MY FA TROPHY MEMORIES
By Stan Strickland
Burscough FC Secretary 1992-2003
10 years ago last Saturday Burscough won the FA Trophy at Villa Park. I have many memories of that incredible season.
I remember Daily Telegraph sports journalist Ricky George (he who scored that famous FA Cup goal for Hereford against Newcastle) saying after Burscough's win that it was 'the greatest achievement in the history of non-league football' and he really did make a fair point because it wasn't just about one shock FA Cup win or winning a league against clubs of similar ability.
For a club of Burscough's size to win such a prestigious national cup competition that included all 22 Conference clubs while playing a total of 12 games along the way was beyond belief. Even today I sometimes find it hard to take in that it really happened.
So many times during that incredible journey it could have all gone wrong.
I remember us going to Marine in a first round replay. We had played them off the park but found ourselves a goal down with the game going into added time when Gary Martindale struck a volley from the edge of the area. He didn't get a clean strike on the ball and it looked an easy save for the home keeper but he fumbled the ball and spilled it over the line. We then went on to win easily in extra-time.
We were just as close to going out in the second round when we went to Harrogate Town and with twelve minutes remaining were 2-0 down and all seemed lost. A Shaun Teale penalty gave us hope and with the game again in added time Joe Taylor swept the ball home to set up a replay that we shaded 3-2 thanks to two goals from Kris McHale.
We were drawn away to Ilkeston Town in the third round. It was played on a Tuesday night having been postponed on the Saturday. This was the game where young Drew Hyland made a big impact with his best performance for the club, scoring a fine opportunist goal in a fully deserved 3-0 win.
It again could have been the end of the road but for different reasons. The club at this time was really struggling financially and a decision had been made at the previous board meeting that the player's wages would have to be reduced drastically. We will never know what impact this might have had on the team and whether we would have had players leaving.
We had put in a superb performance at Ilkeston and I remember Roy Baldwin saying to me you just can't cut the wages now after that performance and while we are still in the Trophy. I couldn't but agree. Four directors had travelled to Ilkeston and back on the coach we decided there and then that we would have no part in a wage cut at that time a decision that did not go down well with some other directors who believed we had reneged on a democratic and binding decision. In principle they were right but the decision we made that night was the right one and went on to be proved so in a way that we could never have imagined.
The two fourth round games against Alfreton Town stick in the memory because they were bad tempered affairs and they were by far the least sporting side we met on that memorable journey and predictably one of the few that didn't send us a good luck message before the final. Good riddance!
A home draw against Wakefield & Emley in the fifth round suggested a tight low scoring affair with both teams having good defensive records but we were devastating that afternoon and ran out easy 5-0 winners and even missed a penalty.
No matter what anyone else might have thought when we were drawn away to runaway Conference leaders Yeovil Town in the quarter-final I thought well that's the end of the road but we'll get a good pay day.
What happened that day at Yeovil will always be part of club folklore. Yeovil by a big margin were the best non-league side in the country, runaway Conference leaders and destined for the Football League. As the holders they were determined to retain the trophy so there was no messing about from manager Gary Johnson as he picked his strongest possible side. The tactics of manager Shaun Teale that afternoon were nothing short of brilliant as he set out to defend the final third of the pitch like our lives depended on it and to cut out their supply of balls from the flanks.
For all our defending keeper Matt Taylor was rarely forced to show what good a keeper he was and our counter-attacking with pace led to two great finishes from Peter Wright and John Bluck coming within inches of getting a third. The result sent shock waves through non-league football. I heard that when the result came through on the TV in the Southport boardroom chairman Charlie Clapham threw a hissy his club having been stuffed by Yeovil a couple of weeks earlier.
Yeovil were very generous in defeat with a large section of the crowd waiting to applaud our players off despite the delay as they celebrated with our own fans. It was the same in the boardroom apart from one director who I heard say: 'Just a bad day at the office.' Pillock! There was a lovely looking shepherd's pie in the boardroom after the game that I had my eye on but as quick as I tried to get some my phone was going with calls from the press or calls of congratulations. I still can't recall if I ever got any of that shepherd's pie.
As we left in our coach several Yeovil supporters applauded us out of the car park. A few beers were knocked back on the journey home and with the agreement of our regular coach driver Gary we pulled off the M6 somewhere in Cheshire to find a pub to further celebrate. We ended up pulling up at this small village pub. It was getting late and the landlord who was having a quiet night looked visibly shocked as we all piled in but credit to him as he got his wife and daughter out of bed and we ended up having a good session there.
