So near yet so far. The FA Cup run 1952.
The 1951/52 F.A.Cup run moved off to an eyebrow raising start when Gordon Turner, in his first cup tie, netted with a scorching shot to see off top flight Charlton at Kenilworth Road.
Brentford were the visitors in the next round and it was Turner again who scored after 18 minutes and then watched as the Bee’s veteran goalkeeper Ted Gaskell performed miracles, keeping out three goalbound efforts from Bert Mitchell, George Stobbart and Jack Taylor.
When Taylor scored the second soon after the interval the game seemed over but Brentford’s Billy Sperrin, whose son was later to play for the Town, turned the tie on its head netting twice to force a replay.
The replay almost did not go ahead on the allotted day of 6th February due to the death of the King that morning but frantic telephone calls to the F.A. confirmed that the match should take place and in the event 31,143 turned up at Griffin Park in sombre mood but were soon roaring their approval as the contest swung from end to end.
The Town started the brighter but the Bees came into the game as the interval approached with Billy Dare hitting the woodwork twice. The Luton defence stood firm and were then able to set up attacks with Taylor proving a major threat to the home side.
Extra-time could not separate the teams who were still going at it hammer and tongs as the referee blew the final whistle with the ball bouncing around in the Bee’s penalty box.
No penalty competitions in those days and a second replay was quickly arranged with the teams travelling to Highbury to resume this marathon contest. This time an intrigued crowd of 37,269 was present to see the Town take the lead after only 30 seconds when Taylor’s shot was deflected past Gaskell by full-back Kenny Horne.
Dare levelled on the half hour but within five minutes Bernard Moore put the Hatters back into the lead. With seven minutes remaining Dare levelled the tie once more and again the punch drunk supporters were about to witness another period of extra-time.
Finally, the pace of the game began to slacken off and the battle was confined to the midfield area. With only seven minutes left of extra-time, Bob Morton picked up the ball on the half-way line and with no-one challenging him advanced to the edge of the area before unleashing an unstoppable left foot shot which deserved to win any game.
The reward was yet another home tie, this time against Swindon. The Robins had held the Kenilworth Road attendance record since 1938 when 27,546 were present for a fourth round F.A.Cup tie but managed to beat it by seven in 1952.
Swindon shocked the Hatters when they scored after only six minutes but after Taylor levelled just before the interval there was only going to be one winner and the Town ran out fairly comfortable 3-1 victors by the end.
The quarter-final draw pitched the Town against a team in red for the fourth time in the cup run with mighty Arsenal the visitors to Kenilworth Road for an all-ticket tie. The ground record was smashed with 28,433 paying £6,159, another record, managing to squeeze in and the majority went wild when Moore spectacularly headed in Mitchell’s centre after nine minutes.
The Gunners could not get into the game and made no headway against the Luton defence which was being superbly marshalled by Syd Owen, that is, until just before the interval when a crude challenge by Peter Goring left the Luton centre-half a limping passenger with a badly damaged ankle.
With Owen unable to kick with his right foot and unable to turn, Arsenal smelt blood and finally Freddie Cox levelled when the game was an hour old. The Town were then reduced to nine fit men when Roy Davies was carried off with a broken ankle following a clash with Lionel Smith and further goals from Cox and Milton seemed to put the game out of the Hatter’s reach.
The Town received a lifeline with 15 minutes left when Arsenal’s Welsh international centr-half Ray Daniel handled in the area leaving Mitchell to net from the spot and bring about a frantic finale to a game that left a sour taste in the mouth as witnessed by the hostile reception accorded the victors at the end.
Luton Town: Streten, Cooke, Aherne, Morton, Owen, Watkins, Davies, Taylor, Moore, Stobbart, Mitchell.
Arsenal: Swindin, Barnes, Smith, Shaw, Daniel, Mercer, Cox, Milton, Goring, Lishman, Roper.