St Blazey’s getting down towards yon end of Cornwall. Twenty years ago this weekend, Dunston Fed (as then they were) were drawn there in the last 32 of the FA Vase.
The two clubs were 450 miles apart, the longest journey ever made by teams in an English cup competition, exceeding by 30 miles the trip made by Bodmin to Billingham Town the season before.
That was also the first season in which the FA had drawn the last 32, the fourth round, nationally. They still should, goodness knows, but we all know why they don’t.
Back in 1997-98, the Northern League magazine had welcomed the move. “It offers the chance of a weekend away that supporters will talk about for years to come,” we wrote.
Dunston left Tyneside at 10am and were at their Newquay hotel by 8pm, all except committee man Frank Rankin who had some air miles and discovered that Newquay had an airport. The league chairman went by train, there in time for a Friday night beer with the boys.
“Another good reason for a national draw is that there are pubs down here we aren’t barred out of,” said Bill Monatgue, then as now the club secretary.
Saturday dawned bright. A seagull shat on treasurer Malcolm Dellow’s head as he went for his morning paper. “It’s lucky,” he insisted, and so it proved.
Andy Fletcher – whatever happened to him? – hit four in Fed’s 5-1 win, despite carrying a bit of a groin injury. “He’ll be canny when he’s fit,” said Bobby Scaife, the manager. Club chairman Malcolm James and the boys were getting a bit excitable. A bit stentorian, too.
Stomachs lined by the tin of biscuits that committee man Harry Halfpenny had won in the half-time raffle, the players celebrated well. On Sunday morning, Chad Bone ordered the day’s first pint at 8 55 and another player was becoming belatedly concerned about the bright red mark almost glowing on his neck.
“D’you think our lass’ll believe it’s where I got hit by ther barll?” he asked. Probably not, they replied.
On a lovely winter’s day, Bobby Scaife was ringing home to Middlesbrough. On Teesside there were three inches of snow.
The party left Newquay at 10am and were home in time for Heartbeat. Fed lost in the next round to Leamington and New Milton – their Fatty Foulke goalie playing a blinder, as these heavyweight guys usually do – but Bedlington Terrers were to become the thrid Northern League team to reach Wembley in successive seasons.
Dunston still had some very happy memories. It was the kind of weekend, FA please note, about which supporters talk for years.
*Via a pseudonymous gentleman called Windy 1970, the Non League Zone website a couple of weeks ago kindly included a link to Grass Routes. It was much appreciated.
Doubtless it’s for what folk call technical reasons that the site appears to have crashed – certainly it’s unavailable – though some might suppose that the mockers have been put on it, tainted by too closely associating with Grass Routes.
If anyone knows what’s going on, and when NLZ will return, we’ll be very happy to pass on the information.