Sunday, 1 May 2016

Opponents No.13 - North Vale & Rotherton

North Vale

Welsh side North Vale have always punched above their weight. Vale's presence in the top flight is usually something of a surprise.

But remarkably the Welshmen featured in the First Division continuously for nearly a decade from the mid-70s and returned in the early 90s for the first few years of the Premier League.

One match that Melchester Rovers fans will recall really sums up the determination of the side from the Valleys. The FA Cup 5th Round tie in 1977 saw Mel Park shrouded in thick fog. Vale adapted best as Race's side seemed distracted by the conditions. Rovers supporters would argue that the fog was an unfair leveler, but the press would disagree. Vale won well 3-2, to advance to the quarter-finals. While Rovers were hammered on the back pages: "Racey's men fogbound!" and "Rovers lose their way in fog!" the pick of the headlines.

What this performance showed, was Vale's ability to raise their game and fight for their club, perhaps a result of being the only Welsh club at the top end of English football. North Vale weren't just representing a town and a club, but a footballing nation.

With a small ground and limited finances, Vale were dependent on their own youth system. Perhaps one of their greatest ever players, Gary Walker the lightning fast, blond haired forward, is symbolic of North Vale's position in the soccer world.

Walker made headlines in the early 80s, his unbelievable goalscoring record also attracting the attention of the big clubs. Incredibly fast, a natural finisher, with a great leap, Walker led the line in the First Division while still in his teens. But the very top clubs were reluctant to take a chance, maybe thinking he was just a flash in the pan.

It took a shocking injury to another star teenage forward, Billy Kramer of Tynefield City, to force a move. City, newly promoted to the First Division, were struggling badly. Kramer's broken leg, sustained falling from a roof-top, after being substituted during a poor performance against Walker's North Vale, forced the Reds into the transfer market.

Walker had impressed scoring a fabulous header past Gordon Stewart that afternoon and a £500,000 record transfer fee was soon agreed.

But as always, Vale would take the money, move on and continue to mix it with the big boys!

Frankie Jones scores vs Rovers in 1977
East Midlanders Rotherton are another club famed for producing their own top quality talent. The Reds have spent the majority of their history in the Second Division, albeit regularly challenging for promotion and enjoying many short spells in the First Division.

The late 70s were Rotherton's most successful period, with an atypical extended run in the First Division. An attractive side, Rotherton played attacking football and produced some outstanding forwards.

Rotherton and Rovers fans on the pitch (1977/78)First the double centre forward pairing of Frankie Jones and Alfie Stone kept The Reds away from relegation. While they never challenged at the top, Rotherton were still involved in a number of entertaining matches, mostly ending up as the losing side. in 1976/77 reigning European Champions Blackport Rovers thrashed them 6-0. In 1977/78 the point gained from a draw at League Champions Melchester Rovers was celebrated like a FA Cup win. Unfortunately that match was marred by crowd trouble as Rotherton fans contributed to a mass pitch invasion.
Rotherton tackle Rob Richards in 1983/84

The early 80s saw Rotherton yo-yo between the top two divisions. But fans will fondly recall the goalscoring phenomenon that was Peter Acton, probably the Forest's greatest ever player. He would fire Rotherton to promotion, but found the First Division tougher. He still scored for fun, but his goals alone were never enough to secure a safe position in the top flight.

Rotherton vs Melchester Rovers in 1991/92The yo-yoing would continue, relegation in 1985/86 followed promotion in 1983/84. Acton was a class above the Second Division where a weak defence was not fatal. An immediate return was inevitable and this time Rotherton would find a way of surviving. A side supplemented and improved with the addition of a number the 1983/84 FA Youth Cup runners-up squad. Mike Watson, a centre-half and captain of that youth side, easily made the transition to first-grade football and was a fixture in the Rotherton defence for many years.

However without making any real impact in the top-flight, relegation eventually occurred in the mid-90s and it would be a long time before the team famed for their attacking football and great strikers would feature at the top of English football again.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Opponents No.12 - Eastgate

Eastgate are the side of the East End of London. Traditionally one of the strongest of the London sides, since the mid-80s Eastgate have struggled to have any impact at the top end of English football.

Their story begins in the mid-60s with promotion to the First Division. However Eastgate fail to establish themselves and end up fighting against relegation. A fourth bottom finish in 1966/67 would be a familiar feeling for Eastgate fans through the 70s. But that feeling of relief would not save the Eastenders again, relegation could not be avoided and the Eastgate spent the next few years in the Second Division.

