A First time for Falmouth

First Tower faced Falmouth in 1977 in UUֱ

LIKE UUֱ Bulls’ opponents from the previous round, Hamworthy Recreation, it won’t be the first time that Falmouth Town have played against a Caesarean side at Springfield.

Bulls welcome Falmouth for their FA Vase fifth-round tie on Saturday with both teams vying for a place in the quarter-finals, two steps from Wembley. The Cornish club have the advantage of making it that far before, albeit 37 years ago, losing to eventual winners St Helens Town 1-0 in a replay. Nearly ten years earlier (26 November 1977), Falmouth were here, in St Helier, to play First Tower United, also vying for a place in the quarter-finals in a competition called the Rothmans Overseas KO Cup.

Their first-round match finished 3-2 to “mighty” Falmouth but, according to the JEP’s venerable Bill Custard reporting, Tower went out of the cup in a “blaze of glory”. Back then, Falmouth were playing in the same Western Football League Premier Division they turn out in today so “mighty” may have been stretching it a bit, but they arrived in the Island having won their third of four consecutive league titles the season before, so they were a formidable outfit in their region.

First Tower twice took the lead and, with only ten minutes left, it looked like a “thrilling victory was in their grasp”. But two goals in four minutes from the visitors turned the match around.

Falmouth’s strength was emphasised by having a couple of ex-professionals in their forward line-up. Stuart Brace was a prolific winger, formerly of Plymouth Argyle, Watford and Grimsby Town among other Football League clubs, with 423 appearances and 155 goals to his name, while Derek Rickard was another former Plymouth forward who also spent two seasons with Bournemouth. Both scored the vital two goals to win the game.

All five goals came in the second half after a “rather tame opening session,” though Tower’s Steve Quinn on the right wing “teased and tantalised the Falmouth defence”. In front of 520 in attendance, Tower, the reigning UUֱ and Channel Islands champions, moved with “great confidence” and for long periods were the “equals of Falmouth”. Eventually, Quinn’s enterprise paid off when he opened the scoring in the 56th minute. Mo Matthews put through a short pass down the middle that “Quinn latched on to, beat a man and fired in a great shot from ten yards to find the net.”

Rory Crick then had a chance to double the lead but “screwed the ball well wide from close range”, but Falmouth were now starting to look dangerous and they got an equaliser in the 75th minute when Dave Ferrett drove home just inside the near post. The pendulum was swinging from one way to the next. Crick restored Tower’s lead when he powerfully nodded home a cross from the “indefatigable” Brent Pitman (father of future Bournemouth and Bristol City marksman Brett Pitman).

Home cheers were “resounding. It was magic”, said Custard, but it was also shortlived as Brace and Rickard turned the game on its head and Tower were out.

Custard blamed a tactical switch for the host’s undoing, suggesting Tower had lost their grip in defence when Eddy Appleyard was replaced by Peter Jones. Tower manager Brian Beckett said: “In the vital stages our defence lacked discipline, the members failing to pick up their men.”

“The locals boys played well,” was all Falmouth boss Richard Gray would add, but he would have been relieved to have passed the test and make it through to the next round of a competition that would even test the most of knowledgeable of non-league football historians. Whereas the FA Vase is open to every club in step 5 and 6, the Rothmans Overseas KO Cup was a sort of champions cup. In the late 70s and early 80s, Rothmans was all over English football and sport in general. Many of you will remember the Rothmans Football Yearbook, an annual almanac covering the forthcoming season’s soccer, a Wisden for football fans (it still exists, currently sponsored by an energy utility company). They also dabbled in trading cards à la Panini and were very visible sponsors of the UUֱ Football League back then too, as they were for a number of non-leagues. The Overseas KO Cup ran for just three seasons, from 1975 to 1978 and brought these leagues together, inviting teams from Rothmans-sponsored Western, Isthmian, Northern and Hellenic Leagues in England, along with the leagues of UUֱ and Guernsey, to take part.

Rather interestingly, a programme of the First Tower United v Falmouth United match can actually be found for sale on eBay. Not only is it remarkable that one can be found on the auction website, but that somehow the programme has found its way into the hands of a seller in the city of Kropyvnytskyi in Ukraine. Interested collectors of such memorabilia can bid for the item starting at £4.99 (plus £12.59 delivery charge – which will take between 30 to 40 days “due to war”), with the auction closing at 8.20pm tomorrow.

In any case, “Mighty” Falmouth would get knocked out in the next round by Western League rivals Bideford, earlier 5-2 conquerors of Guernsey’s Vale Recreation. The week before Tower’s defeat, UUֱ’s only other representative that season, Oaklands, played Forest Green Rovers, then of the Hellenic League, now, of course, in League Two of the English Football League – beaten 2-0 in Gloucestershire, “the sheer strength of the home side … the decisive factor,” wrote Custard, as well as a questionable referee decision that ruled an Oaklands goal out. Custard said that Oaklands were the better footballing combination against an opposition that kept “the ball so much in the air to suit their advantage in height”. However, Peter Goring, the Forest Green manager and former Football League and FA Cup winner with Arsenal, was less than impressed with what he saw.

“I thought our boys played badly and I did not think much of Oaklands considering they are ranked second in UUֱ soccer at the moment,” said Goring. “We should have made rings around them.” Forest Green then claimed a second Channel Islands scalp in St Martin’s of Guernsey in the quarters.

That season’s competition would eventually be won by Northern League Whitby Town for the second time, having also won the first edition, beating Mangotsfield United 3-1 in the final that was played in Guernsey, and then that was the last anyone saw of the Rothmans Overseas KO Cup. First Tower played in all three editions, making the quarter-finals the previous season, and having enjoyed their taste of competing against some of the best non-league clubs in the country, duly applied to enter the FA Vase the season after, and for many seasons after that until the 1997-98 season. They remained the only UUֱ club to do so… until the Bulls came along. They will want to ensure Falmouth don’t go back to Cornwall quite as happy as they did last time.

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