WHEN WE WERE KINGS: ALTY IN THE APL 1979/80
by Barry Pikesley
The following articles appeared in the Robins' Review, during season 2009-10 and are reproduced here by kind permission of the author.
PART 37: HEY, THAT’S NO WAY TO SAY GOODBYE
After recording consecutive away victories at Boston United and Barnet respectively, Alty’s next assignment comprised an FA Trophy Third Round tie versus the reigning Northern Premier League (NPL) Champions Mossley at Moss Lane on Saturday, 23rd February 1980.
In addition to being the first of four successive home fixtures for the Robins, this match represented the prospective valedictory appearance for the club by Alex Stepney (that is, barring the need for any replay at Seel Park on the ensuing Wednesday evening). Just five days on from this game, the erstwhile Manchester United and England goalkeeper was scheduled to travel back to America in order to fulfil the predestined resumption of his career with Dallas Tornado in the North American Soccer League (NASL).
In the issue of the Altrincham Guardian published two days prior to the encounter with Mossley, the Robins’ manager, Tony Sanders, had expressed both his approbation and appreciation for Stepney’s invaluable contribution to Altrincham FC since his arrival at Moss Lane back in early September 1979: “He’s done a tremendous job for us. We shall all be sorry to see him go and I would like to take this opportunity of publicly thanking Alex for all he has done.”
Unlike the Robins, Mossley had not been one of the founder members of the NPL back in August 1968 and it wasn’t until the 1972/73 season that they were admitted into the competition, replacing Chorley in the process. Alty’s record against the Lilywhites in the seven NPL fixtures staged at Moss Lane read as follows: won: four; drawn: one; lost: two; goals scored: seven; goals conceded: four and points accumulated: nine out of a possible tally of 14.
The 1978/79 NPL title race had evolved into a duel between Mossley and the Robins when the two principal contenders locked horns at Moss Lane on Saturday, 24th March 1979. Alas, the Robins were close to running on empty by this stage of the campaign, as injuries were taking a heavy toll on their squad. Already deprived of their charismatic captain, John King, and with both the below par John Owens and John Rogers carrying knocks, the hosts proceeded to suffer the enforced loss of centre half Mal Bailey with a possible broken nose after 43 minutes and then their misfortune was compounded yet further by goalkeeper Peter Eales being encumbered with suspected cracked ribs during the entire second half.
Vinny Garmory’s 74th minute goal clinched two precious points for Bob Murphy’s team in front of 2,085 spectators, thereby allowing them to leapfrog the Robins in the league table whilst still possessing four games in hand on their Moss Lane adversaries. This 1-0 home defeat effectively administered the coup de grace to Alty’s title aspirations and the Lilywhites duly (and deservedly) progressed to their premier NPL Championship, eventually finishing eight points ahead of the Robins and amassing an impressive total of 117 goals in their 44 NPL fixtures.
However, just twelve days previously, a completely different scenario had unfolded at Moss Lane, as those Robins’ supporters who had braved it out until the final whistle were privileged to have witnessed one of the most extraordinary, unforgettable and miraculous comebacks in the club’s history.
Monday, 12th March 1979 had seen the Robins take on the Lilywhites in the John Smith’s NPL Cup Semi-Final First Leg at Moss Lane, watched by an initial crowd of 1,741 (although, by 9.00pm, this figure had indeed diminished, as a number of home supporters erroneously opted to depart the ground prematurely!).
The all-action visitors opened the scoring after merely ten minutes courtesy of their star player, Eamonn O’Keefe, who would go on to play for Everton and gain five Full International caps for the Republic of Ireland. The Robins levelled matters in the 31st minute, when John Davison hammered a scorching free kick into the top corner, but by half-time Mossley had established a comfortable 3-1 lead via a Harry Pollitt shot and a second goal from the outstanding O’Keefe.
When centre forward Leo Skeete claimed the Lancashire side’s fourth goal twenty minutes into the second half, Alty looked dead and buried. However, a flash point in the 78th minute, which reduced both sides to ten men, duly proved to be the turning point of the match and acted as the catalyst for the Robins’ momentous palingenesis. Alty full back Stan Allan swung a punch in retaliation to a foul by O’Keefe, thereby inducing a scuffle which culminated in both players promptly receiving their marching orders. There are those Moss Lane conspiracy theorists who still attest to this very day that this constituted an inspired and ingenious tactic, whereby the Robins sacrificed their weakest link on the night whilst Mossley were deprived of their prize asset!
