FA Cup heroes kick off a new era - down memory lane with Bedford Town who were once a match for Arsenal

Bedford Town FC in action against Newcastle in 1964.
Bedford Town FC in action against Newcastle in 1964.

As Bedford Town Football Club prepare for their forthcoming FA Cup match against Rushden & Diamonds, in the second of our series of features on the Eagles we take a trip down memory lane to highlight some of the amazing cup stories in their rich history.

In January 1964 the club were drawn away to the giants of Newcastle United in the Third Round of the FA Cup. Their home ground, the fortress of St James’s Park slap-bang in the centre of the football-mad city, had never witnessed in their long and illustrious history a non-league team depart victorious.

Stalwart Eagles fan Mick Spavin of Bedford takes up the story: “I have supported the club since 1952 but Newcastle United away was one of the best days of my football supporting life - it was brilliant.

“I went up to Newcastle, and this Geordie bloke said to me with a smirk - he was a programme seller - ‘It’s a long way to come to lose bonny lad.’ I said to him: ‘We’ll see.’ Well, I was young then!”

He replied: “I tell you what - if you beat us I’ll eat my hat.”

The Magpies match-day programme replicated their employee’s slightly condescending tone by writing: “United are favourites and a banker to clinch this issue this afternoon.”

Mick recalls fondly: “We played really well, our players played out of their skins, it was brilliant to see. The thing was once some of their fans realised they might lose they started to set fire to things in order to get the match abandoned. Thankfully the ref wasn’t having any of it and we ended up winning. It was amazing. I found the programme seller afterwards who was looking a bit sheepish. He said to me: “Well done - but about the hat - I won’t be eating it but you can have it.’

“The supporters train back from Newcastle was very enjoyable. Once we got more beer supplies at York station I couldn’t really remember much afterwards. All I know is the hat never made it back to Bedford!”

The Eagles made headlines around the world by triumphing 2-1 before losing 3-0 at home to Carlise in the fourth round.

A mere two seasons later the Eagles went one better and faced footballing royalty in Everton at the old Eyrie in the 1965/66 FA Cup fifth round.

Mick recalled: “Everton played well, they had a great side. They went on to win the FA Cup in 1966. On the day their player Fred Pickering scored one of the best goals I’ve ever seen against us. Towards the end of our game with them the ball got kicked into some Everton fans near us who kept it. They were good lads, after they beat us 3-0 they said - show us some pubs in town, so we did. Let’s just say the ball didn’t make it back to Merseyside!”

The Eagles have always had a reputation as cup fighters including a heroic 2-2 draw against Arsenal at Highbury in 1956 in front of 55,178 before narrowly losing 2-1 at the Eyrie.

In 2001 they contiuned their proud tradition by reaching the FA Cup first round proper, appearing on Match of the Day after their 0-0 draw at the new Eyrie in Meadow Lane, Bedford, eventually succumbing 2-1 to the Posh in the replay at London Road.

With such a splendid heritage let’s hope this season will see the Eagles add new chapters to their thrilling story.

>> Rushden & Diamonds V Bedford Town, Saturday, August 30, KO 3pm. The ground is at AFC Rushden & Diamonds, The Dog and Duck Stadium, London Road, Wellingborough, NN8 2DP. Visit www.afcdiamonds.com for visitor details and advice on transport and parking.