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Bolton Wanderers' 13 FA Cup giant-killings remembered

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

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Wanderers have spent nearly 60 per cent of their history as a top-flight club – but in the moments they find themselves out of the spotlight they have also carved out a handy niche as an FA Cup giant-killer.

On 13 different occasions Bolton have accounted for a top division team whilst playing at a lower level themselves.

On Sunday they will get a chance to make it 14, with Ian Evatt taking his in-form Whites to Luton Town of the Premier League, hoping to cause a ‘cup-set’.

There have been some memorable near misses down the years – Phil Neal’s Bolton were narrowly beaten by Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1991, then Southampton at The Dell 12 months later.

John McGovern’s young side edged out by Arsenal at Highbury in 1982, Ian Greaves’s Super Whites had a three-game thriller against Newcastle United in 1976.

More recently, Dougie Freedman’s team was edged out by Everton in 2013 and Neil Lennon’s Bolton nearly caused an upset against Liverpool in 2015 before late goals from Raheem Sterling and Philipe Coutinho saved the Reds’ blushes.

Phil Parkinson’s Wanderers also pushed Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace to a replay in 2017 before slipping to a 2-1 defeat at Selhurst Park.

But there have also been some big triumphs too, from an early league march to the semi-final to a controversial Sabbath fixture against Stoke City, the White Hot nights under Bruce Rioch to a rare highlight in the hotseat for Dougie Freedman.

Here, The Bolton News takes a look back at the times when Wanderers have turned the pyramid upside down.


Wanderers knocked out two First Division clubs en route to playing a third, Manchester City, in the final at Crystal Palace.

Samuel Marsh and Billy Yenson scored to topple Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in the quarter final, the stadium having only 12 months earlier hosted Test Match cricket between England and Australia.

Robert Taylor scored the winner against Derby County in the semi-final, played at Wolves’ Molineux Stadium.


After reaching the final, Wanderers went nearly six months unbeaten away from home en route to promotion back to the First Division. And in the cup they accounted for Manchester City in the second round, Albert Shepherd and Walter White scoring the goals at Hyde Road.

1933/34 Relegated to the Second Division the previous season under Charles Foweraker, who had been in charge for the triple FA Cup success of the twenties, Wanderers made their way to the sixth round.

Along the way the Whites knocked out First Division Liverpool with a convincing 3-0 win at Anfield, courtesy of goals from GT Taylor, Jack Milsom and Ray Westwood. They lost to top-flight Portsmouth in the following round.


Wanderers were riding high for most of the year in the league and would eventually be promoted behind Brentford – but in the cup they managed to take a couple of higher division scalps on their way to the semi-final.

Tottenham Hotspur were beaten at the third attempt in round five, Ray Westwood and Jack Walton eventually earning a 2-0 win at a neutral ground, Villa Park. All three games against Spurs – the first at White Hart Lane, the second at Burnden and the second replay, were played within seven days and in front of a combined 142,492 supporters.

Everton were beaten in the sixth round thanks to goals from Milsom and George Eastham but West Brom proved a game too far, losing in a replay in the semi-final.


After missing out on an immediate return to the First Division the previous season, Wanderers were starting to find life tough, with crowds at Burnden dipping significantly.

One high point was the visit of West Brom in the FA Cup third round, where two goals from Francis Lee and one from Brian Bromley earned a 3-0 win in front of 24,425 – the biggest gate of the campaign to that point.

Wanderers were beaten in the following round by local rivals Preston North End.


A third-round victory against Stoke City became one of Wanderers’ most famous FA Cup escapades, as it was one of the first games played on a Sunday.

Power strikes and the advent of the three-day week meant fixture schedules had to change, and despite fervent protests from religious groups, the game went ahead as planned.

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One of the rules for Wanderers being able to play on the Sabbath was that they could not charge admission – so the club got around it by ensuring that fans purchased a match programme instead, at the usual cost of entry.

Nearly 40,000 packed into the ground to see John Byrom score a hat-trick and Peter Thompson make his debut, having signed from Liverpool just 24 hours earlier.

After surging into a 3-0 lead, Stoke – who would finish fifth in the First Division that season – ensured a nervous conclusion with two late goals from John Ritchie and Sean Haslegrave.

Jimmy Armfield’s Whites held out, however, and faced Southampton in the next round, slipping to a 2-0 defeat.


Even though Wanderers have lifted the FA Cup four times, to generations of supporters one White Hot night at Anfield was as good as it got.

Bruce Rioch’s third-tier side had let Liverpool off the hook at a frosty Burnden Park when goals from John McGinlay and ex-Reds youth product Mark Seagraves had put them into a winning position.

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But 10 days later a massive following of Bolton fans upped sticks to Merseyside to see McGinlay and Andy Walker score the decisive goals and David Lee have the night of his life to knock Graeme Souness’s cup holders out on their own turf.


After their promotion, Wanderers were not done giant-killing, and Everton, Arsenal and Aston Villa would fall to Rioch’s celebrated Burnden aces.

It took replays to progress through rounds three and four – Everton beaten 3-2 at Goodison thanks to goals from McGinlay, Alan Stubbs and Owen Coyle. Arsenal were held 2-2 at Burnden but vanquished at Highbury thanks to McGinlay – who else? – Jason McAteer and Andy Walker.

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Stubbs scored the only goal of the game against Villa, who would win the League Cup that season, and set up a quarter-final against Oldham Athletic. To the eternal regret of Rioch and his squad, they failed to replicate their previous performances and lost to a Darren Beckford strike.

Joe Royle’s side went through to face Manchester United in a Wembley semi-final – a result which would eventually save the managerial reign of a certain Sir Alex Ferguson.


Relegated from the Premier League and with a new manager in Dougie Freedman, Wanderers managed to knock out Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

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Chung-Yong Lee and Marvin Sordell had given them a 2-0 lead in the third-round game at the Reebok but the Black Cats fought back with goals from Conor Wickham and Craig Gardner.

Sordell scored twice in the replay to book a fourth-round game against Everton, in a match notable for Stuart Holden making only his second appearance since his injury against Manchester United more than a year earlier.

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