Atherton LR In The FA Vase - 1993/94
Thu 4th September 2014 | Atherton LR | By Tim Lees
Back in 1993/94 Atherton LR came within 8 minutes of a Wembley appearance in the FA Vase.
It all started on 20th November 1993 in the second round. A couple of little runs in the FA Vase meant the club was given an exemption past the first two rounds. Prudhoe East End were the visitors, a club from the Northern League which at the time was undefeated in their Second Division and would go on to win promotion.
On the day Atherton had the better of things with a 19th minute Dave Liptrot header being followed by Sean Parker heading the second in the 28th. Five minutes into the second half Keith Ingham came on as a substitute and in under a minute had fired home the third to send LR through 3-0. Prudhoe EE changed their name the following year to Prudhoe Town and currently play in the Wearside League.
The third round on 11th December saw Atherton LR travel to fellow NWCFL side Penrith and with most of the regular midfielders missing, a changed line up against a strong home side meant it wouldn’t be easy. I think the word “passionate” would be the politest way to describe the play on the day, but Sean Parker scored his second of the competition in the 67th minute and that was enough in this closely fought tie.
Next up for LR was a visit from NCEL side Thackley on 15th January. The match ended goalless and on the Tuesday night LR ran out onto the Thackley pitch in pouring rain on a pitch that was already heavy. The hero of the game was that man Sean Parker again, claiming a hat-trick.
He scored twice in the first half before Steve Warburton pulled one back on the stroke of half time. In the second half Thackley equalised through Peter Hall, although Atherton did question whether putting the ball in the net while keeper Andy Hills was holding on to it actually counted. However, it took three minutes for Parker to restore Atherton’s lead and this time they held on to go into the last 16.
One nice feature of the game was that the two sets of club officials got on so well together that for a few seasons afterwards the two teams met in pre-season friendlies, alternating between the two grounds.
The rules for the FA Vase were different back then, especially as to which clubs qualified to enter the competition so you might be surprised to hear that next up was a Step 3 club. Bridgnorth Town plied their trade in the Southern League Midland Division, just two promotions away from the Conference. As well as a team coach, they brought three coachloads of supporters with them, something, it’s fair to say, doesn’t happen too much at Crilly Park.
Not surprisingly the bigger club piled the pressure on for most of the first half, but as they couldn’t make the pressure count, LR grew in confidence and three minutes before half time scored what was to be the winning goal. Do I need to tell you who scored? Sean Parker of course.
This was really now new territory for Atherton LR. They had never won more than three games in the FA Vase in one season and thanks to the bye at the start, they were in the quarter finals. When the draw was made, it couldn’t have been a tougher one – away at Aldershot Town.
The phoenix club were firm favourites in their only season in the competition and they themselves saw LR as just another team they would knock out on the way. Arrogant doesn’t even begin to cover it. The local newspaper printed an article that started with “Who the LR Atherton?” and the host club took great delight in sticking a copy of it up for us all to see.
On 26th February 1994 LR took to the pitch in front of 4,246 supporters and put in a superb performance which, after 120 minutes, saw the game stalemate at 0-0 and a thoroughly deserved replay. Unfortunately at the end of the game a large number of Aldershot supporters ran onto the pitch and blocked the exit to the tunnel for a while and assaulted the Atherton players as they tried to leave the pitch. It took a while before the local bobbies and club stewards decided they should do something about it.
The replay was held on 5th March and again ended goalless after 120 minutes. The clubs biggest home attendance of 1,740 crammed into the ground and saw another closely fought game. There was a tragic moment though as Sean Parker, who had been the hero of so many games for LR, slid in for a tackle and broke his leg in three places. The game was held up for some time as he obviously needed to be taken to hospital.
Sadly, although Sean was to make a comeback for LR a year or so later, he immediately broke his leg again and that was the end of his playing career. There was yet more bad feeling between the two clubs during and after the game. With the match ending as a draw and penalty shoot outs being a thing of the future (games then were still decided on the talent and ability of a team rather than the luck of a shootout) a coin was tossed to see who had home advantage for the second replay and disappointingly Aldershot won.
