The early rounds
FA Vase 1986-87 1 of 6

1. The early rounds

St. Helens Town: FA Vase Winners - 1987

PART 1 – The first three rounds

The FA Vase came into being in 1975 as the replacement for the FA Amateur Cup. St. Helens Town had, before 1986, entered the FA Trophy, but that competition had become dominated by the giants of the non-league game and the chances of Town making progress – and money – in the Trophy were slim. In the Summer of 1986, the club elected to enter the FA Vase for the first time, little knowing that they would go on to lift the prize at Wembley on 25th April 1987.

They entered the competition at the Extra-Preliminary Round and were drawn against Colne Dynamoes, a club in the division below Town in the North West Counties League. However, Dynamoes were in a false position, as they had a multi-millionaire backer who had the ambition of Football League status for his club. Indeed, they went on to win the FA Vase themselves the following season and a number of rapid promotions led the club to the heady heights of Northern Premier League Champions in 1990. They won the title by a massive 26 points over Gateshead, but failed in their attempt to get promoted to the Conference, Gateshead being elevated in their stead and the Dynamoes ceased to exist as a club, being replaced some years later by the present Colne FC.

However, I digress. On 6th September 1986, Town took on Colne Dynamoes in the FA Vase and it turned out to be quite a day! St. Helens found themselves 2-0 down at half-time to goals from ex-Blackburn and Leeds United striker Kevin Hird and former Burnley midfielder Andy Wharton. Worse was to come after the interval, as Hird scored his second before a resurgent Town netted three times in 15 minutes, through Brian Rigby, Tony Williams and Phil Layhe. Wharton then scored again for the visitors but Rigby’s second tied the scores at 4-4. Into extra-time and still the drama was not over. Defender John Bendon was sent-off, reducing Town to 10 men, but up popped Jimmy Collins, who blasted home the winner from 30 yards out. Town won 5-4.

Town’s team was: Andy Johnston; Paul Benson, Barry Lowe, John Bendon and Tony Williams; Jay McComb, Mark Gledhill, Tommy O’Neil and Jimmy Collins; Brian Rigby and Phil Layhe. Subs: Bryan Griffiths (for Gledhill) and Steve Baker. Scorers: Rigby 2, Williams, Layhe, Collins (J).

General Chemicals were the visitors to Hoghton Road in the Preliminary Round on 20th September. The West Cheshire League side were considered a fairly safe passage, but a handball by Bendon gifted the Runcorn side the lead from the penalty spot. Gledhill soon equalised but Town could not put their plucky opponents to bed and the game went to extra-time again. Jimmy Collins scored the winner from the penalty spot after Layhe was brought down by the visiting goalkeeper, to give Town a narrow 2-1 victory.

Town fielded an unchanged team. Scorers: Gledhill, Collins (J).

Another home draw in the First Round, against NWC Second Division side Blackpool Wren Rovers, on 24th October, was the reward. However, skipper Tommy O’Neil had been in dispute with the club in the weeks leading up to the game and, on a real quagmire of a Hoghton Road pitch, injury took its toll and he had to be replaced by Jimmy Collins’ twin brother, Dave. The game was goalless after 90 minutes and, for the third tie in succession, extra-time ensued. Two spectacular goals from Dave Collins (from around 30 yards out) and Marty Cummins, who lobbed the keeper from the half-way line, gave Town a 2-0 victory.

Town’s team was: Johnston, Benson, Williams, Lowe and Bendon; Marty Cummins, O’Neil, Jimmy Collins, John Deakin; McComb and Layhe. Subs: Dave Collins (for O’Neil) and Gary Laird. Scorers: Cummins, Collins (D).

Glyn Jones