The Non-League 100: Leatherhead 1974-75 – “The Lip” and Leicester

TO THE outside world, Leatherhead’s FA Cup run of 1974/75 might have looked like an ‘overnight success’. Indeed, the club had never previously reached the first round proper of the competition, much less the heights of the fourth round and the “Leicester game”. In our latest Guest Slot, Kevin Parrott recalls one of the mid-1970s great stories from non-league football.

Leatherhead’s run wasn’t a case of ‘overnight success’ at all! Events and developments played their part in Leatherhead’s rise. In 1972-73, the Isthmian League expanded and Leatherhead moved over to the Isthmian from the Athenian League. The Athenian League was a good standard of football, but the Isthmian had some long-standing major amateur clubs of the South – such as Wycombe Wanderers, Sutton United, Hitchin Town and Dulwich Hamlet. It was a higher standard of football – and a different world. It felt like a ‘closed society’ – in which, for example, you couldn’t enter a boardroom unless you were wearing a tie.

Leatherhead (“the Tanners”) came third in that first season in the Isthmian League. Manager Billy Miller had, with hindsight, already assembled several of the ‘Leicester’ team.  Chief amongst them, in terms of later fame, was Chris (“the Leatherhead Lip”) Kelly who had been signed from Sutton. His partner up front, Pete “the Meat” Lavers was in place. The defender and midfielder John Cooper had arrived from Fulham. Dave Reid was at centre half. Another stalwart, Barry Webb had first played for the club in 1964-65. Derek Wells was already a regular.

1973-74 and another member of the ‘Leicester’ team arrived – Peter McGillicuddy.  Leatherhead had a run in the last FA Amateur Cup. The Tanners reached the semi-finals against Ilford at Millwall – only to suffer the heartbreak of a 1-0 loss. The biggest development came in the summer of 1974. This was the abolition of the ‘amateur’ status by the Football Association. Apart from the semi-professional Southern League, all non-league footballers were ‘amateur’ – able to play for expenses only. There was rumour that some clubs were paying ‘under the counter’ – so-called ‘shamateurism’.  From 1974, players could legitimately be paid.

For the chairman of Leatherhead, Chris Luff (a local garage owner) and Billy Miller, this represented an opportunity. The previous season, Walton & Hersham of the Isthmian League had completed a great FA Cup run. Famously, they had gone to the Brighton of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor and won 4-0 in a replay after a 0-0 draw at Stompond Lane. This went against the received wisdom that non-league clubs have their best chance of beating League opposition at home and are unlikely to survive an away replay.

In the summer, Walton lost manager Allen Batsford to Wimbledon of the Southern League and he took with him some players – Dave “Harry” Bassett, Dave Donaldson, Billy Edwards, Keiron Somers and Roger Connell.  And Miller pounced and signed Willie Smith, Dave Sargent and Colin Woffinden from the club.

In addition, the Tanners brought in John Swannell, Hendon’s 35 year-old England Amateur international goalkeeper, and John Doyle from Kingstonian. Concerns about whether the team would gel were quickly allayed as Leatherhead started the season well – with eight wins and two draws in their first 10 Isthmian League first division (the word ‘Premier’ wasn’t yet in vogue) games. The results were good – and the style and panache of the team made them joy to watch.

The fabled FA Cup run started with a 2-0 (Lavers, Kelly) first qualifying round win at Croydon Amateurs (Croydon nobly retaining the second half of their name). In the second qualifying round, Leatherhead beat Hornchurch 5-0 at Fetcham Grove (Lavers 2, Cooper, Doyle, Webb – pen). The third qualifying round proved more problematic – Leatherhead hosted Dagenham and the game ended goalless. But the Tanners went to Victoria Road and won 3-1 (Kelly 2, Doyle). There was irony in the fourth qualifying round as Leatherhead were drawn at Walton & Hersham – and no mercy was shown as the Tanners won 7-1 (Sargent 2, McGillicuddy 2, Lavers, Doyle, Woffinden).

Leatherhead’s John Doyle and his mother Bridie, who helped him clean his boots after he hit the goal that gave Leatherhead a shock FA Cup win over Colchester.