Eastgate in home red colours 1975/76
Manager Bert Naylor formed a strong side and by 1975/76 Eastgate were considered one of the more powerful teams in the country. Three players stood out; Jim Bowker in goal, Joe Riley as the defensive midfielder and Peter Telford on the right wing. But it was a squad light on overall quality, constantly battling away at the wrong end of the First Division.

Naylor had found a way of surviving, but Eastgate lacked the depth to progress.The board backed their manager and the big money signing of striker Steve Holland followed. Holland was on the verge of a call-up to the England squad, very highly rated. Naylor hoped his goals would help Eastgate challenge, but it was not to be. Even the introduction of future England international Andy Watson in goal did not help. Eastgate again found themselves narrowly avoiding the drop. The 1976/77 season would be Bert Naylor's last in charge.

Neil Hammond was appointed and given the task of reaching leading his side to the top. Eastgate fans demanded success, they were sick of scrapping at the bottom, attendances were up and away support phenomenal. Everything seemed in place, surely Eastgate, with Holland partnered by rising stars John Rogers and Raich Williams up front were a team to be reckoned with.

Eastgate players celebrate a draw at Mel Park (1977/78)For a famous encounter at Mel Park, over 10,000 Eastgate fans made the journey up from London. Such fabulous support showed how high expectations were, but the players themselves were still not pulling their weight. Fans were quite embarrassed by the on-pitch celebrations that followed the 1-1 draw. Hooligans in the travelling support later caused chaos in Melchester city centre. Like many clubs, Eastgate had a significant hooligan following in the late 70s, they were out in force in Melchester that day.

Hammond's side played attractive football, but again the results did not come. The top players in the side were as frustrated as the supporters, as the only achievement, for the third year in a row, was avoiding relegation.

Raich Williams of Eastgate in action in 1979/80Andy Watson, now a superb goalkeeper, was almost single-handedly keeping Eastgate in the First Division. Two seasons of consistently top-class performances began to alert the big clubs. Until finally in February 1979 Viktor Boskovic of Second Division Danefield United mad his move. A massive bid of £350,000 was enough to secure the star goalie. Watson would win promotion and eventually the title and a European Cup, as well as many England caps. His quick transition to superstar summed up the failings of his first club - Eastgate just could not find a winning formula, on paper the side was strong, perhaps the biggest failing lay in the manager's office.

Watson's departure stalled all progress in the East End and relegation was inevitable. But recovery was swift and a return to the First Division was soon secure. But the side had not evolved, Williams and Rogers as a partnership had gone stale. There was little money to strengthen and the old unwanted relegation battles were back.

By the 1984/85 season the side's defensive weakness saw Eastgate well adrift at the bottom. Scotland international Jock McNab was identified as the man to fix the problem and what a signing he proved to be. McNab was quick and immensely strong, his presence lifted the team and results improved dramatically. Even Roy Race had no answer to the Scot's defensive abilities, as he was marked out of the game, before substituting himself.

McNab helped Eastgate clear of the drop-zone, but his one man effort would only delay the inevitable. Eastgate were soon back in Division 2 and this time there would be no quick return.

Eastgate are an interesting team, the side of the late-70s had undoubted potential. Skilled observers like Roy Race and Tynefield City's coach Hoots MacLaren recognised the ability of their forward players. However the team always lacked that something special. While often described as powerful and punishing, the word most associated with Eastgate will always be "ordinary".

- In Hard Man there are two Eastgates - Rovers and Albion
- Eastgate appear regularly in all the universe stories until the early 80s
- The last mention of Eastgate was in the 1986 ROTR Annual

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Opponents No.11 - Stambridge City

Stambridge City were one of the teams of the 80s. Promoted as Division 2 Champions in 1979/80 Stambridge consolidated their position in the top flight and gave a few of the big boys a fright or two along the way.

Longman leads out Stambridge (80/81)Early in the season, the Greens shocked Melchester Rovers in the League Cup 5th Round, smashing five goals past the hapless Charlie Carter and proving to Roy Race that his side needed improvement. But by the time Rovers would face City again on the final day of the season, they were all but relegated, needing to win by five goals to stay up. Roy Race would lead his side to a 4-0 victory, but a last minute penalty save by highly rated young goalie Len Coburn condemned Rovers to the drop.

