The Great FA Cup Adventure 80 Years Ago ….

The Quarter Final, v Chelsea (away)

Some things, it appears, in football never change. March 1939, and Chelsea had assembled a very expensive team. Whilst Town had set a new club record when signing 400-goal Hughie Gallacher in his twilight years for £4,000 in 1938, Chelsea was regularly fielding a side that had cost £30,000 to put together. That is more than Arsenal, another big spender from the capital.

Despite all the free-flowing cash, Chelsea were fighting against relegation from the First Division (equivalent of the current Premier League), sitting second bottom, and the Mariners – far higher up in the division in mid-table, were the red-hot favourites to win the tie at Stamford Bridge. Arrangements were in hand for a replay at Blundell Park the following Tuesday, with a 3pm kick-off.

By the Wednesday before the match, Town were claiming with confidence that everyone would be fit. It was thought unlikely that there would be the massive following to London as there had been for the previous game in the cup, due to Mariners fans being so confident of a win, that many had decided to save their cash for the semi-final on a neutral ground! So there were only three special trains booked, starting at Cleethorpes and Grimsby Town station between 6:30 am and 7:01 am, though a fourth train was being held in reserve if needed.

And so to the game itself ….

Heavy rain had fallen just before the kick-off, so the teams took to the field with pools of water over the pitch making the ball likely to skid across the surface unpredictably.

Chelsea surprisingly had several early chances that were snuffed out by defenders or Tweedy in the Grimsby goal, but the better chances fell to the Mariners with Crack hitting a shot that ricocheted off the cross bar.

The two teams played totally different styles, with Town playing “pass and move” whilst the Londoners were all route one.

Half-time 0-0.

Ten minutes after the restart, Town took the lead. Crack, out on the left, hit a cross into the home box, and in an instant, it was in the back of the net, past England keeper Woodley. Debate followed about who had scored the goal, but what had apparently happened was that Crack’s terrific cross had skimmed across the surface, and evaded attackers and defenders to nestle safely in the Chelsea net.

A further “goal” was scored shortly afterwards with Howe and Beattie passing the ball to one another right through the Chelsea defence. Howe received the ball well-inside the penalty area, and with everyone expecting him to shoot, he unselfishly passed it backwards* to Beattie to slot home the best Town goal of the cup run. Unfortunately, the referee was a long way behind the play* and gave offside against Beattie.

*According to the Grimsby Telegraph correspondent!

Chelsea changed tactics with ten minutes to go, abandoning the route one approach, and trying to play through Town, meeting with more success, but time ran out for them, and the Mariners were through to the semi-finals for the second time in three years.

Town line up: Tweedy; Vincent, Hodgson JV; Hall, Betmead, Buck; Boyd, Beattie, Howe, Jones, Crack

Chelsea: Woodley; Barber, Smith; Mitchell, Craig, Weaver; Spence, Payne, Mills, Burgess, Hanson.

Referee: R S Warr (Bolton)

In the draw for the semi-finals, Town were paired with Wolves, the match to be played at Old Trafford. As Town didn’t have to replay with Chelsea, they played Stoke City in the league on the Tuesday, whose ranks included Stanley Matthews. Town won 3-1.


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