By FA Cup Factfile (Twitter @FACupFactfile) – https://facupfactfile.wordpress.com/
Nineteen seventy-seven was a memorable year for the whole nation. Anyone who was alive at the time can remember with fondness the wonderful celebrations and street parties that took place for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. The nation also came together on a sporting front to support Virginia Wade as she became what was to become the last British women’s champion to date of Wimbledon. But in one Derbyshire town, 1977 was a made a memorable year for a third, and more special, reason as the local football club Matlock Town made it all the way to the Third Round of the FA Cup for the first and only time in its history.
The Gladiators were formed in 1878 and played simply as Matlock up until the First World War. The club entered the FA Cup in 1885-86 season, one of 22 teams to enter the competition for the first time in that season. In those pre-Football League days of the competition there were no Qualifying Rounds and for three successive seasons, the club appeared in and were knocked out in the First Round losing 7-0 to Stafford Road Works (Wolverhampton) in their inaugural FA Cup match, followed by a 6-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers and a 3-2 home defeat to Rotherham Town in the next two seasons.
Once the Football League began in 1888, clubs like Matlock had to participate in Qualifying Rounds, as would eventually become the case for all Non-League sides over time. It wasn’t until the 1890-91 season that the club finally registered their first FA Cup victory, a 1-0 home win over Derby St Luke’s, and it would be another 69 years before they appeared in the First Round once again. In that 1959-60 season the club was playing in the Central Alliance Division One North and lost to 1-0 in a replay to Crook Town from the Northern League.
By the 1974 season though, Matlock Town were a regular Northern Premier League club. In those days this league was one step below the Football League, although promotion into the exclusive club was nigh on impossible in the days before automatic promotion and relegation, with the 92 members of the Football League almost acting like a closed shop. In that 1974-75 season The Gladiators made it to the First Round once again where they faced a League club for the first time ever in the shape of Division Three side Blackburn Rovers, but went down 4-1 at home. They made the First Round once again the following season but succumbed to fellow Northern Premier League side Wigan Athletic by the same 4-1 scoreline. But things were to be oh so different the next season, a season full of FA Cup firsts for the club.
In the Fourth Qualifying Round of the 1976-77 FA Cup competition, Matlock Town was drawn away to Telford United, a Southern League Premier club, playing at a level purportedly on a par with the Northern Premier League, but who had entered the competition three rounds earlier scoring nine goals in their three victories. However, Matlock had no trouble overcoming The Bucks running out 5-2 winners and making the First Round of the FA Cup for the third successive season, a feat not achieved since those first three seasons in the late nineteenth century. But this time things were to be very different.
Matlock was drawn at home to their previous year’s conquerors, Wigan Athletic, just two seasons before their opponents were to become a Football League side. However, The Gladiators were able to exact revenge for that defeat with Tom and Nick Fenoughty scoring a goal apiece to give Matlock a 2-0 victory and take the club into the Second Round of the competition for the first time ever. The draw for that Second Round sent the club to Third Division Mansfield Town, a club with no particular FA Cup pedigree, but one that had been a Football League for over forty years, one who had made the Fifth Round of the competition just two seasons previously (and the Quarter Finals six years before that), and one who were not only plying their trade two divisions above Matlock, but were leading that Division at the time.
Matlock Town made a mockery of the difference in League status to run out 5-2 winners, thanks in part to another Nick Fenoughty double, to record the club’s first ever victory over Football League opposition and to take the club into the promised land of the FA Cup Third Round for the first time in their history, with the potential opportunity to face a top flight club. As it happens the draw didn’t throw up a romantic trip to a Division One side, but instead sent The Gladiators to Division Two club Carlisle United, a club on the wane from their own brief historical run to the top of Division One and an FA Cup Quarter Final just two years earlier. This time it was not to be for Matlock as Colin Oxley scored their only goal in a 5-1 defeat.
Another 13 seasons would pass before Matlock Town would make their final appearance to date in the FA Cup First Round, another 4-1 defeat to Division Four side Scunthorpe United. But that 1976-77 FA Cup run and solitary Third Round should be fondly remembered by all those associated with the club, rightly able to feel proud of that achievement in the knowledge that over 2,800 other clubs who have entered this illustrious competition over the years have never ventured that far in their own histories.