By 10 o’clock in the morning of Saturday January 9, 1965 the atmosphere throughout Torquay is electric with anticipation and excitement.
On every street corner Spurs supporters in their blue and white favours shout and cat-call. The town is filled with cuptie atmosphere. Rosettes are frequently seen. Yellow and blue for the United and white for the Spurs. Woolies has sold out of rosettes but luckily at the corner of Market Street and Union Street there’s a cockney selling large and cheap (2/- compared with Woolys 4/-) rosettes. I buy one and my football uniform is complete. All yellow for the golden hunt of the cup.
The headlines in the Herald Express shout CUP TIE FEVER HITS TORQUAY. There’s a supplement (in pink) all about the game. The Daily Express says LUCKY TORQUAY and takes the whole of the back page to say so. The Daily Mirror threatens STUBBS CUP THREAT TO SPURS – brave prophecy! We even get a mention in The Times. Desmond Hackett, Sam Bartram and Peter Lorenzo have come to report on our game. We wonder if Brian Glanville has come.
The houses are all painted yellow it seems. We see nothing but yellow. Rattles wave gutturally. We whisper ‘Jimmy Greaves’ and ‘Alan Gilzean’ very quietly. We go for dinner in the market. We leave home (in Upton Road) at one o’clock and then walk up to Plainmoor. About six Football Special buses go by filled with Spurs supporters. We can hear subterranean cheers and jeers. Our journey takes us via Shirburn Road, Cuss’s Corner, St Marychurch Road, and Plainmoor Road. We go into a shop and buy sweets.
Up to Plainmoor! Up to Plainmoor!
The roads buzz with excitement. As we walk outside the ground we can hear the bubbling eruptions and suppressed hysteria of the ground inside. It’s packed already, and there’s still an hour and a half to go. What’s it going to be like full?
Souvenir programmes for 1/- are on sale; we buy them, pass through the gate, into the ground, and fight our way into the stand where we’re behind a contingent of rattling, bannered, shouting, yelling, stamping, singing, horn-tooting Spurs followers.
We shout ‘Torquay, Torquay, Torquay’ to their ‘Tottenham, Tottenham, Tottenham’, and to their ‘Gilzean, Gilzean, Gilzean’ we cry ‘Robin Stubbs, Robin Stubbs, Robin Stubbs’. It’s all a mighty ritual. The minutes pass quickly. The ground fills. The atmosphere is tense, yet friendly. Spurs supporters are condescending, United’s are hopeful and roaring.
Suddenly there’s a great shout, the Spurs run out onto the pitch. And here they are on our own little Plainmoor ground, these football giants who have been all over the world, and now are here at Plainmoor.
Then the United run out, United! United! United! It’s the Plainmoor Roar and a shout from thousands of throats. Is it all possible? It seems a dream and it’s all too much. The game starts (I don’t intend to describe the whole game, only moments). Moments like when you suddenly realise that 40 minutes of the first half have passed as though in an instant, and United are holding the Spurs! It’s unbelievable! Yet much more impossibility is to come.
Stubbs receives the ball and runs towards the Spurs beating two men; inside the penalty area he shapes to shoot and then Cyril Knowles, the Spurs right back, brings him down. Stubbs sprawls to the ground. What’s going to happen? Will it be a… ? The whistle blows. The ref points. The crowd suddenly shout with a great and might shout…Yes! It’s a PENALTY. Everything is haywire. Billy Atkinson steps up from the crowd of players. He runs up, shoots, there’s a split second of agonising fear and then YES! IT’S THERE! GOAL! GOAL! GOAL! UNITED ARE WINNING! WE’RE BEATING THE SPURS! GOAL! GOAL! GOAL!
But then straight away from the kick-off the Spurs equalise from a header by Gilzean, and then it’s half time with the score:
TORQUAY UNITED 1
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1
And now the teams run out again and there’s a roar of approval for Spurs and a gigantic cry for the United. But within five minutes were 2-1 down and, in another, 10 minutes, 3-1. Calamity! But no-one expects anything else and we are re-assured, and settle down, with nothing at stake, to watch a game of football.
Surprisingly we see that United don’t give up. An Atkinson pile-driving wing shot blasts narrowly over Bill Brown’s reaching fingers, but over the crossbar. A beautiful Tommy Northcott header unluckily slams the upright of crossbar and post. Really bad luck. Spurs have a goal disallowed, but it’s United doing most of the attacking – a 30-yard Benson shot just scrapes the bar and goes over.
The luck is so bad it seems a pointer to our defeat. But time passes – so quickly it seems – and the Spurs shouters are crowing ‘easy! easy! easy!’ Five minutes to go, a Torquay attack – repulsed – a goalmouth mix-up – I hang my head in desperation and frustration and look up to see the Spurs defence standing stock-still and the ball entering the net. It must be offside, but no! The ref gives a goal. Great, 2-3. That’ll be a respectable defeat.
The crowd, silent in the passing minutes, now becomes vociferous again, hoping for the impossible. I think, know, that it won’t happen, it couldn’t. When, two minutes later, another attack develops Stubbs sends in a hopeful low shot. I see it about to pass the post and groan with despair. Again I hang my head and as I do there’s a mighty, mighty shout, the ball is in the back of the net and the field is being invaded by a myriad legion of young and old United supporters. A goal! We’ve come back! We’re drawing 3-3 after being 1-3 down!
The pitch is cleared. I haven’t the slightest idea of time until I hear a fevered voice near me praying ‘blow, ref, blow’. Torquay attack again. I’m hoarse from cheering and out of breath from shouting. Suddenly it’s all over, and again, but to a greater degree this time, the field is invaded with spectators. The whole playing areas is covered. Our golden boys are drowned in a waterfall of arms, congratulations, and an emotion which is unique to football.
That’s why I go, every week, for once in a while something of a great and utter beauty like this happens. My friends and I walk out of the ground with 20,000 others, stunned, unbelieving, yet aware that we have been a part of a great moment. On the horizon are the hills of Chelston, and further south Paignton and Brixham and the sky is aflame with red, gold and sparkling white.
The crowd sings, Plainmoor empties, soon there will be no-one there, but the ghost of this wonderful afternoon will last forever.