Tuesday 8th March saw Atherton once more travel down to Aldershot and both teams went all out to win the game in front of 4, 439 supporters. Both keepers were kept busy but in the 31st minute LR finally broke the duck. A left sided Dave Liptrot cross beat everyone in the area, but Lee Unsworth arrived behind the defence at the far post to head home unchallenged.
From then until around 20 minutes from time Aldershot piled the pressure on. Keeper Andy Hills made some fine saves and the Laburnums defence had to be at their very best to keep the hosts out. The Aldershot assault began to wane and on 77 minutes LR scored again – Keith Ingham crossing into the area and Mark Stewart arriving late, charging between two defenders to head home.
When the final whistle went, with Atherton having pulled off one of the shock results of the season, the celebrations started, but ended again temporarily because despite what had happened in the first game, the local police and Aldershot officials hadn’t learned their lesson.
Once again their was a pitch invasion and once again LR players were kicked and punched as they attempted to leave the pitch. Still, on the way home and then at the Crilly Park clubhouse, you can be sure there were one or two drinkies had and more than a few raging hangovers the next day.
The victory lived on for some time as in 2004, ten years later, I spoke to a gentleman who had just written an excellent book on the history of Maidenhead United FC. When I mentioned I was with Atherton LR, he immediately said “Oh, that’s the club that knocked Aldershot out of the FA Vase”. Apparently LR had a lot of support all over the south from people who felt that Aldershot needed taking down a peg or two. Perhaps all the positive vibes heading their way helped the Atherton side to victory.
There was by now great excitement in and around the town. Atherton LR were in the FA Vase semi-finals and had been drawn to play Diss Town from the Eastern Counties League. It was a two-legged match with the first being played down in Norfolk.
Around 300 supporters from Atherton made an early start on Saturday 19th March for the long trip down, but it was to be a disappointing day. LR never got into their stride and played well below their ability. Diss featured Peter Mendham, an ex-Norwich City player who had been in their 1985 League Cup final side. His ability was clear throughout the game.
Diss won the game 3-1, a 15th minute Tom Casey header and a Paul Gibb strike five minutes before the break gave them a 2-0 half time lead. Ten minutes after the restart Dave Liptrott pulled a goal back for LR but there was only one team going to win this and Phil Bugg added their third on 76 minutes.
The 2nd leg on 26th March at Crilly Park saw LR back to form and they collected a 2-0 win in front of 1,202 fans. In the 20th minute Dave Liptrot headed LR into the lead and on 55 minutes LR were awarded a penalty when Mendham handled the ball. Paul Burrows was the Laburnums player with the pressure on him to score with over 1,000 people watching him, but he kept his head and made no mistake.
Unfortunately away goals didn’t count, otherwise LR would have won the tie. It was down to a replay at VS Rugby’s ground.
Wednesday 30th March 1994 saw the match goalless until the 52nd minute when Mark Stewart put LR ahead, curling a free kick around the wall and into the back of the net. Chances came and went for both sides throughout the match, but the game entered the final ten minutes with LR still holding onto their narrow lead. Things went wrong in a mad two minute spell.
First a corner wasn’t dealt with and the ball was headed all round the area before Diss captain Gary Smith headed it in. A minute later Diss were awarded a free kick on the right, the ball crossed into the area and Ian Manning headed their second.
Atherton threw everyone forward, but couldn’t rescue the match and Diss went on to win the final at Wembley. LR players, officials and supporters were left with some great memories and a raised profile for the club, but heartbreak at letting the game slip so close to the end.
At least they had the compensation of the League. After the semi-final, manager Dave Morris was able to get them focussed again on the League. Before the semi-finals the team had been unbeaten in the previous 20 League games continued that for another 11 games to claim the title, and promotion to the Northern Premier League.