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The Giant Killers

Every F A cup slaying since 1888

All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 85

Arsenal 1-2 Norwich City

Fourth Round

Saturday January 30th 1954

Attendance: 55,767

Highbury, London

Scorers: Jimmy Logie {47}, Tommy Johnston {55}, {73}

Richard Burton narrated the first BBC radio broadcast of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, Eddie Calvert was topping the charts with his version of Oh Mein Papa while the cinemas warned this weekend would be the absolute last chance to catch the biblical epic movie, The Robe, starring Richard Burton and Jean Simmons.

When Norman Low was installed as manager of Norwich City in 1950, he was stepping up from a playing staff that had been rarely fun to watch in the post war era. Norwich’s first two post war seasons resulted in having to go cap in hand to keep their Football League status. Fortunately, the closed shop nature of the League ensured they survived to climb to the dizzy heights of mid-table in the next two seasons.

Low’s transformation from pitch to dugout had a remarkable effect on the team who narrowly missed out on promotion back to a second tier the Canaries last graced in 1939. Two more close run seasons followed, as well as a first giant killing of top flight opposition when Liverpool were slain in 1951.

The 1953/54 season was proving a tougher battle for the team shaped by Low. City were struggling for results away from home and the prospects of promotion were already gone by the end of January. To make matters worse it was Ipswich who were looking on course to win the Third Division South.

With promotion out of the question, Norwich embarked on a cup run that took in a First Round away win at Yeovil and a routine home victory over Third Division North Barnsley in round two. The third round took Norwich to Non-League Hastings in a game the home fans would talk of for years as The Canaries came from a goal down to lead twice before being pegged late on for a 3-3 draw. It could have been worse as the home side missed a penalty and struck the bar in the dying seconds. Norwich made sure of a trip to Arsenal with a comfortable replay victory back at Carrow Road.

The team Low would take to Highbury included two former team mates in Republic of Ireland International, Johnny Gavin and the popular Ron Ashman. The only player in the dressing room with top flight experience was goalkeeper, Ken Oxford but even then, it was just a solitary appearance for Manchester City in 1948.

The rest of his largely inexperienced side was made up of Dennis Morgan, Bill Lewis, Reg Foulkes, Peter Gordon, Roy McCrohan, Roy Hansall and Bobby Brennan while Tommy Johnston stood out for the weakened arm he often strapped to his side, a reminder of the colliery accident that took him out of the pit and onto the Football field.

Norwich’s opponents were none other than the League Champions, Arsenal. Tom Whittaker’s side were a shadow of the team that won the title the previous May. They began their defence of the title by failing to win any of their first eight games of the season and although they rallied to then lose just three of their next nineteen League games, they sat in mid table on the back of a 1-4 mauling in front of their own fans at the hands of Sunderland the week before. On the same day, Norwich were taking a 0-4 mauling at Shrewsbury, a point clearly lost on the Norwich fan who wrote to Sunderland to thank them for softening up the Champions.

The weight of Norwich’s task was increased with the knowledge that no side outside the top two divisions had ever won a competitive fixture at Highbury but among the Canary old guard travelling to London would no doubt have been optimists who could recall the great victories over Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland before the great War.

The game itself didn’t take long to burst into life on a bone hard pitch with the first meaningful attacking move of the game. Tommy Johnston got the better of Bill Dodgin and laid on a chance for Bobby Brennan, only for the forward to be clumsily brought down before he could test Jack Kelsey. The referee was left with an easy decision to point to the penalty spot. Brennan dusted himself off but then struck a tame penalty to Kelsey’s left, the Welsh National keeper having a relatively easy job of stopping the effort on the line. Just two minutes in and the visiting City fans may well have already felt it wasn’t going to be their day.

Arsenal were soon into their attacking stride and Doug Lishman came closest to breaking the deadlock for the Gunners, striking the City bar with Ken Oxford a spectator. By then the skies were as much of interest to the crowd as the action on the field as the darkness settled in and the snows began to fall. Within minutes Arsenal were attacking into a blinding blizzard.

For all their attacking intent, Arsenal were unable to fashion many chances in the Highbury winter wonderland. Don Roper forced a good save from Oxford with Bill Lewis following up to clear while the City keeper also dived bravely at the onrushing Arthur Milton, leaving both men in need of the magic sponge.

The Gunners were unable to turn their good spell into an advantage and, as the snow faded, Norwich began to start getting some joy out of their wings. Kelsey had to be sharp to cut out a dangerous centre by Peter Gordon but on the half hour the Norwich players and fans were holding their heads again when Johnny Gavin’s effort squirmed wide of an unguarded net.

The game hadn’t been a particularly ugly one until the 33rd minute when Alex Forbes’ clumsy lunge at Bobby Brennan saw the Norwich man back to his feet in seconds and the two players squaring off into a flurry of flailing kicks and swinging fists. The two men were prized apart before a brief chat with the ref, which resulted in the pair being sent from the field, the first time two men had been sent off in a game at Highbury for almost a quarter of a century. No goals but two major talking points as Half time brought a chance for tempers to calm and for the army of snowmen in the stands to get a well-earned cup of Bovril.

The second half commenced in glorious sunshine, although the blustery wind remained and was now at Arsenal’s backs. Within two minutes the Gunner’s front line worked in great style to finally prize Norwich open. Cliff Holton was the architect, getting around the back of the visiting defence to send in a teasing cross for Doug Lishman, whose lay off was met by Jimmy Logie’s crashing drive from the edge of the box that Ken Oxford could only watch.

That should have been that, as few First Division teams recovered from going behind at Highbury, never mind a Third Division South outfit. However, Norwich, with nothing now to lose, became unrecognisable from the side that spent most of the first period on the back foot. They would be behind for just eight minutes before Peter Gordon’s cross begged for Tommy Johnston to head it past Kelsey.

{Image above - Jack Kelsey isn't getting anywhere near Tommy Johnston's second header}

Arsenal’s response was to reshuffle their mid division in a bid to accommodate for the missing Forbes but they were unable to get their combination right and it was the visitors, inspired by their wing backs, Ashman and McCrohan who kicked on and got the upper hand. Highbury was nervous and rightly so with seventeen minutes remaining when Gordon’s back heel presented the ball for Gavin to centre and Johnston, again, to rise above the Gunner’s defence and place a powerful header high to the right of the despairing full stretch reach of Kelsey.

Natural urgency crept into Arsenal’s game but found Morgan and Foulkes in commanding form and Oxford repelling everything that came at him. The gathering gloom of the early evening descended on Highbury and with it, Arsenal’s cup hopes as the referee called time with the locals already heading for the exits.

A delighted Tommy Johnston told the waiting reporters, “I’m still bewildered by it all. I didn’t even think I’d play until Johnny Summers had to call off late in the week but I really couldn’t miss from those great centres, could I?”

Arsenal fans didn’t know it then but as they trudged off and back to a League campaign, where they finished twelfth, it would mark a watershed in the club’s history. The coming years would be leans ones at Highbury with no trophies for over a decade to come.

Talk in Norfolk turned to the idea that Norwich might reach the quarter finals for the first time when they were drawn to face Second Division title chasers, Leicester. And those hopes increased on the day when the Canaries took a first half lead. An unfortunate second half penalty signalled the route back into the game Leicester needed to go on and claim victory.

Norwich ended the season a disappointing thirteen points adrift of promoted Ipswich and the following season proved worse as City dropped to twelfth. Low departed in April but continued in lower division management throughout the 1950s, guiding Port Vale to the Fourth Division title in 1959.

As the decade progressed, Ken Oxford, Reg Foulkes, Peter Gordon, and Ron Hansell all departed for other lower division clubs while Bill Lewis hung up his boots and went to work for Eastern Counties News. Goal hero Tommy Johnston found his way to Leyton Orient where he became a club legend, having a stand at Brisbane Road named in his honour.

Dennis Morgan was one of four men in the side who would later be honoured in Norwich’s own hall of fame, along with Johnny Gavin. The Irishman was also the only member of the team to go on to play in the top fight when he briefly joined Spurs but came back to Carrow Road and later became the stereotypical pub landlord.

Ron Ashman and Bobby Brennan would also go on to be hall of famers and, along with Roy McCrohan enjoyed the Canaries’ first real Football success. In 1959 they all played integral parts as the club not only reached the cup quarter finals for the first time but went beyond it, Brennan scoring their goal in their drawn semi-final that year. The trio then helped get Norwich back into the Second Division in 1960 while McCrohan and Ashman, the latter as captain, were in the first Norwich side to win a major honour, the League cup in 1962. Ashman would continue his relationship with the club when taking over as manager in 1963, a role he maintained for four years.