Alty’s renaissance commenced with an 80th minute Graham Heathcote penalty, followed just eight minutes later by a spectacular overhead kick from Jeff Johnson that reduced the deficit to a single goal. Attacking the Chequers End, the resurgent Robins then conjured up a 91st minute equaliser via John King’s perfect near post header into the bottom corner of the net from Heathcote’s right wing cross (which represented Alty’s 100th goal of that particular season in all competitions).
With the previously dominant Mossley team now manifestly traumatised and, in particular, their defence beset by waves of panic, the seemingly unthinkable duly transpired in the fourth minute of added time when John King executed a replica of his first goal, eliciting scenes of euphoric pandemonium amongst the remaining Alty diehards and thereby sealing an astonishing 5-4 triumph and capping an epic resurrection of Lazarus proportions!
Alty devotee Robert Sharpe captures the intensity of that dramatic eleventh-hour winning goal: “I was stood at the barrier in front of the old club shop when Alty got a late corner with the score poised at 4-4. Kingy positioned himself at the near post and I remember shouting “Come on!“ to him as he was looking straight at me. I could see the determination in his eyes - it was unreal. The corner came across and he promptly headed home the winner in a carbon copy of his previous goal. No one could believe it. In fact, you wouldn’t have believed it if you had read that it had happened to Melchester Rovers!”
As I alluded before, quite a few Alty regulars gave up the ghost that night after Mossley had cruised into a 4-1 lead and duly elected to make an early exit from Moss Lane. Esteemed local taxi driver Phil Jordan confesses that he was indeed one of those who suffered a crisis of faith: “As the fourth Mossley goal went in, I shot out of the ground with a cry of "I've had enough of this s**t" and went home in time for Fawlty Towers on BBC2 at 9.00pm.” Fellow Alty fan Nic Seller recalls: “I, however, didn't leave the ground prior to the very end and I took great pleasure in visiting Phil on the way home from the match to explain exactly what he had missed, only to be greeted with utter incredulity! Some of the most amazing few minutes of action and drama that Moss Lane has ever seen. Only those few hardy souls who stuck it out to the final whistle will know just what it was like, as so many left early that night.”
Alty partisan Ian Rosendaal recounts a similar anecdote: “My uncle went to that game and left the ground when the score was 4-1. Upon returning home, he informed my Grandpa that Altrincham had been given a good hiding and then promptly headed off to his bed. When my Grandpa heard the actual final score on the following day, it caused quite some debate as to my Uncle's precise whereabouts on the previous evening!”
The somewhat modest nature of Mossley’s Seel Park headquarters had precluded them from satisfying the criteria for admission into the inaugural Alliance Premier League (APL). However, judged purely on footballing terms, the Lilywhites were undoubtedly still amongst the elite of the Non League game when they ventured to Moss Lane in February 1980 on a mission to progress to the Quarter-Final stage of the FA Trophy.
Under the supervision of manager Bob Murphy, Mossley’s recent success had been based on a fusion of attacking flair and a strong physical fitness ethic. The team’s fulcrum and skipper was their 6ft. 2in. former Ellesmere Port Town and Rochdale striker, one Leopold Skeete, around whom the likes of such prolific goalscorers as Ian Smith and Dave Moore prospered. Indeed, Leo Skeete stands out in my memory as being one of the few prominent and pioneering black players present on the Northern Non League football scene during the 1970s and I particularly recollect overhearing one Mossley fan refer to his beloved team as: “Snow Black and the Ten Dwarfs”! Frequently linked with a move to Alty during his career, Skeete eventually arrived at Moss Lane (then aged 34) at the onset of the 1983/84 APL season, whereupon he proceeded to clock up 35 appearances and score eight goals for the Robins.
As Alty buff Bill Waterson relates: “Mossley were fast, fit and skilful. I especially remember that whenever there was an enforced break in play e.g. an injured player being treated, their coaching staff would lob three or four ‘spare’ balls onto the pitch and their players would then just pass these around amongst themselves. In fact, Mossley often scored late goals against us in those days, as their superior fitness told.”
The two clubs had, of course, already crossed swords earlier that season back on 24th September 1979, when they had contested the NPL Challenge Shield at Seel Park. On that occasion, the Robins had emerged triumphant by four goals to two (after extra time) thanks to a Phil Wilson header and a Jeff Johnson hat-trick. However, events at Moss Lane on that bleak February afternoon were to take a completely different course, as an aggrieved Mossley side with a major point to prove set about wreaking bitter revenge on the high-flying Robins.
