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The Giant Killers

Every F A cup slaying since 1888

All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 80

Burslem Port Vale 2-1 Sheffield United

First round replay

Wednesday 2nd February 1898

Cobridge Athletic ground

Attendance: 12,000

Scorers: Dick Evans {18}, Harry Thickett {82}, Lucien Boullemier {extra time}

By 1898 the best players at the best clubs had become minor celebrities and the prospect of them visiting smaller less fashionable grounds in the cup was a huge attraction.

Seven of these less fashionable non-league clubs had won their way through the qualifying rounds to earn a crack at these celebrity players in the first round of the cup in January 1898 and three of them had been drawn to play teams from the first division. Sadly all of them were drawn away from home and, considering that no top flight club had lost a cup tie to lesser opposition in two years, or at home to a non-league side for seven years, none of the three were given a prayer.

Burslem Port Vale of the Midland League earned the biggest draw in the round when they were paired with League leaders Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. It was the most celebrated era in the history of the Cutlers as they were midway through a season that would see them crowned League Champions for the first, and to date, only time in their history. In their twenty-one League games played during the season they had lost just twice, only once at home, to Liverpool on December 29th and had beaten the previous season's League and cup double winners, Aston Villa home and away earlier in January. Their team was a formidable line up with their legendary 19 stone English International goalkeeper William ?Fatty? Foulke being their most celebrated player. In defence Harry Thickett, Leonard Howell, Tommy Morren and Ernest ?nudger? Needham had all also been capped for England. In attack Walter Bennett, Kenny McKay, Fred Priest, Jack Almond and the Scot, John Cunningham were a frightening forward line.

Vale had joined the second division as founder members back in 1892 and had met United as equals in League football, losing 0-10, which epitomised their four year struggle as a League club, before they resigned for financial reasons in 1896 and dropped into the Midland League. Now coached and captained by the former Stoke and England International Tommy Clare, they saw the trip to Sheffield as a chance to give a good account of themselves and possibly convince the League that they were ready to return to the fold.

The tie at Bramall Lane on Saturday January 29th proved controversial and Vale would leave the ground feeling thoroughly robbed on the day. They played with a level of stamina that completely surprised their opponents and McDonald fired them in front after eighteen minutes to leave the home fans stunned. The game turned on the hour mark when Walter Bennett fell under a challenge from both McDonald and Spilsbury and was as surprised as anyone when the referee, Mr Cooper from Durham, pointed to the penalty mark. 'Nudger' Needham needed no second invitation to level the scores to set up a final half hour that was desperate for Vale as the back line of Clare, Spilsbury, McDonald, Peach and Boullemier worked wonders to keep United at bay. The real hero was goalkeeper Herbert Birchenough, a twenty-four year old steam engine maker from Haslingden, who made a string of fine saves to earn Vale a shock replay.

The tie was the only one of the round that required a replay, which was scheduled for the following Wednesday and the Valliant?s efforts were the talk of Staffordshire as they prepared for the visit of United. The ground staff spent the four days between the ties giving their tiny Cobridge Athletic Ground a spring clean in readiness for the replay while it seemed a record attendance could be expected. United prepared for the rematch at their favourite retreat of Chesterfield house and, in the recriminations for their failure, Jack Almond was made the scapegoat and dropped in favour of the Scot, Neil Logan. It seemed clear that secretary manager, John Nicholson and the selectors were not prepared to accept another equally substandard performance.

Wednesday February 2nd was thoroughly miserable day weather wise. The rain stayed away but it was bitterly cold and a near gale force wind was blowing from the Grange end of the Cobridge ground with the low winter sun dazzling those positioned at the Church end. The pitch had been well looked after and was in good condition for the 2.45 kick off with Vale taking the field in a change strip of white shirts and blue shorts to allow United to wear their traditional red and white striped shirts in a reversal of the colours worn on Saturday.

By kick off there were in the region of 12,000 fans in the ground, the vast majority of them hopeful of a cup shock as only a few hundred United fans had braved the cold to make the journey to Stoke. Tommy Clare won the toss for Vale and sensibly elected to play with the strong wind at their backs in the first half and it paid dividends. Vale set about their opponents right from the start and when Billy Foulke?s first goal kick of the day was blown almost back to his own goal, United knew they were in for a torrid forty-five minutes. Sure enough it took the Valliants just two minutes to take advantage of the conditions. McDonald?s long clearance found Heames wide on the left. His whipped crossed evaded the entire United defence to find Dick Evans unmarked to fire back across goal and past Foulke to put Vale in front. The referee waved away the half hearted appeals for offside to send the ground into wild delight as Vale had once again shaken United to their foundations. It was a perfect start for the Midland Leaguers but, knowing that United would have the wind at their backs in the second half, it was vital that they got some clear daylight between the two teams by half time.

