Chichester City’s win against Bowers & Pitsea in the last round of qualifying 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 two days later, the club were given a bye into the second round.
Much has been made of the history-making achievements of this current side and rightly so.
But on November 5, 1960, Chichester faced Bristol City, then of division three, in the first round of the world’s most famous football competition.
Fred Knotts and Nigel Hillier were part of that 1960 team, who secured a convincing win over Dorchester Town to send 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,” he recalls.
Knotts’ teammate Hillier announced his engagement before the Dorchester match – then scored a hat-trick.
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 were drawn at home in the first round against Bristol City 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 more than 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 3ft or so above our centre-half Derek Bailey.”
Atyeo, who scored 351 goals in 645 games for the Robins and won six England caps, got five of the 11 goals Chi conceded in a game Bristol dominated from the start.
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 12,000 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 it was the first round of the FA Cup, though, was big in the overall picture of the club. As players we could never have imagined we’d play in front of 12,000.
“We might have set up differently in hindsight. We all went with the thought we were going to give it a good go, but we didn’t 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 amateurs.”
'The FA Cup is something quite special'
Fred Knotts was a ball boy in the 1956 FA Cup final when Manchester City beat Birmingham City. They won 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.
And Fred 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,” he says.
“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 the Bristol game because of knee trouble. Hillier went into management, with spells at Chichester and Selsey. And both Knotts and Hillier have kept an eye on the fortunes of their old team over the years.
Nigel Hillier urges those involved at Chichester to make the most of their run in the Cup. “I’ve been to watch Chi this season and I like the way they play,” he says.
“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 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 BBC TV next Monday, November 11.
How the Ashton Gate tie was lost
When Chi City and about 400 fans went to Ashton Gate for the first round tie in 1960, Chi keeper Peter Thomas made a fine early save to deny John Atyeo.
But Bristol’s 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 Roy Gilfillan after 20 minutes or so and then Chichester were 3-0 down when a cross nicked in off Derek Bailey past Peter 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 hat-trick and 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 Fred Knotts.
“That’s all he could say really. 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 wide 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 11th.
There were chances for Chi in the final minutes – they went close through a rasping drive by Nigel Hillier and a lob from John Rumsey before Harris forced a smart stop from the Bristol keeper.
Chichester’s ‘Class of 1960’ FA Cup first round line-up against Bristol City was as follows – Peter Thomas, Tony Cunningham, Fred Knotts, John Rumsey, Derek Bailey, David Aburrow, David Green, Nigel Hillier, Roy Gilfillan, Micky Blythman, Peter Harris.