Fixture congestion? I’ll give you fixture congestion
BY the time we leave Goodison Park on February 13, Albion will have clocked up 13 games in the 50 days since Boxing Day.
In the modern era, that is a pretty punishing schedule, not helped by us forcing ourselves to go through two FA Cup replays in the midst of it all.
Whether such a schedule is harder to handle in today’s football than in the past or not is a moot point and not one we’ll debate here but, given that we are still in the FA Cup, it’s an opportunity to look back at a couple of fixtures pile ups of yesteryear, years when there was no flying to games or getting on luxury coaches, special years when we made it to the FA Cup final.
In both those instances, the fixture congestion came later in the season as we tried to cram in games missed because of the weather and the cup run itself.
The 1968 triumph was the doyen of all cup runs. To carry off the trophy that year, we replayed in rounds three and four and needed two of the things to defeat Liverpool in round six, making it 10 FA Cup games in total before we carried off the trophy.
It was those Liverpool games that kicked off the end of season madness. On March 30th, we drew 0-0 with them at The Hawthorns, then hosted Sunderland in midweek, another 0-0. The goals were flooding in because that Saturday, it was 0-0 at Burnley’s Turf Moor on April 6th.
Then we got busy. Monday 8, 1-1 after extra-time at Anfield in the replay.
Friday 12, 2-2 at Newcastle United.
Saturday 13, 1-1 at home to Sheffield Wednesday.
Monday 15, 2-0 at home to Newcastle.
Thursday 18, beat Liverpool 2-1 at Maine Road in the second replay.
Saturday 20, lost 3-1 at Leeds.
After six games in 13 days, it quietened down a bit and we had a whole week to prepare for the semi-final with Birmingham at Villa Park. Presumably the players spent it in bed.
We vanquished the Blues on the Saturday and on Monday night, celebrated by beating Manchester United 6-3 at The Hawthorns. The Wednesday? We used that to defeat West Ham 3-1, Jeff Astle getting his second hat-trick inside 50 hours.
From there, these footballing lightweights just played every Saturday, drawing at Sunderland, losing at Arsenal then going all the way to extra-time to beat Everton.
The boys of 1912 were a little less lucky and rather more busy. Fitness coaches and foreign managers might prefer to shut their eyes before we reveal that to conclude that season, the Throstles turned out on 13 occasions in just 31 days.
Coincidentally, that run started on March 30 too, as we faced Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup semi-final. It ended 0-0 at Anfield and so we reconvened at Hillsborough four days later for the replay, Albion winning 1-0 after extra-time, just what we needed.
Beating April 5 and 13, life was comparatively leisurely as we played four games, three at home, one at Middlesbrough. And then the insanity began.
April 20 – FA Cup Final, drew 0-0 with Barnsley at the Crystal Palace.
April 22 – lost 3-0 at Everton.
April 24 – FA Cup final replay at Bramall Lane, lost 1-0 in extra-time.
April 25, lost 4-1 at Blackburn Rovers.
April 26, drew 0-0 at home to Bradford City.
April 27, lost 5-1 at home to Sheffield Wednesday.
April 29, drew 0-0 at home to Oldham.
The season had therefore ended with seven games in nine days, two of them FA Cup finals.
To be honest, I don’t know what the fuss is about....