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6 years ago By Stuart Vernon

Twenty six years have flown by since the Vale of Lune lifted teh Lancashire Cup in an evening to cherish at Fylde.

The popular and ever expanding former player’s lunch will be held on Saturday April 21 at midday. After the success of last years event, when a number of players were disappointed because they did not know about it, the event has not only been publicised more but those who attended have contacted the absentees and tables filled.

Andy Higgin has worked hard to contact as many players as possible who were not only part of the team that won the Lancashire Cup but also those that played in the earlier rounds, perhaps it is an appropriate time to recall this historic event.

Vale of Lune will not be defending the Brian Leigh Lancashire Trophy this season which they won last season after defeating Broughton Park in the final at Sedgley Park, 33-22, because the will be playing in the John Burgess Lancashire Cup against Fylde on Wednesday April 18 in an evening kick off at Ansdell.

As far as the Vale of Lune are concerned the long arm of coincidence is entwined around the venue of this fixture because the Vale won the Lancashire Cup for the first time at The Woodlands Memorial Ground on a Wednesday evening 30 April 1986 in a replayed final against Preston Grasshoppers.

This was the Vale’s second appearance in the Lancashire Cup final after they had been knocked out by Waterloo, 11-6, the previous April, in a niggling game, also played at Fylde after defeating Orrell 18-16 in the semi final on the same ground.

The first meeting with Preston Grasshoppers on Sunday 27 April ended all square at nine all in what the revered rugby correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, George Mackay, described “as an honourable draw.” Few clear cut opportunities were carved out by either side because the defences were generally on top, the net result being that the quality threequarters who were on show, from both sides, had few opportunities to show their paces.

At times the occasion appeared to affect the players; there was a whiff of nervousness in the air, nobody wanted to make a mistake that might lead to a score, it was a case of playing the percentages, do nothing outrageous, wait for the gaps to appear.

The tackling was of the highest order and had to be because but the potential to cut loose was there throughout the game. Unfortunately a large crowd, basking in spring sunshine, only witnessed one try. Hoppers were awarded a penalty try in the thirtieth minute when Ian Ralston was adjudged to have deliberately knocked the ball forward when he went for an interception in his twenty two. Steve Kerry converted and then he kicked a penalty goal to give Preston a 9-6 half time lead.

Vale began the game by mounting a number of purposeful attacks and although Hoppers initially scrambled they quickly cut off the Vale’s supply routes and gave notice that Mark Preston had the pace to cut any defence to ribbons. However, the Vale moved into the lead with a drop goal from Trevor Glover and a penalty from Andy Higgin, but before they could establish any real control Hoppers struck, to end the half on a high note.

The second half was a carbon copy of the first and after Mike Kirby had dropped a goal for the Vale the game settled into a pattern and rhythm that suggested that the vaults of creativity and invention was becoming overdrawn.

At the final whistle confusion reigned. Would there be extra time? These were the days before count back, golden try, penalty shoot outs and because of it being a neutral venue the away side could not be declared winners.

The powers that be convened, players and supporters looked in the direction of the clubhouse and marque for any signs of smoke. Eventually a rumour swept around the ground that the final would be replaced on the up coming Wednesday evening, kick off 6.30 pm. The presentation dinner was soon in full swing, food flying in all directions, wine being quaffed, trebles all round.

Vale of Lune: A Higgin; M Nelson, M Kirby, J Orr, I Ralston; T Glover, T Becker; S Williams, J Ashworth (Capt), S Gill; K Graham, L Dent; S Hodgson, M Brown, D Worthington.

Injuries sustained in the first meeting required both clubs to make changes for the re-match. Two were forced on the Vale with Guy Parker replacing the unavailable Malcolm Brown in the back row, and Steve Vose coming in for the injured Tim Becker at scrum half.

Cup competitions can be associated with romance and magic and there was more of a whiff of it in the air with the selection of Steve Vose. Steve had played his last first team game for the Vale at the end of the previous season but he tossed aside the proverbial slippers, pipe and pussy cat on the hearth, to answer the call and parade his talents.

His appearance allowed his fans, and the Vale players, to witness once more the delights of his unique pass, which with little wind up, which could travel with unerring accuracy well over half way across the average sized pitch. He had given stand off Trevor Glover and many others who had donned the number ten jersey some armchair rides.

How fitting that Steve Vose should sign off his career, in his 276th game, by helping the Vale to lift the coveted Lancashire Cup. He was instrumental in setting up Vale’s only try when he angled a kick into the path of Mark Nelson who touched down.

