Why this North East football team never made it big in the FA Cup

PEOPLE gathered at Stanley Village Hall on Saturday May 14 to present a book by Mike Amos entitled Prairie Stories which tells the story of the village of Stanley, near Crook, County Durham, and makes many allusions to includes the Stanley United Football Club.

People of my generation who supported Crook Town just around the corner would say that in the 1950s and 1960s a game against Stanley, like playing Bishop Auckland, was a tough game, home or away, when the ‘ Hilltoppers” were good enough to win the Northern League title in 1945-46, 1961-62 and 1963-64.

The Northern Echo: The Stanley United team that won the Northern League championship in 1945-46 .Clever.

The Stanley United team that won the Northern League championship in 1945-46. Back, left to right: Owens, Coates, Battersby, Beckham, Taylor, Plank (Captain). Front: R Dixon, Nevin, R Smart, Walmsley, N Smart

What we fail to understand is why the Hilltoppers have never cut much ice in the FA Amateur Cup or the FA Cup. The only ice that was cut was in the goal mouths to make the ground safe for the goaltenders.

Speaking of ice, perhaps Crook Town’s greatest performance was at Stanley on an icy pitch in a 1st Round replay of the Amateur Cup on January 18, 1964 after a 1–1 draw at Crook. Crook coach George Wardle brought baseball shoes for his players, and the rubber soles made it easier for his players to find grip on the icy surface. Veteran Seamus O’Connell played his best game in a yellow shirt to score a hat-trick and with more goals from Lumsdon and Weir, Crook won 5-1. How many teams have won at Stanley by that margin?

Stanley have only reached the semi-finals once in the Amateur Cup and that was against Tufnell Park in Bishop Auckland in the 1919/20 season, a game they lost 1-0.

Their only FA Cup 1st Round appearance was in the 1954–55 season after they beat Wolsingham Welfare 5–1 in the 4th qualifying round, with P Brown, 2, D Brown, Knapper and Summerson their scorers were. Turnbull answered for Wolsingham.

In the 1st round the Hilltoppers were forced to visit Crook’s Millfield ground where they again failed to cut ice and lost 5-3, Harrison, 2, Armstrong, McMillan and Taylor being the scorers for Crook and Hepple, 2, and Bell scored for Stanley.

At times we thought the draw for the first rounds of the Amateur Cup and FA Cup was rigged because Crook, Stanley and Bishop Auckland met so many times in the first rounds of both competitions.

The Northern Echo: A Stanley Team in its 1963-64 Championship Season

A Stanley team in its 1963-64 championship season

George Siddle, a former Stanley and Hilltoppers supporter who now lives in Bishop Auckland, was at the book launch and recalled: “We didn’t like Crook because they were a bigger and more successful club than us. We loved hitting her, not that it happened very often.”

This is backed up by a comment from a former Crook player in the book, who said: “When I played for Bishop Auckland at Stanley we had a tremendous spread. When I went with Crook we were lucky enough to get a sandwich. ”

George added: “I met Dougie Raine once, well after he retired from playing, I greeted him but he didn’t recognize me so I said I saw him play for Stanley in the 1960s . Oh, said Doug, that’s when I got paid more to play football on a Saturday than I did to pit for a week.”

George also remembered Geoff Strong and an FA Cup first round match at Wingate Welfare. “We won 11-2 with Eddie Appleby, Ronnie Thompson and Geoff Strong all scoring hat-tricks. Some of these hat-trick men were grounded at 10 shillings for every goal they scored. On the bus going back, the committee was to have a round of whipping to pay the players the money they were owed.”

Bob Thursby, who played a season at Stanley before moving to Bishop Auckland for the 1956–57 season, recalled a winter’s day at the Hilltop.

“It was bitter, so cold that I had on two or three sweaters, a coat, a scarf, gloves and so on,” he said. “Even when I hit the ground, I sat down in front of the fire in the committee room. As I sat huddled and warming my hands, the committee men came. “Canny day, canny day,” said one. “Not bad today, not bad at all,” said another. “We’re having a good day today,” said another. I was absolutely floored.”

Vince Kirkup, who has spent three decades or more at Stanley as a player, manager, secretary or chairman, and possibly all four together at times, says in the book, “Even though it was freezing cold, there was warmth here.”

That must be why so many former players say Stanley was the best club they played for.

The Northern Echo: Mike Amos at right with his book Prairie Stories and Bob Thursby, a former Stanley United player, at the book launch at Stanley Village Hall on Saturday May 14.

Mike Amos at right with his book Prairie Stories and Bob Thursby, a former Stanley United player, at the launch at Stanley Village Hall on May 14

  • Prairie Stories is £12 and £4 postage from Mike Amos. Email [email protected]
  • Thanks this week to Dave Kidd and Arnold Alton.

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