THE DAY MOSSLEY WENT TO WEMBLEY

THE DAY MOSSLEY WENT TO WEMBLEY
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There is a wonderfully old-fashioned documentary that can be found on the footballing treasure-trove, YouTube, that shows what looks like a near-empty Wembley Stadium hosting the FA Trophy final in 1980.

So dwarfed is the crowd by the giant old stadium, it is hard to believe from the evidence of "Mossley Goes to Wembley" that on 17th May that year practically the whole population of a Pennine mill-town had descended upon the capital to watch their Northern Premier League champions take on Dagenham.

Mossley lies on the traditional borders of three counties: Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire, approximately nine miles from Manchester. It is home to around 10,000 people, countless sheep and the "Lilywhites", Mossley AFC.

Just as Wembley must be a daunting place for all players to visit the first time round, Mossley's humble home, Seel Park, also has an unforgiving presence in its own way. The ground is perched upon the top of a hill, in "Top Mossley". One side of the ground, opposite the main stand, has a small terrace with a roof. Behind that is an open aspect and a sheer drop to the railway lines and "Bottom Mossley" in the valley below. Over the years there must have been a heavy cost in spare footballs.

Such geography leaves Seel Park exposed to the worst examples of the weather patterns that the surrounding moors attract. The conditions during winter months may have had some bearing on the outcome of home matches during the late 1970s and early 1980s "glory years" of the club, but it was clear that the management team had also built a powerful non-league side. It was a period that saw Mossley AFC win the Northern Premier League title twice and finish runners-up three times.

But the crowning moment of this regal era was the FA Trophy cup-run and trip to Wembley in 1980. "Big" John Salter signed for Mossley from Southport for £1000 in 1979. He is remembered as an instant success and was a powerful and commanding centre-half who played in the Wembley final:

"We set off on the Wednesday before the final and headed for a hotel at Watford Gap. We had a good card school on the way down, me, Leo (Skeete), Mooresy (David Moore) and Kevin Keelan. I think I lost my bonus for the final on the way down!"

How much that bonus was has been lost with the passage of time, although there is a section of the documentary where the manager, Bob Murphy, mentions that he is negotiating a bonus for the players. After questioning by the interviewer and a pause for thought, he said "I think they should get £100."

Murphy had built his side around striker Leo Skeete, who spent seven years at Mossley beginning with a loan spell from Rochdale in 1974. This was cemented on a full time basis in 1975, along with a job at the local engineering company Weldem Ltd, which was owned by the club's owners.

Skeete was a charismatic figure who would go on to score 174 goals in 350 games for the club. He broke numerous post-war scoring records in individual seasons, and scooped player of the year awards.

Along with a free-scoring bunch of forwards, consisting of David Moore, Eammon O’Keeffe and Ian Smith, Murphy and Skeete were to lead Mossley to the very top of non-league football. The humble Seel Park (not deemed to be league standard) seemingly the only barrier to further successes. The little ground held the club back from promotion to the newly formed Alliance Premier Football League (the precursor to the Football Conference) in 1979.

With back-to-back Northern Premier League titles in 1979 and 1980, the team were at their peak.

As if to underline the strength of this side, Mossley faced Altrincham in the third round of their FA Trophy march to Wembley. Altrincham happened to be one of the sides who did take up a place in the new Alliance Premier Football League and actually sat at the top of that division at the time of the Trophy match. Mossley brushed them aside with ease, winning 5-1.

John Salter put much of this success down to the hard work of the manager, who had arranged for training sessions to take place at a school local to the team hotel in preparation for the final:

"Bob Murphy was a very thorough man. He had scouts watching Dagenham for weeks and he had us training on the Thursday and Friday, using the school's facilities. It was very intense."

There was some tension amongst the team, though, which forced the lid off the pressure cooker once or twice.

"We had worked on set pieces in training and the on the Friday night, the night before the final, we had a team meeting. Things didn’t go down well with Bob and Leo - I can't remember exactly what was said between the two - but it ended with Leo storming out. He was a bit like that, Leo. He always had something to say - but he was a great captain and a leader.

"Saturday arrived and things had settled down from the night before - Leo and Bob were buzzing. Off to Wembley!"

Arriving at 1.30pm, the team headed straight for the changing rooms for massages and warm ups. A bizarre moment is captured on the 'Mossley Goes to Wembley' film, where Bob Murphy enquires, "No toilet, John? Have you been?" Salter sheds some light on that incident:

"I do seem to recall having a problem with frequenting the toilet a lot before matches! Bob mentioned it in the team talk before the match - I think it was a nervous thing I had!"

It was forgotten, though, when "We walked out on to the great Wembley pitch. The hairs definitely stood up on the back of my neck."

Dagenham began the match much brighter: no signs of nerves from their players, and despite the goalkeeping heroics of John Fitton, Mossley fell behind to a goal scored by George Duck.

"We didn't really create much in that first half," Salter states. "We arrived back to the changing rooms to be greeted by a rather distraught manager. He gave us what I would say equates to Fergie's hair-dryer treatment and we came out second half a different team. Mossley on top, we got the equaliser through Ian Smith. A brilliant headed goal from, I think, a Phil Wilson cross. He came on for Mooresy at half time, he made a big impression when he came on."

With the sides locked at 1-1, and the clock running down, disaster struck for Salter and Mossley.

"Their midfielder, Chris Maycock I think, received the ball on the edge of our box and turned me. He hit a low shot into the bottom corner. Gutted." 

There was still time for some late drama as Keelan headed a header down from another Wilson cross. 

The old adage is to always try and head the ball down - on this particular occasion, the header was so powerful, it flew straight back up and, as Salter put it, the ball "bounced agonisingly over the crossbar, our last chance. Game over. Mossley 1 Dagenham 2 - not one of my better games for Mossley, I must admit. That I do."

Despite the disappointment of the loss, the whole town returned home and took to the streets the next day to welcome home their heroes back. The team embarked on an open top bus parade and a civic reception was held. 

Photographs exist of Salter brandishing a cardboard cut-out of the FA Trophy handed to him by a supporter, of a team bus besieged by well-wishers and a town in the mood to party. The mayor spoke in glowing terms about what the team's exploits meant to Mossley.

Unfortunately, the club would never reach such dizzy heights again, but that small taste still lingers on the lips of the inhabitants of the town.

My own grandfather was a Mossley supporter all his life. Some years ago, on my grandparent's golden wedding anniversary - held at the club, naturally - the pair were presented with golden season tickets in recognition of their long support, giving free entry to future matches. 

He whispered - not quietly enough - that for years, his friend on the turnstiles had been letting him in for free in any event! (He did make up for this in bar sales.) You could tell, though, that this was still a touching and proud moment for him and highlighted the close-knit community spirit that still exists between the people of Mossley and their football club, but even that could not top the memory of the day that the whole of Mossley went to Wembley.

You can read more from Stuart Howard-Cofield at Grumpy Old Fan.

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