Aston Villa’s win over Derby County yesterday was their greatest Wembley triumph since the 1957 FA Cup final in which they beat Manchester United 2-1 in a controversial match. The man at the centre of the controversy recalls what happened...


In the Aston Villa dressing room before the 1957 FA Cup final, centre-half Jimmy Dugdale, sick with nerves, threw up just before kick-off. Outside the sun shone on a packed Wembley. As the clock ticked towards 3pm, the referee Frank Coultas waited for a signal from the Royal Box, where the 31-year-old Queen Elizabeth had just taken her seat, before blowing his whistle.

Although Villa were the underdogs, they had two or three players of outstanding quality. Peter McParland was one of these, combative but creative and clever, the sort of player any manager would crave. He had scored twice against Wales on his debut for Northern Ireland and would be their best player at the 1958 World Cup finals.

McParland starts his own story of the 1957 Cup Final in the build-up to the match. He had made a mental note of something that his teammate Jackie Sewell mentioned to him. ‘Jackie said to me two or three weeks before the final that he had met Tommy Lawton at a wedding in Nottingham and Tommy said, “Remember to shake the goalkeeper up.” That was something you did then.

‘And Jackie told Tommy, “Yeah, we’ve got a fella who might go and give him a bit of a shake”.’

McParland says he was already aware Ray Wood reacted badly to physical contact – ‘He went for people, Ray did’ – and recalls an example of his petulance.

Not long before the final he was with the Villa team when they stopped at a pub on the way home from a midweek League game at Burnley. Highlights of a European Cup semi-final between Manchester United and Real Madrid were on TV. ‘And I remember Gento came flying through the middle and Woody ran out, picked the ball up and whacked Gento. Put him on the deck. So he was prepared to hit people at the time.’

Like Gento, McParland played on the left wing and did so with gusto.

At Wembley, six minutes had passed when he clattered into Wood. ‘Jackie Sewell had the ball on the edge of the box in the inside-right position,’ McParland says, ‘and I’m out here on the left and I’m coming in.

‘Jackie played a nice ball in and when it was in flight I said to myself, “This is going back into the far post. It’s in the back of the net”.’

McParland’s version of what happened next goes like this: ‘So I came in and I banged it with my head but I banged it straight into Ray Wood’s arms as he was coming off his line.

‘He’d come running towards me and I was running in just in case there was a drop and I turned my shoulder then to shoulder-charge him. He turned to me to shoulder-charge and then turned away at the last minute, last seconds. As we clashed, the side of my head hit Ray here on the cheek. It was through not getting the shoulder to shoulder [that the injuries occurred].

‘I was lying on the deck and 100,000 people were spinning round me. I thought, “Oh, I’m finished. This is me out.”

‘I got myself together again, though, and when the trainer came on he made me feel better. But Ray had a problem and went off by stretcher before coming back on just before halftime.’

Wood was posted at outside right with the time-honoured instruction to the walking wounded: if nothing else cause problems. Wood did this to such effect that McParland felt he was sufficiently recovered to go back in goal, which was what in fact he did for the last few minutes. But McParland’s irrepressible performance – not only did he clash with Wood but scored two excellent goals – would prove enough for Villa to win 2-1.

The BBC TV commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme said immediately that what happened between McParland and Wood, which left Wood with concussion and a broken cheekbone, was a pure accident. He called it a fair challenge, ‘but unfortunately their heads collided’. Although this was not the universal view there was a far greater acceptance then of the fairness of such collisions.

McParland apologised to Wood after the match and says he has no argument with his not being happy. ‘He wouldn’t have been happy, I wouldn’t have been happy if I had been taken off. He reacted in a sporting way to my apology but you always had the feeling that he felt he was hard done by.’

The press criticism McParland received did not really bother him, he says. ‘I was glad because we had won the Cup. It was part and parcel [of being in an incident like that] that they were going to slam me and some of them did. I just had to take the flak.’

Despite this criticism and Wood’s obvious resentment, McParland remembers suffering no backlash from other opposition players. The United defender Bill Foulkes even told him that ‘Woody should have got out of my way – and he didn’t because he liked having a bash at people’.

‘The next season,’ McParland says, ‘before all the games I played early on the goalkeepers said, “You wouldn’t have done that to me in the final because I’d have sidestepped and let you run into the back of the net.” All of them said that.’


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback.