The 1877-78 FA Cup competition produced two epic encounters that took weeks to resolve. The first was a third round tie between Old Harrovians and Cambridge University. Initially played at the Oval on 2 February 1878, the match resulted in a 2-2 draw, and a replay was arranged for the following week.
After 90 minutes, the score was again 2-2. It was mutually agreed to play 30 minutes of extra time, and then a further 15 minutes, before darkness put an end to proceedings with the sides unable to be separated.
‘When Greek meets Greek,’ commented the Graphic. A further replay was arranged for the following Saturday. The paper suggested that gas lamps might be used to allow the game to be played to a finish: ‘Perhaps Mr Alcock, who does so much to keep up the spirit of football, will thoughtfully arrange a series of gas jets around the ground so that this dogged contest may be at an end before Sunday morning.’
Finally, on 16 February, the third round tie was settled, with Old Harrovians winning 2-0.
Meanwhile, on the same weekend, the fourth round was underway, and Oxford University were playing Royal Engineers. When the referee blew the final whistle, Engineers were leading 3-2, and the majority of the spectators - and newspaper reporters - went home in the belief that the tie was over.
However, it quickly transpired that the referee had accidentally blown a quarter of an hour early. The teams came back out, played another 15 minutes, and Oxford scored an equaliser. Unbeknown to many, the match ended 3-3.
In a replay, on 27 February, Oxford took a two-goal lead, only for Engineers to fight back to 2-2. With the score level at full-time, ‘after a lengthy discussion’, it was agreed to play 30 minutes of extra time. But there were no more goals.
Another replay followed, on 12 March. After an exciting match, the tie finally arrived at what Bell’s Life called ‘a solution of the knotty point’, with Engineers winning 4-2.
Engineers went on to beat Old Harrovians in the semi-final but, no doubt exhausted, they lost in the final to Wanderers.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.