Len Coburn makes a catch (80/81)Coburn was irreplaceable, but the City board and management thought less of most of his promotion winning team-mates. Even captain Longman and star forward Reid were not safe as City embarked on an almost total restructure of the first-team squad before the start of the 1981/82 season.

Johnny White an elegant left-winger was the pick of the new signings, terrorising right-backs with his jinking runs. With White on the left and a young Trevor Stewart complimenting on the right, City weren't short of creators. Sufficient chances were created to turn Stambridge into real contenders for the title, in fact their challenge would only end with a 3-1 defeat to eventual winners Portdean with just two matches remaining. Hearts broken, City finished fourth, their highest ever league placing.

Martin Kemp debuts vs Stambridge (1985/65)Stewart and White continued to star and ensure Stambridge remained secure in the First Division. But honours did not follow. Trevor Stewart's reputation was growing, as he provided goals for new forward Crawford.  In World Cup year, with no medals to his name, Stewart now England captain left.

But City had a new star waiting to shine. Terry Joslin, a dynamic attacking midfielder, was both creator and goalscorer. Joslin's top class performances helped City to the 1986/87 Littlewoods Cup Final, where they would face a Melchester Rovers side gunning for a trophy after totally rebuilding the side after Basran. The match would go down as one of the most eventful Wembley finals ever!

Terry Joslin scores in the League Cup Final 1987Roy Race gave Rovers a twelfth minute lead, crashing in a Steve Wootten cross, from just inside the penalty area. But City hit back immediately, forcing 'Hard Man' Johnny Dexter into giving away a silly penalty. Joslin struck his kick well, but Andy Styles launched himself to his right, tipping the ball away. Unfortunately for the Rovers keeper, his momentum carried him head first into the post, "Serious double vision... probably concussion," Styles was substituted, Race taking his place in goal.

Without their talisman, Rovers struggled, City pressed on in search of the equaliser. Just before half-time, Stambridge won a throw-in high up on their left wing. The ball was thrown long to test out Race, he punched clear, the ball travelling all of thirty yards. But Joslin found himself perfectly positioned beneath the dropping ball, he volleyed with tremendous power, Race didn't stand a chance - 1-1.

City had Race and Melchester worried, Pancho Miller took over in goal, allowing Race to take his place leading the Rovers from the front. Melchester started the second half strongly, pounding the City goal, but the Greens held out. Then, in a flash, a long punt up-field set Joslin clear. As the number 8 bore down on Miller's goal, the Scot rushed out, Joslin lobbed him, surely the goal to give City the Cup! But no - big Bruno Johnson sped back just in time to poke the goal-bound effort wide!

Andy MacLaren bursts through in 89/90Buzzing from his superb goalkeeping effort, Miller plucked the resulting corner from the air and threw out to Pak Soon on the left. The Boat-Boy was away, Rovers were away. Soon smashed a cross-field pass to the advancing Wootten on the right. Nobby nodded down and Race volleyed home! Rovers had won the Littlewoods Cup, denying Stambridge City their first piece of silverware!

It would be a while before City would challenge again. Relegation was only narrowly avoided in 1987/88, as Stambridge fans again had to witness Rovers lift a trophy, as an own-goal gave Melchester the First Division Championship.

But the 80s, City's decade of glory, were over and they were relegated, ending ten years of First Division football.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Opponents No.10 - Deans Park

London club Deans Park will always be associated with one man - Dennis "Chippy" Croker. The loudmouth television presenter of Goals Galore is Park's all time record goalscorer and capped player. Holder of the British record for most league and cup goals scored, until 1991/92 when Roy Race finally overtook the former England striker.

Chippy was nicknamed for his trademark lobbed finishes that saw him dominate defences for two decades, netting a remarkable 435 goals.

Croker's first manager was the long-serving Ron Whittaker, who led Deans to the First Divison for the first time in a generation, winning promotion in 1974/75. Having achieved his goal, Whittaker was underwhelming in the top flight and was replaced by the eccentric Brian Davidson early in 75/76.

Davidson was a wind-up merchant and took great delight in boasting of his new side's prowess. Wearing his lucky brightly coloured tweed jacket he had transformed Deans Park into title challengers. Through to the F.A. Cup Quarter Finals, Deans were in with a shout of the Double! Park were in amazing form going into the big cup tie, thrashing league leaders Tynecaster 6-1.

