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Gallant fight by March Town but FA Cup run was ended at Brentford

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Last week, Citizen columnist Stephen Wallis focused on March Town's run to the FA Cup First Round in 1955/56.This week he looks at the big game itself.

By the time the First Round had arrived on Saturday, November 19, 1955 more than 25,000 people had watched the Hares on their historic journey. Eight matches, five rounds with three replays had led the club to Griffin Park, home of Brentford FC.

One feature of First Round day was the special train which left March station at 9.15am with a further pick up at 9.27am from Manea. Mike Emery, who was just 14 at the time remembers travelling by train. “It was extremely exciting going on the train,” said Mike. Cost from March, 11 shillings and ninepence. Arrival was due at 1.12pm for the 3pm kick off. Ian Philpott, a cricketing friend of mine, recalled travelling in the car as an 11-year-old with his dad, Ron.

The teams (53242671)
The teams (53242671)

March had defeated Lowestoft 3-2 the week before at the GER sports ground which left them ninth in the Eastern Counties league. The FA Cup run had left them 11 points behind the leaders Spalding with five games in hand(but just the two points for a win in those days).

Meanwhile, Brentford had defeated league leaders Ipswich in their last match to leave them 10th in the old Division Three South, 10 points from the summit. If you look at the table, six of those clubs now play in the Premier League.

Locally, attention was focused on the team for this once in a lifetime game. Who would player manager and left winger Tommy McCulloch select? Despite doubts over George Ephgrave (flu) and skipper Wally Price (cracked ribs) – who along with the rested Nat Brooksbank had all missed the Lowestoft fixture –the trio all made the line-up. No subs in those days – they were another 10 years away. This meant the Hares were unchanged from their victory against Great Yarmouth in the Fourth Qualifying Round with seven of the players having football league experience.

Mike Emery with his match programme (53242669)
Mike Emery with his match programme (53242669)

Thanks to Brentford FC, I have had access to many reports of the big match, and it is clear the Hares were quick out of the traps. They secured the opening two corners and had the first shot on goal. Centre forward Wally Beach was worrying the London’s side’s defence. Teenager Mike Emery recalled an early bullet header from Billy Dack from a corner being well saved by the Bees goalkeeper Gerry Cakebread.

The home side took the lead after 13 minutes when George Stobbart beat the March keeper to the ball to head home. Undeterred, the Hares nearly came back three minutes later when the trickery of McCulloch created a good chance for Beach, who blazed his shot over the bar.

Gradually Brentford became more dominant, although apart from an offside goal in the 30th minute they created no other ‘touch and go’ chances according to the Middlesex Chronicle. Indeed, just before half time a McCulloch shot glanced the face of the cross bar, but no March player could reach the rebound.

Quoting the Middlesex Chronicle: “The interval arrived with March still in the game with a chance – admittedly a slim one.”

The programme from the big match (53242667)
The programme from the big match (53242667)

Soon after the restart Brooksbank brought out a brilliant save from Cakebread but that was the last time the Hares threatened the London side’s goal.

The killer blow came after 61 minutes when Jim Towers scored from the penalty spot after George Francis had been brought down by full back Norman Rowe. Some reports suggested the original offence was outside the box, but VAR was not around 66 years ago. March were now fighting a losing battle against the younger and fitter Division Three side, who scored again in the 76th and 86th minutes through Francis and Stobbart respectively.

The Sunday Dispatch remarked that “this little club had one thing in abundance – fight.” The Hares had done the Town proud, watched by a crowd of 13,300. “Bees hounded those Hares,” said The People, who reported Tommy McCulloch to be our most dangerous player.

As for Hares fan Mike Emery, he remembered some of the home crowd saying: ‘March were as good as we have had down here this season’.

“We put up a good show,” said Mike

As for the other football headlines that day, non-league Peterborough knocked out Ipswich Town 3-1,while Blackpool topped the old Division One.

Meanwhile, in March, the big news was the three to one vote in favour of having Sunday cinemas in the town. 2,697 in favour, 872 against. Delighted with the result and a leading campaigner in favour, who had handed in the petition, was my grandfather Ken Wallis.

But as I said last week, March Town United had reached their Wembley – a feat they didn’t repeat until 23 years later when they played another Division Three side, Swindon Town.

The FA Cup remains a massive tournament to non-league clubs and to March Town United: “The is still a very big competition for us, not just the prize money but the excitement it brings to all of March. The FA Cup brings amazing memories for the board and players along with the great supporters,” said chairman Phil White.

lThanks are due to March residents Mike Emery, Ian Philpott, and Geoff Morton and to Hares chairman Phil White for their help with this article. Geoff a long-standing Hares fan missed the big match and the cup run due to his National Service.

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