We were in the semi-final but there had hardly been a mention on the local TV stations. I bombarded both the BBC and Granada with emails reminding them of what this little village club in their area was achieving. I recall getting a phone call from a clearly exasperated Alistair Mann - now a Match of the Day commentator- saying they were preparing something and would I stop harrassing them! In the end we did get good TV coverage although I've never understood why these TV companies think every non-league club ends with Town!
A two-legged semi-final with Aylesbury Town was our reward. They had quite a set up at Buckingham Road where we played the first leg, at the time it was being used by the England team for training. (Now it is overgrown and neglected and the team playing elsewhere so it's not just Burscough that has experienced difficult times since!). A Gary Martindale goal gave us a 1-1 draw so everything now depended on the second leg at Victoria Park. Such was the tension at Burscough that it was in no way a classic but we rarely looked like losing without ever creating a lot of chances ourselves. Nobody will ever forget that incredible climax to the game as referee Eddie Ilderton awarded a penalty for a trip on Peter Wright in added time. It was a brave decision at such a late stage of such a big game but despite Aylesbury's protests video replays showed it was the correct decision.
I can remember almost praying that Shaun Teale would take the penalty and as soon as I saw him grab the ball under his arm I just knew we were on our way to Villa Park. He was never going to miss and despite the delay and the tension he was laughing and joking with teammates. He fairly buried the ball in the net with the keeper almost running to get out of the way of the ball! It was another unforgettable moment in our small village club's incredible history.
I was so proud of the club that day. Our organisation was superb for such a big game with a crowd of more than 1,700 and all kinds of bigwigs present. I can recall us forgetting to steward off the ref who was surrounded by Aylesbury players at the final whistle such was the excitement but otherwise we received nothing but compliments for the way we hosted such a big game.
So we were in the FA Trophy Final and now the hard work really began. We along with Tamworth were summoned to go down to Villa Park to meet with the FA, police, the Aston Villa secretary and catering & ground safety staff, etc. to discuss the arrangements for the final. The FA's publicity machine really kicked off and several young ladies in charcoal trouser suits were assigned to us to make sure everything went to plan. One young lady whose name I have sadly forgotten was my main contact and particularly helpful and as the final got nearer I could tell that as she realised what a small club we were she was hoping we would win. I saw her after the final and the smile she gave me confirmed I was right!
We set up a ticket office in the canteen with Stan Peth and myself on duty. Steve Clark the FA Competitions Secretary had told us that the previous season Stevenage Borough had sold tickets at random and their supporters were all scattered about. We didn't want that so we sold the tickets from the centre line outwards so that all our supporters were congregated together immediately opposite the Sky cameras and didn't that work well.
Shaun was keen for the players to all wear suits for the final. I was against I thought it a bit old hat and as professional athletes they should wear track suits. Shaun must have told the players as I remember Paul Burns coming to me in the Barons after one home game and telling me the players were keen on wearing suits. That was good enough for me and I later realised I had been totally wrong and Shaun was right we would have looked daft in track suits on such a big occasion.
A special deal was arranged with Burtons in Ormskirk to supply suits and white shirts and they came along to measure us all up. I think Puskas set them a challenge! I can remember before we set off for Birmingham Shaun's wife and Margaret in the boardroom ironing shirts. Everybody really mucked in.
We had a meeting at Shaun's house in Tarleton to further discuss arrangements. Shaun wanted to take the players down to Birmingham three days before the game to prepare. Although we had concerns that boredom might be a factor we agreed and the Holiday Inn nearest Villa Park was booked for the players and staff plus Frank,Stan Peth, Rod and myself. Shaun and his wife had indicated that they wanted the players to stay in Birmingham on the night of the final and come home the following day. I was adamant that we if won that trophy we should come home that night or the moment would be lost with everyone back to work the following day. I got my way but Shaun and his wife stayed in Birmingham. I might have been wrong about the suits but I was sure as hell right about coming home that night!