However in an amazing match against an equally in-form Melchester Rovers, Davidson's luck would run out. Roy Race scored twice in a 3-1 win and Davidson's lucky jacket was stolen. Without his inspiration Deans would fade eventually finishing fourth. But still the trio of Davidson the manager, Mike Grundy sweeping up at the back and Croker's insatiable appetite for goals had surprised everyone with such a strong display in their debut season in the top flight.
Roy Race nets the winner past Deans Park's goalie (1980/81)

Thanks to Davidson and Croker's goals Deans Park were now an established First Division side. While they rarely challenged at the top, relegation was never a threat. In fact it is probably fair to say that Deans Park were a one man team. And it would take the arrival of another Croker to get Deans back at the top end of the table.

The stability of the late 70s, continued through the 80s, under the guidance of new manager Ken Marsh. A couple of stars emerged, winger Titch Norris and goalkeeper Jim Elliott. Elliott would keep his place in the Park goal well into his veteran years. During this period Deans would wear a strange variety of strips and colours:
Walford vs Deans Park 1982/83
Deans Park vs Melchester Rovers 1984/85
Deans Park vs Melchester Rovers 1985/86

But then in the early 90s, now in a striking red and white shirts and black shorts; a strong, quick young forward was brought into the first-team - Matthew Croker, son of Chippy!

Matt's goals, often spectacular, fired Deans Park to the top of the table. But approaching transfer deadline day, Melchester Rovers, who were flexing their financial muscles, poached Croker for an undisclosed fee. Without their talisman, Park's title challenge would fade into a disappointing fifth place finish.

Now London's top performing club, surely Deans Park would take advantage of the new riches of the Premier League and challenge for the title. But has the emergence of big-spending London rivals Kelburn scuppered Deans' hopes of glory?

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Opponents No.9 - Kelburn

London club Kelburn gained promotion to the First Division in 1975/76 and have somewhat miraculously managed to avoid relegation ever since!

Noel Baxter nets Rovers' 8th goal in 1979
Kelburn were not always the powerhouse of English football that grew in the early 90s. Years of obscurity in the 60s and early 70s are the foundations upon which the club was built. Until the investment of the 90s the highlight of Kelburn's existence was a solitary F.A. Cup Final appearance in 1980, when they were defeated by Danefield United.
Kelburn knock Rovers out of the 1981 F.A. Cup
In an F.A. Cup 3rd Round tie in 1979 Melchester Rovers had thrashed Kelburn 8-0, it was a sign of the perennial struggle Kelburn would face in the First Division against bigger, better and better financed clubs.

Terry Anderson of Kelburn in 1984However, despite struggling at the wrong end of the table (again!), the Londoners would gain some Cup revenge against Rovers in 1981. An error from Mervyn Wallace gifted Kelburn the match and punished a complacent Rovers. So while poor league form was a constant, the early 80s saw Kelburn achieve two very good runs in the Cup.

The pre-90s Kelburn were a side of very few stars, just solid pros. Terry Anderson and Les Riley being two men who typified the Kelburn spirit. Anderson brought the passion of the fans to the field during his feud with Carl Hunt, the man who ended his brother Les's career.

Jurgen sprinting away for Kelburn (1992/93)
An uneventful remainder of the decade followed before the transformation began. Another good run in the F.A. Cup in 1991 was the beginning of a period of sustained investment that would see Kelburn remove themselves from the threat of relegation for good. No longer would Kelburn rely on journeymen like Mark Berry, instead stars like goalkeeper Chris Ambrose, Ian Gorman and Nick Leach were signed on big money deals. Transfer records were broken and then broken again, Jurgen, a lightning fast and skilful international striker picked up from Strasbourg in 1992/93 to replace Leach.

Suddenly the club that were never far off the drop were beginning a great journey, one built on the millions of generous chairmen rather than Kelburn's traditions of hard work and spirit.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Opponents No.8 - Gatesfield

London club Gatesfield emerged in the mid-70s as rivals to both Blackport and Melchester. A small club, with little money, but vociferous fans, flashy forward Eddie Hamilton was the star at Elm Grove. With the charismatic Harry Roper as manager, Gatesfield were taking the First Division by storm, right in the title race for much of the 1974/75 season, before losing out to a Nipper Lawrence inspired Blackport.

