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The Giant Killers

Every F A cup slaying since 1888

All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 20

Aston Villa 1-2 Millwall Athletic

Quarter Final second replay

Monday 5th March 1900

Elm Park, Reading

Attendance: 15,000

Scorers:Bert Banks {10}, Joe Gettins {14}, George Johnson {81}

The passing of time has led to many popular myths regarding football clubs up and down the land and Millwall are no exception. Their ‘Lion rampant’ club crest and Lions nickname are popularly believed to have come from the club’s Scottish roots. The true origins of how Millwall came to be lions actually stems from this epic encounter with Aston Villa over a Century ago.

The club was formed in 1885 by workers in an Isle of Dogs factory, renowned for its jam making, among other things, taking part in the first round of the cup for the first time three years later. In 1894 they changed their name from Rovers to Athletic, joined the Southern League and met top flight opposition in the cup for the first time when they travelled to Sheffield United and lost while Wolves became the first elite club to visit their tiny East Ferry Road ground two years later.

It was during the 1890s that the club’s reputation as one disliked by all who visited them started to grow. The Isle of Dogs was a tough area of East London, populated largely by the families of the dockers who worked in the area. They had a reputation of working hard and playing hard and naturally Millwall became their team.

Equally naturally Millwall adopted the nickname, Dockers but if the atmosphere from the touchline was intimidating for visiting teams it was nothing to the East Ferry Road ground. The pitch was in an awful state and visiting players were often advised by the homesters to stay on their feet, as what they might find on closer inspection of the grass might not be too pleasant.

Like most Southern league clubs in 1900, Millwall had their fair share of experience in their ranks. Willie Dryburgh had been a utility player at Sheffield Wednesday for two seasons until the club were relegated in 1899 while his fellow Scot, Hugh Goldie had made a handful of appearances for Everton before going back to Scotland to play for St Mirren and Celtic, earning a call up to the League’s representative side in 1895. John Brearly had made one appearance for Notts County while Bert Banks had appeared twice in Everton colours but it was none of these four that was the real star of the team.

Joe Gettins was a member of the old school stoutly amateur ethos and a member of the celebrated Corinthians, widely regarded as a match for any professional club at the time but whose rules about only playing friendlies prevented them from playing in the cup.

Inspired by Gettins, Millwall came through their three qualifying rounds, defeating Clapton 7-0 along the way. Jarrow were easily beaten in the first round before Millwall made club history by winning a place in the quarter finals for the first time in their history thanks to a Joe Gettin’s brace against a Queen’s Park Rangers side who had just pulled off a major cup shock themselves {see game 82}.

The reward was huge as Millwall were drawn at home to the best team in the land, Aston Villa. The Villans were the league champions and went into the cup tie on a run of eleven games unbeaten in all competitions, which included a 6-2 mauling of Nott’s County the previous week. If Millwall’s task didn’t seem hard enough Villa had also put five past Bristol City of the second division in the previous round of the cup. There was little doubt, Villa were playing some fantastic football and were on their way to retaining the title.

They arrived at East Ferry Road in full strength on Saturday February 24th with a team that contained nine Internationals, six of their 1897 double winning side and the current first division top scorer, Billy Garraty. Even the most diehard of Millwall fan had to admit that against such a strong side, playing at the very top of their game, the Southern League side had virtually no chance. It wouldn’t be a case of who would march into the semi finals but whether Millwall could restrict Villa to less than three goals, considered a moral victory in the eyes of some pundits.

Off the field the preparations had been in full swing for a week ahead of the game. Chairs were hired from the Essex County Cricket Ground and placed around the perimeter of the pitch while the Docks Authority agreed not to close the dock bridges between 1.30pm and 5.30pm to make it easier for fans to get to and from the game. The playing surface itself was made as attractive, for a game of such importance, as the ground staff could make it while five football specials would carry some 5,000 visiting Villa fans to the Isle of Dogs.

Everything was in place as a record crowd of 20,000 descended on the East Ferry Road for the tie, with many more fans locked out half an hour before the kick off as every possible vantage point was taken up.

Villa, having trained for the game at Brighton during the week, came on to the field first with a full strength line up of household names Goalkeeper Billy George, Howard Spencer, Jimmy Crabtree, Charlie Athersmith, Billy Garraty, John Devey, Fred Wheldon and Steve Smith were all England Internationals while Jas Cowan had been capped by Scotland. The two non Internationals, Tommy Bowman and Albert Evans, were both still major parts of the Villa side that was marching towards back to back titles.

Millwall then emerged in their blue shirts with ‘Wiggy’ Davis missing from the line up through injury, Allan taking his place in defence.

In cold overcast conditions with rain threatening to dampen the big occasion Villa got the game underway and Millwall’s worst fears became reality within the first five minutes as Villa poured forward and threatened to overwhelm the home side. A goal seemed inevitable and sure enough, with just five minutes on the clock, Charlie Athersmith’s perfect cross was met on the volley by Fred Wheldon with Millwall keeper, Walter Cox rooted to the spot as the ball flew past him into the net.

