“Those really were glory times for Telford. To think it was 40 years ago? It’s crazy.”
To look at him, you’d barely believe that 40 years had passed.
The white Umbro shirt with navy blue shoulders and red detail, embroidered with ‘Wembley 1983’ and the red Maxell logo, fits as well as it did on that early summer’s day when two Dave Mather goals won the FA Trophy final for Telford United against Northwich Victoria.
When I phoned Antone Joseph for a chat about that notable day 40 years ago, I hadn’t reckoned on him going out to find his shirt from the game from a box of mementoes; even less had I expected him to don the shirt and send me a photograph of himself in it!
Antone enjoyed a special status, as the only player in that victorious team to live in the town. Having moved to Telford only a year or so earlier, Antone made Telford his home and has never left, raising his family here. He may be a grandfather but from the description of the gym session he’d just completed, Antone could give plenty of men half his age a run for their money, and his tigerish qualities in midfield might not go amiss either.
Every Bucks fan who was present will have their own memories of the day. Wellington must have been nearly empty if the concourses and approaches to the old Wembley Stadium were anything to go by. Everywhere you looked were familiar faces, and not necessarily from the Buck’s Head either; it felt like everyone from the town was there.
As a resident of Telford, did Antone have a keener sense of the excitement in the town?
AJ: “I was married in 81. I moved straight up, so I hadn’t been in Telford for long. Of course. I mean the place was buzzing, after the Harrow game, and then the big build-up. It was quite exciting, but especially for me because I was living locally. You would have things in the paper or someone would phone you up or whatever, but it was good, you know?”
A Wembley final isn’t just for the players, but for those closest to them also:
AJ: “Yeah, we had family and friends. Everybody had their own sort of allocation, everyone was arranging for their families to go. I had family coming up and staying overnight in Telford and getting on supporters buses and going to Wembley. We were having to find accommodation and the like, but it was a great time, from the players’ point of view, right from just going to the ground on the Friday and walking around Wembley and all that goes with it. That type of stuff you never forget.”
Everyone talks about the hallowed Wembley turf, but Antone and his teammates might not have believed just how reverentially it was treated until they got to North London:
AJ: “Back in those days you couldn’t even have a warm-up on it! You couldn’t walk on the grass; I think we had a picture taken in front of and between the goal posts, where the players could at least stand in the six-yard box and have a team picture, a club picture with everybody in it. It was only when I went to Kidderminster and we played that final that you were allowed to have a warm-up on the pitch.”
You must have trained somewhere on the day before the game, surely?
AJ: “Gerald Smith (club chairman) was quite, well, I don’t know he managed to do it, but he did it every time; we had the team hotel that England would use, so they had like a big grass area there and we could train on that and have a kick about in the mornings and what have you. It was good.”
“We went down on the Friday morning and it was disappointing as well, for me. I had very mixed feelings because I wasn’t playing, I never played (in the final). I played in all the games. When we beat Harrow (Borough), in the first hurdle game I played at right back, and then in the second game I played in midfield. I think someone, probably Alan Walker, with him being the captain, and he was a bloody good captain – Stan must have had a few words with him and I think Alan said I would be better off in there, so we tried playing in midfield in the second game and we turned it around. We had a load of games (still to play) because we had all the run-up, a big backlog of games had to be played before a certain date, and Stan (Storton) was picking his teams and I wasn’t in them. I was either a sub or I wasn’t in, so I had a sneaky feeling I wasn’t gonna play. You can sense it, and I wasn’t happy at all. I was disappointed as I’d played in all the rounds and I felt I wasn’t gonna play.”
Antone recalled how he addressed the situation with Storton:
AJ: “I said, right, you know, I’ve had enough of this. I was really annoyed, and Stan got wind of it. He spoke to me and said “I’ve heard you’re putting it about that you want to leave? I said “No, but what do you expect? I’ve played in all the games and it looks like I’m not going to play. You’re picking the same team as it is and I ain’t playing. We left it at that and we got to Wembley and he called me into his room, with Brian (Daintith), his assistant manager. He said “Look, you’re gonna be sub tomorrow. I was pleased we were there and I was annoyed that I never played, so I was just itching to get on. As a team, I’m glad we won, but on the day, I’ve gotta be honest with you, I was like, you know? The build-up was great and all that type of stuff, but I wanted to play, and I wasn’t playing.”
Antone was able to put the disappointment at not playing an active role on the day behind him, and used it as motivation, as he explained:
AJ: “I didn’t hold it against him (Stan). He said to me “Look, you’re young enough; you’ll come again, and in the back of your mind you think no, you won’t, but I did, and it was a good, character-building thing, to be disappointed like that in such a one-off where you might never go again. I always had it in my locker that I was going to go again, so whenever it was Trophy time, I was gonna win, and I did. I’ve played there four times, so…”
How was Stan Storton as a manager overall?
AJ: “Oh, fabulous. Fabulous. I wouldn’t hold it against him. He picked his team, and he was great, a great manager, really good. I think he’s still around as far as I know.”
The group Storton assembled weren’t just good footballers either:
AJ: “I’ve got to be honest – all those teams that Stan put together there, they were excellent humans, they were good lads, you know? There were no big-time Charlies there or people there just doing it for the money. Nobody was doing it for the wrong things and it was a good team; really good.