While Gatesfield were matching the big boys, Hamilton was gaining a reputation as a playboy, but also as one of England's top forwards, even winning Footballer of the Year. The energetic and fiery number 8, matching Mervyn Wallace and Roy Race in the goalscoring charts throughout the 1976/77 season and leading his side to the F.A. Cup Final.

Eddie Hamilton and Mervyn Wallace clash (1976/77)This would be the most successful period thus far in the history of Gatesfield as Roper's side were relegated at the end of the 1978/79 season, despite the talents of Hamilton and crowd favourite Mal Pritchard.

The growth of hooliganism in the '70s arguably effected Gatesfield more than any other club. Frequent disorder associated with the notorious Goons led to fines and falling attendances. Star players could not be retained and new signings difficult to attract. These were the gloom years for Gatesfield, as the Yellows were consigned to the Second Division until the mid-80s.

The Gatesfield Goons arrive in Melchester (1977/78)

Few matches of note were played during this era, perhaps the 4-0 defeat to Melchester Rovers in 1981/82 the pick. Kenny Logan scoring twice for Melchester.

Rough stuff from Gatesfield vs Rovers in 1981/82It would take the arrival of another genuine superstar to rescue Gatesfield from mediocrity. Eric Cooper, a tall, strong and dominant striker was that man. Cooper rose to prominence during the 1985/86 season, scoring over 30 goals and taking Gatesfield to an epic Milk Cup Semi-Final against Melchester Rovers. Andy Styles, however, back in the Rovers first-team, kept out Cooper and Meeker - and as the rain poured down, Gatesfield's chances of another Wembley appearance were washed away.

Legendary goalscorer Eric Cooper fires one in (1985/86)But Cooper had fired Gatesfield back to the First Division and trouble was never far away. Roy Race took on The Goons in a one man crusade to cleanse English football of the hooligan problem. Gatesfield were due at Mel Park in the Quarter-Finals of the Littlewoods Cup, but Roy was determined that the thugs would not be in attendance. Roy won the day and Rovers won through 2-1 despite a goal from Copeland and a strong display by captain Gordon Davis.

While the Elm Grove crowd was intimidating to the opposition and often gave the home side an edge. The continual violent behaviour of their hooligan fans was a continual distraction to the Gatesfield players, Davis even admitting to being "ashamed" of them - relegation followed. Gatesfield were in disarray and a humilating cup defeat to Fourth Division Denford Town led to major changes.

Copeland opens the scoring at Mel Park (1986/87)
Controversial character Ron Eckersley was appointed manager and set about assembling a side capable of promotion. His unconventional methods proved successful and Gatesfield were again back in the First Division after a two year absence. Scottish goalkeeper Jimmy Campbell, centre-back Bernie Castle, Errol Bridges in the engine room and captain Charlie Venner up top, formed a strong spine. However without the resources of London rivals Dean Park, Kelburn and Walford, Gatesfield struggled and were immediately relegated. Tensions in the dressing room were clear and after a shambles of a pre-season tour of Jamaica, Eckersley was fired early during the 1991/92 season.

Jones brings down Foster (1996/97)A long period of rebuilding was necessary, gone were the famous yellow shirts associated with the Goon era and Gatesfield were rebranded in glorious blue and white stripes.

Finally after nine years hopping between the new Divisions One and Two, Gatesfield were promoted to the Premiership at the end of the 1998/99 season. They would survive, but as normal for Gatesfield fans the battle would go on.

One of the few yo-yo clubs, Gatesfield are still dogged by the reputation of The Goons. In the Premiership era of family tickets and replica shirts they still stand as a somewhat of a relic of the old terraces. The yellow shirts may be gone, but the spirit of The Goons lives on with the "Big G" still raised every other week at a redeveloped Elm Grove.

- There are two possible locations for Gatesfield, but I go with the ROTR line when in doubt. Nipper suggests they are Midlands rivals of Blackport.
- Gatesfield play Melchester in Division 2 in 1981/82, but also play Tynefield City in Division 1, again I go with the ROTR line.
- Gatesfield United from Hammersmith are assumed to be the same team. They wear the same colours and fit the image.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Opponents No.7 - Walford Rovers

Walford Rovers are best remembered by Melchester Rovers fans for the short time in the early '80s when the great Roy Race was tempted to London as player-manager. However Walford, of course, did exist before and long after Roy's short spell.

