Fewer moments in sport inspire like when an underdog overcomes the odds to defeat an opponent, and the FA Cup is often home to these incredible stories.
While the magic is growing arguably less potent, previous upsets still run rich in the memories of those who were able to bear witness.
According to the Institute for Mathematical Innovation at the University of Bath, the biggest third round upset was in 1991 when Woking FC beat West Bromwich Albion 4-2 at the Hawthorns.
The odds of such a result had a 1 in 15,959,312 chance.
The glittering descriptions of those present help to understand the obscene odds they overcame.
Seated on the balcony of a bustling coffee shop in Woking town centre, Woking FC fan Bryan Cross reveals a snuggly sealed poster.
It’s a team sheet from the 1991 FA Cup third round between Woking FC and West Bromwich Albion and printed across the top in all-caps, it reads: “Tim’s Treble Beats the Baggies!”.
His finger runs over each name, accompanied by a squeal of excitement as they reintroduce memories tucked away from the depths of his recollection.
The Crown Jewel of that list being the 4-2 victory against West Brom at the Hawthorns stadium.
Cross says: “I remember sitting there in awe, thinking about how this is a great day out. Then before the start, there’s a big cheer when your team comes out, your local lads.
“It was great to see them there. Even at half-time when losing, there was so much excitement because we were happy to be there, not realising what would happen.”
One of those players was Lloyd Wye, who joined Woking in 1983 after he was released from Southampton’s academy.
Wye made his debut as a 17-year-old in 1984 and went on to have a fruitful 13-year career at the club, leaving in 1997.
His manager Geoff Chapple joined Woking in the same year, winning the FA Trophy three times with the club.
Together these three gave an unfiltered look into the build-up of the match, how the game unfolded and the events after.
The night prior
If the gap in divisions were not a big enough handicap, Wye recalls a dispute between the players and Chairman the night before:
“The club weren’t willing to pay any appearance money, so the Captain and Chairman were having a set-to into the early hours.
“There was even a threat that the Chairman would get the reserve team up in the morning to play the game instead of us, so it was quite surreal.”
With the match of their lives looming, it was up to Chapple to solve the dispute, he said:
“The Chairman was sitting around, and they were getting tired. So, the last words the Chairman said to me were, ‘you’re the manager you sort it out, and if they’re not happy, get the reserves up here and play them.’ That was the last word.
“Of course, we resolved it. There’s always give and take when there’s a bit of money to be made, everyone wants their little bit, but we got there in the end.”
FA Cup matchday
Although West Brom were on a poor run of form and harboured an ageing defence, they remained the overwhelming favourites, Chapple said:
“Brian Talbot (West Brom manager) watched us the week before at Marlow, and we were losing when he left. I remember speaking to him when he was leaving, and he said ‘In all seriousness Geoff if my players don’t beat your players, something’s wrong.’
“Then, on matchday, we walked down the tunnel to the dressing room, and all their players were sitting around reading their newspapers. You just got a feeling that we were lambs to the slaughter and just waiting for our punishment.”
But Wye was unfazed and instead remembers the atmosphere walking onto the pitch:
“It’s what you dream of as a player. Everything’s done professionally. The changing rooms are really smart and big. You walk out before the game in your suits to look around and think, this is the result of all our hard work of battling through the previous rounds.”
Then the game began.
The opening 45 minutes was a cagey contest until West Brom took the lead through a Colin West header on the stroke of half-time.
Looking back, Chapple was disappointed by the way Woking defended, but one thing stood out when watching the goal back:
“When Colin West headed the ball in, you listen to the commentary, and it will say ‘there’s the first’ as if there was going to be about another six or seven, which we wouldn’t have disagreed with because that’s we thought that was going to happen.”
But in the second half, the tides turned to Woking’s favour as they began beating on the Baggies defence, 5,000 away fans roaring in approval.
Soon after, West Brom’s defensive dam broke as Tim Buzaglo cut through the defence and equalised. Wye’s reaction was one of relief:
“When the goal went in, I was happy because no matter what happens next, we’ve scored, and the emotions were thank goodness for that, we’ve actually got a goal.”
However, the non-league side did not stop there. They continued to play fast, flowing football, Buzaglo at the forefront.
He tormented the West Brom defence cutting through their defence with his electric pace.
It was too much for the Baggies to handle as he burst through on goal and headed home his own rebound to give Woking a 2-1 lead.
Then minutes later, Buzaglo’s hat-trick was complete.
The goal was one of beautiful manufacture by his teammates who passed their way to the West Brom box, where Buzaglo lashed the ball into the bottom corner.
When watching the goal again, Chapple says:
“Looking back, we were a total footballing side. Everything was on the floor. I look at some sides today, and most of its up in the air.”
Then late into the game, Terry Worsfold came on as a substitute to score Woking’s fourth.
In response, West Brom could only manage a late consolation before the final whistle.
While the result was surprising, what transpired next was even more so.
When Buzaglo went to the West Brom fans to applaud their hospitality, he was hoisted into the air and met with chants of ‘sign him on.’
Chapple remembers suggesting to Buzaglo that he should go thank their fans but was met with some apprehension from the player, he said:
“I said to Tim (Buzaglo), I think you ought to walk down the other end and thank the fans, he said: well, I’m not going on my own! Of course, when we walked down there, they picked him up, put him on their shoulders and then they were singing sign him on, sign him on.”
Similar euphoria was experienced in the stands. Cross said: “It was unbelievable. We were walking on air. West Brom fans were shaking our hands and being very complimentary.
“I remember watching Tim Buzaglo on Match of the Day later that evening, and it was just such a shock as to what happened.”
The seismic impact on Woking
Quickly after news of the result spread, Chapple was thrust into the news cycle as his team and players captured the headlines; he said:
“I knew what was coming because when you get a result like that, your life is going to change for a period of time. For a while, you become film stars.
“I was doing stuff I’d never done in my life. I was whisked about in taxis at six, seven o’clock in the morning. They were asking what time can you get to the studios? I would get on the sofa in the mornings, and I thought, Christ, this is not something I want to be doing for the rest of my life.”
For Wye, it is a moment he will never forget, he said:
“That really put the club on the map. As players, it was the pinnacle of our careers. Anyone involved in that match would probably say that was the highlight.”
Not only did it have a massive impact on the players but also on the club and Woking’s community.
Chapple said: “It was massive for the community. Commercially, we had supporters’ clubs all over the world. It put us on the map. We got posts from all over the world, people wanting autographs, television appearances, radio, every day.
“When you get success like that for a period of time, you are treated like royalty. When we went to Everton, we had police outriders going through red lights, something only the King and Queen get. They were some really wonderful memories.”