The FA Cup kicks-off this weekend with Newport County carrying the flag for Wales in the first round and hoping not to suffer any alarms away at Met Police. Owen Morgan salutes the slayers of giants in the competition by recounting a Welsh killing that’s among history’s best.
David, or perhaps more appropriately Dai, has been responsible for many FA Cup giant-killing feats against football’s Goliaths here in Wales over the years.
Who could forget that little scamp Micky Thomas’ terrific free-kick to set Fourth Division Wrexham on their way to humbling English Champions Arsenal at the Racecourse in 1992?
How about Nathan Blake’s clever curler which sent Manchester City packing from Ninian Park two years later?
And more recently, Newport County’s shock defeat of Championship high-flyers Leeds United at Rodney Parade last season.
But perhaps the greatest giant-killing act perpetrated on Welsh soil is the one that is now least remembered.
Hardly surprising perhaps, considering it happened over 100 years ago.
But the passing of the decades makes Swansea Town’s 1-0 First Round win over Blackburn Rovers back in 1915 no less remarkable.
This is a tale even the most outlandishly imaginative writers for the great Roy of the Rovers would have dismissed as too fanciful and consigned to the office waste paper basket.
It’s particularly fitting we should remember the Swans’ triumph ahead of this coming weekend, which sees the 2018 FA Cup First Round taking place, along with the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War on Remembrance Sunday.
The goal-scoring hero of the piece went on to serve his country during the Great War, while the team’s captain tragically lost his life in action on foreign fields.
Rovers arrived at the Vetch on January 9 as the reigning Football League Champions, having won the title by seven points the previous season.
They were lying second in the top flight of English Football, while the Swans, who had only turned professional in 1912, were in Division Two of the Southern League.
Swansea had qualified for the first round proper with victories over Newport County, Port Vale and Leicester Fosse.
The visiting line-up boasted four England internationals and a former Scottish international.
Facing them were a team of largely inexperienced professionals and their replacement centre-forward for the match was an amateur who had been playing rugby union for Swansea RFC until just a few months earlier.
Ben Beynon had only swapped the oval ball for the round one due to the suspension of amateur rugby union following the declaration of the First World War. Professional football was continuing because players were expected to see out their contracts. The league would be suspended at the end of the 1914-15 campaign.
Born in Swansea in 1894, Beynon was spotted by the All Whites’ playing local rugby and was soon pitched into the first team for his debut at St Helen’s in 1914 against an unbeaten Newport side boasting nine internationals.
The 19-year-old outside-half made a dream debut, scoring the first try in a 17-3 victory.
Now, just a few months later, he was to become the most unlikely of heroes in the 20th minute of the FA Cup tie against mighty Blackburn played in front of a 16,000 crowd at the Vetch.
Swansea were under intense pressure in their own area when Beynon, helping out in defence, pushed the ball out to Amos Lloyd whose pace up the wing got the better of the Rovers defence before crossing into the visitors’ penalty area.
There was only one white shirt up with the play, but it was enough. Beynon took one touch before shooting low past the visiting keeper to open the scoring.
Remarkably, the underdogs were ahead against the champions of England and held their lead until half time.
If the Swans faced an uphill task at the start of the match, it became even steeper early in the second half when they were reduced to 10 men due to injury.
However, Swans skipper and left back Joe Bulcock, who would later lose his life during the war, was outstanding in defence while goalkeeper Ben Hurst made some fine saves.
Their resistance appeared to be over when Rovers were awarded a penalty. Forward stepped their spot-kick specialist Billy Bradshaw who had netted his previous 36 attempts from 12 yards.
However, fate was on Swansea’s side and the master penalty-taker shot weakly wide.
With 10 minutes left, the Swans were reduced to just nine men when Harry Read left the field injured, but remarkably they hung on to win the match 1-0.
So the nine-men from the recently formed Southern League Division Two side had beaten the star-studded champions of England; all thanks to a goal from an amateur rugby footballer who was playing because his first sporting love had been suspended by the start of the First World War, and a penalty miss by a player who never failed from the spot!
Roy Race, eat your heart out.
Unfortunately, the fairytale ended for Swansea in the next round, but only after they had held another First Division club, Newcastle United, to a draw at St James’ Park. They were beaten 2-0 in the Vetch replay.
At the end of that season, the Swans’ players were released from their contracts, and many went on to face far greater challenges during the First World War.
The man who had led Swansea to the FA Cup shock, Joe Bulcock, made the ultimate sacrifice as he died on April 20, 1918, of head wounds sustained at the Fourth Battle of Ypres in Flanders. He was 38.
After the war, Beynon returned to rugby, playing for the Welsh Regiment, 38th (Welsh) Division on a tour of Wales.
Back playing the 15-a-side game, Beynon once again took the outside-half berth at Swansea RFC and soon made up for lost time as his sporting career became even more remarkable.
On January 17, 1920, he was selected to make his international debut in the number 10 shirt against England on his home St Helen’s ground in the first full Wales international after the war.
In front of a 40,000 crowd, he helped Wales to a 19-5 victory and retained his place for the away match against Scotland on February 7, which Wales lost 9-5.
Beynon was dropped for the next fixture, against France at Stade Colombes 10 days later, and it is thought this prompted his decision to almost immediately cross the town again to Vetch Field and re-join the Swans.
This time, he signed as a professional, incurring the wrath of the Welsh Rugby Union, which reportedly decided to withhold his international cap.
Undeterred, Beynon once again showed his goal-scoring prowess with the round ball, scoring nine goals in just 12 games during the first half of the 1920-21 season, including a hat-trick against Norwich City. He was even selected for a Welsh trial at Wrexham.
Unfortunately, a knee injury wrecked the remainder of his season, and he was never the same player again, making just 13 appearances the following season.
However, there was another fascinating twist in this remarkable career.
When the Swans released him at the end of the 1921-22 season, he was offered a rugby league trial with Oldham. Typically, he scored a try in that match and earned himself a £325 move “up north”.
Not content with having starred in one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history during his career in association football, and winning two caps for his country at rugby union, Beynon then went on to carve his name in rugby league history.
In the 1925 Rugby League Challenge Cup Final, played in front of 28,335 people at Leeds, Beynon helped Oldham beat Hull Kingston Rovers 16-3.
It’s impossible to make modern comparisons, but put in today’s terms, Beynon’s exploits would be akin to a promising regional outside-half joining a non-league football club, where he scores the winning goal against Manchester City in an FA Cup tie, before joining up.
On his return to Civvy Street, he-rejoins his region, playing two matches for Wales, before promptly returning to soccer, where he reaches the brink of selection for the Wales international side, before suffering a serious knee injury.
However, this fails to prevent him joining a rugby league side and putting in a match-winning performance to win the Rugby League Challenge Cup.
You really couldn’t make it up.
The exploits of the likes Ben Beynon and Joe Bulcock may have taken place more than 100 years ago but they deserve a prominent place in our hearts and minds this weekend of all weekends.