Walford were promoted to the First Division in 1973/74 after spending big on the signing of Len Farmer from Thornton Villa. The big sweeper was a revelation leading his new side the the glory of the top flight.
Walford Rovers vs Melchester Rovers 1976/77

The West London side had never been one of English football's top sides, but it would not be long before Walford had a hint of glory. Rovers reached the F.A. Cup Final in 1977/78 where Burndean inspired by their Argentinian international signings defeated the blue and whites. Walford goalie Jon Clark was named man-of-the-match despite being on the losing side.

Mike Johnson closes down Roy RaceThe late-70s side also featured star defenders Mike Johnson, who had a great battle with Roy in 1979/80 and Peter Thompson, the sweeper who was once a target of Roy Race's Melchester Rovers. But these players would move on along with the dazzling Micky Simms, before the biggest upheaval in Walford recent history. Multimillionaire businessman Harvey Rawson bought the club, with the aim of turning Walford into the best side in England. He sacked two managers who failed to deliver, before identifying the man who he knew would - Roy Race.

Race was unhappy with interference from the boardroom, particularly Sam Barlow's criticism of his team selections and by the end of the 1982/83 season, Roy considered his position untenable and resigned. Rawson had already tapped up the great man and Roy moved to London for the last two games of the season. Club captain Joe Bellamy, Walford's star player and leader, was not impressed with Roy's attempts to turn Walford into the Melchester of the South. Walford won Roy's first match in charge 5-1 against Deans Park, but Carford City would show Roy just what a massive task he had to turn Walford into title challengers, winning easily 2-0 on the final day of the season.
Roy Race leads out Walford Rovers

Pre-season did not go well, Rawson could sense Roy's mind was elsewhere. Not all of the players were behind the new player-manager and Bellamy made it clear that Walford were bigger than Roy Race and Race had no right to come in with his Melchester ideology. But Roy's preparations were working and Walford started the 1983/84 on fire!

Roy's old foes Alan Jackson and his Melboro' team were destroyed 7-1, young star Alan Shields bagging a brace to go with Race's four and a neat header from David Wright. Then it was the big one - Melchester Rovers - Roy had a nightmare seemingly unable to score against his true love. But Bellamy and Gorman would net to seal a 2-1 win sending Walford to the top of the First Division.

Joe Bellamy celebrates his goal in the 1984 FA Cup FinalBut just when Walford had the title in sight, Sam Barlow quit the Melchester Rovers board, leaving Roy free to return. Harvey Rawson would not stand in his way and Walford's league form would tail off. But there was still silverware in sight, as Joe Bellamy inspired his side to F.A. Cup wins over Eastoke and Melboro', when his hat-trick sent Walford to an Final showdown with Melchester Rovers. Bellamy gave Walford an early lead, capitalising on Walter Williams failure to clear his diving header. But goals from Roy Race and Neville Jones broke Walford hearts and the wait for a trophy would go on and on and on!
'King Kong' Joe Makin, Walford's hard man
Jack Cassidy Walford's fiery manager in the late 80sThe side that Harvey built had not secured a trophy, but Rawson had not given up and a new Walford side was built around midfield hard man Joe Makin and Scandinavian import Ericksen. Derek Townson was the new skipper, a Beethoven lookalike with a rocket shot. New manager Jack Cassidy was making a name for himself and forming a strong side. But he would be poached by Melboro' during the 1988/89 season and Walford were back to square one.

Kenny Davenport celebrates a goal vs Melchester in 1989
Rob Richards Walford manager in 1999Rawson continued to invest, striker Kenny Davenport and Irish international Sean Doyle two big money signings. But Walford's failure to settle on a first-choice goalkeeper seemed to sum up the lack of consistency that would continually hinder their progress. Ray Dempsey, Mike Holden, Les Bennet, Ian Roberts were all given spells between the sticks between 1986 and 1991, none establishing himself as number 1.

Despite the continued backing of Harvey Rawson, Walford Rovers could find no title challenge. Star players were few and far between. Eventually Rawson's dream would end, he sacked another manager in 1999/2000. This time Roy Race's protege, Rob Richards, got the bullet after a 5-0 thrashing at Mel Park. The change had little impact as Walford were relegated.

- The 1978 F.A. Cup Final was documented in Tommy's Troubles in 1981

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Opponents No.6 - Tynecaster United

Tynecaster United first emerged as challengers to Melchester Rovers in 1975/76. Rovers ended the season trophyless as United snatched the league title as Rovers lost to already relegated Westhampton. Rivals Oldfield won the F.A. Cup, so both major trophies would spend the year in the North-East.

