5th January 1991
FA Cup Third Round
West Brom 2-4 Woking
I love the FA Cup. It’s lost so much of its gloss since the riches of both the Premier League and the Champions League came to the fore, treated as an irrelevance by big clubs and relegation scrappers alike. In recent times the likes of perpetual misery Dave Kitson have shone a light on the near-contempt in which many players and managers seem to hold the world’s oldest cup competition, while some feel that it never quite recovered from Manchester United not defending the trophy in 2000 in favour of participating in the World Club Championship.
For me though, the quest for old big ears remains everything cup football should be. Only there can teams from every layer of English football’s pyramid compete in the same tournament, from the Premier League champions to the runners and riders of the Evo-Stik leagues and below. In a depressing age of seeding and various bodies moving heaven and earth to ensure a safe passage for the big boys, the FA Cup allows only the tiniest concession in allowing clubs from the top two divisions to enter in the third round proper. Anyone can play anyone. Now in its 141st year, it puts The Mousetrap to shame as a long running drama – one in which the underdog can and does have its day, when superstars can add another chapter to their legend and unknowns can claim immortality with a single leap.
My earliest memories of the cup are from 1990-91, and the various storylines running through the rounds captured my imagination: Gazza hauling Spurs to the final, dancing through the defences of lower league sides like Oxford and Notts County before that first Wembley semi and that free kick against Arsenal; Brian Clough’s mission to win the one domestic trophy that had eluded him; the thrilling fifth round Merseyside derby that ended 4-4 and proved to be Kenny Dalglish’s last game in charge of Liverpool (for a while).
That season’s competition also produced one of the greatest cup shocks of them all. The goliath toppled wasn’t an especially mighty team, nor did David’s moment of glory arrive in spectacular fashion, a la Ronnie Radford. Yet that doesn’t make second-tier West Bromwich Albion’s home humbling at the hands of Diadora League Woking – plying their trade one division below the Conference – any less memorable. Seldom is a side so far up the pyramid taken apart on their own patch by a team so far below them. And rarely is an experienced defence utterly ripped to shreds by a 29-year-old estate agent…
Woking had already claimed two ‘scalps’ en route to the third round, conquering Conference outfits Kidderminster and Merthyr Tydfil. West Brom were struggling in the old Second Division, yet The Cardinals found their hosts overconfident on arriving at The Hawthorns on that frosty January afternoon. Manager Geoff Chapple recalled seeing the home side’s players lazing around, casually reading newspapers, while midfielder Dereck Brown remembered feeling disrespected by Baggies boss Brian Talbot’s pre-match declaration that he had no particular strategy in mind for taking on the non-leaguers. Striker Tim Buzaglo – who’d been so nervous he’d thrown up in the dressing room before the game – asked a ball boy what he thought the final score would be. “5-0 to Albion” was the youngster’s prediction.
That scoreline did not seem entirely out of the question at half time. West Brom dominated the opening period and went in at the break a goal ahead thanks to Colin West’s header from a corner. However, both Buzaglo and Chapple had taken note of the lack of pace of the Baggies’ centre half pairing – Gary Strodder and former Spurs and England star Graham Roberts (enduring whatever the opposite of an Indian summer is during a horrendous stint at Albion), and the Woking pair suspected that if Buzaglo could get the chance to turn on the afterburners, he could really do some damage.
When the game resumed, Woking ripped into their opponents from the off. A brilliant through ball from Brown totally bisected the Albion defence and Buzaglo timed his run to perfection before sweeping the ball past the late Mel Rees.
Now it became clear why West Brom were struggling in the league. Missing their star striker Don Goodman through injury, their brittle confidence and lack of heart led to a total collapse. It wasn’t long before Buzaglo struck again, as a flick on from a big punt upfield from the goalkeeper saw him nip ahead of Gary ‘brother of Bryan’ Robson and leave the defender trailing in his wake. His touch was heavy, but he just managed to get to the ball before Rees, and when the ball cannoned off the luckless keeper and looped into the air, Buzaglo followed up to head it into the net.
The hat trick-clincher was perhaps the pick of the bunch. A fine team goal, Woking built quickly from the back after stopping Darren Bradley in his tracks, as defender Mark Biggins was set away down the right with bags of space to put a low ball into the box. Sweeper Adie Cowler, who’d started the move, had continued his run, and helped the ball on to Buzaglo, lurking on the left of the six yard box. The little forward took a touch before rifling the ball into the far corner and setting off to milk the applause of his disbelieving team mates and the travelling support.
With West Brom’s defence having all but given up, sub Terry Worsfold added a fourth with a fine looping header before Bradley added a consolation to the sound of crickets chirping. At the final whistle came bizarre scenes as the home team’s supporters invaded the pitch, partly to protest at West Brom’s downward spiral but also to congratulate the victors. Albion fans chaired Buzaglo around the pitch and later Woking’s coach would be cheered by a throng of Baggies fans as it headed home. It’s worth taking the time to appreciate that this was 1991, not 1951 – it’s hard to believe such goodwill still existed in the game at that time.
The immediate aftermath saw West Brom sack manager Talbot (and his assistant Sam Allardyce), but Albion’s nightmarish season was far from over. Bobby Gould replaced Talbot but they would only win four more games before the end of the campaign, and relegation to the third tier for the first time in their history was confirmed on the final day with a draw against Bristol Rovers.
Woking’s reward was a fourth round home tie against Everton. Switching the tie to Goodison Park, The Cardinals turned in another creditable display, going down 1-0 to a Kevin Sheedy goal. Buzaglo gave Kevin Ratcliffe an almighty headache all match however and very nearly scored himself with a great chance he put just the wrong side of the post, as can be seen around the 12 minute mark here.
The cup run Chapple’s men enjoyed in 1990-91 proved the catalyst for something of a golden age for the Surrey side. The following season they stormed to promotion to the conference, finishing top by an 18 point margin. There were three successful trips to Wembley, the team bringing home the FA Trophy in 1994, 1995 and 1997, and while they could never quite clinch that all-important promotion to the football league, they posted five top five conference finishes, and were runners-up in 1994-95 and 1995-96.
Football would not treat Buzaglo as kindly. Weeks after the Everton clash, he suffered a severe cruciate ligament injury that would keep him out of the game for 18 months and end his time at Woking. Resurfacing at another Diadora League side, Marlow, in 1993, he was given the chance to claim another scalp when The Blues battled their way to a first round date with Plymouth. There was no fairytale this time however as The Pilgrims eased to a 2-0 win. Leaving for Wealdstone, he set an Icis League record by scoring in 13 consecutive games, but further leg and foot injuries robbed him of the pace that was such a big part of his game, and by the mid-1990s he felt unable to perform to a decent semi-pro standard.
However, football was not Buzaglo’s only sporting love. A man just as at home scoring runs as scoring goals, dual nationality gave him the chance to play cricket for Gibraltar at international level, and he has done so for years, turning out in the ICC Trophy between 1982 and 2001.
Buzaglo is now profoundly sick of talking about his West Brom hat trick. Bored though he might be of reliving his 15 minutes, however, the modest all-rounder is arguably one of the last great heroes from a time when ‘the romance of the cup’ wasn’t talked about in the past tense.