Vale forced a string of corners as they pressed for the second goal with Dick Evans proving the main thorn in United?s side, although the usually potent threat of Vale?s star striker Daniel Simpson was lacking on the day. Evans forced two good saves from Foulke while on the rare occasions that United did break out of their half they looked threatening. Kenny McKay was presented with a great chance on the half hour but delayed his shot and allowed Clare and Boullemier to clear the danger. Then John Cunningham was presented with the best chance of an equaliser but hurried his effort wide when under pressure from the Vale defence. The best chance of the half came just before the interval when Dick Evans burst through but instead of shooting, he squared the ball for Heames who was ruled offside before he had the chance to finish off a one on one situation with the United keeper.

Mr Cooper signalled half time two minutes early by the watches of many of the crowd, which was quite surprising considering the ball had been kicked clean out of the ground twice and much time was lost on one occasion finding a replacement. Vale led 1-0 but the home fans expected a difficult second half with the league leaders now having the strong wind at their backs, as they would be attacking the Church end.

Sure enough the second half was almost one way traffic as United forced their first corner of the game within two minutes of the restart. The first real scare came from one of their early corners when Tommy Clare was forced to head off the line with Birchenough beaten. The Vale captain was leading by example as, with the wind making it virtually impossible for them to play any sort of decent football, Vale resorted to virtually defending with ten men and punting the ball as far away from goal as they could. The second half grew more frantic in tempo as it progressed, though the quality of football was badly hampered by the wind, and United?s grip on the game became so strong that it wasn?t long before their giant keeper was crossing the half way line to add weight to the strike force. Then came another scare for Vale when John Cunningham went down under a challenge from Clare and the United players turned to Mr Cooper looking for another penalty. This looked a better call than the one given on Saturday but this time the referee waved away the protests, to the relief of the home fans while the few hundred United fans cat called and hooted the ref for the remainder of the afternoon.

With United almost totally committed to attack Vale were presented with their only real chance of the second half when another hopeful punted clearance found Lucien Boullemier clear of the back line and with only Foulke to beat. The keeper raced fully forty yards out of his goal and made no attempt to get the ball as he body checked the local born son of French parents. It was a blatant foul, which today would have seen an instant dismissal but Foulke wasn?t even cautioned as Vale had to settle for a free kick with United able to get back to defend.

The game was now drifting into the last ten minutes and every clearance and kick from the Vale players was received with loud cheers from the crowd as an ever more desperate United laid siege for an equaliser. In the eighty-second minute United attacked again and with virtually every player on

the field in the Vale penalty area, including Foulke who had left his goal again to join the attack, Harry Thickett managed to stab the ball home for the equaliser. It was a scrappy goal scored after several attempts to clear had been squandered. A groan went up around the ground as United had surely saved themselves from an embarrassing defeat.

The final minutes were desperate ones for Vale as United swarmed around their goal but seemed unable to create that one clear cut chance that would finish the tie. Then, with only seconds remaining, Kenny McKay saw his chance. His long range shot looked like being the winner until Herbert Bircenough managed to get across his goal to make a superb save to force extra time.

The teams kicked off the extra period with the winter gloom starting to descend on the ground and many of the fans, having no choice but to leave to catch their buses, trams and trains home, sadly missed the great moment. The winning goal fell to Lucien Boullemier. Boullemier was building a career for himself as a famous ceramic artist and painter, one of his paintings of Queen Victoria being later purchased by the royal family. He was loved by the Vale supporters and management, who provided him with a benefit game when he emigrated to America shortly after the turn of the century but he was later to return, settling in Northamptonshire, where he achieved his artistic fame, going on to have two future kings sit for him. In later life Boullemier showed other artistic talents as a respected member of the operatic society. He was far from Vale?s only hero though. Club captain Tommy Clare had turned back the clock to his England days a decade earlier in a super performance that saw him carried shoulder high from the field. Clare later became manager of the club. Dick Evans had caused United all sorts of problems, especially in the first half and it was his goals that had forced both the replay and extra time, his brother Jimmy was also in the side. As always in such games, the keeper received huge credit. Herbert Birchenough had an outstanding second half and extra time, thwarting United time and again. His reward was a transfer to Glossop North End in 1900 when they were in the top flight, although when he returned with them to Bramall Lane for a league encounter, United took revenge to the tune of 4-0. As for United after this defeat, the hoots and jibing they must have received three days later at Anfield against Liverpool must have really annoyed them as they won 4-0 on their way to clinching their only ever league title and when they next played in the cup they were certainly not prepared to take their opponents lightly as they went all the way to the Crystal Palace and fielding six of the side who lost at Vale, and the scapegoat Almond, they won the cup.

Vale?s reward for their efforts was a trip to second division Burnley in round two. It was a case of after the lord mayors show as the Valliants returned from Turf Moor beaten 0-3. The cup win did get them their main objective though as, despite finishing only seventh in the Midland League, they were elected into the football league second division for the 1898/99 season. It would be nine years before another top flight club visited Vale for a cup tie but their fans would have to wait thirty-eight years to enjoy a giant killing

act when Sunderland were beaten in 1936 at Vale Park.

As for the old Cobridge Athletic stadium, Vale vacated the ground in 1919 but it remained in use as an athletics and greyhound arena right up until 1991 when, having fallen into disrepair, it was pulled down and replaced by housing. For those who know the area, Stadium way sits on the site today.