The 1968-69 Cup campaign saw the Poppies come through four rounds of qualifying before knocking out fellow non-Leaguers Waterlooville and Dartford in the first two rounds of the competition proper. For the first time since the opening decade of the century (when the competition was structured differently), Kettering’s name was in the hat alongside the cream of domestic football. Not for the last time, however, the third-round draw proved to be something of an anticlimax, the Poppies being paired with Bristol Rovers. Although the Third Division club might not have been high on the list of wished-for opponents, fans would nevertheless witness two terrific games of Cup-tie football. After a 1-1 draw at Eastville, the replay under the Rockingham Road lights attracted a crowd of over 9,000. On a night of high drama, Kettering took the lead, missed a penalty, and then conceded twice in the final 11 minutes (the second an own-goal) as Lady Luck uncharitably turned her back on the lads in red.
Football League opponents during the period: Millwall, Bristol Rovers, Swansea Town/City, Walsall, Oxford United, Colchester United, Reading, Blackpool, Swindon Town, AFC Bournemouth, Gillingham.
The symptoms of Cup fever are an inability to concentrate properly on anything else while
waiting for a cup draw, mounting excitement, a certain amount of tension and a tingling
sensation down the spine. So wrote Poppies player-manager-cum-chief-executive Derek Dougan
in his Evening Telegraph column ahead of Kettering’s fourth-qualifying-round trip to
Darlaston. The Doog had played for Blackburn Rovers in the 1960 final and he still considered
above all domestic competitions . . . the one which has the real glory.
Having accounted for Darlaston after a replay, Kettering were drawn at home to Third Division Oxford United in the first round proper. A dramatic afternoon at Rockingham Road failed to settle the issue, a 1-1 draw ensuring the Oxford tie would also go to a replay.
It was a cold November night amid the Dreaming Spires when the teams lined up at the Manor Ground. Gordon Livsey, Dick Lucas, Roger Ashby, Alan Merrick, Sean Suddards, Richard Dixey, Jeff Faulkner, Billy Kellock, Derek Dougan (replacing John Henderson, who had worn the number nine jersey in the match at Rockingham Road), Roy Clayton and Peter Phipps, along with substitute Gary Wood, carried the hopes of Kettering.
Things did not begin particularly well for the Poppies. With resources already stretched thin, full-back Ashby limped off with a groin strain after only five minutes to be replaced by Wood (just the one substitution was allowed). Despite the set-back, it was clear from the outset that Kettering were a better team than their performance in the first game had suggested, even if it was United who created more clear-cut chances in the opening period, with the excellent Gordon Livsey making a couple of noteworthy blocks.
The hosts really turned up the heat after the interval, going close several times. Yet the game remained goalless, and as the danger receded it looked as though Kettering had survived all their opponents could throw at them. Now it was time for the visitors to make mischief of their own. With 18 minutes remaining the Poppies won a corner. Merrick’s flag-kick was cleared as far as Faulkner who drove the ball back into the six-yard box, where the prowling Dougan got enough of a touch to send it spinning into the net off the keeper. Oxford were stunned.
The hosts swept forward. The Poppies defence, with Suddards and Dixey outstanding at its heart, was superb. Lucas, whose mistake had so nearly cost his team the first match, more than made amends with a terrific goal-line clearance. Try as they might, the hosts could not break down the door. United were spent. Dougan’s goal would remain the difference between the sides.
At the final whistle, Lawrie McMenemy - mastermind of Southampton’s Cup-final victory over
Manchester United six months earlier - made a beeline for the dressing room to offer his
congratulations. A gesture doubtless appreciated by Dougan, who, referring to his own part
in the night’s proceedings, stated modestly:
At my age I was dreading the prospect of extra
time so I had to stick one in. I’ve always been deadly from two inches.
Oxford proved to be but a stepping stone on the way to the third round, where, having first disposed of Tooting & Mitcham United, Kettering would give Colchester United (another disappointing draw) a run for their money before bowing out of the competition.