In the 9 months or so that it has taken for this seasons FA Cup competition to progress from the qualifying rounds through to the Final , a small group of just 13 surviving players who participated in those early post war Cup Finals of the 1940s and 1950s has been sadly depleted to just 9. A season that began with a direct link to the 1946 Final ends with no living player having participated in any Cup Final prior to 1956.
Just days after the Preliminary Round of this season’s FA Cup Competition had concluded it was announced on the 17th September 2020 that Reg Harrison a former Derby County player had passed away.
At the time of his death at the age of 97 he had been the oldest surviving footballer to have played in an FA Cup Final. He played in the 1946 Derby County Cup winning team that beat Charlton Athletic and was the last surviving player of that Final. There were no players alive who had played in an earlier FA Cup Final. Reg had spent his entire playing career at Derby and the Rams Heritage Trust set up a crowd funding page and quickly raised over £10,000 to ensure that his passing would not go unmarked.
Reg had outlived not just all those who played in the 1946 FA Cup Final but also all those who had played in the 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1952 Cup Finals as well.
That left just 12 survivors who played in those early televised Finals of the 1950s – just enough of them to make up a team. All 12 of them were to play in the aftermath of the Queen’s Coronation, when post war austerity gave way to an age of optimism, a new golden age, when Harold Macmillan told us “most of our people have never had it so good.”
This was a time when television sales and rentals increased rapidly and when friends and neighbours crowded around tiny screens watching grainy black and white images. FA Cup Final day was to quickly establish itself as the day when the Nation stopped doing what it was doing and when football took centre stage. By 1954 TV rental companies were pushing their product on the back of the FA CUP Final.
The last 12 players who remained and the Finals they played in were
- DOUG HOLDEN ( BOLTON WANDERERS ) 1953 & 1958
- TOMMY DOCHERTY ( PRESTON NORTH END ) 1954
- BILL LEIVERS ( MANCHESTER CITY ) 1956
- JOHNNY NEWMAN ( BIRMINGHAM CITY ) 1956
- PETER McPARLAND ( ASTON VILLA ) 1957
- BOBBY CHARLTON (MANCHESTER UNITED ) 1957 & 1958
- TOMMY BANKS ( BOLTON WANDERERS ) 1958
- BRIAN BIRCH ( BOLTON WANDERERS ) 1958
- JEFF WHITEFOOT ( NOTTINGHAM FOREST ) 1959
- TONY GREGORY ( LUTON TOWN ) 1959
- BILLY BINGHAM ( LUTON TOWN ) 1959
- RON BAYNHAM ( LUTON TOWN ) 1959
As this season’s competition continued , time again took its toll on those 12 survivors and before the 3rd Round ties were concluded we said farewell to the legendary Tommy Docherty who passed away on 31st December 2020 aged 92. Having played for Preston North End in the 1954 Final Tommy would later enjoy a successful managerial career which included taking Chelsea to the 1967 Final and Manchester United to the 1976 & 1977 Finals.
Tommy’s death was followed just 10 days later by that of Luton Towns Tony Gregory at the age of 83. That 1959 Cup Final appearance being the highlight of his career.
Then in early April the only surviving player from the famous “Matthews” Final of 1953 Doug Holden also passed away at the age of 90. Doug also got to play for Bolton in the 1958 Final and for Preston North End in the 1964 Final.
His passing reduced the number of surviving players to just 9 and meant the earliest Final in which there is a surviving player is 1956. The 2 survivors from that 1956 Final are Bill Leivers of Manchester City and Johnny Newman of Birmingham City. For both Leivers who is now 89 and Newman who is 87 that one Cup Final appearance would also be the highlight of their football careers.
There are two survivors from the 1957 Final , Bobby Charlton who at the age of 83 is one of the youngest of the group and having survived the Munich air disaster would go on and play in the 1958 and 1963 Finals for Manchester United and Peter McParland of Aston Villa who is now 87 and for whom that Cup Final appearance would be a career highlight.
From the 1958 Final are two Bolton Wanderers players , Tommy Banks aged 91 – footballs very own “Last Tommy” , and Brian Birch who is just 83, for both it was their only appearance in an FA Cup Final.
Finally from 1959 there are 3 survivors, Luton Towns Billy Bingham who would go on and have a successful career as a Manager , he is now 89, goalkeeper Ron Baynham who at the age of 91 is the Oldest of the group and the Oldest surviving England International and Nottingham Forests Jeff Whitefoot who collected a League winners medal with Manchester United in 1955.
These players are the last links to that golden age of Black and White Cup Finals when singing along to “Abide with me” was enthusiastically embraced. They are disappearing all too fast as the table below illustrates.
Soon these great names that are very much part of the very fabric and folklore of the FA Cup will all be gone. Time marches on.