Ability, confidence, and short shorts in icy weather

With the big match against Crystal Palace approaching HUST spoke to Eddie Kyle, Alan Murray’s assistant manager on the freezing January day in 1993 when Pools became the first lower division club to dump a Premier league team out of the FA Cup. We wanted to know the ingredients for an FA Cup upset and Eddie was happy to reveal what went on behind the scenes.

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The story starts with the draw – how did you feel when you realised Crystal Palace would be coming to the Vic?

You want to play a big club and they fitted the bill, they were flying. Palace won six consecutive games previous to playing us, five in the Premier League and one in the Cup. And they had some big names, quality players like Nigel Martyn, Chris Coleman, Geoff Thomas who played for England. That said, when we heard the draw we were very confident because we had a good side. The week before we’d beaten Fulham 3-1 at Craven Cottage so we really felt we could do it against Palace. Alan Murray was brilliant with the players, he talked to them and encouraged them and really built up their self-belief.

So, was confidence crucial?

Yes, and we already had plenty but the way the Palace players conducted themselves really made us think we could do it. You remember how cold it was that day? I’ve been to a lot of Hartlepool games over the years where I’ve wished it was warmer but that has to have been one of the coldest ever. It was clear that Steve Coppell and his assistant Alan Smith wanted the game off and they were putting pressure on Dermot Gallagher the referee. They were out on the pitch with him when Alan Murray came in to the office and said I should come out as well because the ref wanted to talk to all four of us. 

I had a look out and Coppell and Smith had about three coats on each, probably four scarves and a couple of hats too, but they were still shivering and moaning about the cold. I was wrapped up as well but I went back into the dressing room and stripped off and then went out in my t shirt and shorts, proper short football shorts! They’re looking at me thinking, “Who’s this madman? It’s bloody freezing.” And I’m going, “What’s the problem everybody, nothing wrong with a firm pitch is there?” Dermot started explaining that the ground might be a bit too hard and it was so cold it might get worse, so I said, “Have you never been to Hartlepool before? This is one of our milder winter days.” I’m not sure if anyone believed me but it seemed to sway him a bit and, after a little more discussion, he said the game was on. The Palace management team looked gutted! I remember Alan winking at me and it just seemed from then on that we had a psychological advantage. We got back to the dressing room and Alan was full of, “this lot don’t fancy it lads, their bosses don’t want to be here so imagine what their players are like.”

And how were their players?

Well, we soon found out during the warm up. If you remember, there was no stand on the Clarence Road side of the ground and we always warmed up at the Rink End which was nearest when you came out of the dressing rooms. So, we’re getting on with our usual session when we notice that they’re giving the Town End a parade of the latest footwear! Instead of warming up they’re all moaning about the pitch and trying on different boots, three or four pairs each. It was a bit naughty of me but I took the lads for a wee jog around the pitch and then stopped them in the Palace half for a few stretches where they could overhear us and I was going, “Look at them, the big league players can’t decide what boots to wear, what a shame, the poor things, we’re lucky we’ve only got one pair so we don’t have to face such a difficult problem.” Two or three of them started getting a bit worked up and having a go back and our lads were laughing away, loving it, and then we just jogged back to our half. The lads knew then that they were already a bit rattled and just not up for it. Alan really drummed that in with his team talk, we had to take advantage of that.

Steve Jones was only 18 and playing his third match, how was his confidence?

We thought he’d be fine. He’d been my youth team keeper and me and Alan were happy he could cover once when Hodgy was injured but the poor lad was a bag of nerves. To suddenly find himself playing against Premier League players was a big thing. He had to make a save after about ten minutes and, to his credit, he did really well which made all the difference. In fairness, it was a really big ask and all the experienced players were delighted for him when he rose to the occasion and emerged with a very well-deserved clean sheet. 

 

Was the ability of those experienced players important too? 

Absolutely. Alan had taken over when Cyril Knowles became ill and some of the team he took through to promotion moved on.  To stay up we needed to consolidate and brought in some really good players. Martin Hodge, was very experienced and came from Sheffield Wednesday, even though he was injured he was a great presence in the squad. Paul Cross and Andy Saville, who did really well for us, had both played in higher divisions as had another lad from Plymouth, Ryan Cross. There was still some quality at the club from the promotion side too. We had lots of very good players but the key for me was Dean Emmerson. We had to break the bank to get him in, he’d been in the Coventry FA Cup winning squad and he was key to how well we were playing that season. 