Jeff Underwood missed the final. A bit of an altercation between Jeff and Drew Hyland during a league game prior to the final had seen the ref send Jeff off after he pushed Drew in the chest. It was a ridiculous decision but as he raised his hands the ref construed it as violent conduct. I contacted Duncan Bayley the league secretary who was also an official with the FA and he confirmed that if the ref rescinded his decision to a yellow card Jeff would escape suspension and could play in the final. I am particularly proud of two letters I wrote that season at Burscough. One was the letter I wrote to the ref at his home address pleading for him to reconsider his decision. It was a letter from the heart explaining that the punishment in this case of missing the FA Trophy Final far outweighed the 'crime' committed, pushing Drew away hardly being violent conduct in anyone's language. I got a polite, carefully worded reply but my pleading fell on deaf ears. I've still got my letter, I thought it a mini-masterpiece even if I do say so myself, and I've never forgiven that referee. He must have had a heart of stone.
I was also so proud of how many of our former youth players were in the squad? I used to watch every youth game home and away and some of my greatest memories of my time at Burscough came from our exploits in the FA Youth Cup. I still never tire of telling people we had the most successful youth set-up in English non-league football at that time.
Shaun had the unenviable job of selecting the squad that would travel to Birmingham. Shirts had to be ordered with players names on the back that they would keep as a souvenir. When the squad was selected Drew Hyland was the odd one out and just like Michael White who was omitted at Yeovil he was in tears. We spoke to Shaun and told him he could include Drew in the squad to travel even though he would not be amongst the sixteen selected so Drew did go on to enjoy being part of the whole experience over those three days in the Midlands as did Jeff Underwood.
Going down three days before the final proved a master stroke by Shaun. He had arranged the use of Villa's training ground at Bodymoor Heath were the facilities were superb. I remember Sky commentator Rob Hawthorne coming down to the training ground to familiarise himself with our players. His memory was fantastic as I fed him facts about individual players and he was really impressed with our players as he watched them train. In fact the whole build up to the final was superb and I am sure contributed greatly to our Trophy win. Sky's coverage of the final was so professional and the £35,000 TV fee for each club didn't go down too badly!
We had a camera crew with us documenting everything that happened from the moment we left Victoria Park to the celebrating after the final that has proved a wonderful record of that marvellous time in the club's history. Having them with us also helped pass the time, made us feel like a Premier League club and I think helped make the whole occasion even more special.
Surprisingly one of the most demanding jobs I had before the final was organising the mascots and it led to one unpleasant incident that might have contributed to what happened later. It was traditional that the teams went out in the final with one mascot each but Shaun said that he wanted each player to have a mascot so they could get their children playing a part in the big day. Tamworth were also keen on that suggestion so the FA relented.
It all took some organising. Each player nominated a mascot and their replica kits were arranged. I gave all the players an A4 sheet with detailed arrangements of how it would work on the day and which player would be with which mascot. For the day of the game all the children would be in one area of the stand and at a given time one of the FA's staff would go across to take them to the player's tunnel. A couple of the players wives/partners had been assigned to collect them together and stay with them and return them to the stand, I remember Gary Martindale's and John Norman's other halves being involved. In truth it all worked like clockwork except that before the game I had been relaxing with a drink in one of the dining areas with all the hard work seemingly having been done when Shaun's wife came in clearly annoyed and wound up that she didn't know where to take two of the mascots. To be honest I was less than sympathetic after all the work that had gone into making the arrangements just about foolproof and a few words were exchanged. It wasn't an ideal thing to occur just before such a great occasion for the club and I have always regretted it ever happened.
I had gone into the referee's room to submit our team sheet before the final. The referee was Uriah Rennie who was one the most high profile refs in the country at the time. I found him a little cold and arrogant to be truthful. Even when we tried to joke with him at the UniBond League presentation night in Blackpool a few weeks later about the fact he only played 44 minutes in the first half it was hard to build up any kind of rapport with him. Incidentally I only noticed recently that the fourth official for the final was Mark Clattenburg.
Another brilliant thing about the final was the presence of about 400 players from the junior section in their Burscough shirts. It made quite a spectacle and really added to the day. Gary Wright and myself had put a lot of work into bringing Dynamo Burscough on board to be part of Burscough FC and Gary and other junior officials were brilliant leading up to the final because there was a lot of work involved in getting all those kids down to Birmingham.
The Supporters Club had done a great job of selling club scarves, flags, jesters hats, etc. at Victoria Park and at stalls outside the Royal and at Ormskirk Market. The Doug Ellis stand was just a sea of green and white with our flag flying high above (Tamworth didn't supply one!).
