West Ham United 1 Aston Villa 0
Stewart 89 (pen)
FA Cup sixth round, Saturday 8 March 1980
West Ham United: Parkes, Stewart, Brush, Martin, Lampard, Devonshire, Allen, Pearson, Cross, Brooking, Pike
Aston Villa: Rimmer, Linton, Gibson, Ormsby, McNaught, Mortimer, Bremner, Little, Donovan, Cowans, Bullivant
When Aston Villa arrived at the Boleyn Ground for an eagerly-anticipated FA Cup quarter-final on 8 March 1980, Ron Saunders’ side could hardly have been hotter favourites.
The Villans sat fifth in the Division One table, having lost just one of their last 13 matches in all competitions. The previous September, Saunders had spent a British record £1.5m to bring Scotland striker Andy Gray to the club from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Villa had finished eighth in the top-flight in 1978/79 and Saunders was in the midst of putting together the side that would win the title in 1981 and be crowned European champions the following year.
West Ham, meanwhile, sat fifth in Division Two, having been relegated in 1978. John Lyall had retained many of the players who suffered demotion, including England midfielder Trevor Brooking, and had supplemented his squad by paying a world record fee to bring one-time England goalkeeper Phil Parkes to east London in February 1979.
Gray’s fellow Scot, 1979 SPFA Young Player of the Year Ray Stewart had also joined the Hammers the previous year, with the 20-year-old quickly establishing himself as John Lyall’s first-choice right-back and West Ham’s penalty-taker.
Stewart’s unerring nerve and accuracy from the spot had already helped to account for Leyton Orient in the fourth round, while the youngster had also been on target in the Hammers’ last league match before the quarter-final – a 1-1 Division Two draw at Luton Town.
The sixth-round draw was packed with quality, with the two north London and Merseyside giants still in the mix, alongside Villa, high-flying Ipswich Town and Second Division Watford.
West Ham might have been slight outsiders to beat Saunders’ men, but they were certainly rank long-shots to lift the FA Cup for the third time in 17 seasons.
West Ham’s chances of success were increased, however, when yet another Scot, Allan Evans, was sent-off in Villa’s 1-1 draw at Brighton & Hove Albion five days before the tie.
With influential right-back Kenny Swain also ruled out with a knee injury suffered in the same match, Saunders was forced to reshuffle his defence, drafting in Brendan Ormsby at centre-half and reserve-team regular Ivor Linton at right-back.
Predictably, the changes unsettled the usually steady Villa defence, and West Ham were in the mood to take full advantage.
Lyall’s hungry side were on top for much of the opening half, playing with a ‘flow, intelligence and fire’, according to The Observer’s Julie Welch.
However, while the Hammers pressed hard for the opening goal, with Brooking, the tireless Geoff Pike and energetic Alan Devonshire to the fore, they could find no way past Villa’s inspired goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer.
Devonshire and Brooking were both denied from range before Rimmer flung himself through the air to keep out a shot from striker David Cross.
Into the second half and still West Ham held the upper hand, with Pike suffering the frustration of seeing his header hit the inside of the post and bounce clear.
With five minutes to go, Brooking found Cross with a chipped pass, only for the centre forward to deposit his effort wide. Moments later, Gordon Cowans headed Alvin Martin’s goalbound header out from under his own crossbar.
A replay at Villa Park was looking large as the seconds ticked by. The visiting fans began ‘hooting anxiously for the final whistle’. For all West Ham’s dominance, they just could not find a way past Rimmer.
John Lyall just wants to see the ball put in the back of the net, and the man who has got to put it there is Ray Stewart
TV commentator Brian Moore
Less than two minutes of the 90 remained when Brooking lifted a corner into the Villa area.
Martin and Cross rose with McNaught, whose right arm pushed the ball away. Referee David Harwood blew his whistle and pointed to the penalty spot, sparking celebrations in the stands and causing Rimmer to grab his goalnet in disgust.
“John Lyall just wants to see the ball put in the back of the net, and the man who has got to put it there is Ray Stewart,” said TV commentator Brian Moore.
With Martin, Pike and Paul Brush unable to watch, Stewart carefully placed the ball on the muddy, uneven penalty spot, stepped back to the edge of the 18-yard box and stared directly at Rimmer’s goal.
Then, with the confidence that became his trademark during 12 glorious years as a Hammer, the young defender strode forward and slammed an unstoppable shot low to Rimmer’s right and into the net.
“And he’s scored!” roared Moore in commentary, as the fans in the South Bank rushed forward to celebrate with their match-winner.
In the stand, Lyall clapped his gloved hands while Billy Bonds, sitting alongside him, smiled broadly.
“Ray Stewart, the young Scot, who came down to join West Ham this season and has had a terrific season, could well be the fella who has put West Ham into the semi-finals,” Moore continued.
“It’s now a business of playing out the last seconds of the game.”
That was easier said than done as Villa’s Terry Donovan was brought down by Stewart 25 yards out.
The free-kick was touched to Cowans, who fired through the defensive wall, but Parkes dived to his right to hold on safely.
Seconds later and Stewart’s clearance into the East Stand was the final act of the match, with the final whistle being greeted with huge cheers.
As the teams left the pitch, a chorus of ‘Bubbles’ echoed through the air.
West Ham had beaten Aston Villa for the first time in the FA Cup, and were through to the semi-finals for just the fourth time in the Club’s history.
After two seasons of disappointment and frustration, the West Ham supporters were determined to enjoy their moment of success.
“Come on now, it’s time to go home!” implored the PA announcer as the Claret and Blue Army continued to sing on the terraces long after the final whistle had been blown.
Speaking afterwards, McNaught claimed his hand had been ‘pushed onto the ball’ by Martin’s shoulder, while his manager Saunders also disputed the award of the vital penalty.
Ever the diplomat, opposite number Lyall was less sure of the big decision.
“In fairness, I wouldn’t like to say if it was handball or not,” said the Hammers boss. “I was on the line by then and a big high ball went in the box and the referee gave it automatically.
“One or two of lads thought it was a penalty and I have to accept that, but I couldn’t give you a definite opinion whether it was or not.”
When asked about the spot-kick, Stewart explained how he had ignored the comments made by the Villa players before silencing them with his perfectly-placed penalty.
“They started arguing, which was typical, because they try and argue to put the taker off, so I just walked away and looked to the sky and things like that,” said the fresh-faced youngster.
“Then I put the ball on the spot, just knew where I was putting it and stuck it away. Half the team weren’t looking, I don’t think!”
Two days later, on Monday 10 March, West Ham were paired with Everton, while Arsenal were drawn to face Liverpool in the other semi-final.
The Hammers, ironically, travelled to Villa Park for their last-four clash, holding the Toffees to a 1-1 draw. The replay, held four days later at Leeds United’s Elland Road, was settled after extra-time by Frank Lampard’s diving header.
West Ham met Arsenal in the final at Wembley, with Brooking heading in the only goal of the game to secure a shock success for the Second Division side.