My previous article ended with us in the 1970s and the start of our slow decline. Failing finances, poor results and equally poor support made for a fairly depressing decade of Southern League football at Town Meadow, with just the odd bright spot standing out in my memory.
Similar to other vintage fans I have spoken to, I feel I am much better at remembering the distant past, while sometimes not being able to remember what I had for lunch today. However, despite always thinking that my tenure of Retro Reds started in 2015, when I took over from the late Ian Hands, I was surprised to discover, in the final programme notes of the 1981/82 season,thanks for my help with the programme. Checking back, I found I had been writing the “retro” page that season, looking back five, ten and fifteen years ago! Certainly news to me, but I recognise the writing “style” – if you can call it that – and it was signed in my name, so it must have been me! Moral of the story: never rely just on your memory if you have another way to check your facts!
Revisiting these old Retro columns, I found one for 28th November 1981 when we were playing Haywards Heath at Town Meadow in the first round of the Sussex Senior Cup (in the days when SSC games were played on Saturdays and took precedence over Southern League matches!). My article mentioned previous games against Haywards Heath, including one, a Metropolitan League game at Town Meadow in 1959/60, when an overly keen referee restarted the second half, then a couple of minutes later realised that one of the linesmen hadn’t returned!
For vintage readers, I have included a team photo of that 1981/82 side to put some names to faces. Despite the relatively poor–quality picture, it does show our first–ever shirt sponsor (Randall Glass, with Simon Randall also a director of the club). Advertising in that programme featured Stag Motors (owner Dave Wooldridge is still supporting the Red Devils behind the goal), Station Hotel Horsham (Archie Elsey, a club director, was mine host), Woodcock Coaches (owner John Duly was a long–time club director and benefactor into the 2000s), Salisbury’s Handbags, Gareth (a gents hairdresser on Ifield Road), Riverside Organ Studios in The Boulevard, Swaymar Race Engines, the Half Moon (now the New Moon) pub, and even one Mick Fox, on the look-out for Crawley programmes (I didn’t get a single response all season!).
As for the football that day, we ran out fairly comfortable 3-0 winners against County League Division Two Haywards Heath. Our scorers were Steve Breach, Terry Page (pictured) and Keith Jones, in front of a crowd (if you can call it that) of 230. In fact, this was our average home attendance that season, as we were very much down to the hardcore support. One of the players, John Malthouse, was even sponsored by “The Hardcore Supporters, Town Mead”.
That win over Haywards Heath sent us into round two of the Senior Cup and a home tie against another County League side, Chichester City, who had in their squad Bobby Stokes, who scored the winning goal for Southampton in the 1976FA Cup final against Manchester United.
The weather that winter had been particularly bad, and the Chichester match, which took place on a frosty Wednesday night (6th January 1982), was our first home game for six weeks. (In fact, we didn’t play a single home league match from 17th November until 30th January!) It ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw against a very fired–up opposition, with Stokes heavily involved in their very creditable performance. Chichester took the lead in the first half through ex Portsmouth player Richie Reynolds, but our long–serving centre back Steve Breach equalised on the hour. Thankfully, only 128 fans turned up to witness the stalemate that evening, which left us trying to fit in yet another match alongside all the other postponements due to the weather.
And unfortunately, the state of the pitch after that match – along with the continuing bad weather – meant that the league game at home to Gosport Borough on the Saturday had to be postponed.
The replay at Chichester was eventually played on Sunday (the first for a Sussex Senior Cup game, I believe) 24th January 1982, but not before we had played a friendly match at Southwick on the Thursday prior (lost 5-2) and then a Southern League game on Saturday away at Thanet United (drew 0-0)!
Needless to say, a fairly weary set of part–time players (minus Frankie Fraser and David Gates who had both been injured the day before at Thanet) made heavy weather of this replay, but scraped a 3-2 victory in front of 192 fans (including me, as I can spot myself on the far right of the picture included from the game). Goals from Gary Grabban (penalty) and Keith Jones put us 2-0 up at half time, before Chichester scored two midway though the second half, only for John Malthouse to win it for us ten minutes from time.
Not only was it three away games in four days, but all of them were on heavy pitches and all of our players had other jobs during the day. They bred them tough in those days, and they certainly needed to be, as we ended the season with eleven league games to play in the final month! For all that effort, though,it was another disappointing season as we ended fourth from bottom, with only nine league victories all season, while our Sussex Senior Cup campaign ended in ignominious fashion in the next round as after a 0-0 draw at home to Lewes on 3rd February, we collapsed to a 6-0 defeat in the replay at Lewes on 16th February.
Moving briefly on to the next (1982/83) season, we would finally show some on–field progress in the fourth season of John Maggs’s reign as manager, with a seventh–place finish in the league. We had made a strong start to the season, helped by new signings such as Brian Gregory, Merrick Herriott, Cliff Cant and Phil Keeping, and as we faced Tonbridge at home on 27th December, we stood top of the table and six points clear of our challengers. We managed a comfortable 3-0 win over Tonbridge, though we had lost in the FA Trophy in our previous match by 6-1 at home to Croydon. That result was perhaps a sign that all was not well, because that Tonbridge win (in front of 405, our biggest league crowd of the season) was as good as it got; three heavy defeats followed, and only four wins in the final seventeen games saw us slide down the table by the season’s end.
Maggs had tried to halt the slide with new signings, and one who joined in March 1982 on a short–term deal was our current coach, Carl Laraman. Carl eventually played ten league games and scored two goals and we would win his first two games against Erith and Canterbury (see line–up in programme). Unfortunately, failure to win any of the remaining nine games meant a disappointing end to a season that had started so well. Thankfully, the 1983/84 season would finally see us make major progress, with promotion to the Southern League Premier Division – a subject for another day, I think.
To end on a topical note, with games coming up against Charlton and Newport, I had a quick look at a match from our history with each of these teams.
Despite being fairly close geographically, we seem to have had few meetings with Charlton Athletic. However, we did meet them at Broadfield on 4th August 2001, and what looks to have been a strong Charlton side came out on top, 2-0.
We would first meet our next current–season opponents, Newport, on 13th January 1996 in a Southern League Premier division match. After the old Newport County folded under the chairmanship of American Jerry Sherman in 1988 (when they failed to complete their first Conference season after relegation from the Football League the season before), a meeting of 400 supporters led to the creation of a new club named Newport AFC. Not being allowed to play at their former Somerton Park ground, they worked their way back initially via the Hellenic League, playing in exile in Gloucestershire, and this would be their first season in the SLP. They were now playing at Spytty Park (pictured) where a tight match ended 1-1, with Raphael Meade our scorer, his fourth goal in three games.
Once again, if anyone has any information, old programmes or photos which might be of interest for these articles, please let me know!
Mick Fox – email@example.com