George Mackay devoted a whole paragraph to Steve Vose in his match report when he wrote, “No one made a more worthy contribution to their success (the Vale’s), than scrum half Steve Vose, hauled from the pleasures of social rugby in an injury crisis…”

Vale’s victory in a rousing tie, in contrast to the first meeting, saw both sides going at it hammer tongs straight from the kick off, was built around a committed team performance. Andy Higgin opened the scoring with a penalty goal but they fell behind when Roy Dransfield charged down a kick for an unconverted try after a period of intense pressure.

Gradually a fired up Vale pack started to control the game, Preston were lured into giving away penalties and were punished with two successful kicks from Andy Higgin. Mark Nelson’s try came with four minutes remaining of a pulsating half which ended with Andy Higgin kicking a fourth penalty.

Hoppers threw everything at the Vale at the start of the second half and after three minutes were back in contention when the Vale again conceded a penalty try which Steve Kerry converted to reduce the Vale’s lead to six points.

An enthralling game developed as Hoppers searched for further points, the Vale’s defence held firm and they in turn whisked the ball around in a real cup final atmosphere. Andy Higgin settled any nerves with a penalty goal in the seventieth minute but Hoppers gave their all in the closing minutes as they rattled at Vale’s door. However, a single minded Vale side had only one objective on their minds, to lift the Lancashire Cup and they were not going to be denied.

Vale of Lune: A Higgin; M Nelson, M Kirby, J Orr, I Ralston. T Glover, S Vose; S Williams, J Ashworth (Capt), S Gill; K Graham. L Dent; S Hodgson, D Worthington, G Parker.

On the way to the final the Vale defeated Newton Le Willows in the third round, they had been awarded a bye to enter the competition at this stage, 31-4.

Andy Higgin’s contribution was fifteen points with a try, four conversions and a penalty goal in a typical cup tie that included plenty of touch line banter and some fruity exchanges from the serried ranks of partisan home supporters. Other try scores were Richard Taylor with two and one each from Guy Parker and Sam Hodgson.

Next up were West Park with international referee Fred Howard in charge, the Vale won 34-10 in a game played in a howling gale on a dark day at Red Rocks.

Five tries were scored, Trevor Glover, Mark Nelson, Mike Kirby, Dave Worthington and Tim Becker. Andy Higgin’s contribution was four conversions and toe penalties. The Vale’s efforts earned them a quarter final home tie against Broughton Park on Sunday 23 March.

Unfortunately between the West Park and Broughton Park game the Vale received news in February, that one of its inspirational larger than life and legendary members who had played a major role in the clubs post and pre war development, former player and President, Maurice Armstrong, had died while on holiday in Gran Canaria.

How this Vale icon would have enjoyed this rip roaring, at times cliff hanging but totally absorbing tie that took the winners through to a semi final against Fylde at Preston Grasshoppers.

Vale were victorious 24-15 against Broughton Park, with a try from Ian Ralston plus a penalty try, while the Vale’s point’s machine, Andy Higgin, converted both tries in addition to popping over two drop goals and two penalties.

The Vale could feel satisfied with their win because at the beginning of February they had lost at Broughton Park in the third round of the John Player Special Cup, 12-6, and missed out on a lucrative home tie against Leicester in the next round.

Fylde led their Northern Merit rivals 12-4 at half time in the semi final, and looked odds on for a place in the final but the Vale’s stout-hearted pack laid the foundations for victory with their dominance in all areas. This in turn allowed Vale’s inventive threequarters added extra impetus and to provide the unstoppable Mark Nelson with time and space to claim a hat trick.

Prop Steve Gill scored the Vale’s first half try, Andy Higgin converted one of Mark Nelson’s try, and kicked one penalty and slotted over two drop goals to take the Vale through to face Preston Grasshoppers, who had defeated Orrell 10-9 in the other semi, to ensure a new name would be engraved on the Lancashire Cup.

As a footnote, and to underline the fickle nature of knock out competitions in any sport, the following season the Vale of Lune were sent packing out of the Lancashire Cup at their first outing as holders, losing a third round tie at West Park, 19-13.

Where next?

New fixtures - Change of kick off time Those early birds who have previously read this post should note the change of kick off time for the Fylde game.
PASTIES, PIES AND PETROL. With many of the Alies having lived through the privations of the Second World War they were well versed in the arts of queuing and rationing.


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