Juve supporters as 'Il Buon Gigante' 'The Gentle Giant' who first united Radford and Hereford, it was his replacement, player-manager Colin Addison, who would transform player and club into the giantkillers of lore.

In the FA Cup's centenary year, the Southern League side required two games to defeat King's Lynn in the fourth qualifying round before then defeating Cheltenham 3-0 and playing Northampton three times. They eventually sealed a place in the third round where they would face Newcastle United, six-time winners of the competition and a team who would finish in the top half of the First Division at the conclusion of the 1971-72 season.

The Magpies were also just two years away from a further appearance in the final, though they would lose 3-0 to Liverpool in 1974, and in Malcolm Macdonald, one of their six internationals, had signed at the start of the season a striker who would become a legendary figure in the No. 9 shirt. 'Supermac' scored a hat-trick on his home debut against Liverpool and would go on to accumulate 138 goals in 257 games for the club - a record to place him in the rarefied air also breathed by Jackie Milburn and, later, Alan Shearer.

Naturally, Hereford, a team comprised of part timers including a prison warder and an exporter, were expected to play the role of whipping boys. Addison's squad only trained together once a week and Radford, for example, still lived in Cheltenham, commuting for games. It was a meeting of two clubs at very different ends of the football spectrum, but on the pitch, they proved surprisingly evenly matched, even on Tyneside.

Hereford travelled to St James' Park for the first third-round tie and, after two postponements, in front of 40,000 supporters the non-league side somehow secured a 2-2 draw. Taking the lead through a brilliant goal from Brian Owen after only 17 seconds, Hereford then conceded twice from Macdonald and John Tudor before manager Addison equalised to take it to a replay back at Edgar Street. It was, according to Radford, "our greatest achievement", but in the minds of the public, greater feats were to follow.

Difficult weather conditions ensured the replay in Hereford was postponed three times. As Addison told The Times some years later: "They [Newcastle] stayed at Ross-on-Wye, in Hereford and in Worcester, three different hotels in about three weeks. I remember bringing Joe Harvey, the manager, back to my house when the game was postponed. It was lashing down. Keith Burkinshaw, his coach, also came along. Keith had a tea and Joe a whiskey. Joe was distraught that the game had been called off." Macdonald's recollection of the build-up was far from favourable. He told The Observer in 2007: "We packed an overnight bag for one of the trips and because we had to hang around for days, our clothes began to stink. Cecil Gees in Worcester had never known a time like it. We were their best customers. It was a very bizarre situation."

Anticipation had grown inexorably in Hereford by the time the final date was set on February 5, the day scheduled for the fourth round, with demand for match tickets running high. "We will never know how many got in that day," Addison said. "One director came into a meeting and the chairman, Frank Miles, said, 'What's the problem?' 'We've sold out of tickets, Frank', he said. Frank said, 'Don't worry about it, print some more', And we did."

Any suspicions that Newcastle were not approaching the game in the correct frame of mind were given further credence when Macdonald, confident as ever, was heard to exclaim: "We'll get eight at least." Though the striker did indeed score the opening goal, inside the final ten minutes no less, Newcastle were ill-prepared for the response that would follow.

With the clock ticking down at Edgar Street, Radford threw himself into a challenge in midfield, winning the ball, and exchanged a one-two with Brian Owen. When the ball bobbled up invitingly off a divot of mud some 40 yards from goal, he maintained his stride and lashed a thunderous shot into the far corner and past Newcastle goalkeeper Willie McFaul. The shot, committed to celluloid by BBC cameras, would become an iconic event that echoed through the years, but in the moment itself it led to an explosion of joy, as Parka-clad children, and plenty of adults, enveloped Radford and his team-mates in an impromptu pitch invasion. One of the guilty parties was in fact a local policeman, Grenville Smith, who said: "When Ronnie scored the crowd ran on, but I was ahead of them, cheering! I threw my police hat in the air, caught it, then remembered myself and shouted: 'Off the pitch!'"

They were back on in extra-time. Ricky George, on as a substitute for Roger Griffiths, who, it later transpired, had played for 70 minutes with a fractured leg, completed the seismic shock when rolling the ball past McFoul, sparking another pitch invasion, which was promptly followed by a third when the final whistle finally blew on a tie that had witnessed five postponements, two games and one very special goal. Though George had scored the winner, there was no doubting the enduring image of the match - Radford's strike, which would later be named as the BBC's goal of the season.

It is still broadcast on rotation at the start of every FA Cup season and, as Addison says: "That goal has got better as each year goes by". Radford, self-effacing when asked, as he is nearly every year, about the strike, merely states: "Goals like mine are scored every week, up and down the country, but we were playing out the classic FA Cup story and that was just part of the script". But it is a script that, thanks to Radford and Hereford, has been woven into the dramatic narrative of the competition ever since.

Not that everyone present at Edgar Street witnessed Radford's crowning glory. His wife, Ann, had looked away at the decisive moment and as supporters streamed the pitch in recognition of her husband's feat, she was left to ask, "Who scored?"

That question is redundant now. Everyone knows who scored when Hereford shocked Newcastle.

What happened next? Hereford met West Ham in the fourth round and, after having drawn 0-0 at home, they were defeated 3-1 at Upton Park in a replay, leading Ricky George to joke: "Geoff Hurst saved his hat-tricks for the big games." Radford stayed at Edgar Street as Hereford reached the Football League, before moving on to Worcester City and Bath City, but his legacy persists. As Addison reflected recently: "[In 2002] I went back to St James' Park for the first time. I saw Malcolm Macdonald. The fag fell out his mouth and he said: 'F*****g hell, not you again!'"

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