Look out for more on this most fascinating of derby matches in the next few months
1960 FA Cup quarter-final
Burnley 3 Blackburn Rovers 3
Blackburn’s quarter-final reward for their thrilling fifth round victory at White Hart Lane was a tie at Turf Moor against local rivals Burnley, who were chasing the championship as well as the FA Cup. But before this local derby could take place Burnley had to win their replay with Bradford City. It proved a formality as Burnley duly walloped the Yorkshireman 5-0 at Turf Moor.
Not surprisingly, the Burnley encounter captured the imagination of the east Lancashire public – the two clubs still have a rivalry that matches any from Glasgow, the North East or north London.
It was all-ticket with the capacity set at 54,000 and tickets with all a face value of 3 shillings exchanged hands for at least treble that outside the ground beforehand.
Mick McGrath recalls the excitement: “After the Spurs game I felt we had a chance and when the draw came out and we would play Burnley if they won their replay then the whole town was abuzz. People were asking for tickets, and ‘Do you fancy your chances?’
“In those days teams like Burnley and Blackburn had a chance of keeping hold of their good players because the maximum wage meant that someone moving still got paid the same under the maximum wage, although people did move because it was rumoured they might have got some money under the counter.”
When the maximum wage was ended for footballers in 1961 it was £20 a week. Female sewing machinists at the Elgin manufacturing company near Burnley were in the early 60s earning just over £10 a week. On his wages, a footballer would have struggled to buy a car as Loxhams of Blackburn at the start of 1960 were selling 1958 Morris-Minor 2-door cars at £550 and 1959 Wolseleys at £675. It was hardly surprising that footballers, watched by thousands were threatening to strike in order to push up wages as well as end the practice whereby clubs could refuse players’ requests to move to another club.
Blackburn and Burnley had met three times in the FA Cup, including in the previous season when goals from Jimmy Robson and Jimmy McIlroy against a single effort from Peter Dobing had seen Burnley home by two goals to one at Turf Moor. That had been a game with more than its fair share of thrills, but it was nothing like the 1960 match staged on March 12th. It produced one of the greatest FA Cup comebacks, sparked off by the awarding of a penalty that still rankles with older Burnley fans and ex-players.
As so often seems to happen, the teams met in the league the weekend before the cup-tie, with both, despite Burnley gunning for the title, playing cautiously in a match described by ‘the Blackburn Times’ as “ being one of the most concentrated efforts in concealment since Hitler masked his real intentions when he met Chamberlain at Munich.” Who said papers today have a tendency to exaggerate! Burnley won by a single goal to maintain their title challenge.
FA Cup 6th Round: Saturday March 12, 1960.
Burnley 3 Blackburn Rovers 3 attendance: 51,501
Burnley: A.Blacklaw, J.Angus, A.Elder, B.Seith, B.Miller, J.Adamson, J.Connelly, J.McIlroy, R.Pointer, J.Robson, B.Pilkington.
Blackburn Rovers: H.Leyland, J.Bray, D.Whelan, R.Clayton, M.Woods, M.McGrath, L.Bimpson, P.Dobing, D.Dougan, B.Douglas, A.MacLeod.
Both sides were at full strength for the match with Blackburn again choosing Douglas at inside left and Bimpson at right wing. This meant was the direct contest between Jimmy McIlroy and Bryan Douglas to whet the appetite. Both sets of fans were adamant that their man was the better, with many believing that whoever came out on top in this personal battle would probably win the war. McIlroy was king at Turf Moor while Douglas is still was idolised at Ewood Park while McIlroy was king of Turf Moor and remains an iconic figure in the town. One of the stands at Turf Moor is named after him.
But in spite of all the talent on show, the first half was poor, the cagey pattern of the previous weekend’s game carried on into the cup-tie.
Burnley were top early on but although they pressed hard it was still goalless at half-time with few chances having been created.
Half Time: Burnley 0 Blackburn Rovers 0
When the game restarted, the home team, inspired by McIlroy, poured forward. What was astonishing was that Burnley’s talisman was not fully fit. He had been suffering for some time with a thigh muscle injury but Burnley needed him as they pressed Wolves and Spurs for the title.
Just three minutes had gone in the second period when the Irishman picked open the Blackburn defence. Pilkington controlled the crossfield pass before blasting the ball past Leyland.
