July 11 2017: triumph and tragedy

It’ll be 14 years on Tuesday since John Noddings died while playing in a charity match at Tow Law, 50 years in December since the Lawyers’ indelible 5-1 FA Cup win over Mansfield Town. I was at both games.

John, who was 56, had been one of the mainstays of the Evenwood Town team which won successive Northern League titles in 1970 and 1971. He collapsed after 25 minutes and died despite efforts by referee Nigel Miller – a police officer – and others to save him.

“The sort of fellow who’d have been enthusiastic about a game of tiddleywinks,” said match organiser Charlie Donaghy, who continued to stage an annual fund raising game in John’s memory.

The Mansfield encounter, of course, is memorable for altogether happier reasons. Lawyers’ secretary Steve Moralee plans some sort of reunion in December and would love to know the whereabouts of team members.

Mansfield had been so alarmed when the draw was made that they’d sought help from the altitude sickness expert advising the British squad for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. He couldn’t do much about the cold, though.

The first attempt to play the tie was abandoined in a blizzard with the score goalless. Ahead of the second, four days later, several feet of snow had been removed from the Ironworks Road pitch – much of it no further than the sidelines.

Tow Law did its worst. “The Mansfield players were literally screaming with the cold,” Lawyers goalkeeper Mike Ingoe once recalled.

The third division side led at half-time through a 32nd minute goal from former Tow Law player Terry Melling. Memory fails to confirm that our boys were kicking down in the second half but you wouldn’t bet against it.

George Cairns equalised in the 51st minute, George Brown converted a penalty in the 64th, Tommy Henderson, Brown and Terry Hunt adding further goals. “I think they just gave up after our third,” said George Brown, an England amateur international, but perhaps they were just frozen to the spot.

The second round tie, home to Shrewsbury Town, was finally played on a Monday afternoon in January, the wind said to be “bone chilling”. It ended 1-1.

By then it was known that the winners would be at home to Arsenal, with no thought of switching the venue to accommodate southern softies. “For the Gunners it would be a fate worse than death,” said the Daily Mirror, a little over-dramatically.

It wasn’t. Shrewsbury won the replay 6-2. Things warmed up a bit after that.

*Terry Hunt died in 2002, aged 60. His cousin Harry, also in the side, died in 2011. Steve Moralee would love to hear from other players from that epic encounter or from anyone who knows their whereabouts. He’s on 07810 238731, email stephen.moralee@btinternet.com

 

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