Less than three years earlier, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters had helped England win the World Cup.
But on Wednesday, February 26 1969, they were brought down to earth by an FA Cup sensation that the national press dubbed “the miracle in the Mansfield mud”. The Hammers, sitting as high as sixth in the old First Division, were hammered -- 3-0 by an inspired Stags side, who duly sailed into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for the first and only time in their history.
The eagerly-awaited Fifth Round tie had fallen foul of heavy snow on its original date. And there were no fewer than four more postponements before it finally got the go ahead, in front of a crowd of 21,117, who paid record gate receipts for the club of £7,200.
West Ham were managed by Ron Greenwood, who went on to boss England. And as well as his World Cup heroes, Greenwood’s side included a young Trevor Brooking, Hammers stalwart Billy Bonds and winger Harry Redknapp.
Mansfield, bossed by the wily Tommy Eggleston, were locked in a relegation battle two divisions below the London outfit. But their Cup run had got the town buzzing and after wins over Sheffield United and Southend United in the previous two rounds, Eggleston started with the same 11 again.
West Ham missed early chances, with Hurst squandering one from only eight yards and Redknapp ballooning a shot out of the ground with only ‘keeper Dave Hollins to beat. But it wasn’t long before the heavy pitch began to take its toll on the visitors’ intricate passing game. The Stags preferred to knock it long towards twin strikers Dudley Roberts and Bob Ledger -- and they got their reward in the 22nd minute when Roberts put them in front.
Sixteen minutes later, Roberts went up for a cross from Jimmy Goodfellow. Hammers’ keeper Bobby Ferguson could only punch the ball to Ray Keeley, who volleyed, first time, into the net.
Four minutes later, Stags fans were in dreamland as they made it three. It stemmed from another blunder by Ferguson that allowed Nick Sharkey, Stags’ effervescent playmaker, to pounce, dribble round the ‘keeper and slot home.
By now, shellshocked West Ham could do little to stem the tide, even though Moore often careered upfield to try and inspire his side. With Stuart Boam shackling Hurst and Johnny Quigley pulling the strings in midfield, Mansfield continued to create chances and could have had more goals.
The shock led to banner headlines in all the national papers. ‘Mansfield Glory Boys’ screamed one. “They danced on the pitch at Field Mill,” said another.
The Sun praised “magnificent Mansfield”, while the ‘Daily Mirror’ hailed Stags’ “direct, determined football, which brought them a prize beyond their wildest dreams”.
Greenwood was equally magnanimous, describing Stags as “a great team” and adding: “It wasn’t that we played badly. They played better, and I wish them luck.”
In the crowd on the night was none other than Bill Shankly, whose title-chasers Liverpool were expected to be Stags’ opponents in the quarter-finals. However, they suffered a shock defeat to relegation-threatened Leicester City, who duly visited Field Mill for the Sixth Round on Saturday, March 8.
By the time of the tie, the draw for the semis had already been made, with Mansfield set to take on Cup holders West Brom at Hillsborough. But sadly, in front of a record crowd of 23,500, Eggleston’s men were beaten 1-0 by Leicester, who went on to lose 1-0 to Manchester City in the Wembley final.
The end of the Cup run left Stags with several matches to squeeze in to avoid relegation. Thankfully, they managed it with three points to spare and they even ended the season with a trophy because the ‘Daily Mirror’ presented them with the annual Giant Killers’ Cup.
STAGS LINE-UP -- Hollis/ Pate, Hopkinson, Quigley, Boam, Waller, Keeley, Sharkey, Ledger, Roberts, Goodfellow. WEST HAM LINE-UP -- Ferguson/ Bonds, Howe, Peters, Stevenson, Moore, Redknapp, Lindsay, Brooking, Hurst, Sissons.
SHARE your Stags’ memories by e-mailing us at [email protected]