End of an era


John Phelan

AT approximately 5pm on Saturday, April 18, 1964, the Crook Town supporters in Wembley Stadium rose to applaud their team as they did a lap of honour round the famous pitch while holding aloft the FA Amateur Cup after beating Enfield 2-1 in the final.

It was Crook's fifth Amateur Cup success, and their fourth in 11 years. It followed their wins in 1901, 1954, 1959, 1962 and 1964, although the trophy was only won at Wembley in 1959 and 1964.

After the final at Wembley in 1954, two replays were needed, one at St James’ Park, Newcastle, the second at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough, which resulted in a 1-0 win over Bishop Auckland.

After the Wembley final in 1962, one replay at Ayresome Park was required and it ended in a 4-0 win over Hounslow Town.

And so, in 1964, none of those Crook Town supporters would have the slightest inkling that this would be their last visit to Wembley for the Amateur Cup final. They had, after all, built up a reputation as Cup fighters, and they always expected to be back.

But football though pays scant respect to reputations. It is all about the here and now, not what happened five or ten years ago.

After 1964, Crook Town fans – and I was one of them – came crashing back down to earth with a bang, our dreams of being up there with the footballing gods, playing at Wembley, winning cups and trophies were just that: a dream. Reality was something altogether different.

Post 1964, and apart from 1966, Crook never looked like winning the Amateur Cup again. In fact, the team suffered First Round defeats in 1965, 1967, 1968 and 1969 and later even failed to get through the qualifying rounds before the competition was wound up in 1974.

Northern League successes also dried up, after post-war title successes in 1953,1959 and 1963.

There were just two occasions after 1964 when the Wembley dream looked a possibility again, one in 1966 and the second 40 years later in 2006…

Saturday, March 5, 1966

Crook Town 0 v 2 Alvechurch

Amateur Cup quarter-final

AFTER Crook Town's Amateur Cup win in 1964, the club found it hard to keep its players. In the 1965-66 competition, three former Crook players – Cyril Gowland, Keith Walklate and Don Sparks, (an Amateur Cup winner with Crook in 1962) – were in the West Auckland side that Crook beat 2-1 in Round 2, former defender Roy Gale was at left back in the Loughborough Colleges side which Crook beat 2-1 in Round 3, while Alvechurch, Crook's opponents in the quarter-final had John Cocking in their side.

Cocking had made his name at Crook with two goals at Hull City in a close 5-4 FA Cup defeat in 1962.

John could hit a ball, and once hit it so hard into the roof of the net when scoring at Crook that the net sprung off the hooks on the back of the crossbar.

Apparently his problem at Crook was his mother, who would unleash a broadside of vitriol to all and sundry if he wasn't in the team. Funnily enough, when I started work at the Department for National Savings at Aykley Heads, Durham, in January 1967, John's cousin, Imelda Gardner, taught me how to file savings certificates.

Whether Crook won the toss or not against Alvechurch, they kicked the wrong way in the first half. Usually at home Crook kicked up the slope in the first half and down towards the clubhouse in the second. We did the opposite against Alvechurch who scored early through Elder.

On the half hour came another blow, when a clumsy and heavy tackle from behind by an Alvechurch player left Crook inside left Bill Roughley, one of the team's most creative players, writhing on the ground clutching a knee that had suffered both cartilage and ligament damage.

The offending player was not even booked and in those days before substitutes, you were expected to stay on the pitch and do your best, which is what Bill did, but he was essentially a passenger.

Was the tackle pre-meditated? It could have been. “Reducers”, as they called tackles like that, were very much in vogue at the time.

Crook fought back. Keith Storey at inside right ran his socks off, but kicking up the slope on a heavy pitch in the second half was too much for only ten fit men.

Despite a lot of possession and pressure from the Black and Ambers, Alvechurch hung on and a second, late goal by Pailing sealed our fate.

Crook Town: Snowball, Hylton, Little, Storr, Collingwood, A Brown, Tobin, K Storey, G Brown, Roughley, McMillan.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Crook Town 0 v 1 Bury Town

FA Vase quarter-final

WEMBLEY bells started ringing again in March 2006 when Crook entertained Bury Town, an unknown quantity from the Eastern Counties League, in the quarter final of the FA Vase.

Three members of Crook's 1954 Amateur Cup winning team were present at this game: centre half and captain Bob Davison, the club's talisman in the previous round at Arnold Town, right half Bill Jeffs, and outside left Jimmy McMillan.

Crook stayed with tradition and kicked up the slope in the first half and down towards the clubhouse in the second, and so the infamous slope had no bearing on the result.

Crook player Jonathan Milroy recalled: "We had been getting a lot of media attention before the Bury game, because we were only a Northern League Second Division side, and were 25/1 outsiders to win the cup.

"Having said that, we had a lot of experienced players who had played at a much higher level, and these experienced players, together with some good youngsters, had been moulded into a very good team by manager Alan Oliver, Graeme “The Doc” Forster was his assistant, and former Sunderland player Brian Atkinson helped out, and played the occasional game.

"As players we had high expectations, and we were in a buoyant mood after our hard fought win at Arnold Town in the previous round, and the 3-0 drubbing we gave to Cornish side St Blazey before that.

"On the day there was some doubt as to whether the game would go ahead because an overnight frost had left the pitch in a frozen condition. The ground staff were hard at it, covering the pitch with sand when we arrived. I always remember my dad playing in goal for Willington in sandshoes in similar conditions at Crook in the Amateur Cup in 1965 and winning 1-0, so the state of the ground didn't bother me – you're used to it in County Durham.'

"The crowd started to roll in and we could see we were going to have some good support.

“We reckoned we had a lot of things in our favour: the size of the crowd, and the state of the ground. That didn't quite ring true because early doors Roy Allen broke through for us, but he slipped when in a good position. Both myself and Danny Mellanby spurned a couple of chances before Danny went over on his ankle and was stretchered off with damage to his ankle ligaments.

"We still dominated the early stages but were caught on the break by Bury who scrambled the ball into the net to go 1-0 ahead.

“They nearly had a second but their forward headed over from close range.

"We came out fighting in the second half but our passing game was nullified by the pitch. We looked to Dean Gordon, a former professional with Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough, who had been brought in especially for this game, for some inspiration, but he couldn't provide it.

"Bury defended well. They sat back and just soaked up the pressure.

“The closest we came to a goal was when a shot by Carl Everitt skimmed their bar.

“Defences had dominated the game, and we were bitterly disappointed to lose, but it just wasn't meant to be.

"While I look back fondly on those Crook days I do see the match as a big missed opportunity, both for the club and my career.

“The conditions didn't really suit us, and I don't think that I played that well.

“I never got past the quarter final stage with West Auckland either.

“When people ask me about the pitch I always say it shouldn't have been played, but it was the same for both teams. It was a great shame, though, that we couldn't produce a performance for our fans and committee."

Dean Gordon was playing only his third game for the club, and Crook football club historian, and long standing supporter, Michael Manuel thought his inclusion upset the balance of the side.

"It meant that a player who had been playing regularly was put on the substitutes bench,” he said. “It didn't seem right."

Crook Town: Hall, Harwood, Beckett, Foster, Gordon, McGuire (Stanger), Stout, Everitt (Angel), Mellanby (Vernells), Allen, Milroy.

THIS article would not have been possible without photographs and help from Bill Wheatcroft, Paul and Michael Manuel, Alan and Jonathan Milroy, Dave Kidd, Joan Potts, and Michael Burke.