Tynecaster are one of the few ever present teams, a fixture at the top of the First Division and then Premier League - a genuine giant of English football. A team of few stars, United have traditionally relied on teamwork and organisation, which was epitomised by Charlie Rogers' Championship side of 1976.
Melchester Rovers defeat Tynecaster and take their title (76/77)

The glory of '76 was short-lived and Melchester Rovers' disappointments soon forgotten as the mighty Rovers crushed Tynecaster 4-0 on the final day of the 1976/77 season to reclaim the title, as United's title defence ended with a fourth place finish.

Talbot makes it 2-0  to Tynecaster vs Rovers in 1978No title challenge would come from the North-East for some time, however Tynecaster would still be involved in some great matches, including the classic 4-4 draw with Melchester Rovers in the 1978/79 season. Quicksilver striker Talbot scored a first-half hat-trick to shock the Rovers. But Roy Race's substitution of an off-form Duncan McKay proved the turning point, as Trevor Cassidy man-marked Talbot out of the game. Roy netted twice, but it was an own goal that leveled the scores in one of the most dramatic games ever - real Roy of the Rovers stuff!
Tynecaster defeat a Race-less Rovers in 1982/83

Tynecaster faced Rovers in another famous match at the end of the 1982/83 season. Roy Race had resigned as player-manager to join Walford Rovers and it would be Tynecaster who would defeat caretaker manager Taffy Morgan's side 2-1.

Rob Richards made his Rovers debut in the opening match of the 1983/84 season. He scored, but Blackie Gray's first match as Rovers player-manager would end with another 2-1 defeat.

The following season Rovers and Tynecaster again played in an important match. Bobby Robson, the England manager, was at Mel Park to watch Roy and Jimmy Slade. Slade did not show up after smashing his new car into a hedge, but Roy went on the show Robson his class and was later called up to the England squad. Tynecaster were thrashed 5-0!

Mike Brennan save from Roy Race in the '86 Milk Cup Final1985/86 finally saw Tynecaster challenging for silverware, this time in the Milk Cup. Gone were the traditional blue shirts with white hoop, the new white and light blue striped shirts bringing luck in the Milk Cup at least. Terry Galton's goals, Brian Gale's creativity and Mike Brennan's spectacular goalkeeping taking United to the Final. Although the season would end in disappointment as Melchester Rovers would complete the treble over United, to win the Cup easily 3-0.

The stripes were here to stay (until 1990/91 at least) and Geoff Coulson was building a strong side around his captain Hargreaves and top striker Phil Stevens. The reward would come in the 1988/89 season, in the form of the Littlewoods Cup!

But Tynecaster's loyal fans would not be rewarded with a League Championship, leading to star players moving on - Stevens to Carford City and Nick Leach to Kelburn. But Coulson spent wisely and even without his two superstars 1991/92 would be Tynecaster's best season in years, only missing out on the league championship on the final day of the season, as Rovers beat Kingsbay to become the last winners of the First Division. Now in resplendent red shirts, Tynecaster were a force to be reckoned with.

Nick Leach scores the winner vs rivals Oldfield
Coulson's side would begin the Premier League era as one of the title favourites, with a team packed with young stars. Carl Thomas and Johnny Merrick were the pick of the bunch earning England B caps. Simon Foley a top goalkeeper, every bit as good as legends Brennan and Duncan Wood, good enough to be a transfer target for Roy Race. While Race was also rumoured to be interested in signing United's Errol Bailey.

By the late 90s Tynecaster had again rebuilt, spending big on foreign stars including Claudia, the Brazilian winger who gave Steve Wootten such a torrid time during Rovers' first match back in the Premier League in 1998/99, that Roy dropped the great defender. Dutchman De Blanke was the latest in a long line of top quality Tynecaster goalkeepers.

United would lead the Premier League for much of the 1999/2000 season, before fading to finish third behind Champions Rovers and previous winners Weston Villa. However that disappointment would not prevent United mounting a serious title bid in 2000/01 where we are left wondering whether Tynecaster would hold onto their two point lead at the top, and hold off the challenge of Portdean to take their first Premier League title.

But there is no doubt that Tynecaster United are one of the true giants of English football and glory cannot be far away.