Sixty years ago the Southern League club took their Division One opponents to a replay
7 January ~ The third round of the FA Cup, once the most important day in the football calendar, has come round again, and this is the moment to remember a tie that took place exactly 60 years ago and has not received the recognition it deserves.
For me and my friend Roger, an Arsenal fan, both of us 12 years of age, Arsenal v Bedford Town on January 7, 1956 was both our first FA Cup game and our first game in which floodlights were used. But it was not our first visit to Highbury.
Four months earlier we had travelled unaccompanied to watch Arsenal v Portsmouth but, perched high on the west terrace, we had not seen much, and certainly none of the four goals, all scored at the Clock End. We had learnt, though, that if you didn’t have a return ticket, you would have to join the queue behind the police horse outside Arsenal station after the game.
This time, again unaccompanied, we took up our positions near the front in the east enclosure, and we had no problems seeing what was going on. This was not a great Arsenal side, though they were to finish fifth in Division One, and Bedford were a very decent Southern League team at a time when the standard of its better clubs matched that of those in the lower half of Division Three (although their only professional was goalkeeper Terry Pope). They had plenty of old pros with lots of league experience, but nobody, not even the 10,000 Bedford fans in a crowd of 55,178, contemplated anything but a comfortable home win.
For 75 minutes the game went according to plan, except that Arsenal certainly expected to be more than 2-0 up. Had the game finished that way, Bedford fans would probably have gone home happy that their team had given a good account of themselves. Arsenal had scored through Derek Tapscott after 12 minutes and Vic Groves, uncle of Perry, early in the second half.
Everything changed when Ronnie Steel pulled a goal back after 76 minutes. Bedford began to believe and Arsenal began to panic. And so there was an air of inevitability about the equaliser, Bernard Moore smashing in a powerful shot after 84 minutes. The remaining minutes were pandemonium, and if anyone was going to grab a winner it was going to be Bedford. It might have come had Jim Fotheringham not cleared off his line in the dying seconds. At the end even the Arsenal fans cheered Bedford off. They had won everybody’s hearts.
The replay, which of course I did not see but Pathé News and British Movietone News recorded, took place at Bedford’s ground, The Eyrie, (hence their nickname "The Eagles") the following Wednesday afternoon. In the quaint language of the time, the Pathé News commentator says that the town had closed owing to the number of office boys asking for time off for their grandmothers’ funerals. I would say that it is more likely that granny was at the game.
After a goalless first half, Harry Yates put Bedford ahead seconds after the interval, and then had a second correctly ruled out for offside, as the Movietone footage shows, before Vic Groves headed the equaliser with four minutes to go. Tapscott headed Arsenal into the lead in the first half of extra time, and there was still time for another Bedford goal to be ruled out correctly for offside before a relieved Arsenal heard the final whistle.
As a footnote, Moore, scorer of the equaliser at Highbury and the last survivor of the team that took part in these two epic games, died aged 90 in the summer of 2014. Arsenal paid official tribute to him, which I think does them great credit. Richard Mason