When The FA Cup Really Mattered: Arsenal V West Ham - 1980

'Willie Young was Thatcher, the Ayatollah, Jabba the Hutt and JR Ewing all bundled into one wretched pantomime villain.'
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'Willie Young was Thatcher, the Ayatollah, Jabba the Hutt and JR Ewing all bundled into one wretched pantomime villain.'

Over the next few days, we are publishing extracts of Matthew Eastley's brilliant new FA Cup book: 'FROM RICKY VILLA TO DAVE BEASANT When the FA Cup Really Mattered, Volume 3 - The 1980s'.

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1980 FA CUP FINAL – ARSENAL V WEST HAM UNITED

It was like something from Wildlife on One where a bullying predator like a cheetah attacks a defenceless quarry like a wildebeest from behind. On second thoughts, it was more like a correction-fluid white Ronald McDonald doppelgänger spoiling a nine-year-old boy’s party. In reality, it was a lanky, pantomime villain called Willie Young, Arsenal’s centre-half, callously tripping West Ham’s Paul Allen, the nation’s darling, on the biggest footballing stage of them all. More than 30 years on, it remains the defining moment of the 1980 FA Cup Final along with a headed goal by a footballing genius who never headed….

In the years following their 1975 FA Cup win over Fulham, West Ham had fallen into decline. Despite reaching the Cup Winners Cup final of 1976, their form dipped sharply and they were relegated in 1978. But, as lifelong fan Peter Hamersley recalls: “We managed to hold on to our best players and, despite not making it back in the first season, I felt it was only a matter of time before success came.”

That success came in May 1980 when the second division Hammers faced Arsenal in the FA Cup Final.

“East London turned claret and blue,” remembers Peter. “At my mum’s house in East Ham, pictures, flags and banners were proudly displayed across the big bay window downstairs. Every house was the same.

“My mates and I took the week off work and played golf every day. We bought Cup Final shirts made by Admiral. We had no fear. We were not expected to win and, as long as we did not disgrace ourselves, we could not lose either.”

The big day dawns, sunny and hot. After Sesame Street and a Tarzan film, ITV begins its coverage at 11:15am with Ian St John presenting On The Ball. After an hors d’oeuvres including The Banana Splits and Zorro, The Beeb starts its coverage at 11:30 with John Cleese, Mike Yarwood and John Bird as Cup Final guests.

Peter said: “It’s hard to describe the feeling as you walk down Wembley Way with your eyes fixed on those famous Towers. We just knew this was our moment in time. The sun was out, we were all in claret and blue and Wembley was welcoming us. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Just after 1:40pm the teams arrive and head straight for the pitch where the BBC’s Bob Wilson is waiting for them. Today, foreign accents are the norm for players in big English games but Wilson’s 1980 interviews are like a dialectal study of the British Isles. The Lancastrian notes of David Cross, the clipped Yorkshire tones of Stuart Pearson, the Tayside inflections of Ray Stewart and the high-pitched Cockney of young Paul Allen.

The atmosphere builds and the famous FA Cup Final banners are waving: “Don’t tell them your name, Pike,” and the obligatory “Brady sells more dummies than Mothercare.”

On 13 minutes, the East London fans are in heaven after a shot from Stuart Pearson flashes past Pat Jennings into the net.

Peter says: “We were jumping and hugging asking ‘Who got it?’ “Brooking – with his head!” came the reply. It was true, he had scored – but with his head? It was almost unknown, despite his many attributes.”

Arsenal could not get their game going at all as fan Alan Budgen, then 17, testifies: “We did a lot of huffing and puffing without creating much at all.”

There are moments in every FA Cup Final which stay in the minds of football fans for a lifetime and, with three minutes left on the clock, one happens when the nation’s darling, Paul Allen, is in on goal.

A nation held its breath. It looked like being one of the great FA Cup Final moments – a crowning goal from the youngest player ever to appear in a Wembley final. Then, a villain appeared.

Like a lolloping red setter, Willie Young had bounded back and deliberately, taken the young man’s legs away.

Hammers fan Gary Lawrence remembers: “At that moment Willie Young was Thatcher, the Ayatollah, Jabba the Hutt and JR Ewing all bundled into one wretched pantomime villain.”

Peter Hamersley recalls that, so cynical was Young’s foul, it would have far-reaching implications for the game itself: “This foul became the blueprint for the offence now known as the professional foul.”

Minutes later, referee George Courtney blew for full time, sparking incredible scenes on the pitch. David Cross sank to his knees and Paul Allen blubbed like the baby the media had portrayed him as.

Peter Hamersley says: “We celebrated like we’d just scored, only it went on and on. It all came out - the tension of two semi-finals with Everton, the joy of beating Aston Villa in the quarters. It was sheer footballing ecstasy.”

As the Hammers celebrated, the Arsenal fans slunk away and their thoughts turned to the Cup Winners Cup Final on Wednesday. Alan Budgen said: “We didn’t play as we knew we could. Liam Brady had a very quiet game and it was later revealed he wasn’t fit. However, on the long journey home, we were cheered by the thought that we still had an exciting Cup Final to come and would surely win that one.”

That night Peter and his West Ham friends headed straight to the only place they wanted to be – Upton Park: “Just like 1975, the place was absolutely full,” remembers Peter. “The roads were at a standstill as we drove around the block beeping our horns. Outside the Boleyn pub, people climbed trees, lampposts and traffic lights as drinkers spilled on to the pavement and into the road. There were so many out on the streets way into the night.

“The next day we welcomed the team home. Hundreds of thousands of us lined the streets and ‘Bubbles’ blared from every window.

“Eventually the bus made it to the Town Hall in and we managed to squeeze on to a viewing point. The crowd continued to sing its Wembley songs, “Billy Bites Yer Bum”, and “e’s only a poor little Gunner/Scouser” over and over. They were two great days. It was our moment in time.”

Back in the pubs of Islington, Drayton Park and Holloway, the mood had been sombre but all Arsenal fans agreed the only thing to do was turn their attention to Brussels. Alan Budgen said: “As we were leaving Wembley, we consoled ourselves that we still had the Cup Winners Cup to play for and that we were bound to bounce back.”

“But, sadly the game against Valencia was as unmemorable as the West Ham Cup Final and ended 0-0 after extra time and went to penalties, which we lost 5-4.”

Bitter memories for Arsenal fans then, but a pinnacle for West Ham, as Peter recalls: “For us, the era between 1963 and the end of 1981 was a golden one. Notwithstanding season 1985-6, when we came close to winning the league championship, we were always a potential trophy winner, reaching seven finals in those years. We almost always had a player in the England side and we also managed to win the World Cup in 1966 with eight reserves in the team. Yes, it was West Ham’s golden era and I am proud to say I was a part of it.”

“I don’t think I’ve read anything better on The Cup than these books. They really hit the spot.” - David Barber, FA historian

Out now! FROM RICKY VILLA TO DAVE BEASANT When the FA Cup Really Mattered, Volume 3 – by Matthew Eastley (Pitch Publishing, £14.99).

Click here to read a free sample chapter http://www.pitchpublishing.co.uk/shop/ricky-villa-dave-beasant

Or here to buy on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/From-Ricky-Villa-Dave-Beasant/dp/1785310232