The final itself in front of over 14,000 spectators was something we will never ever forget. The proximity of Tamworth to Birmingham ensured our 2,000 fans were greatly outnumbered but by God did they make themselves heard! Gary Martindale in his second coming to Burscough was the hero and attained legendary status with the two goals that brought the FA Trophy back to this little Lancashire village. Watched live throughout Europe on Sky (Dave Hughes watched it in Greece!) and in the clubs and pubs of Burscough it was hard to take on board just what we had achieved as the Trophy was presented by World Cup winner Martin Peters to Shaun and captain Carl Macauley. Adjectives like sensational and unbelievable should be used sparingly or they lose their meaning but our win and the way we played that day was well worthy of either description. It was, and remains, the biggest fairy tale in the history of the FA Trophy.
I can't remember much of events at Villa Park after the final apart for loads of people coming up to congratulate us. I really was in something of a daze, it was all too much to fully take in. I had none of my normal after-match duties to do like phoning in the score and scorers to the league, press association, etc so I just stood with a drink in the player's lounge hardly able to take my eyes off the trophy we had just won. Tamworth came in and you couldn't but feel for them but their club officials all came across to congratulate us. Still, they've done OK since.
The FA Trophy won we began the journey home. We were due to arrive in Burscough about 10 pm. A few days before the final I had arranged that Puskas would go on ahead, open the ground and switch on the floodlights and the PA system ready for the return. I might be a natural pessimist but I really couldn't believe that having reached the final we would now go all the way and beat a side that had just walked their league and were now a Conference club but I felt sure we would get a warm welcome whatever. Nothing in my wildest dreams could have prepared me for what I witnessed that night!
My wife had phoned me to tell me we were in for shock when we got back to Victoria Park. A further sign of what was to come came when the team coach pulled off the M58 at the Rainford By-Pass and there were two police cars waiting for us. They indicated that we should follow them. We travelled through Ormskirk town centre and I can still recall how quiet it was. It was the same on the A59 apart from the odd car sounding their horn on seeing the Trophy in the front of the coach.
The sight I witnessed when the coach pulled into Mart Lane is something that will live with me until my dying day. With the police car sirens blaring and lights flashing it was chaos of the nicest possible kind.The players were staring from the coach mouths wide open in disbelief at the crowd outside the ground. It must have taken the coach twenty minutes to get through the crowds so the players could enter the ground and then we saw the size of the crowd inside VIctoria Park as well. There must have been close on 2,000 there that night. It more than anything brought home just what we as a club had achieved and was the perfect ending to that magical day.
Shaun you should have been there, they were chanting your name and you were the one that had made all this happen. I repeat what I have said before 'we would never have come within a million miles of winning the FA Trophy if Shaun had not been player manager.'
The Barons must have been filled to three times capacity that night. You could hardly move and you certainly were lucky to get a drink. I can recall Peter Wright stood on a table conducting the Balmy Army. The Trophy was being passed all around the Barons which reminded me of words spoken as we were leaving Villa Park earlier that evening. Steve Clark, the FA Competition's Secretary, had come to me and with a certain pleading in his voice said: 'You will look after the Trophy won't you?' Solid silver and worth many thousands of pounds in previous seasons the Trophy had gone to big clubs like Yeovil, Colchester, Macclesfield, etc. and Steve knew it was now going to this little upstart Lancashire village club!! His concerns were perhaps justified as I looked around the Barons and thought to myself 'where's the lid?' Every effort to find the lid met with no luck, we even went looking all around the ground. Nobody could remember where they last saw it. I remember thinking oh God we've only been home a couple of hours and we've lost the bl**dy lid. In the end it was found sitting on the head of someone fast asleep in a corner of the Barons and lid and trophy were reunited. Thinking about it now I hadn't got a clue where the plinth was either.
The camera team that had followed us for three days had not been present that night. Like us they could not have predicted those scenes. I was distraught that we had no record of that fantastic homecoming to include in the final video but someone told me they had seen a guy with a camera filming. Some detective work over the next few days traced the cameraman and it turned out he had been filming for Granada TV. He happily let us have footage to include in the video. It would have been incomplete without.