Tony Sanders implemented just a solitary change to the Alty side which had achieved a 1-0 victory at Barnet in the APL Cup Semi-Final First Leg just four days earlier, in the shape of the return to central defence of John Owens at the expense of Graham Tobin. Once again, the Robins chose to don that all-red strip for an FA Trophy tie (for specific reasons that, alas, I have yet to unearth!).
Attacking the Golf Road End, the ultra athletic Lilywhites swarmed forward in the opening phase of the match, applying incessant pressure on the Robins’ rearguard and creating several chances in the process. Stepney was obliged to dive at the feet of Moore to purloin the ball; defender Harry Pollitt’s piledriver was blocked by Mal Bailey and Graham Barrow’s last ditch tackle thwarted Ian Smith.
The visitors duly underlined their supremacy in the 16th minute, when their fleet winger Smith punished some slack defensive marking by the hosts and beat Stepney with a close range shot. Three minutes prior to the half-time interval, the NPL’s leading goalscorer for the preceding two seasons, Dave Moore, doubled Mossley’s advantage, when he stabbed the loose ball home at the far post after Stepney had only been able to parry a Leo Skeete shot.
However, a transient glimmer of hope for all Alty supporters did materialise in the 52nd minute. Graham Barrow pounced on a defensive error in the Lilywhites’ penalty area and he prodded the ball past the Mossley goalkeeper, John Fitton, from point blank range to record his second goal of the season.
Alas, this proved to be nothing more than a false dawn and the visitors’ perpetual movement and drive saw them restore their two goal cushion after 67 minutes, when right full back Alan Brown’s pinpoint cross presented Moore with a golden opportunity to plant a free header beyond the beleaguered Stepney.
Tony Sanders reacted by withdrawing Barry Whitbread and introducing Graham Heathcote to the fray but the overwhelming Mossley tide simply could not be stemmed. With merely three minutes remaining on the clock, Ian Smith notched his second goal of the tie by converting a penalty which had been awarded for a foul on Moore. The 24-year-old accountant would subsequently be transferred to Scarborough for a fee of £9,000 in the Summer of 1980 and proceed to win three England Non League International caps.
A token rally from the home side amounted to a John Rogers effort being headed off the goal line by left full back David Vaughan but it was to be the Lilywhites who would score yet again in the dying seconds, much to the delight of the healthy contingent of away supporters in a crowd of 2,525. Mossley’s ace marksman (and local butcher), Dave Moore, duly completed his hat-trick, thereby compounding the Robins’ anguish at being ousted from the competition in truly ignominious fashion courtesy of a devastating display by the Seel Park outfit.
In their 5-1 thrashing of the dazed and confused Robins, Mossley had attained the accolade of condemning Alty to their first home defeat of the season in all competitions, whilst simultaneously inflicting the Robins’ heaviest loss at Moss Lane since a 5-0 drubbing by Northwich Victoria in the Cheshire County League on Monday, 11th September 1961. Incidentally, the Alty team on that wretched evening contained a trio of players who were all recent Full Internationals: player-manager Fionan “Paddy” Fagan (eight caps for the Republic of Ireland between 1954 and 1961); Ernie Taylor (one cap for England in that infamous 6-3 defeat by a Ferenc Puskas-inspired Hungary at Wembley on 25th November 1953) and Tommy Banks (six caps for England, including four appearances at the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden).
Alty guru Bill Waterson offers his candid synopsis of this setback: “A footballing master class was dealt out to us that day. Mossley were well worth their comprehensive victory and they fully deserved to be the only team to beat us at Moss Lane during that season. They showed us up, pure and simple. You have to ask the question: just how would they have fared in the APL? Would they have been able to sustain this level of performance over an entire season? I somehow doubt it but, boy, they would have made life so much harder for us!”
Fellow Alty enthusiast Matthew Wheeler recalls his sense of numb disbelief after having suffered this debacle: “My main memory is one of shock at just how poor we were. After all, we had come so close to defeating Orient just a few weeks prior to this, so, surely some NPL team wouldn’t trouble us? This was my first taste of an Alty home defeat, having only started attending matches during that 1979/80 season.
“I do remember that Mossley spot kick in particular, as it was one of the worst-taken penalties that I have ever seen, even to this day. The ball dribbled slowly along the ground but still went in. Alex Stepney appeared distinctly indifferent by this stage, which was probably understandable, as I seriously doubt that being thrashed by Mossley would have figured as a career highlight for a one-time European Cup winner!” After the match had finished, I recollect the stadium announcer apologising over the PA system and concluding by saying: “And we’ll try to win for you next time!” or something along those quasi-reassuring lines.”
