Leeds United: Lorimer on Whites FA Cup exit at Colchester United

The garrison town of Colchester will forever be associated with Leeds United being spectacularly shot to pieces on one infamous winter's afternoon in the early 70s.

Nearly 40 years have passed since Don Revie's all-star cast were gunned down by little Colchester United of the old fourth division in front of 16,000 delirious Essex folk at ramshackle Layer Road in a fateful FA Cup fifth-round tie, which saw the hosts joyously triumph 3-2.

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But for many in white jerseys that day, the wounds remain fresh following a result which caused footballing folk across the country to shake their heads in incredulous disbelief, followed by a fair bit of mirth.

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The fortieth anniversary of one of the most seismic shocks in cup history arrives in just over a fortnight's time on February 13 and while the home players from that day – several of whom are into their seventies – still dine out of that finest of hours and will be raising a glass or two again next month, their Leeds counterparts will probably be reaching for the Alka-Seltzers.

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Long in the tooth, Colchester's side – nicknamed "Grandad's Army" – may have been, but what they lacked in youthful energy and exuberance, they made up for nous and experience under the canny leadership of boss Dick Graham, a playing team-mate of Whites chief Revie in the post-war years at Leicester City.

Never one to leave anything to chance, fastidious Graham almost played Revie at his own game.

Recognising Leeds' predilection to play on wide open pitches, he made

the already tight Layer Road pitch tighter by placing chairs and benches around is edges, while in the week prior to the tie, his side spent an indeterminate number of hours practising crossing into the penalty areas due to the perceived weakness in the air of Gary Sprake, castigated for conceding the decisive goal that saw the Whites turned over by Liverpool the previous weekend.

Graham's tactics worked a treat, with veteran U's frontman Ray Crawford assuming particular legendary status after scoring twice in the first-half – including a thumping header – and David Simmons adding a third to put the hosts – 74 places below their mighty opponents – in dreamland.

Second-half strikes from United's Norman Hunter and Johnny Giles hinted at saving face for the illustrious visitors, but the day belonged to Colchester's wily old stagers, six of whom were over thirty – with the result then acknowledged as being the biggest cup upset since Third Division minnows Walsall saw off Arsenal in 1933.

Stricken keeper Sprake copped most of the brickbats in terms of the post-match criticism and was promptly dropped by Revie and while nearly four decades have passed since that fateful day, the bad memories still linger for United's playing cast, one of whom – Peter Lorimer – was handed an unwelcome reminder of yesterday-year on the south coast last weekend.

Namely from Colchester's two-goal hero Crawford – born and bred in Portsmouth – and present at Pompey's clash with United at Fratton Park.

Whites legend Lorimer said: "Interestingly, Ray Crawford lives in Portsmouth and he was at the game last week and we did a (radio) link talking about it. But I sort of passed it over!

"In terms of the day itself, I just remember feeling embarrassed at the end of the game; it was so embarrassing for everybody.

"It wasn't that we had a weakened side, we had a good side.

Unfortunately, Gary (Sprake) had one of his bad days...

"Still, we should have beaten Colchester. It's one of those when you look back on your career at a couple of really bad games, that Colchester was the prime one.

"That was the biggest embarrassment, although we lost to Sunderland in the (FA) cup final and that was embarrassing as well. But Sunderland were a far better side than Colchester..."

While some point in mitigation to the fact that United were without their midfield talisman – in the shape of Billy Bremner – and most ingenious attacking light in Eddie Gray at Layer Road, with star striker Allan Clarke also playing despite being under the weather after having a temperature of 106 overnight, Lorimer is adamant that any excuses from that day were lame.

Written off as cannon fodder ahead of the tie they may have been – with some talk ever suggesting of the U's switching their tie to Elland Road to at least swell their coffers – but to the Colchester players and Graham's credit, the shock they manufactured was planned.

The hosts were both well drilled and ready to inflict defeat upon the best team of the country, the ripples of which were felt for many days to come.

In the pre-match sparring, Crawford – the son of a professional boxer – boasted that he always played well against Jack Charlton, who returned for the game after a fortnight out with a broken nose – labelling the World Cup-winning centre-half as his "rabbit's foot."

And the striker certainly ended up a happy bunny, with his two savage goalscoring blows felt more grievously by Charlton, Sprake and United

et al, than if they had been administered by a world-champion pugilist.

The only saving grace from a wretched day was that its horror memories arguably helped provide some of the fuel for United's successful silverware sortie in the world's most famous cup competition the very next season – with Revie's star-studded troops lifting the cup for the first time in the centenary final against Arsenal in May 1972.

But you still never quite forget...

Lorimer said: "The cup was massive in my day.

"You didn't have the Champions League with all the league matches, although you did have the European Cup.

"To play at Wembley was the pinnacle of anyone's career.

"It's a question you often get asked: 'Was it great to play at Wembley?' And it was.

"Everyone used to talk about the FA Cup and everyone remembers Colchester.

"In terms of what happened, there were no excuses on the day.

"It was one of those days where when you try and analyse it, you can't come up with the answer – you've just got to forget it and get on with it."

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