Rocket of a goal they will never let Busby forget

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The Independent Football

It was in his time as Denis Smith's managerial assistant at Sunderland that Viv Busby was made aware that he featured on the BBC video 101 Great Goals. "I was doing a talk-in and this Sunderland supporter stood up and asked if I knew I was on the tape," Busby recalls, smiling at the memory as he sits in the manager's chair at Bootham Crescent, home of York City.

"I thought, 'Woa, different class. I wonder which goal it was that I scored?' So I said, 'No, I didn't realise that actually'. And he said, 'Yeah, you're standing just behind Ronnie Radford when he raps that goal in at Hereford'. The whole place just erupted."

As well it might. The BBC will no doubt be showing Ronnie Radford's 40-yard rocket once again in the build- up to Newcastle's FA Cup third-round tie against Yeading at Loftus Road this afternoon, and, Herefordians aside, Sunderland supporters will take the greatest delight in seeing it fly off the Edgar Street mud and into the back of Willie McFaul's net.

Thirty-three years on, Radford's Goal of the (1971-72) Season remains the most stirring symbol of the FA Cup's romance - the 86th-minute equaliser that set Hereford United, then of the Southern League, on the way to to their famous 2-1 third-round replay win (clinched by Ricky George in extra time) against Newcastle United, then of ye olde First Division, the Premiership as it is today.

Not that Ronnie's Rocket holds a romantic place in the affections of Busby, York's caretaker-manager. On the BBC video, he can be seen losing possession at the start of the move. By the final whistle that February day in 1972, he was the biggest loser in the Newcastle team. The result cost the silky young striker a career in the top flight with the Magpies.

As he reflects: "I was on loan from Luton, and if we had won that game Newcastle would have made enough from the next tie, at home to West Ham, to pay the £60,000 asking price. After we lost, Joe Harvey [the then Newcastle manager] asked me to come and see him the next day and he told me he couldn't be seen to be spending money. I was straight in my car and back down the road to Luton.

"It was a real destroyer for me, because I'd had such a good partnership with Malcolm Macdonald at Luton and we started off so well when I came to join him at Newcastle.

"They never show you the goal we scored at Hereford: me crossing from the right and Malcolm heading it in. We thought that was it: 1-0, just a few minutes to go, game over. But then Ronnie Radford hit that screamer and Ricky George finished us off.

"I'll never forget the feeling. There were thousands of people on the pitch celebrating at the final whistle, and our dressing room was probably the worst atmosphere I've ever experienced. Then the trip back from Hereford took about eight hours. We stopped off for a bite to eat but nobody could raise a smile. It was probably the worst day in my career."

There was another bad day in the FA Cup for Busby in 1978, as a member of the Second Division Stoke City side beaten 3-2 at home by Blyth Spartans of the Northern League. He did, however, reach the final as a Fulham player in 1975, and he was Denis Smith's assistant at York when the Minstermen beat Arsenal 1-0 in the fourth round in 1985, courtesy of a Keith Houchen penalty on a frosty Bootham Crescent pitch.

Now 55, Busby is back at Bootham, helping York in their uncomfortable first season in the Nationwide Conference. Caretaker-manager since November, when Chris Brass stepped down to solely playing status, he has found himself with a relegation fight on his hands. "We've got no money, so it's going to be very difficult," he says.

Then again, York's caretaker has overcome considerably greater challenges in his life. In September 2000 Busby was told he was suffering from acute myeloid leuk-aemia. "Me and the missus had a few tears when the consultant first gave us the diagnosis," he reflects. "But then I just said to him, 'What's the treatment?' And he said, 'If you give me six months I'll give you your life'.

"It actually took 10 months of treatment, but he did give me my life. I've been in remission for four years now. It was the hardest 10 months of my life. I was in Rotherham General and I had five courses of chemotherapy. It is hard, because the chemotherapy leaves you with no immune system and you get all sorts of infections. But the treatment I had was absolutely magnificent.

"My wife gave birth to our daughter while I was in hospital and she was four yesterday. That helped to kick me on. When you've just got a baby daughter, you don't want to die and miss her walking and talking. It does put a different perspective on your life.

"We had one young girl in our ward, Kirsty - she was only in her early 20s - and I was talking to her one night about going out for a few beers when we both got out of hospital. The following morning I woke up and she was gone. She'd had an infection overnight. When you see someone as young as that die... boy, it hurts.

"Now, I see every day as a bonus. Things that used to bother me don't worry me now. If somebody wants to talk to you, they'll talk to you. If they don't, they don't. If you're going to play a football match, great, let's put everything into it and try to win it. But at the end of the day it's a game of football."

Which is what Newcastle United face at Loftus Road this afternoon, against the Ryman Leaguers of Yeading. "I don't think Newcastle will have any problems," Busby forecasts. "I just think the gulf between the lower leagues and the top brass in the Premier League is so massive. It'll have to be a massive fluke for Yeading to win. I can't see it."