Altrincham, 1988 and all that

I don’t want to show any disrespect to Guiseley, but if we can overcome them this evening then I’m told we have a ‘winnable tie’ against national League North side Altrincham.

It wouldn’t be the first time we faced Alty either, and the last time didn’t end very happily for the mighty Imps as we became yet another scalp for the side from Greater Manchester.

Way back in 1988/89 we’d just been promoted back to the Football League and didn’t have to suffer the indignity of a 4th qualifying round. Altrincham did, they were in the Vauxhall Conference we’d just left behind. In the qualifying round they drew bitter rivals Macclesfield and eventually despatched them 4-0 after a replay. When the balls came out of the hat we were given a trip to Moss Lane on 19th November, my tenth birthday.

We had faced them twice in the Conference, drawing 0-0 at Moss Lane in September before rattling five off without reply at Sincil Bank in March 1988. With us climbing up to the football league most fans imagined we might get a decent result against our lower league opponents and progress to a second and hopefully lucrative third round tie.

Alty had a reputation for giant killing even back then, and today they hold the record for knocking out more Football League sides than any other club that has spent its entire history playing in non-league. In 1985/86 they defeated a strong Birmingham City side featuring David Seaman in goal, and they’d beaten eight league clubs in the competition since 1979/80.

Carlo gives us a 2-1 lead over Altrincham in 1988. He’s a masseuse at Man City now.


City were on a good run though. After an opening day defeat by Hartlepool we’d settled relatively well back in league football. Former hero Gordon Hobson has returned for a second time and he’d gone about forming a strong partnership with Willie Gamble who had netted four times after winning a first team spot.

In the run up to the cup game we had won four and lost three, with the two games immediately before bringing six points. Hobson had scored five in two games as we’d hammered Burnley 4-1 at Turf Moor before despatching Exeter City 2-0 at Sincil Bank. Confidence was high.

We were suffering from an couple of key injuries though, forward Paul Smith had been injured since an early season 1-1 draw at Peterborough, and influential midfielder Bob Cumming had missed eight games as well. It was Cumming’s first game back, but to throw a spanner in the works ahead of the match full back Clive Evans was ruled out meaning a first (and only) start of the season for Neil Franklin.

It was a bitterly cold day in Manchester and Alty proved to be incredibly resilient and tough to break down. After they took an early lead Darren Davis headed his first goal for City to level the scores. Mark ‘Carlo’ Sertori nodded in Dave Clarke’s free kick to give us a 2-1 advantage and for a short while it looked like we were on our way to the next round.

However Altrincham scored not once but twice as the game drew to a close. Colin Murphy brought off defender Clarke and sent on Gamble to try and snatch the game, and in the dying moments Bob Cumming almost made it 3-3. Almost.

However the final whistle blew and we were out to lower league opposition in front of an impressive crowd of 2169. We were just another notch on the Altrincham head board of giant killing.

Seven days later we were back on form defeating Halifax 2-1 at Sincil Bank with goals from Trevor Matthewson and Bob Cumming, and seven days after that it was the Shaymen who finally ended Alty’s cup run with a 3-0 victory.

Bob Cumming almost brings the tie level


Since then they’ve managed to beat Chester and Wigan, and most recently they turned over Barnsley winning 1-0 in the first round of last years competition. I appreciate a win for them in our potential tie wouldn’t register as beating league opposition, but it would be a giant killing of sorts.

The ‘magic’ of the FA Cup always has a conflicting back story. For every giant-killing there is a so-called giant wallowing in their inefficiency. For every Bracknell Town (4-0 in 2000) there’s a Dagenham and Redbridge (1-0, same year). Lower league opposition does not mean easy progress, and in this instance we haven’t even got to the lower league opposition yet. We’re looking forward to a potential tie with Altrincham and it could just be another ghost tie like West Ham or Liverpool, when Emley and Mansfield not only stood in our way, but took away the tie.

Is there an omen that it was Guiseley that Alty beat in the play-off final of 2013-14? Probably not.

So despite me looking back to 1988/89 this morning, let’s not do any looking forward until we have played (and hopefully beaten) a tough and organised Guiseley this evening. Then, and only then we can worry about giant killers Altrincham.

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