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History: Rovers meet Carlisle United for the first time

28 November 2020

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“CARLISLE UNITED SPRING A SURPRISE.” *

93 years ago, almost to the day, Doncaster Rovers and Carlisle United met in the FA Cup for the only time, at least until this weekend’s fixture. The game was a dramatic one, featuring a late twist and a major act of giant-killing … not in Rovers favour.

When Rovers were drawn to take on Carlisle United in November 1927, they must have been confident of success. Granted, North-Eastern League members Carlisle were an ambitious club. For the last two seasons they had applied for membership of the Football League without success. Rovers, meanwhile, were on a run of nine successive wins in the League which put them top of Division Three (North).

So, on Saturday 26th November 1927 Rovers arrived at Brunton Park to face the non-Leaguers, in front of a bumper crowd of 11,128. Rovers soon found themselves on the back foot, goalkeeper Jack Maughan and his defence being kept busy. Half-an-hour in Carlisle were ahead when winger George Graham found Billy Ward, whose shot was deflected past Maughan by Fred Emery. Rovers regrouped and just before the interval they levelled, Paddy McConnell scoring from close range.  The teams turned round level at 1-1.

Rovers had more of the play in the second half, without creating many chances, while Maughan remained busy in their goal. Then with 15 minutes remaining Carlisle’s Jack Dowsey fed winger George Bell whose shot was handled in the box by Emery, who was not enjoying the best of days. John Jepson beat Maughan from the spot and a shock was very much on the cards. There was to be one final twist: in the final minute Rovers were awarded a penalty and with the normally reliable Tom Keetley deputed to take the kick, a replay looked likely. However, George Prout, in the home goal, made a magnificent save. Soon afterwards the referee blew the final whistle and Rovers had suffered a rare giant-killing defeat.

So, Rovers turned their attention back to the Football League, although they were hampered by injuries sustained by Emery and Ben Underwood at Carlisle. They lost their next game at Stockport and their inconsistency over the rest of the season meant they finished fourth in Division Three (North), 10 points behind champions Bradford Park Avenue. Carlisle went out of the FA Cup in the second round at Wrexham, but after finishing runners-up in their League they were elected to the Football League for 1928-29, replacing Durham City.

The postscript to this game was that almost 12 months after that dramatic Cup tie, Rovers and Carlisle United met as League equals, and Belle Vue was the scene of an act of redemption. Rovers won 3-0 with Tom Keetley scoring twice, one of them a penalty. Then in March 1929 Tom scored twice as Rovers completed the double with a 2-1 win at Brunton Park. After all, revenge is a dish best eaten cold.

Carlisle United: Prout: Smiles, McQueen; Harrison, Ross, Pigg; Bell, Dowsey, Jepson, Ward, Graham.

Doncaster Rovers: Maughan: Bowman, Milne; Underwood, Morgan, Emery; T. Keetley, F. Keetley, Hall, McConnell, Philipson.

Referee: G. Stephenson (Liverpool).

 (* Headline in Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Monday 28th November 1927).


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