An away tie at Bishops Stortford in the first round proper was the less than ideal reward – but Leatherhead went there and came away with a 0-0 draw. The replay would see the winners play Colchester United at home in the second round. The Tanners won 2-0 (Lavers, Doyle) to set up one of the biggest games in the club’s history (to that point).

The opening line of my diary entry for December 14 1974 reads “The day in a million”. Leatherhead beat Colchester United (managed by Jim Smith) of the Third Division 1-0 with a John Doyle goal in the 20th minute!  It was a brilliant performance. And it was without Kelly – who was recovering from a cartilage operation. The third round draw was made that night on Match of the Day – Brighton away. My diary’s verdict on the draw? “A little disappointing but could have been worse”.

Leatherhead’s win at Brighton (managed by Peter Taylor) was remarkable. “Players tackled, covered, harried like demons” and the game was won by the returning Kelly’s brilliant individual goal. “I can remember few better days”. The fourth round draw was made while we waited outside the ground for our coaches – Leicester City of the First Division at home! That night, Kelly was in the MOTD studio – “mouthing”.

The tie was switched to Filbert Street. A dramatic game saw the Tanners go 2-0 (McGillicuddy, Kelly) up at half-time and the ‘what if’ of Kelly’s shot that was cleared by Malcolm Munro to deny a 3-0 lead. Leicester (managed by Jimmy Bloomfield) came back and won 3-2 (Earle, Sammels, Weller). Let’s leave further description to my diary…”Team were magnificent in the  firstt half. As good as Leicester”…”Will never forget the feeling when we were two goals up. Out of this world”… and at the end of the day…“Went to sleep, very happy and sad”.

The FA Cup run was over. But the season was not. Kelly left for Millwall (returning for the following season) thus weakening the Leatherhead team. The Tanners reached the London Senior Cup Final at Dulwich – losing 2-0 to a powerful, no nonsense, Wimbledon. And also the Surrey Senior Cup Final at Walton & Hersham – losing 2-0 to Dulwich Hamlet. In the Isthmian League, Leatherhead finished in sixth place – disappointing after such a good start. Weight of fixtures did not help. All told, the Tanners played 68 games that season – 42 in the league and a mammoth 26 in the various cups. When the history of Leatherhead Football Club is written, it will be the 1974-75 FA Cup run that will feature highly. Beating two Football League clubs and pushing a First Division side to the limit – and the way they did it – will live long in the memory!

Leatherhead’s FA Cup heroes

John Swannell – goalkeeper. Debut 1974. Capped 61 times at England Amateur level, Swannell was a great shot stopper and a calm presence between the sticks. Dave Reid – centre half. Debut 1970. Son of Portsmouth’s Duggie Reid (twice a First Division winner). Dominant in the air, Reid played a record 523 times for Leatherhead. Barry Webb – full back, midfield. Debut 1965. A player you could trust. Unflappable, he took the penalties and was usually at full back . Derek Wells – defender. Debut 1971. A utility player, primarily in the back four. Left-footed, a consistent performer – Wells was popular. He loved playing football.  Dave Sargent – right back. Debut 1974. A fearsome, highly competent performer – his ‘will to win’ almost tangible.  Colin Woffinden – midfield. Debut 1974. A clinical passer of the ball – and a bluff and cheery presence off the pitch.  John Cooper – midfield, defender. Debut 1970. Previously with Fulham, the versatile Cooper could play right side midfield or in the ‘back four’.  Tremendous servant. Willie Smith – midfield. Debut 1974. Lovely left foot – highly skilled. I remember a goal at Southall  & Ealing Borough in ‘76 where Smith audaciously chipped from distance after a corner – the defender on the line was caught by surprise and could only head into his own net. Peter McGillicuddy – midfield. Debut 1973. Left-footed, attacking midfielder. Affable, popular. Pete Lavers – centre forward.  Debut 1970. A superb header of the ball. I particularly recall a goal at the cavernous Champion Hill of Dulwich Hamlet in 1974 when Cooper took on a pass down the line from Sargent and centred for Lavers to rise and arrow a header under the bar. Chris Kelly – forward.  Debut 1972. Kelly was useful at Sutton but blossomed at Leatherhead. Highly skilled – it was hard to tell whether he was left or right footed – Kelly (also nicknamed “Budgie” or “Budge”) benefitted from being in an environment where he was central to the team. The “Kelly shuffle” became well-known during the FA Cup run. He was particularly good at taking the ball to the touchline with his back to the defender, turning around, squaring the player up and then beating him for skill and he was away. Leatherhead’s best player ever (yes, yes – it’s an opinion!). John Doyle – winger. Debut 1974. Low centre of gravity – a darting runner with the ball – scorer of vital goals. Corner routines centred around Doyle – he would run to the near post and head the ball on for colleagues to come in and score. Billy Miller – manager. A former Leatherhead player, he was manager from 1965 to 1980. The players in the FA Cup run have been lauded to the skies – but Miller’s role in the run should not be underestimated. Miller (and his assistants Dave Wall and John Phipps and physio John Deary) had this team playing well from the off – no mean feat. There were strong personalities in the team – but Miller was definitely in charge. Early in the ‘Leicester’ season, Leatherhead beat Slough Town 4-0 (4-0 at half-time) at home. I happened to be walking past the changing rooms after the game. I could hear one voice – that of Billy Miller – laying into the team in unambiguous and emphatic terms. He was not happy with the second half performance! Yes, Miller was in charge.