It was the worst possible start for Millwall and for half an hour they were outclassed as Villa poured forward and created several good chances, the best being a drive from Fred Wheldon that forced a great save from Walter Cox. Albert Evans did have the ball in the net but his free kick had been supposed to be indirect and so was chalked off. At the other end Millwall rarely managed to get past the Villa back line but did manage to give the visitors two scares, first when Gettins forced a great save from George and then when Nicol managed to beat the keeper only for his shot to cannon back off an upright.

The rain began to fall as the second half kicked off with the pitch now beginning to cut up very badly, hampering Villa’s crisp passing style and allowing Millwall the chance to get more into the game. It was still Villa who posed the greater threat though as Billy Garraty burst through the Millwall defence and seemed certain to kill the game off only for Cox to make another superb save. That was the turning point as Millwall’s belief visibly grew under the increasing noise and encouragement of the crowd. The final fifteen minutes were hectic cup tie stuff as Millwall gained the upper hand for the first time in the tie and began putting relentless pressure on the Villa defence but still could not create the gilt edged chance that could force a replay.

With light fading and the rain now easing, the game moved into the final five minutes with Villa now happy to hold what they had. It was a bad tactic from such an experienced side and in the eighty-seventh minute they were punished when Nicol’s shot deflected of Jimmy Crabtree and into the net for a dramatic equaliser. The noise was deafening as thousands of hats became airborne in wild celebrations. Three minutes later, three time cup final referee, John Lewis blew for time amid great scenes as the Millwall fans spilled onto the pitch to celebrate a remarkable result. Among the wild scenes came one ugly moment when Charlie Athersmith tried to take the ball as a souvenir, ending in a potentially nasty row with Hunter, the Millwall coach before the latter won through.

The replay was set for Wednesday February 28th at Villa Park and, despite the jubilation at the result on Saturday, Millwall fans gathering at St Pancra’s for the journey to Birmingham were realistic that their best chance of victory had gone and that Villa, with an unchanged line up would certainly maul them on their own patch. Worse for Millwall was that their best player, Joe Gettins was carrying a knock from the first game and Robertson would replace him.

The draw for the semi finals had been made between the ties and the Villa fans among the 11,000 crowd for the replay were in good voice with the knowledge that once Millwall were out of the way they had what was surely another formality against Southern League Southampton in the semi finals. As far as the fans were concerned, Villa were in the final before this match kicked off.

As expected, the replay was one way traffic as Villa again poured forward while Millwall were intent on holding them at bay as long as they could but it would be a day of high frustration for the fans of the Champions.

Time and again Villa carved the Millwall defence open but rarely forced Walter Cox into a decent save with some dreadful finishing in front of goal.

Just as in the first game, Millwall played their better football in the second period but without Gettins, lacked any potent force up front, although they twice had the ball in the Villa net. To be fair to Villa, the call of offside had gone up long before either goal was scored and George made no attempt to prevent either strike. It was a different story at the other end where Villa also had two goals chalked off, though both were much tighter calls and were met with loud howls of derision from the home fans.

Extra time was desperate for Millwall as Villa virtually pitched tents on the edge of the visitor’s penalty area but a combination of last gasp defending and excellent saves from Cox, aided by some wild finishing from the home forwards, kept the scoresheet blank.

When the news reached London on Wednesday evening it was met with disbelief and joy that Millwall had somehow managed to hold the best team in the land on their own patch for two hours. Now the Millwall faithful began to believe that their side could just possibly finish the job and set up an all Southern semi final that would guarantee a cup finalist from south of Birmingham for the first time since 1883.

Calls for the game to be staged at the Crystal Palace were ignored by the F A, opting instead for Reading’s Elm Park, at the time considered the finest club ground in the home counties and 15,000 fans turned out on Monday March 5th to witness the action.

Millwall were fresh, having not had a fixture the previous Saturday and better still, Joe Gettins was fit again to take his place back in the side. By contrast Villa had been involved in a bruising top of the table league encounter with Sheffield United and were forced to make wholesale changes. The Villans had looked jaded in the league encounter and had lost Steve Smith to injury, his place taken by Bobby Templeton while they also decided to risk resting Jas Cowan, Jimmy Crabtree and Fred Wheldon, replaced by Albert Wilkes, Michael Noon and George Johnson. It was a gamble based on fears that their cup exploits could cost them the title and the effect it would have on Millwall was visible.

