ANDY LEITCH admits he was on the verge of quitting the game – only to then rise from the footballing scrapheap to become a Wembley hero.
Two injury and form-ravaged seasons with Bath and Yeovil had forced the rangy centre forward to consider his future in football until a chance meeting in the street with the persuasive Forest Green Rovers manager Bob Mursell prompted him to change his mind.
And it proved to be a match made in heaven after Leitch helped put Rainworth Miners Welfare to the sword at the Twin Towers in the very next season.
“I was 33 or 34 at the time and my game had gone from here to there,” Leitch explained. “I was at Weymouth but they wanted to sign Graham Roberts (Spurs and England) so they got rid of me.
“I signed for Bath but I never really got going. Then I did my cruciate knee ligament on my first night training at Yeovil and I never really played that season either.
“I was close to not playing anymore at all. I lived near Bob Mursell in Bristol and was walking down the street one day when I just bumped into him.
“He asked me if I fancied it but by then I had enough with football after two bad years at Bath and Yeovil. And I was pretty fed up with it. But he talked me into it and I am glad he did.
“It was the most memorable season you could ever have. It was unbelievable. Bob said it would be good and he was right.
“I was already signed on at Yeovil and he drove me all of the way down there so we could cancel the contract.”
Rovers won the Hellenic League title and disposed of three previous finalists in Willenhall Town, Blue Star and Almondsbury Greenway on their way to the Wembley.
Mursell’s appointment 18 months earlier had transformed fortunes at The Lawn, rebuilding the squad almost overnight.
From there he took them from the bottom of the league to fifth in his first season and then to the league title and Wembley in his first full season in charge.
“We won the league quite comfortably in the end but because we were doing so well in the FA Vase we were always behind on our fixtures,” Leitch said.
“Newbury seemed to be top of the table until we played them in an evening game and we were 1-0 down with about 15 minutes to go.
“But we ended up winning 2-1 with two late goals and that sort of spurred us on from there.
“The League was more important to us, because you don’t think that you are going to get to Wembley and win. It was like more of a dream. The league was more of a reality so we were going for that. But then every time we won it was one step closer to Wembley.”
Leitch went onto score twice in a 3-0 win at Wembley to repay Mursell for talking him out of quitting.
“Words cannot describe what it was like to play there. It was such a buzz, I hadn’t even been there until the day before the game,” he added. “You go out with the intention of taking every single bit in but then when the game starts you focus.
“I’ve got to be honest though when I scored I thought, ‘I don’t care if we lose 10-1 because I’ve scored at Wembley’.
“Then when I got the second goal I was thinking about Bob for keeping on at me. He was very persuasive and I am glad he was.”
1. Graham Day: A former Bristol Rovers defender, Day spent 14 years as a financial advisor before moving into the pub trade, where he is now landlord of The Old Flower Pot in Kingswood, Bristol.
2. Brendan Guest: A former England youth international, Guest quit the game at the age of 23 to work for a finance company before joining Lincolnshire Police. He is now a Detective Sergeant.
3. Andy Leitch: The two-goal striker went on to play for Gloucester City and Dorcester Town, where he is now based, spending the last five years working as a postman. Prior to that he was a printer for 30 years.
4. Kenny Norman: The captain went on to play for Gloucester City and Longlevens. He continues to live in Gloucester and works in the insurance industry.
5. David Moss: Goalkeeper Moss played local football until he was 52 and now lives in Bristol where he works as a JCB operative.
6. Steve Millard: Went onto manage Forest Green while working as a heating engineer. Sadly died of a heart attack in December 1999, aged 49.
7. David Dangerfield: An England schoolboy, who moved across the Valley to Shortwood United. He now lives in Stroud and works in engineering.
8. John Turner: Utility player Turner went on to play for Gloucestershire sides Sharpness and Tuffley Rovers. He lives in Gloucester and works in the Letting agency business.
Front row from left to right:
9. Jimmy Jenkins: Went on to serve Bath City and Frome Town. He lives in Bristol and worked in a printing firm for a number of years, but is now a delivery driver.
10. Steve Doughty: Is still based in Forest Green. Later played for Newport County and Shortwood United. He has managed local sides Whitminster and Kings Stanley and works in engineering.
11. Bob Mursell: Managed Gloucester City before leaving the game and is now based in Chelmsford, Essex and has held a number of directorships in the printing industry.
12. Peter Higgins: A defender who had league experience with Bristol Rovers, Doncaster and Torquay, is based in the Bristol area and works as a postman.
13. Keith Hardcastle: A former Bristol City reserve winger, who lives in Gloucester and went on to play for Ledbury and Shortwood United. He works in magazine circulation for Cotswold Life.
14. Mike Burns: He retired after the FA Vase final but returned to the club as Steve Millard’s assistant. He worked in the printing, but is now retired in Bristol.
Tagged Forest Green Rovers FC