As we approach the showpiece final in May at Wembley, if it ever happens thanks to the coronavirus, Mark Stillman looks back on the five decades of the FA Trophy history in Part 2 of our series…
Gary Donnellan would have almost been able to hear the Wembley crowds from his house. In 1985, he was responsible for more noise at the Twin Towers having been part of the first side to clinch the Non-League double.
Wealdstone emerged as giants that year under Brian Hall. Donnellan was living in Cricklewood at the time – a couple of miles from the national stadium – and was in his second season with the Stones. Then 22, and one of the younger members of their squad, he wasn’t fazed by the occasion.
“I wasn’t nervous at all because we were really solid as a team,” he told The NLP. “When we came out of the tunnel, we weren’t smiling or waving. We wanted to knuckle down and get the job done.”
Part of the reason for the more sombre entrance was confirmed by Donnellan, who revealed that manager Hall gave a moving speech before the game regarding Dennis Byatt, whose wife passed away at the start of the season after giving birth to their first child.
The Gola League champions got off to a flier as Andy Graham expertly hooked in an opener on two minutes, and Lee Holmes doubled their advantage on the half hour. In between, Byatt had a penalty saved by future Leeds United manager Kevin Blackwell.
“I can’t remember Boston having a shot in the first half,” Donnellan recalls. “The game should have been done and dusted. I thought we were going to give them a bit of a hiding. It was a surprise that Hally played Andy ahead of Mark Graves, but he was proved right.”
Chris Cook pulled one back on 49 minutes and Dave Gilbert had a late goal disallowed for Boston as Wealdstone ran out 2-1 victors to seal the first ever Non-League double, having clinched the Gola League title a week previous with victory at Kettering.
They were knocked out by South Bank the next year in round three and finished 10th in the league. By 1988, with several key players departing along with manager Hall, the Stones were relegated to the Southern League and haven’t returned to the top of the Non-League pyramid since.
“After you’ve done what you’ve done, people expect to be paid more money,” Donnellan added. “Players moved on and we weren’t prepared for the next bit. Interestingly, while we were a really good group of players, everyone would just do their training and depart. We didn’t go out socialising. A lot of the lads were older and had families, but there was still a bond.”
Despite moving to Liverpool 30 years ago, the Non-League link in the family remains with Gary’s nephew Shaun currently playing for Woking.
In the same year as their historic double, there was a suggestion in a Non-League Directory that both Trophy and Vase finals could be played across the same weekend after other competitions had ended. It took some 30 years for that to catch on.
At the start of the decade, the Alliance League’s introduction in 1979 suggested an advantage for those at the top in the FA Trophy. It didn’t quite happen straight away.
Made up of 13 teams from the Southern League and seven from the Northern, the Alliance acted as one division below the Football League as opposed to three. It wasn’t until 1985 when the Isthmian offered a promotion spot to the Alliance.
Before that, Dagenham won the first FA Trophy of the decade, defeating reigning Northern League champions Mossley, and Enfield celebrated their first season as an Alliance club in 1982 with Wembley glory, edging past Altrincham 1-0 after extra time.
Altrincham had to wait until 1986 for their first success, a 1-0 win over Runcorn in the same season the Robins knocked top-flight Birmingham City out of the FA Cup.
In between was the remarkable story of Bishop’s Stortford. In 1978, they were relegated from Isthmian Premier and lost in the FA Trophy that season at Bromsgrove – the start of three consecutive defeats at the first hurdle in the competition. By 1981, they hadn’t progressed past round two. The 1974 Amateur Cup winners had played a mere 16 FA Trophy ties in six seasons.
In the 1980-81 season, they played 13 alone – a run which started against Spalding United in the preliminary round.
Having overcome Chelmsford, Kingstonian, Hendon, Bridgend, Dagenham, Alvechurch and Worcester, winning more matches than their previous six Trophy campaigns combined, they edged past Dartford in the semis to set up a final with Sutton United – an all Isthmian battle.
Sutton negotiated just seven ties to reach their third Wembley final, previously losing twice at the iconic venue during the 1960s in the FA Amateur Cup.
It was third time unlucky for the U’s as Terry Sullivan’s 90th minute winner for Stortford sealed a remarkable success. To this day, Bishop’s Stortford remain the only winners to have started their journey from the preliminary round.
The Alliance Leaguers were having none of it as a representative of the division won every remaining final of the decade, where every final was decided by the odd goal.
Northwich recovered from a 1983 defeat to Telford by beating Bangor City in 1984, which was a year of firsts. It was the first final to be taken to a replay with the rematch played at Stoke’s Victoria Ground, and Bangor were the first Welsh club to play at Wembley since Cardiff in 1927.
Kidderminster Harriers and Enfield also both prevailed in replays in 1987 and 1988 respectively, Harriers after their semi-final second leg at Fareham was switched to Southampton’s ground at The Dell.
Enfield overcame Telford United 3-2 after a 0-0 draw, but the Lilywhites ended the decade by defeating Macclesfield 1-0, gaining revenge for the first ever final.
Part 3 of the the series comes next. From the current edition of The Non-League, Stillman covers the 1990s, where one man became synonymous with Non-League’s top knockout prize.
1979–80 Dagenham 2–1 Mossley
1980–81 Bishop’s Stortford 1–0 Sutton United
1981–82 Enfield 1–0 Altrincham (aet)
1982–83 Telford United 2–1 Northwich Victoria
1983–84 Northwich Victoria 1–1 Bangor City (aet)
1983–84 (R) Northwich Victoria 2–1 Bangor City
at Stoke City FC
1984–85 Wealdstone 2–1 Boston United
1985–86 Altrincham 1–0 Runcorn
1986–87 Kidderminster Harriers 0–0 Burton Albion (aet)
1986–87 (R) Kidderminster Harriers 2–1 Burton Albion
at West Bromwich Albion FC
1987–88 Enfield 0–0 Telford United (aet)
1987–88 (R) Enfield 3–2 Telford United
at West Bromwich Albion FC
1988–89 Telford United 1–0 Macclesfield Town (aet)
Make sure you get your copy of The Non-League Paper on a Sunday for the latest news from across Non-League over the last seven days and the growing impact of the coronavirus on the game and society.
Image Tim Parks/Wealdstone FC & TheFA.com