Elm Park was in excellent condition and the pattern of the game was established early on as Millwall went at Villa right from the kick off. It was clear the Villans were not playing with their usual flair and were badly missing their four regulars as Millwall forced three corners in the early stages. Any fears the Villa fans may have had at the way their team started were soon realised when, from another corner, Hugh Goldie flicked a header into the direction of Bert Banks to put the Dockers in front for the first time in the tie. There were only ten minutes on the clock and Millwall were in no mood to sit back and hold what they had, at least not yet anyway, and four minutes later Gettins burst past Evans to fire a second goal past Billy George.

The travelling Londoners could hardly believe what they were seeing with Millwall 2-0 up after a quarter of an hour but they also knew there was a long way to go against a Villa side still more than capable of a comeback.

Bobby Templeton came closest to reducing the deficit in the first half when cracked one drive against the Millwall woodwork but for the most part Villa looked a shadow of the Champions they were and a huge roar greeted the half time whistle with Cox’s goal still intact.

The second half was one way traffic as Villa threw everything they had at Millwall in a determined effort to try and repair the damage but Millwall were more than happy by now to defend what they had, and boy did they defend it. Burgess, Allan, Smith and Millar played the game of their lives, throwing their bodies in the way of every Villa attack while Walter Cox yet again performed great heroics to deny Templeton and Athersmith. The tension grew with each passing minute that Villa failed to find the breakthrough but it was on the cards that it would arrive eventually and sure enough with nine minutes left George Johnson finally got the better of Burgess to shoot low past the onrushing Cox to set up a nervy finale.

The goal drained the gallant Millwall players who now looked a beaten side rather than one trying to protect a goal lead and were virtually down to ten men with Joe Gettins crippled by cramp. By contrast Villa now had their tails up and surged forward with even more purpose in the final minutes with the defining moment coming with two minutes left when Billy Garraty found himself with a golden chance with Cox beaten. The equaliser seemed certain but just as Garraty went to apply the finish; Smith lunged in with an inch perfect tackle to save the tie, to huge cheers from the Millwall fans.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, John Lewis blew for time, putting energy back into the aching limbs of the heroes of Millwall as the embarrassed Villans trudged off to concentrate on retaining their league title. Most teams in the top flight could not have matched strides with Aston Villa for five hours but Millwall had beaten them and booked a place against Southampton in the semi finals of the cup. The Dockers were now dreaming of a place in the final itself and perhaps even the unthinkable of winning the cup but it wasn’t to be. The semi final at Crystal Palace ended goalless but back at Elm Park again for the replay the game turned on Bert Banks having to leave the field injured. By the time he returned Southampton were three goals up and booking their place in history as the first southern professional team to play in the final.

The press referred to Millwall in their efforts against Villa as fighting like lions and the tag caught on, replacing their Dockers nickname and staying with them to this day. They also adopted the motto ‘We fear no foe’ but there were dark days ahead for the newly renamed Lions. Before the year was out their East ferry Road ground was reclaimed as a timber yard and Millwall were homeless. They did find a new home in time for the new season but the damage was done as, in the uncertainty, most of the Lions moved on to other clubs.

Hero keeper Walter Cox joined Manchester City but failed to make an impression with a solitary appearance. Charles Burgess, considered the best defender in the tie, joined Newcastle but stayed for just a season, choosing to leave after receiving constant abuse from his own fans. Hugh Goldie returned to his native Scotland with Dundee while Willie Dryburgh returned to Sheffield Wednesday and John Brearly left for Everton. Aston Villa were suitably impressed by Arthur Millar and Bert Banks that they signed both players but Villa were in a transitional period by then and neither player managed to make an impact, despite Banks earning an England cap while Millar returned to the Lions. The star man Joe Gettins stayed for another couple of years before being enticed north to try his hand at Middlesbrough. The East Ferry Road ground formed much of the new timber yard but all semblance of the old ground was blown to oblivion during the Second World War. Today it is the site of a supermarket car park.

It was three years before Millwall were drawn against top flight opposition again and, in a new ground with only Gettins remaining from the 1900 team, they showed their claws again in beating Everton to reach the semi finals for the second time. It would be forty-six years before Aston Villa faced Millwall again when they clashed in the two-legged F A cup of 1946. Revenge was sweet as Villa won both games 4-2 & 9-1!

TEAMS: Millwall Athletic: Manager-E R Stopher

Team: Walter Cox, Charles Burgess, Allan, Smith, Hugh Goldie, Arthur Millar, Willie Dryburgh, John Brearly, Joe Gettins, Bert Banks.

{Unchanged from the first game, Robertson replaced Gettins in the first replay}

Aston Villa: Manager-George Ramsey

Team: Billy George, Howard Spencer, Albert Evans, Tommy Bowman, Albert Wilkes, Michael Noon, Charlie Athersmith, John Devey, Billy Garraty, George Johnson, Bobby Templeton.

{Jas Cowan, Jimmy Crabtree, Fred Wheldon and Steve Smith all played in the first two games. The first three were rested in the second replay and replaced by Wilkes, Noon and Johnson while Smith was replaced due to injury by Templeton}