In the post match analysis, the Mossley manager, Bob Murphy, was justifiably elated at the stunning upshot achieved by his charges: “Having won the NPL by such a wide margin, it was like being relegated when so many of the league’s top sides joined the APL and we were left behind. But this run in the FA Trophy has enabled us to prove that we are still as good as last season when we get a challenge.”
The Lilywhites would proceed to retain their NPL title, eventually eclipsing Witton Albion by a single point, whilst also advancing to the FA Trophy Final itself by subsequently overcoming Blyth Spartans and Boston United respectively. However, their big day out at Wembley on Saturday, 17th May 1980 ultimately ended in disappointment, as they succumbed to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Isthmian League side Dagenham in front of a gate of 26,000.
Notwithstanding having endured the dismay of observing his team being vanquished on home turf, Tony Sanders delivered an honest and considered assessment of his team’s collective off-day, which did not betray any inkling of panic or inner turmoil: “We’ve got no excuses - they took us apart. But it’s one black spot on what has been a good season so far and I’ll be having a chat with them to try and sort out what went wrong.”
Meanwhile, on the subject of Alex Stepney’s sombre and anticlimactic swan song for the Robins, the Alty boss succinctly remarked: “He is a pro - and he takes it as it comes.“
PART 38: AND THE HEALING HAS BEGUN
The aftershocks of the preceding Saturday’s ignominious FA Trophy capitulation against Mossley were still reverberating around Moss Lane as the Robins prepared to host Barnet in the Alliance Premier League (APL) Cup Semi-Final Second Leg on Monday, 25th February 1980.
That crushing 5-1 reverse at the hands of the dynamic reigning Northern Premier League (NPL) Champions had constituted Alty’s first home defeat of the 1979/80 season and it duly prompted some critics to write off the club’s prospects of lifting the inaugural APL title, particularly as the Robins’ next scheduled league fixture comprised a pivotal encounter with none other than Weymouth, the team ensconced atop the APL table.
That FA Trophy implosion had, alas, represented a hapless valedictory outing in the Robins’ colours for Alex Stepney, who was destined to undertake an imminent return to Texas in order to resume his career with Dallas Tornado in the North American Soccer League (NASL).
Since Alty manager Tony Sanders’ audacious transfer coup had secured the services of the former Manchester United and England goalkeeper at Moss Lane back in September 1979, Stepney had accumulated a total of 32 appearances for the Robins (including that testimonial match versus Malcolm Allison’s Manchester City), registering 11 clean sheets in the process. During these 32 fixtures, Alty’s record read as follows: won: 23; drawn: four; lost: five; goals scored: 71 and goals conceded: 33.
Stepney’s influential contribution towards Alty‘s nascent APL campaign had been truly invaluable. In his total of 17 APL appearances for the club, the Robins’ fortunes comprised: won: 13; drawn: one; lost: three; goals scored: 40; goals conceded: 15 and points amassed: 27 out of a possible tally of 34.
In his column in the Robins Review, Tony Sanders penned a heartfelt tribute to Stepney on the occasion of his esteemed goalkeeper’s swan song for the club: “My association with Alex Stepney has been one to treasure. That a player of his calibre and experience should come and give 100% in the latter stages of his career has never ceased to amaze me. His performances on the pitch have been ‘par excellence’ and his attitude and help off the field have been equally as good - if not better.”
The evening of Tuesday, 26th February 1980 saw the Altrincham FC Supporters’ Association hold a leaving party in Alex Stepney’s honour at the Chequers nightclub adjacent to the ground (tickets priced at £1.00, incidentally). During the event, Stepney was presented with a souvenir tankard by such Moss Lane alumni as Jack Rodgers; Roy Ferguson; Noel Shield (then sporting a notorious footballers’ perm hairstyle!) and the venerable George Heslop himself (complete with trademark moustache and an ultra-sharp silvery-grey three-piece suit).
Two days later, Stepney embarked on a flight to America, accompanied by the Long Island, New York-born goalkeeper, Billy Phillips, who had recorded two first XI appearances for the Robins against Macclesfield Town in the Cheshire Senior Cup in January 1980. In the ensuing 1980 NASL Outdoor Season, Stepney clocked up 26 appearances in the Dallas Tornado team that went on to become the National Conference Central Division Champions. Amongst his team mates was the erstwhile West Germany International, Klaus Toppmoller, who would subsequently coach the Bayer Leverkusen side which was defeated 2-1 by Real Madrid in the 2002 UEFA Champions League Final at Hampden Park, Glasgow.