Sources: Leatherhead FC – Complete Competitive Playing Record, 1946 – 2006 by Dave Johnston and Graham Mitchell; ‘Up The Tanners’ – From The Past To The Present And Looking To The Future by Goff Powell, 1997; Rothmans Football Yearbook 1975/76 compiled by Leslie Vernon and Jack Rollin.




The Non-League 100: Peterborough United of the ’50s – perhaps the best?

IN the 1960-61 season, Peterborough United won the Football League fourth division in style, 28 victories from 46 games, 134 goals scored with centre forward Terry Bly netting 52.

Peterborough were in their first season after being elected to the league with 35 votes, a total beaten only by Oldham Athletic who secured 39. Gateshead dropped out of the league after winning just 18.

“Posh” were widely regarded as the best team outside the Football League at that time, thanks to their outstanding record in the Midland League and some excellent FA Cup runs.

Between 1955-56 and 1959-60, Peterborough won every Midland League title, scoring well over a century of goals each time. The Midland was a strong competition in those days and Peterborough’s team of former pros and rising stars played superb attacking football.

Under the management of former Arsenal goalkeeper George Swindin, who joined the club in 1954 as player-manager, Peterborough won the first of their titles in 1956 and were beaten just twice. They reached the second round of the FA Cup, losing to Swindon Town after a replay. But in the first round, they beat Ipswich Town, then of the third division south.They had already secured a reputation for being a cup team after enjoying good runs in the competition in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Peterborough were comfortable champions in each of the next three seasons, notching-up between nine and seven point margins ahead of their nearest rivals. In 1958-59, with Jimmy Hagan now manager, they remained unbeaten winning 32 of their 36 games and scoring 137 goals.

Anthony Macedo, Fulhams goalkeeper, saves a shot from Dennis Emery, Peterborough’s inside-right as James Rayner, Peterborough’s centre-forward rushes in.  FA Cup 1958-59. Photo: PA

But it was the FA Cup where they made their name. In 1956-57, they reached the last 32 of the competition, beating Bradford Park Avenue and Lincoln City before going down to Bill Shankly’s Huddersfield Town 3-1 at Leeds Road, with the great Denis Law on the scoresheet.

Three years later, they reached that stage again, recording a hat-trick of Football League scalps in Shrewsbury Town, Walsall and Ipswich (away at Portman Road) but then bowing-out to Sheffield Wednesday where they put on an stubborn performance before losing 2-0 in front of more than 50,000 people.

Posh’s displays in the FA Cup, along with a fifth successive title, were enough to persuade people that they deserved a place in the Football League.