Louis Bimpson forced a flying save from Adam Blacklaw and then shot wide from an even better position. But Blackburn’s momentum proved illusory. Just nine minutes after taking the lead Burnley doubled it.
From close to the byline McIlroy, in what he states in his autobiography was one of his favourite places on the field, shimmied past two defenders before picking out Ray Pointer, who knocked home one of 23 league and FA goals that he scored that season.
With this two-goal cushion it seemed a place in the semi-final for the first time since 1947 was assured for Harry Potts and his team. Almost immediately Burnley grabbed a third.
Before the match only had thought that’s a long pass over the head of Dave Whelan would give John Connelly the chance to use his blistering pace and when Jimmy Adamson sent it just such a ball the winger left two startled defenders in his wake. Leyland plunged at his feet but the England winger duly lifted the ball with him and into the net. It was game, set, and match, surely?
One can only hope that no Blackburn fans decided on an early trip. Had they left they would have missed a remarkable comeback although initially it seemed Burnley would further extend their lead.
The rivalry between the two sets of supporters was such that Burnley wanted to score more goals. With hindsight it may have been better to have shut up shop and run down the clock. Have they done that they might have gone on to become the first side in the 20th century to record the league and FA Cup ‘double’. Still, at 3-0 up, what on earth could go wrong?
The key moments in the match came after 70 minutes. Peter Dobing had rarely featured as an attacking threat and his shot appeared to be heading well wide only for the ball to hit defender Alex Elder’s foot and rise up and strike his hand.
To a supporter it was either a clear penalty or a travesty, depending on which club you followed, but independent match report expressed surprise that referee Jack Hunt pointed to the penalty spot. Bryan Douglas converted the kick to make it 3-1. Surely this would prove to be just a consolation?
Not so, for within a minute the home fans had reason to wonder. The Burnley defence relaxed as Douglas appeared to mess up a free kick. The apparent disarray was a ruse: Douglas touched the ball to Dobing, who hit a reasonable but not unstoppable shot, but for Blacklaw seemed unsighted and it was 3-2.
There was still quarter of an hour left and the mood inside Turf Moor had changed. Blackburn were in the ascendant and their fans were buoyant. Desperately Burnley tried to cling on, having given up any ideas of scoring a fourth in order to protect Adam Blacklaw in goal. The tension was rising as the final whistle moved ever closer.
Blackburn had fashioned an undeserved equaliser against Blackpool in the fourth round. Could they do it again?
The answer was yes. A Matt Woods free kick was only half cleared and when Ronnie Clayton hacked it back towards goal it ricocheted perfectly into the path of Mick McGrath, the man who has scored the equaliser against Blackpool.
Blackburn weren’t and might even have won the game in the remaining minutes if either Dobing or Dougan shown McGrath’s composure by bringing better placed colleagues into play at Burnley’s defence evaporated. It was a draw but at the final whistle only one group of players and supporters were celebrating. Burnley might still have been in the 1960 FA Cup but who really believed the replay wouldn’t go Blackburn’s way?
Even fifty years later Jimmy McIlroy feels the hurt. “It was a disappointing result. There was no way Alex Elder tried to handle the ball or gain any benefit from handling it. The ball hit the ground and it must have hit a bump or something and just hit him on the hand. It did hit his hand but it was never intentional and should never have been a penalty. Alex was in tears afterwards; he couldn’t face going out as he put all our misfortune on his shoulders. I still prefer to blame a gentleman with a whistle called Mr Hunt. ”
The view from the other side was put by Bryan Douglas – “ Alex Elder went for the ball with his arms up and the ball ricocheted and hit him on the arm, just above the elbow on the inside of the arm, If we’d been winning say 3-0 I am not sure we’d have got it, and I’ve seen them turned down but it threw us a chance. I’d seen Burnley’s keeper Adam Blacklaw save one a few weeks earlier and I sent the ball to his left and it went in.
The second goal I remember very well, it came from practising on the training ground, we’d copied the idea from another side but I can’t remember who it was, we went to pretend we’d buggered up the free-kick in the hope that the other side would be taken off guard and then we could exploit that.
“I pretended to take it and everyone ran, I then ran and then they stopped, everyone including the Burnley players were laughing at our stupidity, I then tapped it to Peter Dobing who was fully aware of what was happening and he cracked it past the keeper to make it 3-2. After Mick McGrath equalised we actually had a chance to win the match in the last minute when Dougan was clear on the left-hand side and he only had to square it to me. I was standing in the clear just yards out, the keeper was moving out to block him but Dougan preferred to shoot and the ball cannoned off the keeper’s legs
“Burnley had a good side; their forward line was something special in Connolly, McIlroy, Pointer, Robson and Pilkington. The rivalry was intense even in those days and the games were often not that great. Since I finished I’ve met a number of Burnley players and I’ve found them to be human. To be honest the rivalry is a bit unhealthy.
I definitely feel that football in those days was more exciting, there were more mistakes, but there was also more goalmouth action. I am not saying it was more skilful but in those days wingers and players tried to take on the full-backs and get to the by line. These days you never see a player leave the full back for dead, at times today the games can be like a game of chess.”
And the man who scored that dramatic equaliser Mick McGrath remembers: ‘We were dead and buried at Burnley, when we got a dubious penalty.
II was only when we got back in the game at 3-2 that I ventured forward as I was a defensive wingback. I remember the equaliser very well even many years later as Adam Blacklaw the Burnley keeper was on his knees and the ball came to me as I just hit it – my shot was sliced and this was why Adam went down one way and the ball went the other into the corner – it was a good miskick!
“All of us were overjoyed, I was surrounded by the players which was very unusual for those days as normally when you scored you got a little tap off one or two players who then ran back to the halfway line. But after being three-nil down this was something a bit special. So the players sort of swamped me. Manager Dally Duncan from where he was watching couldn’t tell who’d scored and as we went off he asked, ‘who scored the equaliser?’ It was the best goal I scored for Rovers, but I did only score 12!”
Blackburn Rovers 2 Burnley 0
In a match that never produced anything like the quality or excitement of the first match Blackburn qualified for their 16th FA Cup semi-final courtesy of extra-time goals from Dobing and MacLeod. They deserved to win and reach a second semi-final at Maine Road in two years, their third in nine years.
With Whelan and Bray marking Burnley’s wingers Connelly and Pilkington, Burnley struggled to gather any forward thrust, especially as their potential match winner Jimmy McIlroy did not enjoy it as much possession as in the first hour or so of the first game. Although pressed back for much of the game Burnley were never out of it and nearly snatched the winner with five minutes of normal time remaining when only a great save from Leyland stop Connelly from scoring.
The opening call came in the 13th minute of extra time after Dougan flicked on a free kick from Douglas for Dobing to steer the ball through the crowd of Burnley players in and around the six-yard box, a goal much like that scored by McGrath at Turf Moor.
The goal was reward for Dobing’s persistence as in the first half of the game he’d been denied by two fine saves from Blacklaw, while on the second only a flying block by John Angus had prevented the Blackburn inside right opening the scoring.
Any hopes that Burnley, and their considerable following, had of the game being rescued ended when, with two minutes of extra time remaining, Bimpson headed on a long throw from Clayton and McLeod, anticipating superbly, dashed beyond an exhausted Burnley defence to head the ball past Blacklaw and spark a minor pitch invasion by a section of the ecstatic home following. There was another a minute later, which had to be cleared by the police to allow the referee to play the final 30 seconds.
Writing in the Blackburn Times, William Westall again praised Douglas who in his view “proved himself the outstanding craftsman by his diligent foraging, grafting and subtle moves”, However, in his view, Rovers won primarily through “a truly magnificent halfback line of Clayton, Woods and McGrath: every man a giant”.
But it was McGrath who particularly caught his eye. He described him “as the finest play on the field: a footballing tiger, so relentless, so mercilessly dominant that Burnley seemed almost to be physically afraid of him. He not only played McIlroy right out of the picture, but also was often a sixth forward apparently intent on winning the game himself. I’ve never seen a player so uplifted by the Cup atmosphere’.
Matt Woods reckons extra time should not have been necessary.
“In the replay we should have won it in the first 90 minutes”.
Not surprisingly, Jimmy McIlroy disagrees. “Looking back even now on those two games I still feel we could, and should have reached the semi-final…if not the Cup Final. Rovers scored five times against us but none came from a thoughtful, skillfully executed attack”.