In the 1980 National Conference Semi-Final, Dallas Tornado succumbed to the eventual 1980 NASL Soccer Bowl winners, New York Cosmos, whose star-studded squad that particular season included such luminaries as Franz Beckenbauer; Carlos Alberto and Johan Neeskens.
In fact, Alex Stepney would return to Moss Lane and register a single additional league appearance for Alty amidst the club’s fixture backlog towards the conclusion of the 1981/82 APL season, during which the Robins played a total of 66 competitive matches. Watched by 1,344 spectators, he made a surprise ‘special guest’ appearance in the 2-0 home defeat against Northwich Victoria on Thursday, 29th April 1982, which comprised the second of a scheduled quartet of APL matches on four consecutive days for the Robins.
Barnet arrived in Cheshire for their second evening appointment at Moss Lane that season whilst occupying 17th position in the APL table. Their dozen away league fixtures to date had yielded just a solitary triumph in the guise of a 2-1 victory at Bath City on 6th October 1979 and, on the same afternoon that the Robins had been mauled by Mossley, Barry Fry’s men had also bowed out of the FA Trophy at the Third Round stage via a 2-1 defeat at Nuneaton Borough.
Circa a couple of hours prior to the scheduled 7.30pm kick-off, a sudden deluge rendered the Moss Lane pitch waterlogged and the chances of staging the APL Cup Semi-Final Second Leg looked distinctly remote. However, an assortment of willing Alty and Barnet supporters duly set about assisting the Moss Lane groundstaff in the procedure of mopping up a great deal of the surface water on the sodden turf and their considerable efforts accordingly enabled the tie to proceed as planned, with both clubs having consented to play.
In the aftermath of the Mossley fiasco, Alty partisan Bill Waterson recalls his personal build-up to this particular clash with Barnet: “Grumpily, I made my way to Moss Lane on that wet Monday evening (I always preferred midweek games to be played on a Monday but I was forever torn in the late 1970s/early 1980s, as getting into the ground in time for the 7.30pm kick-off meant that I could never see the end of Star Trek or The Rockford Files).
“I had attended the Semi-Final First Leg merely six days earlier but had missed the kick-off at Underhill, as the Alty supporters’ coach had broken down on the M10. We travelled home on the team bus, all of which meant we had to hang around after the game and have a few pints in the Barnet clubhouse. It was during this delay that I had the rare honour of urinating between Stan Flashman and Barry Fry.
“We had won that First Leg easily enough via Kingy's 53rd minute goal but no-one quite expected the Alty onslaught that duly unfolded in the Second Leg, especially as we had been rather uninspired in the 1-0 home league win over Barnet at the end of November.”
Notwithstanding the major setback against Mossley, Tony Sanders opted to introduce only one amendment to his starting XI. Having played two Lancashire League matches for the Robins’ second string versus Everton ‘A’ and Morecambe Reserves respectively, John Connaughton was awarded his first team debut as the deputed successor to Alex Stepney. The Alty manager commented: “If John can give me a percentage of what Alex has given, then I shall be a happy man.”
The Barnet line-up included identical twin brothers in the form of Noel and Kevin Blackwell, who were selected as the Bees’ left full back and goalkeeper respectively. The latter was employed as a bricklayer at this juncture in his playing career but he would proceed to enjoy spells as the manager of such clubs as Leeds United; Luton Town and Sheffield United over two decades later.
Wearing a kit of all-red shirts; white shorts and red socks, the Robins commenced the opening 45 minutes attacking the Chequers End. Both sides initially experienced difficulties whilst endeavouring to master the conditions on the heavy and enervating Moss Lane quagmire but the Robins finally broke the stalemate after 33 minutes. Barry Howard’s left wing corner was met by the formidable aerial threat that was Alty’s leading goalscorer, John Rogers, who promptly powered one of his archetypal headers beyond the forlorn reach of Kevin Blackwell and, in doing so, netted his 18th goal of the season.
On the stroke of half-time, the hosts extended their aggregate advantage to three goals. Kevin Blackwell conceded a free kick on the periphery of the penalty area after having been deemed to have taken too many steps. John Davison’s resulting shot was pushed onto the post by the Barnet No.1, only for the predatory Barry Whitbread to be the first to react to the rebound by lashing the loose ball into the roof of the visitors’ net from point blank range.
