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No Holidays in the Sun for Wanderers at Minehead
(First published 1st December 2017 to mark 40th anniversary - words and memories by Paul Lewis)
Finding out who your team has been drawn against in their opening FA Cup tie of any season is a talking point for most avid football supporters. Rewinding back 40 years to the draw for the First Round of the FA Cup for the 1977/78 season, my first reaction on hearing that Wanderers had been drawn away to Minehead was one of surprise – I didn’t realise that a place that I associated with Butlin’s holiday camp also had a senior football team. Finding out about Minehead Football Club proved a learning experience but before then I was dreaming of a return to a place where I had my first ever vivid memories of a family holiday in my early infant school days.
Those memories were from three consecutive annual trips to Butlin’s, Minehead with my Mum and Dad, family and friends between 1968 and 1970. On each occasion one of my overriding memories was the non-stop music played over the PA system during the day. Hits of the time were played on what appeared to be a fairly short cycle before you would hear the same song repeated. In 1968 it was Cliff Richard’s ‘Congratulations’ that would eventually draw groans from the captive audience. By 1970, the tune I recall most was ‘Back Home’ by the England World Cup squad. My interest in football was fairly limited at the time. I had yet to attend my first Wanderers match but recall watching the 1970 FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Leeds United and trying to decide which one of these fairly violent sides I should support. I never quite made up my mind and a few years later my Mum took me to my first Wycombe Wanderers game and so the journey of supporting my local team began.
I had viewed the FA Cup as a chance to play ‘big clubs’ and perhaps visit a ‘big ground’ and with a little bit of luck cause a ‘giant-killing’. Despite Wanderers’ reputation in some media circles as ‘giant-killers’, the only occasions they had previous beaten Football League opposition had come against Newport County in 1973 and Bournemouth in 1974. They had famously run Middlesbrough close in January 1975 and then pushed Cardiff City (away) and Reading (home) in the following two seasons but a third victory against Football League opposition seemed elusive.
It was Wanderers’ record of reaching the Second Round Proper of the FA Cup for four consecutive seasons that earned a bye to the First Round Proper for the 1977/78 season. The excitement of finding out the draw (probably made on a Monday afternoon in the offices of the FA) was tinged with a fair amount of anti-climax when ‘Minehead away’ was the name pulled out of the hat.
Despite having enjoyable holidays (in my young mind) at Butlin’s at Minehead, my parents decided against any more repeat visits. Perhaps it was the prison like security that prevented them from leaving the site outside of normal ‘working hours’ – or perhaps that older unattended children might escape from the chalets during the evening adult entertainment and gate-crash their child free drink induced indulgencies?
So fast forwarding from 1970 to 1977, this was a chance to revisit Minehead. My Mum had persuaded my Dad to make a rare journey to a Wycombe away game and drive us there in his silver VW Golf. I had no idea of what to expect at Minehead. In the three previous visits I didn’t recall leaving the campsite, let alone venturing beyond the seafront to find a football ground. Prior to the draw, I had no knowledge of Minehead Football Club, what league they played in or where there ground was. It was with some surprise that I read in the Bucks Free Press review of the draw, that Minehead’s ground was shared with the local cricket team and sounded about as unglamorous as you could imagine
A further read of the BFP for the preview of tie would give more background on the side that was intending to prevent Wanderers from reaching the Second Round again. The preview gave an indication of Minehead’s success in recent seasons. The previous season (1976/77), their first in the Southern Premier League, they had finished as runners-up to Wimbledon (The Dons would be elected to the Football League in the summer of 1977). Meanwhile, in the FA Cup, Minehead had won away at Swansea City, before going out 2-1 at Portsmouth in round two. However, it appeared the current season was not going as well. They had dropped 17 places from their finishing spot of May 1977 and had also taken a replay to get past Salisbury in the 4th Qualifying Round. In comparison Wanderers were sitting in 2nd spot in the Isthmian League with 47 points from their opening 22 games – 8 points behind leaders Enfield.
So it was down to Minehead on the morning of Saturday 26th November 1977 for a step into the unknown. Wanderers’ potential problems for the tie at Minehead were made worse when it was also revealed in the BFP on the Friday before the game that striker Mick Holifield was extremely doubtful for the tie as a result of injuring his ankle in a low-key game against Milton Keynes the previous week.
While travelling down, the thought of returning to Minehead made it tempting to make a quick visit to Butlins to see what had changed in the intervening years. Was the monorail still there? Could you actually enter the holiday camp without a special pass, secret security word? Was it even open during November and if so what music were they playing over the PA system?
Checking back in the records, the top 30 single charts at the time of the tie had ‘Name of the Game’ by Abba in the Number 1 slot. Further down the charts was the relatively new entry of ‘Mull of Kintyre’ by Wings. That tune would eventually lead to the same sort of ‘Chinese Torture’ as ‘Congratulations’ had nine years previous. Of course, 1977 was the year that ‘punk’ supposedly shook up the music industry. Flicking down the singles charts of November 1977 reveals that ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ by the Tom Robinson Band was the closest thing to ‘punk’ in the top 40. By coincidence, the recently signed EMI artists were due to play High Wycombe Town Hall on the Monday immediately following the Minehead game. That sounded like it might be an interesting night out and one where Wanderers fans in attendance would hope to discuss the opponents in the Second Round.
