The romance of the FA Cup. Davids beating Goliaths, part-time plumbers becoming household names and, very rarely, Exeter City being one of the final eight teams. So rare in fact that it has only happened twice during the history of the FA Cup.
1931. The Grecian’s league form was the epitome of inconsistency throughout the 1930/31 season but, in contrast, the FA Cup provided some rare stability. A comfortable 3-0 victory in the first round over non-league Northfleet United set up a tie against league rivals Coventry City. Only a point could separate the Grecians and the Sky Blues in the league, and the similarities between the sides continued in the cup, a 1-1 draw at St James Park meant that a replay at Highfield Road was required, in which Exeter managed a narrow 2-1 win.
City welcomed Division One Derby County to Devon for round three and approximately 16,500 supporters witnessed a true giant killing. Top scorer Percy Varco gave Exeter the lead in the first half, and Billy Armfield and Harold Houghton added two more in the second, as the Grecians ran out 3-2 victors.
Percy scored again in the next round, lashing home a free-kick at Bury in a 2-1 triumph. FA Cup favourites Leeds United visited Exeter next, and a surprise performance lead to City winning 3-1, thanks to a double from winger William Armfield and George Purcell’s cool finish. The quarter-final draw served up a trip to Sunderland, where City came away with a credible 1-1 draw. The famous run came to an end at St James Park before a record 20,984 people, as Sunderland won 4-2.
1981. The 100th season of the FA Cup began with an emphatic 5-0 victory against non-league Leatherhead before a slender 1-0 win at Division Three, Millwall. An unusual third round draw saw the Grecians travel to Alliance League side Maidstone United, where Dave Pullar’s double helped City to a strong 4-2 success.
Dave scored again in the fourth round, this time away at First Division Leicester City, as Exeter took the East Midlands side back to Devon after a 1-1 draw. Four days later 15,268 supporters witnessed Tony Kellow steal the show, helping himself to a hatrick, earning City a 3-1 success. The fifth round draw saw City have to travel over 375 miles to play at another St James’ Park, where Lee Roberts scored just minutes from time to take Newcastle to a replay. Against all the odds, Exeter destroyed the Magpies at SJP, putting four goals past them, the pick of the bunch being Ian Pearson’s overhead kick.
City eventually went out in the quarter-finals, losing 2-0 to eventual winners Tottenham.