A total of 972 hardy onlookers were present (and privileged) to witness a second half in which the Robins systematically overwhelmed their shell-shocked opponents by launching an avalanche of attacks towards the Golf Road End. In the 53rd minute, that man Whitbread struck again in typical fashion to claim his 17th goal of the season, pouncing to score from close range as the Barnet defence was caught flat-footed. Merely four minutes later, midfielder Graham Barrow scored the first goal of what would be his 30 minute hat-trick, when a passing move involving Jeff Johnson and Barry Howard culminated with him slamming the ball home by means of a low shot from just inside the penalty area.
Then, during a rare Barnet sortie into the Alty half, John Connaughton was finally called upon to make his first meaningful save of the match, when he was compelled to deal with an overhit backpass from John Davison, who was being put under pressure by the Hertfordshire club’s centre forward, Steve Robinson.
The Robins’ fifth goal on the night emerged, somewhat inevitably, after 83 minutes. John Davison’s free kick took a deflection off John King and Graham Barrow was on hand to convert the ensuing chance at the far post with the Bees’ defence utterly stranded. Four minutes later, the indomitable midfielder duly completed his hat-trick, courtesy of his fifth goal for the Robins since joining the club from Southport back in October 1979. After another fine save from the overworked Kevin Blackwell had resulted in a corner for the Robins, Barry Howard’s delivery was squeezed into the net at the near post by the ostensibly irresistible force of the imposing figure of Barrow.
As the aforementioned Bill Waterson recollects fondly: “I seem to remember the first half as being quite ordinary, whereas the second half was a remarkable footballing display. Graham Barrow was absolutely sensational - by far his best performance in an Alty shirt. He won every ball in midfield and seemed to be everywhere on the pitch. It was like watching an adult playing against children. Defenders simply bounced off him, and, if the ball got stuck in the mud, he just continued to power on through. Not just the hat-trick but also a brilliant all-round performance. It made me smile again after the previous Saturday’s debacle.“
All that remained was for the Robins to complete the rout in the final minute by virtue of their seventh goal. Centre half Mal Bailey ventured forward and duly rose above the visitors’ vanquished rearguard to plant a thunderous bullet header past the transfixed Kevin Blackwell, thereby increasing his goals tally for the season to four and simultaneously both inflicting on Barnet their heaviest defeat for nine years and establishing a new record scoreline between two APL teams. Alty’s astonishing 8-0 aggregate victory ensured their progress to a meeting with either Kettering Town or Northwich Victoria over two legs in the first-ever APL Cup Final.
This ruthless conquest of Barry Fry’s team denoted the first time that the Robins had scored seven goals in a game since achieving a 7-1 trouncing of Worksop Town in an away NPL fixture back on Saturday, 12th March 1977. The Alty marksmen back on that notable afternoon were Mick Moore (3); Joe Flaherty (2); John Owens and Jeff Johnson. It also marked the Robins’ biggest margin of victory at Moss Lane since that blissful 8-1 evisceration of Northwich Victoria in the NPL on Saturday, 25th January 1969, courtesy of goals from debutant Don Weston (3); Ian Morris (3); Jackie Swindells (penalty) and Mick Metcalf.
Incidentally, Kevin Blackwell may well be the holder of a unique (and somewhat unwelcome) record, as he is possibly the only goalkeeper to have conceded seven goals in a game against Alty at Moss Lane for two different clubs. In the final fixture of the 1984/85 Gola League season on Saturday, 4th May 1985, he was Boston United’s goalkeeper as they crumpled to a 7-2 drubbing at the hands of the Robins, for whom the goalscorers were Graham Bennett (3); Ronnie Ellis (2); John Davison and Phil Gardner respectively.
In his post match synopsis, Tony Sanders expressed understandable relief that his players’ annihilation of Barnet had gone a considerable way to exorcising some of the ghosts that had been spirited up in that horror show against Mossley: “I am sure it was quite obvious to everyone that a real injection of confidence was needed to get the players, myself and even the spectators keyed up again after the despair and depression of the defeat by Mossley.
“I know that the result (against Barnet) was no compensation for the way we went out of the FA Trophy, because that competition was one of our targets for the season, but at least we learned from our defeat and were able to put things a little bit more back into perspective with that Monday night win.” As debuts go, the first of John Connaughton’s eventual tally of 129 appearances for Alty had truly been a dream one, as well as a marked contrast to Alex Stepney’s rather sorrowful adieu against Mossley just two days earlier. Indeed, after watching the Robins’ 7-0 demolition of Barnet from the sidelines, Stepney wryly quipped: “What a difference a goalkeeper makes!”