Ronnie Radford: The FA Cup goal that made time stand still

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Top 50 FA Cup goals: Hereford hero Ronnie Radford's famous strike
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If you could choose one second of your life by which to be defined, what second would it be? Just one second, mind. Not a week or a day or an afternoon. Just one second that crystallises your life in other people's eyes.

For those who think it an absurd question, I give you Ronnie Radford, known to millions for one hopeful swing of a boot.

One hopeful swing of a boot that felled giants Newcastle at non-league Hereford in 1972. One hopeful swing of a boot that perfectly described the romance of the FA Cup. One hopeful swing of a boot that Radford can still talk about for hours and by which he is spelt out.

Those of a younger vintage, who struggle to see the romance in Radford's 35-yard strike - under a slate grey sky and on a pitch that resembled a roughly ploughed field - should remember that romance looks different in the Premier League era.

And while one man's romance is candles and white table cloths, another man's romance is sharing fish and chips from newspaper. Radford's goal reminds us that romance is not about the place, but the moment.

Radford's eyes sparkle as he recalls the moment that defiantly defines him, 43 years on from that third-round replay at a mud-curdled Edgar Street. He's told it all before but he'll tell it all again if you ask.

Ronnie Radford
Ronnie Radford: "I just thought: 'I've got to hit this'. It could have gone in the car park. But it didn't."

"I went in for a tackle with John Tudor on halfway and came up with the ball," says the wiry 71-year-old, sitting in front of the fire at his home near Wakefield. "He stayed on his backside, the ball came out behind me and I shouted to Colin Addison: 'Leave it, get out of the way!'

"I turned, saw Brian Owen and played the ball up to him. He gave it back and it sat up just right. I didn't think about the distance, I just thought: 'I've got to hit this'. It could have gone in the car park. But it didn't."

No sooner had the ball passed Willie McFaul in the Newcastle goal than Radford was off, arms aloft, before being engulfed by a swarm of little kids in bobble hats and parkas. Little kids unaccompanied at football! Pitch invasions! More of that romance of a different era.

It is often overlooked that Radford's goal was 'only' an equaliser (England striker Malcolm Macdonald had scored three minutes earlier) and that substitute Ricky George was the man who scored Hereford's winner in extra time.

Indeed, Radford is keen for it to remembered that it wasn't all about him and that much of what was memorable about that season has been forgotten: the two goes it took to beat King's Lynn in the fourth qualifying round; the three goes it took to beat Northampton in the second round proper; the 2-2 draw against six-time FA Cup winners Newcastle at St James' Park; the 0-0 draw against West Ham in the fourth round, followed by brave defeat; promotion from the Southern to the Football League.

"I was only one part of it, one kick," says Radford, who admits he was unable to really enjoy the fruits of his one hopeful swing of the boot for years, consumed as he was by guilt that his team-mates had been forgotten.

Ronnie Radford and Ricky George
Goalscorers Radford and George celebrate their giant-killing exploits in the Hereford changing room

"There were 14 other guys who shared all those experiences with the people of Hereford. I just felt so uncomfortable about being singled out."

Over tea and sandwiches - "you've come all this way to see us" - Annie Radford explains her husband has always been blessed with modesty. So after the win against Newcastle, Ronnie had a drop of champagne in the changing room, got showered and went home with her and their two lads.

"We stopped off for fish and chips and ate it in front of Match of the Day," says Radford, whose goal was memorably described by a 26-year-old John Motson, for whom the game was something of a breakthrough.

"We thought it was going to be two minutes of highlights but they made it the main game. I'd never seen myself play football, I didn't even know what I looked like when I ran. It was such a strange experience."

Radford was back to his bread and butter on the Monday, fitting a rafter on a roof in Cheltenham. "Some of the guys on the site didn't even know I was playing until they saw me on Match of the Day," says Radford. "I just wanted to be known as Ronnie Radford, the joiner."

But Radford slowly began to embrace his place in football folklore, comforted by the thought that his hopeful swing of the boot was less accident than fate. "Somebody up there was pointing his finger at me and saying: 'Here you go, Ronnie, have a go…'"

John Motson on his breakthrough game:
"Not only was it a great day for Hereford, it was also a great day for me. That win against Newcastle helped make my name as a commentator and helped me get where I am today. I feel like I owe a lot to Hereford for that giant killing. I have dined out on them often over the last 30 years."

It helps that Radford has team-mates who are happy for their old pal to hog the limelight. As Radford explains: "Me and Ricky George are close friends. But when people come up to Ricky and say: 'Are you the guy who scored that goal for Hereford?' Ricky says: 'Yeh, that was me'. 'The one from 35 yards?' 'No, that was Ronnie Radford - I only scored the winner'."

Radford is crystallised in other people's eyes by one second of his life. But there have been other seconds - about 2.2 billion of them at the time of writing, according to my fag packet calculations.

He played as an amateur for Sheffield Wednesday while earning his apprenticeship as a joiner. He played in Leeds' youth team with future greats Norman Hunter, Terry Cooper and Gary Sprake. He was signed for Hereford by Leeds, Juventus and Wales legend John Charles. Thereafter he combined the life of a footballer with the life of a craftsman. And he loved every minute of it.

Radford is visibly upset when I mention Hereford's recent closure - "sad isn't the word" - but he has the well-honed perspective you expect of a man of his years.

After the best part of two hours talking about one second of his life, Radford takes me through to his kitchen for another cup of tea. He stops before a notice board, covered in photos of his children and grandchildren, and says: "This is what life's really all about."

Every time you've seen that hopeful swing of a boot - and you might have seen it a thousand times - Radford will have been going about the rest of his existence. Building a family, riding out highs, yomping through lows. Far from crystallised, defined by one second in other eyes only.

Ronnie Radford and Ricky George
Radford and George reunited 42 years after combining to knock Newcastle out of the FA Cup

Still, when Radford watches Gateshead take on Premier League West Brom this Saturday, he will be full of empathy for the non-leaguers - hoping upon hope that somebody up there will be pointing his finger at a fellow part-timer: "Here you go, lad, have a go…"

"I've had more out of that moment than money could buy," says Radford, who now has an award named after him, which is presented to the biggest FA Cup giant-killers each season. "It might not have been the World Cup but it was what non-league football and the FA Cup was all about - living the dream, beating one of the big boys.

"People still talk about it with such enthusiasm. A Hereford fan once told me that when he was in Tokyo, a Japanese businessman asked him where he was from. When he said Hereford, the Japanese guy replied: 'Aaah, giant-killers! Do you know Ronnie Radford?!'

"That day changed the lives of everyone who was part of it. I feel so glad for everyone who was involved because it will never be forgotten. We became part of something that will be remembered in football forever."

Tea and sandwiches consumed, Ronnie insists on giving me a lift to Huddersfield train station, a good 30-minute drive away. En route I ask: "What happened to the shirt you wore that day?" "What happened to it?" says Radford. "It wore out." Football is not what it was. But nothing is.

You can watch highlights of the match between Hereford and Newcastle during 'FA Cup Rewind' on BBC Two at 11:00 GMT on 3 January.

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