The players from that era achieved something of legendary status. Dennis Emery, from Sandy in Bedfordshire, scored 229 goals in 311 games and was voted the club’s second best player of all time in a poll held among the fans. Many fans predicted he would play at the very highest level but a car accident cut his career short. Billy Hails , from County Durham, was a flying winger who went on to work with Graham Taylor at Watford. Other notables included Andy Donaldson, Jimmy Rayner, Ray Smith, Jack Hogg and Peter McNamee.

Peterborough acclimatised quickly, winning the fourth division in 1960-61 and finishing fifth in division three in 1961-62. The club’s consistency during the late 1950s and its entrance into the league marks them as one of the best teams to emerge from non-league football.


The Non-League 100: Stevenage 1995-96 – triumph in the new town

Mark Smith (right), one of the stars of the Stevenage side of 1996.

FOOTBALL in Stevenage had a chequered history before a new club was formed from the ashes of Stevenage Athletic. As a town with a big working class population, many of whom had some form of affiliation with London clubs, Stevenage was ripe for footballing expansion. Like most new towns, there were teething problems in establishing a club with a local identity, but in 1976, Stevenage Borough took its first steps towards bringing the Football League to the northern corner of Hertfordshire.

In June 1990, a little-known Scouser named Paul Fairclough was appointed manager and from there, the meteoric rise of the club took place. In his first year in charge, Stevenage Borough won the Isthmian League Division Two North by 25 points, scoring 122 goals in 42 games. A year later, Borough won the first division by 14 points, scoring 95 goals in 40. After a year of adjustment in 1992-93, which included introducing more finesse to a robust and direct team, Fairclough led Stevenage to promotion to the Conference.

Fairclough’s gift was extracting the best qualities out of players who had not realised their full potential. Mark Smith, signed from Hitchin Town, was one such player. Fairclough converted him from a striker into one of non-league football’s best central defenders. In addition to Smith, Fairclough built his team around a number of outstanding individuals.

In goal he had Richard Wilmot, returning to the club after spells at Scunthorpe, Halifax and Hitchin, and the under-rated Des Gallagher. Smith was paired in defence by flamboyant Nigerian Efetobore Sodje, a confident character who played with a colourful headband. Full backs were Robbie Mutchell and Kenny Webster. In midfield, Liverpool-born Steve Berry, an experienced player who had appeared in the Football League with – among others – Portsmouth, Sunderland and Northampton, ran the show, along with Paul Barrowcliff, Stuart Beevor and Tony Lynch. Up front, Stevenage had Barry Hayles, who had been signed from Willesden Hawkeye in 1994. His strength and goalpower were to prove pivotal in Stevenage’s success. Other forwards like Dave Venables, Neil Trebble, Gary Crawshaw and Corey Browne gave Fairclough a number of options.

After a bedding-in season in the Conference in which Stevenage finished fifth, the 1995-96 season was one of triumph for the club. But it was a success that Fairclough himself called “hollow” as the club was denied the chance to move up to the Football League due to their ground, Broadhall Way, not meeting the required standard.

The club knew the ground would not tick every box. Indeed, in October 1995, it was announced that if Borough won the Conference, they would not be going into the League. This didn’t deter the players and from November 25, when they beat Runcorn 8-0, to March 25, they were unbeaten. The wins kept piling up, including a 4-0 win against rivals and reigning champions Macclesfield and over Easter, favourites Woking were beaten by a similar scoreline.

They ended the season with an eight-game unbeaten run, three successive away wins – at Kettering, Bath and Kidderminster – effectively clinching the title. Fairclough became a target and in the middle of the title chase, was courted by Scunthorpe. Some of Borough’s players, such as the brilliant Hayles, also caught the attention of Football League clubs.

Although Stevenage were aware that the ground would hold them back, Chairman Victor Green started to lobby for the decision to be overturned. They even went to the high court and things like the Treaty of Rome and restriction of trade were mentioned in discussions. Stevenage lost their case and in some ways, the fire went out in the new town for a while, even though in 1997-98, they enjoyed a very high profile FA Cup run.

Both Fairclough and Stevenage eventually found their way to the Football League, but not together. He left the club in 1998 and even had a second spell a couple of years later, but his success came with Barnet. As for Stevenage, they went up in 2010.