It was a real FA Cup epic

The last time Preston North End and Liverpool clashed head-on in the FA Cup it took three games – but only a single goal – to decide it. More than 136,000 paid to watch three nerve-jangling matches at Anfield, Deepdale and Old Trafford in the winter of 1962.

And not even traffic chaos, a broken-down team bus and an Arctic blizzard could prevent North End emerging after 300 minutes of toe-to-toe cup football to claim a home tie against Manchester United in the next round.

"They were all ding-dong contests, real thrillers," recalled defender George Ross who played in all three matches in the space of 10 days. "It was fantastic, a true FA Cup epic. And they are magic memories."

When the two clubs were drawn together in the fifth round Liverpool, under Bill Shankly, were running away with the Second Division and scoring goals for fun.

Preston were mid-table and still trying to come to terms with the retirement of the great Tom Finney 18 months earlier.

The form book suggested Shankly's new side would easily dispose of his old one.

North End, it was felt, would not be able to live with the burgeoning skills of Roger Hunt, Ian St John and Ian Callaghan.

But amazingly a team which found the net 105 times that season could not score once against Jimmy Milne's gritty team over three games.

Instead it was North End and a player they eventually sold to Liverpool – winger Peter Thompson – who snatched victory in dramatic fashion.

"There was no sudden death in those days, no penalty shoot-outs," said right-back Ross.

"Over at Anfield we did well, then when we brought them back here I reckon we set the unofficial crowd record for Deepdale. There were fans everywhere, they were up pylons and hanging from the rafters. The crowd figure given out was just under 38,000, but so many more had got in. There were more watching than that. Liverpool were a very good side and they ended up winning the Second Division that year by quite a way. But we were a match for them in all three games.

"I don't recall much about the details of each game, but I do remember Peter Thompson's goal was a good one. It was great that we then went on and played Manchester United in the fifth round and we took them to a replay before they beat us at their place. It was quite a cup run. But in total we played Liverpool five times that season with two games in the league. They beat us both times, but not in the cup. In fact we became such mates with the Liverpool players after those five games that we had a good few games of golf with them in the months after."

In the first game, in front of a 54,967 crowd at Anfield, Alex Dawson had the ball in the Liverpool net twice, but both were scratched out by offside flags.

With minutes remaining the centre-forward saw a piledriver deflected past the post.

A reporter at the time described the game as a "rip-roaring cup-tie," adding Preston had turned the Anfield roar into a murmur. Shankly, who had been a player with North End, attacked his old club for their "spoiling" tactics, claiming they had gone to Anfield looking for a draw.

Fans queued from 7am on the Monday for tickets to the Deepdale replay on the following night and traffic chaos meant the Liverpool coach was caught up in the jams and only arrived at the ground with a police escort at 7.32pm, two minutes after the appointed kick-off time.

The match was delayed for 25 minutes. So many fans were locked out that some climbed over walls, scaled barbed wire and even took a gate off its hinges to gain admission to a stadium already up to capacity with 37,825 inside.

Once again North End defied the bookies in another pulsating contest.

In fact they almost winning it twice near the end with a Jim Smith shot which got a lucky deflection into the keeper's arms and a Dawson bullet which was blocked on the line.

Off the teams went to a neutral ground for the second replay and this time 63,468 turned out in atrocious weather to watch a third thriller. Blizzard conditions meant North End's team bus broke down near Chorley and had to be replaced. Then the windscreen wipers on the second bus stopped working in the freeze up. Eventually the team needed a police escort with flashing lights to get them to Old Trafford.

Thompson needed permission to drop out of the England Under-23 game against Scotland to play – his first international call-up. He also had to overcome a thigh injury which, as late as the morning of the game, looked like it would keep him out. In the end he was persuaded to play with his left leg heavily strapped and scored the winning goal 10 minutes into the second half after 265 minutes of deadlock.

Jim Smith's punt into the middle was firmly headed out by big centre-half Ron Yeats, but it fell invitingly for Thompson and the winger hit it straight back past keeper Bert Slater to claim a famous win.

Two weeks later the scene of Preston's triumph turned into a venue of disappointment when, having held Manchester United to a goalless draw in the sixth round at Deepdale, they went down 2-1 in the replay at Old Trafford. 

Copyright - Lancashire Evening Post

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