For the second time in three seasons the FA Cup final pitched a side from the second division against top flight opposition but unlike Sunderland’s victory over Leeds United in 1973, there would be no romantic ending for Fulham on this occasion.
All the elements for a Fulham victory were there. The plucky 2nd division side had in their line up Bobby Moore, the former West Ham legend, who had been cast aside by the East London club at the end of the previous season. The Cottagers were also led by a gnarled veteran of the English game in Alan Mullery and were the choice of most neutrals before the game.
There was also a stark contrast in the experience of the two sides. Fulham were led out at Wembley by the veteran manager Alex Stock, a man who was making his first appearance as a manager in a Cup Final after 30 years in the game. Alongside him leading out the Hammers was John Lyall who was also a Cup Final debutant but just nine months into his managerial career.
On the playing side as well there were huge differences in experience. Mullery and Moore were veterans of the Wembley stage, with Moore making his 47th appearance under the twin towers. In goal for West Ham was Mervyn Day, a 19 year old rookie who was the youngest keeper in Cup final history.
Fulham did look a little odd as they entered the field, their white shirts boasting a huge fly away collar whilst all the players looked as if they were wearing slippers with the makers markings on their boots all blacked out making for a strange look alongside their black socks.
The look was not a particularly fetching one for goalkeeper Peter Mellor. With his blond hair flapping in the wind he looked like someones geeky uncle who had turned up and been allowed to play in goal, particularly as was the style in those days of the keepers not wearing gloves. The feeling of him being out of place was reinforced after his first couple of kicks from han, which were quite hopeless, barely reaching the half way line.
Fulham were the side that looked the liveliest in the early stages, John Lacy heading over from their first corner. In Viv Busby Fulham had a hard working centre forward and he was the first player to test a goalkeeper firing a decent effort from the edge of the area straight at Day.
The match was one of endeavour but very little quality. Lacy again won a header from a corner, but lacked the power to test Day, while at the other end Frank Lampard tried his luck with a long range effort, Mellor again showing his awkwardness by getting down low to save.
The first decent chance fell to the Hammers. Trevor Brooking, showing signs of the class in midfield which he would become famous for, delivered a great deep cross to the back post which saw Billy Jennings get up well to meet with a powerful header which forced Mellor to get across his goal and hold on to the ball.
David Coleman, on commentary duty for the BBC, delivered his usual elegant description of the passage of play, describing Brookings cross as “sheer perfection to tempt the defender but so accurate it found Jennings to the inch.”
As the half drew to a close it was West Ham who were gaining the upper hand with another couple of headed opportunities. First Alan Taylor got on the end of a floated free kick from Graham Paddon, just putting the ball over the bar before Jennings once again found himself free in the area, this time his header a weak one from around the penalty area which caused Mellor minimum problems.
The half time whistle blew with the game goalless, Coleman describing the game as “a fascinating match, very evenly balanced.”
The second half started with the First Division side in the ascendency, John McDowell testing Mellor with a long range effort, a test the keeper only passed at the second attempt, almost spilling the ball before securing it.
For Fulham Bobby Moore was still showing that although his legs were not what they were, he still had a touch of class about his game, floating a delightful 40 yard ball to Busby after a piece of ubercool defending.
It seemed to raise Fulham’s game and they created a great chance a few moments later. John Mitchell spun away cleverly from a throw in and struck a vicious shot towards the near post, forcing a brilliant block from Day, a save that Coleman enjoyed: “Day left him nothing … The shot brilliantly struck, the goalkeeping immaculate.”
The save by the 19 year old keeper was probably the turning point in the match. From that point on West Ham, as if sensing that it could be their day, stepped up the pressure. Lampard again tried his luck from distance, firing just wide. Just after the hour it was West Ham’s romantic lead in this tale stepped to the fore.
Alan Taylor had been plying his trade at Rochdale at the start of the season but a £50000 gamble by John Lyall was about to pay its biggest dividend.
A mistake by fullback John Cutbush saw him cede possession in the middle of the park. Pat Holland collected the ball feeding Jennings. His shot was palmed away by Mellor at full stretch. The ball though fell into the path of Taylor who drilled the ball low and hard through Mellor who had recovered but allowed the ball to pass between his legs, falling in an awkward manner with knees togther but legs apart.
“Right through Peter Mellor” said Coleman before advising the viewers of Taylor’s remarkable adventure in the FA Cup, “What a story this is, two in the sixth round, two in the semi final, one in the final.” It was a tale which had not yet reached its conclusion.
Just four minutes later the Hammers doubled their lead and it was Taylor again who capitalised on an error by Mellor. A long range effort from Paddon proved too hot for Fulham’s hapless keeper to handle and he spilt it straight into the path of the predatory Taylor who lifted the ball over the keeper into the roof of the net from just six yards out.
“And Taylor again” screamed Coleman, adding: “No one would dare to write a story like this – even in the fictional world.”
The second goal seemed to knock all the stuffing out of Fulham and their fans. It was the East End of London that was firmly in the ascendency with the strains of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles ringing out around the stadium.
Fulham did have one last push to try to grab a lifeline and some consolation. Alan Slough headed over after West Ham failed to clear a swirling cross. Then Day came to the Hammers rescue one more time, producing a great save to thwart the Cottagers. A long ball over the top found its way right through to Mitchell who hit a low shot which Day got down to block. He was unable to hold the shot, but unlike the unfortunate Mellor at the other end, Fulham did not have a poacher in the vicinity to knock in the rebound.
Mellor was given one last chance to redeem himself as he denied Lampard from adding a third. Paddon pulled the ball into the path of the full back on the edge of the area , Lampard firing towards the top corner only to see the Fulham keeper claw the ball away.
Shortly after the final whistle blew, handing West Ham the victory. It was not to be the fairytale ending for Bobby Moore but as David Coleman quite rightly pointed out there was still a story to be told from the 1975 FA Cup Final as “Alan Taylor completes one of the stories in the long romance of the FA Cup.”
The only blemish on the tale came after the final whistle with West Ham unable to undertake a lap of honour due to the over exuberance of their supporters who had invaded the pitch at the final whistle. It was another sign of the lawlessness which was creeping into the English game, but was not enough to spoil Alan Taylor’s day in the sun.