Chichester City’s win against Bowers & Pitsea in the last round of qualifying in October brought an end to the club’s 59 year wait to make it to the first round proper of the FA Cup.
Then in an extraordinary draw barely 48 hours later Chi got a bye into the second round.
Much has been made of the history making achievements of this current side but on the 5th November 1960 Chichester faced Bristol City, then of Division Three, in the first round of the world’s oldest national football competition.
Fred Knotts and Nigel Hillier were part of that ‘Class of 1960’ team.
A convincing win over Dorchester Town in the FA Cup run six decades ago sent Chichester through to the first round for the first, and until now, only time in the club’s history. It was a memorable victory for Knotts, who at 21, was one of Chichester’s youngest players.
“Dorchester had a number of very good players and ex-pros in their side. We were all waiting to get out and play them, and to win 4-1 against a team like that was really special.”
Knotts’ teammate Hillier announced his engagement before the match and then scored a hat-trick against the Dorset side.
Hillier says, “At the time the Dorchester game was the biggest one most of us had played in. We were all lads from the Chichester area. We’d been winning games all that season. It was a big game but we went out thinking we could win it.”
Hillier, a former Boys’ Club player like many of that Chichester side, remembers his near post header against Dorchester, turning in a cross from Peter Harris, along with the goal that put the home side 3-1 up when he got to the ball first and slotted it in the back of the net after the visitors’ keeper spilled a shot.
Chichester had been drawn at home for the first round tie against Bristol but were compelled to request a switch to Ashton Gate. People from all over Sussex sent telegrams and messages to the Chichester team in Bristol wishing them well. One letter to centre forward Roy Gilfillan, the son of Jock Gilfillan who made over 350 appearances in goal for Portsmouth and featured in two FA Cup finals, offered the following piece of advice – “Keep John Atyeo quiet and you will be all right.”
The Chichester players were in a buoyant mood beforehand. “At the time I believed we were a good side” says Knotts. “We were doing so well in the county league and we all thought, well they can’t be that much better than us. But I suppose you learn a lot.”
“Everything was so fast. The pitch was so heavy. They were professionals and we were amateur players chasing shadows all afternoon. Johnny Atyeo was head and shoulders above everybody. He kept saying, “Put the ball here, put the ball over here” and it seemed like he was three feet or so above our centre half Derek Bailey.”
“We were doing so well in the county league and we all thought, well they can’t be that much better than us. But I suppose you learn a lot.”
Atyeo, who scored 351 goals in 645 games for the Robins and won six England caps, got five of the eleven goals Chichester conceded that day in a game Bristol dominated from the start.
Keeper Peter Thomas made a fine save to deny Atyeo before intense early pressure paid off when Adrian Williams put the hosts ahead from a sharp angle.
And Williams was instrumental as Bristol doubled their lead in the 10th minute.
A chance came and went for Gilfillan after 20 minutes or so and then Chichester were 3-0 down when a cross nicked in off Bailey past Thomas.
Micky Blythman wasn’t far away before Atyeo opened his account with a tap-in and added another after an effort caught Bailey out.
Teenager Peter Harris spurned a glorious opportunity for Chichester to pull one back following a jinking run by Gilfillan.
Atyeo completed a first half hattrick and then goals from Adrian Williams and Bobby Williams made it 8-0 before the break.
“At half time our manager said we’ve just got to keep at it” remembers Knotts. “That’s all he could say really.
“I think the interval helped us calm our nerves and we came into the game a bit more. They were just that much better than us. To think I had a job to walk round Bristol that evening just shows you I worked very hard.”
After the restart Gilfillan fired an attempt narrowly past the post and moments later latched on to a back pass, only to have his shot well saved.
Adrian Williams’ third goal made it 9-0 before a super Atyeo strike found the corner of the net.
Atyeo sealed an impressive individual performance with his fifth and his team’s eleventh.
There were chances for Chichester in the final minutes who went close through a rasping drive by Hillier and a lob from John Rumsey before Harris forced a smart stop out of the Bristol keeper.
After the heavy defeat a disappointed captain Gilfillan said, “We wanted just one goal, and I think the crowd wanted it as much as us.”
On the final whistle more than 12000 spectators, including 400 Chichester fans, applauded both teams.
“Seeing over 12,000 in the stadium was incredible” says Knotts. “Lots of supporters went to the game from this area and it was very different for us from playing in front of crowds of a few hundred.”
“It was a tough match of course but a great occasion, and we picked ourselves up and went on to win the county league that season, as we had done the year before. We were a good county side then and we’d played well to get to the first round of the FA Cup.”
Hillier says, “In a short space of time it became obvious we were going to get a good hiding. The fact that it was the first round proper of the FA Cup though was big in the overall picture of Chichester City Football Club. As players we could never have imagined we would play in front of 12,000 people.”
“We might have set up differently against Bristol in hindsight” he adds. “We all went with the same thought that we were going to give it a good go, but we didn’t really get enough of the ball to be honest. I don’t think anybody ever realised how much of a difference there was in those days between pros and people playing amateur football.”
Knotts, who was a ball boy in the 1956 FA Cup final where Manchester City beat Birmingham City thanks in part to the heroics of goalkeeper Bert Trautmann who carried on playing despite breaking his neck after a 75th minute collision with Birmingham’s Peter Murphy, believes there’s a magic that people attach to the FA Cup.
“The FA Cup is something quite special. Every youngster wanted to be in it when I was a kid. All I ever wanted to do was play football. I just wanted to get out and kick a football about.”
Knotts had to hang his boots up a couple of seasons after getting to play in that first round match in 1960 because of knee trouble.
Hillier went into management, with spells at Chichester and Selsey.
Both Knotts and Hillier have kept an eye on the fortunes of Chichester City over the years.
Hillier thinks those involved at Chichester now should make the most of their recent run in the FA Cup, “I’ve been to watch Chi this season and I like the way they play. They seem to have a very good spirit. They’ve played very, very well to get this far. Just enjoy it for all it’s worth because it doesn’t happen very often.”
Knotts watched this year’s FA Cup first round draw live on television, “We were thinking that ball’s not going to be the last one left is it? We couldn’t believe it. The celebrations were fantastic and the fact Chichester are going to give some money to Bury is a great thing. It’s a shame what’s happened to a club like that.”
The 11-0 scoreline against Bristol City still smarts but Knotts says, “It’s an achievement though isn’t it, to get to the first round of the FA Cup? That’s all you can say really. A wonderful achievement by all the lads. And I still see some of them now. It might be at funerals and celebrations. We’ve had a few reunions over the years. We’ll have to get those that are still with us all together for this next round I think.”
The draw for the second round will be made live on the BBC on Monday 11th November.
Chichester ‘Class of 1960’ FA Cup first round line-up against Bristol City –
Peter Thomas, Tony Cunningham, Fred Knotts, John Rumsey, Derek Bailey, David Aburrow, David Green, Nigel Hillier, Roy Gilfillan, Micky Blythman, Peter Harris.
Thanks to the Chichester Observer and West Sussex Records Office for photographs and match detail.