Retro Red Devils 18 – Taunton, Dover and Donny!

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28th March 2024

Having ranted in previous articles about the growing number of late match postponements in the last couple of years, I was made aware of the plight of Taunton Town, who have had multiple postponements at their Wordsworth Drive ground this season. The said ground has also been used by the displaced Truro City this season (as well, I believe, as a women’s team) although they have now decamped to Gloucester(!) to try and complete their National League South programme.

That got me remembering that we played Taunton for a couple of seasons in our Southern League days in 1977/8 and 1978/9. 

In the 1977/8 season, under our manager Dave Haining, we were thrashed 5-2 in the away game on 21st January 1978 (Brian Roberts and Ricky Fitzgerald our scorers), also losing the home match on 21st March 2-0. That season was one that promised more than our 12th place finish, but after a strong start with our free-scoring strike force of Wayne Peacock and Tony Mulhern, the season would turn into one of inconsistency, particularly after we lost Mulhern with a broken leg in a league game against Romford in October.

Our problems mirrored Taunton’s current issues, as a terrible winter of rain meant many postponements and having to squeeze 17 league games into March and April 1978. One difference, though, between then and now is that if the current draconian refereeing parameters for playing conditions had been in place in the late 1970s, we would only have been able to play games in August, September and April, our pitch being so poor.

Programme page, Spot the Mistake!


Another thing which was poor at the time was our matchday programme (but at least we produced one then, I hear you say!). While researching those matches versus Taunton, I found an interesting page (see pic) from the 10th February 1979 programme against Waterlooville (drew 1-1, Mick Elliott our scorer) to illustrate our programme quality – or lack of.

Whereas some clubs had a “Spot the Difference” programme quiz at the time, we had an unofficial “Spot the Mistake” competition as our programme compilers wrestled with failing eyesight, a dodgy typewriter and an ancient stencil machine to produce our four-page fivepence programme. Have a look and see how many you can spot, but bear in mind this is far from the worst example I could have picked!

I actually chose this one as it included details of travel arrangements for the forthcoming Taunton match, including rail travel, which was quite a rarity for the team in those days (as now, I suppose). Maybe I would get to more games if we still had those ticket prices. I see I had changed my name while appealing for old programmes. I wonder if anybody asked for “Mick Foz” and was told “Never ’eard of ’im!”?

Taunton match programmes 1978/79


We would go on to lose that game at Taunton 2-0, although we would finally beat them at Town Meadow on 24th March 1979 with an emphatic 4-1 scoreline (Dave Easton, Steve Breach and Brian Roberts, 2). 

That 1978/79 season was one of real struggle for the Red Devils as we had lost leading scorers Wayne Peacock and Tony Mulhern in the close season, leaving Brian Roberts as our top scorer for the season on only nine goals. We had a terrible start to that campaign, losing the first four league games including a 7-1 (Roberts) thrashing at big rivals Dover on 30th August 1978. 

Dover surprise victory & league table – pt 1


Dover surprise victory & league table – pt 2

When we came up against Dover for the home game on 3rd April 1979, there was little optimism amongst the 200-300 faithful home fans. We sat third from bottom in the league and Dover were the runaway leaders (see league table), having lost only one game all season. However we somehow managed a 2-1 win (Michael Elliott, 2), probably the most surprising result for several seasons? 

Sadly that was as good as it got for us as we ended the season with five straight defeats to finish second from bottom in the league. As a result Dave Haining would lose the manager’s job in the close season, to be replaced by John Maggs.

One other interesting detail mentioned in our fairly sparse programme editorial for the Waterlooville game was the ongoing discussion around the make-up of the forthcoming newly formed Alliance League, now known as the National League. It was proposed that 13 teams from the Southern League (and the same number from the Northern Premier League) would make up the Alliance League, but the ongoing make-up of the Southern League was still undecided, with many clubs, including Crawley, keen for the three-division structure to be maintained due to the need to maintain promotion and relegation as an incentive.

The rationale for the Alliance League was partly to draw together the top non-league teams, with the outstanding team then making a strong case for election into the Football League (at the time there was no automatic promotion/relegation until 1987). This had been brought about due to too many random clubs applying for league membership in past years, thereby diluting the chances of any club successfully gaining entry into the league.

As a precursor to the Alliance, in 1977 the Southern and Northern Premier Leagues agreed to put forward only one candidate each season for election, resulting in Wimbledon in 1977 (in place of Workington Town) and Wigan Athletic in 1978 gaining places in the Football League, the latter after 34 failed attempts and at the expense of Southport.

As it turned out, the first Alliance League was made up of 13 Southern League and only 7 Northern Premier League sides, due to several northern clubs declining the invitation due to the potential costs involved in a nationwide competition (including Southport, who had just been voted out of the Football League).


First Alliance League Final Table 1979/80

There was also no Isthmian League taking part as that league seemingly preferred to “go it alone”, an attitude which appeared to stem from their strictly “amateur” (really?!) gentlemen’s heritage. This changed somewhat when Enfield and Dagenham were invited into the Alliance in 1981 and accepted that invitation, with the Isthmian League also entering the pyramid structure in 1985 and its champions gaining entry into the Alliance (now Gola, for sponsorship purposes) League.

This week’s opponents, Doncaster Rovers, would be relegated into the now Nationwide Conference in 1998, but would be the first club to gain promotion back to the EFL via the play-offs when they beat Dagenham and Redbridge 3-2 after extra time in the play-off final in 2003. The winner was via the “golden goal” method, seemingly the only time this has decided a promotion in top-level British football.

As we didn’t make it to the Conference until 2004, our meetings with Doncaster would have to wait until 2012 when we would gain promotion to EFL League One. We won our first game in League One 3-0 on 18th August at Broadfield against Scunthorpe United (Gary Alexander, 2, and Jonathan Forte, formerly of Doncaster), but on the following Tuesday would suffer a 3-0 loss to a Swindon Town side managed by Paolo DiCanio. 

Doncaster August 2012 a fine 1-0 away win – pt 1

Doncaster August 2012 a fine 1-0 away win – pt 2


Next up for us would be a very tough away trip to a Doncaster Rovers side managed by future Crawley Manager Dean Saunders and just relegated from the Championship. It turned out to be a resilient performance against one of the promotion favourites, rewarded three minutes from time with a goal from Nicky Ajose to the delight of the 225 travelling Red Devils fans, and we saw out the remaining few minutes to secure a fine 1-0 win.

We would go on to achieve a very respectable 10th place finish in League One, while Doncaster – after Dean Saunders left for Wolves in the January – would finish the season strongly and go back up as champions.

One final link between our teams was via another manager, Sean “Blink and you missed him” O’Driscoll, who spent five years as Doncaster manager until 2011 and joined us in May 2012 for a short summer stint before leaving in the July having not taken charge of a single competitive match!

Mick Fox –


Mick Fox

Mick Fox

Mick has been a lifelong fan since being taken to games as a young boy by his Dad (an ex Crawley keeper) in the 1950s and today is a season ticket holder in the East Stand. Over that time Mick have been involved in the Supporters Club, Social Clubs (including the Broken Flag Club) and also sat on the Football Club board. He has seen many regimes and fans come and go but never been able to shake the bug. Big fan of "proper" football - definitely not the Premier League!