Remembering a titanic cup campaign 20 years ago. Saturday, 7th January 1984.
‘Well, we’ve had this! I’m freezing and I’m going home to get the fire going.’ Words of defeat from my dad on a damp and bitter November afternoon in 1960 as Gills were losing a Second Round Cup Tie to Southend 2-1. He joined the hundreds drifting out. I stayed until the end. The old man couldn’t make out why I was beaming when I got in. Ha! Ha! Johnny Shepherd cracked in two in the last couple of minutes and we won 3-2. ‘I stayed ‘till the end against Southend’ was a badge of honour for years.
And it was a badge that needed polishing up exactly twenty years ago today. Gills had got through the first two rounds of the cup with a 1-0 win away to AP Leamington and then a 6-1 home win against Chelmsford and on paper they were favourites to beat fellow Third Division rivals Brentford. But it had all gone horribly wrong. A poor first half had seen Brentford take the lead. Keith Peacock had shaken it up at half-time, bringing on Tony Cascarino as substitute. Terry Cochrane equalised in the fifty-sixth minute with a brilliant overhead kick and we looked on for a win. Then, in the 70th and 76th minutes – disaster. Brentford caught us on the break, David Fry was beaten by a shot which hit the post, and the odious Terry Hurlock whacked in the rebound through a ruck of players. Even worse, Gills were caught horribly short again with only Steve Bruce to stave off three attackers. He and Fry were passed out of the game, and Keith Cassells rolled the ball into the empty net.
3-1 down, and that was the signal for hundreds of fans around the ground to do a Southend and walk out, taunted for example by the smattering of Brentford fans in the Main Stand boasting about who they’d be playing in the next round, wishing us better luck next year etc. Nauseating! Then, with nine minutes to go, something incredible happened. Using my match report written at the time as the source, the ensuing excitement would have transformed even the most ice-cool commentator into a high octane Jodie Fielder:-
‘Russell Musker gets the ball on the halfway line, goes past one, two, three. He’s twenty yards out. YESSSSSS!!! GILLS ARE BACK IN IT!! Right into the top corner at the Gillingham End. Paddy Roche beaten all ends up..
‘Gillingham pushing forward for a late equaliser. Oh, they’re caught out by a pass by Chris Kamara. It’s three against one. Fry half-saves. Cassells shoots ‘ CLEARED OFF THE LINE BY STEVE BRUCE!!
‘Now Gills with a late chance Mark Weatherly ‘ he’s away! He’s holding off two defenders. Roche coming off his line. Weatherly lobs it over him YESSSSS!!! YESSSSSS!!! IT’S THE EQUALISER!!! AND ONLY MINUTES TO GO!!!
‘The crowd are going mad. Gills storming forward again. Scrambled away for a corner. Cochrane with the corner. Brentford have everyone back. Bruce heads for goal ‘ blocked. Cascarino ‘ blocked again. John Leslie. He’s curling a shot towards the top corner. YESSSSS!!! YESSSSSS!!! IT’S THERE!!! IT’S THERE!!!
‘Brentford are desperately pushing everyone forward. The referee is looking at his watch. Hacked away by Gillingham ‘AND CASCARINO IS CLEAN THROUGH!!. HE MUST SCORE!!! YESSSSSSS!!! YESSSSSSS!!! UNBELIEEEEVABLE!!!’
Phew! Gillingham had beaten Brentford 5-3 with four goals in the last nine minutes. As they say in cup-speak, the crowd were delirious. No-one had ever seen anything like it, and in that stunning spell Gills would have beaten anybody.
They had got up off the floor and stormed into the Fourth Round, and there were some big names in the hat. Would Gills get one of them? At 12.30 on Monday morning we were all round our radios. We didn’t have long to wait. The third tie drawn was:-
“Number 13…Everton…will play…Number 14…Gillingham”
Yep, they don’t come much bigger than that!
To be continued…