As Antone watched from the bench, it was Dave Mather who made himself the hero, scoring twice to secure a 2-1 win. His first goal, a trademark ‘Mather Missile’, came barely a minute into the second half. He then followed up to poach the second after Northwich keeper Dave ‘Rhino’ Ryan couldn’t hold Colin Williams’ shot, heading in from inside the six-yard box.
Mather and Williams were a potent duo, but Mather had been eased out of the limelight by Williams’ four goals in the astonishing 5-1 win at Harrow Borough in the semi-final second leg. He relished his day in the sun, as Antone recalled:
AJ: “Yes, it was funny (how things happen). A couple of years ago, Kevin (Charlton), Val (Kevin’s wife) and myself and Grace (Antone’s wife) went up to Dave’s House for the weekend. He’s a big, big Liverpool fan, Dave, and he’s got this big man cave in the garden with a life-size cut-out of (Jurgen) Klopp. He’s got Sky telly in there, he’s got beer, pumps and all sorts, and the whole evening we sat and watched the Northwich game and he loved it. He’d watched it many a time and he could tell when the pass was coming. He was as keen then as he was on the day, and he’s got to be 70 now, Dave. I’m 64 next birthday; I was one of the younger ones.”
My mind went back to my own memories of the celebrations the following day when the team were taken on an open-top bus tour of the town:
AJ: “Yeah, I remember that. I remember seeing a picture where we were on the top of a bus. Going up through Ketley and all the trees hanging down and the branches passing you.”
The celebratory party the night before had been another that owed itself to Gerald Smith’s connections:
AJ: “We had a hotel, we managed to do it well. I always remember it. On the Wembley site, there was a Hilton Hotel, one that the professional players have, and he booked it every time we went to Wembley. After you’d finished the game it was ideal. You played the match, went into the players’ lounge and walked across the concourse into this hotel and you were there. We had a great evening. Everyone was singing and drinking and it was great. The girls were walking around with the medals around their necks. It was good. It was a good time.”
The celebrations didn’t stop once the weekend finished:
AJ: “Believe it or not, when we had the Trophy, we brought it home. I had the trophy for myself for a week. I had it at home in a big box and I used to take it around the pubs and show it. I used to drink in the Captain Webb (on Admaston Road). We had it in the Buck’s Head, the Swan, wherever there was. I used to take it in there and used to fill it full of beer and all sorts. I used to give it to the locals, honestly. You wouldn’t believe it, would you? I’ve got a picture at home with my daughter (Rashae) in it, with my wife, in the garden. I mean, you would never get away with that now.”
“They say the FA Trophy is a better trophy than the FA Cup, you know? It was an older trophy, more valuable and intricate than the FA Cup. I remember taking it into some pub up St Georges and they filled it with Snakebite. I remember the landlord saying we couldn’t buy it, but I said “Go on, fill it up and all these, all these groundworkers from the Council guzzling… oh dear!”
Wembley itself, the old Wembley with the twin towers, also held great memories:
AJ: “It’s a great day out at Wembley. Unfortunately someone loses though. I lost there with Kiddy, and it’s not a nice place to lose, but the build-up and the day itself are superb. You go to win, but at the end of the day, you forget that. Years later I’m looking back and I’ve played there four times. You don’t feel the pain you had when you lost, but you also remember the joy. It’s just going out there, getting on the turf, going in the dressing rooms; all that stuff that comes with it. You put your name down in history. It’s a great feeling to play at Wembley.”
“From the moment you open your eyes on that day… well, it’s actually before then. On the Monday, you go into work, so you know, whatever the day is Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, you’re thinking “We’re gonna do this, I’m gonna do that”. You get to Friday, and you’re thinking “This time tomorrow, we’re either in or we’re out. You’re going to bed thinking about that, about how you’re gonna win and what you gotta do to win and what you’re gonna do to make sure you win.”
“Then comes the day of the game. You go to the ground, and you think to yourself “Right, I’m gonna get stripped, but by the time I put my clothes back on, I’m either gonna be in or out. It’s all or nothing. So you put your boots on and I’m thinking, “This is it”. I got onto the pitch and I do my warm-up, not the modern-day warm-ups, where there are cones and bibs and balls and all sorts, all going on, a bit like Billy Smart’s Circus. When you take all that away and you kick off, it’s eleven against eleven, so again, you’re thinking in your mind “I’ve got 90 minutes now; I’m down to 90 minutes. Am I in or? Am I out?”
“This is what I’ve been saying for this past 25 years. When people are coming here, signing and they think that they’re Premier League players, you know? You need a bit of humility. I don’t mean that you’ve gotta go around kicking people and booting them up in the air and fouling, but just honest endeavour; battling.”
“Football hasn’t changed. It’s eleven against eleven. It’s still the same game; nothing changes.”
Telford United’s second FA Trophy triumph could also be said to have kick-started the glory years of the mid-1980s. The core of the team that won the Trophy in 1983 was still present two years later, achieving legendary status for their run to the fifth round of the FA Cup where they were defeated 3-0 by eventual league champions Everton.
By reaching Wembley, the club gained an exemption from the qualifying rounds of the following season’s FA Cup competition. Having been parachuted straight into round one, the Bucks despatched Stockport County 3-0 at the Buck’s Head, announcing themselves as Cup giant killers par excellence.
Everything that followed began 40 years ago, on 14th May 1983.
If you’d like a stroll down memory lane, the final itself, the build-up and the post-match interviews etc are all available on YouTube: