Outside the Box: Cup heartache is still hard to shoulder for Blyth boys of '78

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The Independent Online

Three decades on, in the midst of another mighty FA Cup run by Blyth Spartans, hosts to Sam Allardyce's Blackburn Rovers in the third round tomorrow night, spirits still flag at the thought of what might have been for the Northumberland club's giant-killing heroes of 1978. Five non-League sides have got to the fifth round since the First World War, but only one as far as a fifth-round replay. They were the Blyth boys of '78, who came within a thrice-taken corner kick of a quarter-final tie at home to Arsenal. Alan Shoulder still winces when he recalls what happened next after he and his Spartans team-mates took a 1-0 lead into the final minute of a fifth-round tie against Wrexham played on a bone-hard, icy Racecourse Ground pitch. "It was only when you saw the replays on 'Match of the Day' that you could tell it wasn't even a corner," the former striker says. "That was fair enough, but to take the corner three times was a bit much. "The first time he [Wrexham midfielder Les Cartwright] took it, the corner flag fell over, our keeper [Dave Clarke] caught it and the referee made him take it again. The lad tried to stick the flag back in, took the corner, it fell over again and our keeper caught it again. But at the third time of asking the flag stayed in and Dixie McNeil headed in at the back post. Virtually as soon as we kicked off, the referee blew for time. Alf Grey, his name was. You see a lot of bad refereeing decisions now, but that was hard to take." There was also a contentious penalty award against Blyth in the replay, which they lost 2-1 in front of a 42,000 crowd at St James' Park. Shoulder was a miner at Kelloe Colliery at the time. A year later he was signed by Newcastle and wore the black-and-white No 7 shirt before Kevin Keegan's arrival in 1982. Now 55, he runs an egg retail business near Bishop Auckland.

Dunn dusts off golden memories

Harry Dunn, the manager who has guided the Blyth FA Cup team of 2008-09 to victories against Shrewsbury Town and Bournemouth, made his Northern League debut as a Bishop Auckland player together with Alan Shoulder (still a near-neighbour of his) in 1971. A more-than-tidy midfield player, Dunn scored for Scarborough in a 3-2 second-round victory against Preston North End that earned a third-round tie at home to Crystal Palace in 1976. "That was the Cup run of Malcolm Allison and his fedora," he recalls. "They beat us 2-1." Palace – Allison, fedora and all – went on to reach that year's semi-finals.

Unlikely lads ruled the world

Last Tuesday, Harry Dunn and his team of underdogs were presented with a replica of the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy – the prize won in Turin 100 years ago by the unlikely lads of West Auckland. The story of how a bunch of miners playing for a Northern League club came to win an international competition as England's representatives (and retain it two years later, beating Juventus 6-1 in the final) was told in 'The World Cup: A Captain's Tale', a 1982 Tyne Tees Television production which featured Dennis Waterman as Bob Jones, the West Auckland captain.