Over the days that followed the congratulations came in from all over the UK and abroad. A club of our size winning such a prestigious national cup competition against starting odds of 600/1 or 400/1 depending on which bookmaker you asked had really struck a chord with those that favour the underdog. That plus the fact that we had been the better team in the final and deserved to win. The only real signs of envy came from a few miles to the west!
BBC & Granada were at the ground the following night for live outside broadcasts with another large crowd present. Richard Askam of the BBC was particularly friendly and came in the boardroom for a drink. He rang his dad to hear how the broadcast had gone when compared to the opposition. His dad said his was the best as he didn't get submerged by the crowd. It was true the Granada reporter had disappeared without trace on camera amongst a sea of enthusiastic young Burscough fans.
The celebrations went on for days. We set up a stall outside Grahams over the next few days selling the final videos with the FA Trophy on display. The Trophy got taken into local schools by Stuart. It was taken round the local shops who had supported us with those fabulous window displays. We were given a civic reception by West Lancs Council and of course there was great coverage by Geoff Howard in the Advertiser.
I remember sitting at home one evening a few days after the final eating egg and chips with the FA Trophy in the middle of the table next to the HP sauce. It was that surreal and still hard to take in but what a wonderful few days they were.
We made more than £100,00O from the FA Trophy that season. Our share of the Yeovil gate came to about £18,000 then there was our cut of the semi-final games that attracted more than 3,000 spectators in total. As already mentioned there was the £35,000 Sky TV money. There was the prize money that increased through each round and our share of the final gate although that didn't amount to that much because of the massive overheads for a final at a ground like Villa Park. Tamworth & the FA took their percentage and I seem to recall about 20 grand or so was paid to the brass band...incredible!! Stan Peth might remember exactly what the band got and what was left as our share but I think it was barely into five figures. One thing that really irked us however was that the £25,000 that had been paid to finalists in previous finals as compensation because Wembley was unavailable had been withdrawn that season. That's when I wrote my second best letter.
I wrote to the FA pleading our case that the payment should be made especially as so much of the gate money from a 14, 296 crowd had gone in expenses. The Tamworth chairman asked me for a copy of the letter and they sent it in as well. This time my pleading letter was successful and we got the £25,000 and so did Tamworth. To be fair we also paid out a lot during that epic cup run to ensure that Shaun and the lads got the best possible treatment including bonuses, travel and overnight stays for Yeovil, Aylesbury and of course the final. The money paid off all our considerable debts and as I recall left us with about £20,000 in the bank. The first time I could ever remember us being anywhere close to solvent.
As we remember that incredible day 10 years ago some might ask was it all worth it in the light of what happened following the final and what has happened since.
That's always going to be a matter of opinion. All I can say is that May 18 2003 gave me the greatest day of my life outside of my family. I will always be eternally grateful to Shaun and that marvellous group of players (and not forgetting assistant manager Ray Stafford) for making it happen.
Additionally I will alway remember all those people I personally worked with at Burscough over the years who helped build the foundations on and off the field for what happened that memorable day, some of them sadly no longer with us: Frank Parr, Stuart Heaps, Rod Cottam, Stan Petherbridge, Keith Crawford, John Moorcroft, Roy Baldwin, Stan Harvey, Bill Fairclough, Gordon Cottle, Sylvia Cottle, Margaret Manuel, Mark Parr, Peter Nelson, John Davison, Peter King, Russ Perkins, Derek Goulding, Mel Singleton, Dave Hughes, Kevin Downey, Neil Leatherbarrow, Roy Webster, John Carberry, Dave McIlwain, Tommy Spencer, Dave Ball & Frank Duffy are those names that come to mind. If I have forgotten anyone I apologise.
Most of all the winning of the FA Trophy was a fitting reward for chairman Frank Parr in his 57th year with the club. Only for Frank and people like Roy Baldwin and Bill Tyrer it is doubtful if the club would have survived through the 1970s. Frank taught me a lot about how a football club should be run and how standards at Burscough should never be compromised which I still use as my guiding principles in football to the present day.
Big problems at a football club always end at the chairman's door. Many chairmen run way from them, Frank never did and few could not have been delighted for him on that wonderful day. He is a true legend in the club's history and I hope that is never forgotten.
My commitment is now to another football club here on Anglesey but I will never forget my 11 years as secretary at Burscough, I still closely follow the club's results and I am still proud of the fact that I remain the longest serving secretary in the club's history. I wish you all the very best for the future.