Of course, the punk rock music scene was making some inroads into popular culture. During the week that the First Round draw was made The S*x Pistols had reached the No.1 spot in the UK Album charts with their ‘Never Mind The B*llocks’ debut long player. I opted not to sneak a cassette recording of that into my Dad’s car for the trip down to Somerset – he was more of a Carpenters man and had no feelings for this new style of music. So it was more ‘Goodbye to Love’, rather than ‘God Save The Queen’.
Other news in the same week as tie in Minehead had seen the first ever passenger flight between London and New York on Concorde – journey time 3 and a half hours – which was about the same time it took us to drive the 165 miles to Minehead for the tie with the Southern League upstarts. However, unlike similar journeys in the holiday season, the drive went fairly smoothly - arriving in good time for a quick walk along the sea-front, past a deserted Butlin’s but at least confirming the monorail was still there.
The day was going so well. On arriving at the ground, a visit to the Minehead programme shop brought the benefits of what appeared to be a very cheap purchase of the recent Luxemborg v England World Cup qualifying programme. I don’t recall ever seeing an ‘away’ England programme before, so at a price of around 25p, a bought two or three for fellow collectors back at school. (I see now, 40 years later, it has not proved a worthwhile investment! As of 2017 - still worth less than £2 on ebay). Several copies of the matchday programme were also bought to ‘cater’ for those unable to make the trip to Somerset. A quick glance inside the publication revealed that beyond the generic glossy cover was a more homemade approach, with a hand-drawn ‘Hi Wycombe’ heading for the player profiles of the Wanderers squad – the style almost reminiscent of the music fanzine scene. Close to the programme shop I saw a bright orange poster for the match. It reminded me very slightly of the cover of the Pistols album. It wouldn’t exactly be Anarchy in the UK, to liberate the poster, so it made its way to inside my winter Parker coat and survived to make it make into a graphic above this article. Maybe that’s worth more than England programme?
On entering the ground (50p admission) and then realising that it was indeed just a pitch with a rail around plus one small main stand, we opted to pay the extra 15p each and sit at the very back of the stand to get the best possible view. As a Wanderers supporter, I would be a liar to say that this tie was nothing short of a nightmare. As predicted, Mick Holifield was missing from the team due to injury. Derek Harris came into the side and had a decent game but it was not a day to savour for Wanderers strikers and 400 or so Wycombe fans in the 1,400 attendance.
Wanderers, playing in a new change strip of all-yellow played out a fairly even first-half that looked to be heading for a 0-0 score line before disaster struck in the 44th minute. Wycombe’s Roger Day lost the ball in midfield, allowing Minehead’s Jim Jenkins to find teammate Bobby Brown. Wanderers central defender Alan Phillips made a rare mistake with an attempted challenge and Brown cut inside to send a low shot past Peter Spittle in the Wycombe goal.
After the brief interval (it was literally just ten minutes back then), most Wycombe fans were surely thinking it was just a matter of time before Wanderers’ pressure would batter the home side into submission and celebrations of an equaliser could begin. However, after a brief spell of home pressure at the start of the second-period and despite throwing all the bodies Wanderers could muster up front, the goal would not come.
The best chance for Wanderers came with five minutes remaining. Dylan Evans took a quick free-kick to substitute Tony Horseman who crossed for Graham MacKenzie. The youngster, affectionately nicknamed ‘Jock’ by the Wycombe faithful, struck a goal bound effort only to see home ‘keeper John Macey dive full length to push the ball wide. Macey had been on the receiving end of a Wycombe ‘giant killing’ four years previous as goalkeeper for Newport County in the 1973 FA Cup tie at Loakes Park.
To rub salt into the wounds, the home side grabbed another goal in the 90th minute when their 6’4” tall prolific scorer Andy Leitch headed past Spittle. It left most Wanderers fans with pretty vacant expressions on their faces as they trudged out of the ground and back to their transport (including five coaches) for the trip back to High Wycombe.
It was a long journey home!
Postscript: Minehead went on to face Exeter City in the following round at Irnham Road. Footage of this game survives thanks to the BFI. City lost the tie 3-0 and come the end of the season were relegated from the Southern League Premier Division. In the week following the FA Cup First Round England were eliminated from the World Cup qualifying competition on goal difference after Italy beat Luxemborg 3-0. Hence, no trip to the 1978 Finals in Argentina for Ron Greenwood’s team. Wanderers would finish 3rd in the Isthmian League and would reach the FA Cup 1st Round for a further six consecutive seasons.
Article dedicated to the memory of both my parents:
Brian Lewis (1930-2017) and Ann Lewis (1934-2017)
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