Did we need a bit of luck too?

Well, once the match got under way they really dominated the first half but didn’t score while Dean Emmerson probably had the best chance. I suppose you could argue that we were lucky to still be level at half time but in the second half we battered them. Lenny Johnrose could have had a hat trick just from headers while he was playing off Andy Saville. Nigel Martyn made a terrific save from one of them. We really deserved to win the game even if the Nicky Southall penalty was a bit dodgy! I remember Alan Murray’s interview on Match of the Day afterwards when he said, “Well I wouldn’t be happy if it was given against us but, in the circumstances, I’ll take it.” I remember sitting there that night chuckling, I couldn’t have agreed more!

Once it was given, I had no doubt about Andy Saville sticking it away, even against a top keeper. He had total belief in himself. Funnily enough I remember having a beer with him and Paul Cross after the match and I asked him whether he’d felt any pressure at that point and he just said, “No, I was totally confident that I was going to score.”

The ground was in a shocking state back then, no roof on the Town End and nothing but a fence and some portacabins where the Cyril Knowles Stand is now. On top of that the crowd was well up for it. Do you think Palace were a bit intimidated?

Aye, I mean they were in great form, playing in the Premier League in front of huge crowds and then they come here, to what must have felt like a non-league ground. Their manager’s reaction was strange because I’d met Steve Coppell before and he seemed like a very level-headed bloke. We’d played them the season before in the League Cup and drew at the Vic before getting absolutely hammered 6-1 down there. Afterwards Steve had asked us in for a drink in his office, maybe because he knew David McCreery from their playing days at Man United, and he couldn’t have been friendlier. 

After the cup match at the Vic he didn’t want to know us, from the moment they arrived they couldn’t wait to get away. It was a great day and just a shame that was the last victory for me and Alan Murray at Pools. In fact, I don’t think the team scored another goal until after we’d gone. We drew a couple of games but no more wins.

Was that when it all went wrong financially?

Yes, I mean we were nearly prevented from playing the next round at Sheffield United because Gary Gibson had been in the High Court in London where some creditors were trying to have the club wound up. When we travelled down to Sheffield on the Friday Alan stayed at the Vic dealing with the media – the national papers were there and there were TV crews everywhere. He just said, “Right Eddie, get the lads on the bus and I’ll deal with this.” 

He was brilliant and just took all the pressure off the players and onto himself. The financial side had certainly got very bad very quickly, we were sitting having dinner in the hotel but we still weren’t sure if we’d even be allowed to play the match. But, in spite of all that, and the injuries to Paul Olson and Dean Emmerson that wrecked our midfield, we certainly weren’t embarrassed. They only beat us with a fortunate goal that was diverted past Steve Jones.

How do you rate Pools’ chances this time?

It will be tough! Over the years the gap between the Premier League sides and the lower divisions has grown and grown. The top clubs have just got stronger and the calibre of players they have brought in is unbelievable so the gulf is massive, much bigger than when we were involved. Back then lots of players in the lower divisions had played at the top level at some point but you never see that now. A high percentage of Premier League players are from overseas and once the big contracts are finished they leave. 

I think that’s our best chance, that these big players on huge money will think, “Who are Hartlepool?” and maybe under-estimate us, not give us the respect that we’re due. That’s something we can possibly take advantage of but really it has to be a case of a bit of luck on the day. Like the Blackpool match, they’ll have plenty of ball and plenty of chances so all we can do is hope that they don’t take them and when we get a couple we do. 

I feel sure our chances will be few and far between, I imagine Graeme Lee will play defensively and try to kill the space for them. I hope we don’t even press in their half because they’ll just suck us in and pick us off. We should just sit tight, pack our half and hope to hit them on the break. A win isn’t impossible but it’ll be down to how the Palace are on the day – I know the Pools players will be right up for it and throughout the years there’s been shocks so we can hope that it’s us this year.

Sadly, there are no replays. I’d have loved to bring them back to the Vic for a really cold February night match!

Thanks for your time, Eddie!