IF Runcorn’s old Canal Street ground had been fit for the Football League, who knows what would have happened to a club that experienced unprecedented success in the 1980s but found itself dissolved in 2006.
Runcorn won the Alliance Premier League in 1981-82 in their first season in the top flight of non-league football. The previous season, 1980-81, had seen them win the Northern Premier League by an impressive margin. Led by John Williams, who took over as manager in 1979, Runcorn were an exciting team that scored 99 goals in 42 games in 1980-81 as they won 32 and drew seven, losing just three times. Mossley were 16 points behind the Linnets.
Not only did they win the NPL, but Runcorn pulled off a treble, securing the Northern Premier League Cup (beating Marine at Maine Road) and the NPL Shield.
Nobody expected Runcorn to be title challengers in the APL, but on the opening day of the season, they won 3-1 at Barnet. It set the tone for the campaign and Runcorn lost just five times in 1981-82 in the league.
In the end, they finished seven points ahead of fellow new-boys Enfield, on 93 points. But in the years before automatic promotion, clubs had to be voted into the Football League. Canal Street, the club’s rather limited stadium, was not up to FL standard, so they could not stand for election. Runcorn were far from being the best supported of APL clubs, though, with crowds averaging just over 1,000 for home games. But there were 5,500 people present when Burnley came to Canal Street in the FA Cup. Runcorn had disposed of Leek Town, Shifnal Town, Prescot Cables, and Spennymoor United before meeting Burnley, then of the old third division in the first round replay. Runcorn pulled off a 0-0 at Turf Moor, before narrowly losing 1-2 at home. They had done themselves proud.
The Runcorn team moulded by John Williams is still affectionately remembered by supporters of the club, the name of which still lives on: goalkeeper Brian Parker; the small but swift Stevie Joel; local lad Tim Rutter; Bob Fraser, a versatile player from Liverpool; former Wigan midfielder Alan Crompton; the skilful Ossie Smith, a former Manchester United youth player; Liverpool-born Leo Skeete; former Bolton striker Gary Jones; central defender Elfyn Edwards; dependable players like Mike Scott and Mick Roberts; and the under-rated John Imrie. To name but a few!
In 1982-83, Runcorn finished fourth and a year later, fifth. In 1985-86, they reached the second round of the FA Cup and the final of the FA Trophy, losing to Altrincham. That was John Williams’ last game in charge, for that summer, he joined the team that had beaten his Runcorn at Wembley.