Remembering Whitby Town’s Rothmans Cup win in 1976
Boozy weekends overseas watching Whitby Town, for a supporter, sound like something of a far-fetched dream.
If the club ever reached the dizzying heights of Europe, you could only assume the upper echelons of the English game had imploded and the Seasiders had somehow been catapulted into a position that could see them playing away in Kazakhstan on a Thursday night on BT Sport.
But, for fans of a particular generation, the opportunity to see the Blues overseas was a reality, with the introduction of the Rothmans National Knockout Cup in the mid 1970s.
Rothmans – a British tobacco producer – held the monopoly on non-league football sponsorship across the 1970s, while also sponsoring the annual football yearbook. If you haven’t heard of it, are you even a football fan?
They were also at the forefront of one particular big change in the modern game – their sponsored leagues being the first to hand out three points for a win, rather than the then-regulation two, while also offering a £30 sponsorship for clubs every time they won by three clear goals in matches – something the Northern League carried on for a number of years after.
With their sponsorship of the Priaulx, Jersey Combination, Hellenic, Isthmian, Northern and Western Leagues, the idea was raised to bring the clubs of each together in an annual tournament, which kicked off in the 1975/76.
Around this time, Whitby Town were looking to establish themselves as a real Northern League force again, heading into their Golden Jubilee year - after a period of domination for four clubs in particular – Blyth Spartans, Spennymoor United, Bishop Auckland and Willington.
The Seasiders were yet to better their best-placed finish in the division of second, behind Spennymoor, in 1967-68, but with Dave Richardson at the helm, they were confident they were building to finally making the title their own.
And with the division going “open” in the mid-1970s, Richardson was going to make sure his club benefited.
Maurice Short, formerly of Middlesbrough and Oldham joined the club, as well as Basil Stonehouse and Malcolm Poskett from Middlesbrough Reserves.
The marquee signing, however, had to be Ian Gibson, formerly of Boro, Cardiff City, Coventry City and Bournemouth – though he missed the opening of the 1975/76 season through suspension for a Sunday League infringement.
And while that season, Whitby could not break the four aforementioned clubs – finishing 6th on 72 points – they looked to the newly-formed Rothmans National Knockout Cup for success.
When the tournament was initially launched, it was open to clubs of all six Rothmans-sponsored divisions, with all 20 Northern League clubs choosing to enter, with nine from the Hellenic Division 1, seven from the Western League, six across two Isthmian Divisions – whose league officials discouraged clubs from entering - and two Channel Islands teams.
As part of the tournament, Rothmans stated they would meet any losses, with any profits made by clubs on the tournament going back into the pot to offset these.
Whitby Town were in among the Northern League pool of clubs, receiving a bye in the first round, before preparing to meet Leatherhead in the second round.
However, with their opponents pulling out of the competition, Whitby were handed a “walkover” and progressed to the third round without kicking a ball, where they would defeat Bishop Auckland 2-1 at the Turnbull Ground.
That result set up a quarter final tie at Consett’s Belle Vue ground, where the Seasiders came from behind to progress with a 2-1 win, courtesy of goals from Harry Davies and Stonehouse, while the semi-final resulted in a 4-1 win over Durham City – again fellow Northern Leaguers.
The final that season was closer to home than it would be two years later – with Whitby travelling to Spennymoor United’s Brewery Field to face rivals Blyth Spartans – a game that came to life in just nine first-half minutes thanks to just two men – Malcolm Poskett and Brian Slane.
The Blues opened the scoring through former Middlesbrough man Poskett on 36 minutes, before Slane levelled proceedings just a minute later. Poskett, however, ensured Whitby were back ahead in the 39th minute.
On the stroke of half-time, Slane proved to be danger man for Spartans once again, levelling matters for the second time and sending the sides in locked at 2-2.
The second half proved to be much a similar story to the first 35 minutes of the first – both sides looking to find an elusive winner. That wasn’t to come until the dying embers of the clash, with John Linacre popping up to ensure Whitby would lift the inaugural trophy.
In 1976/77, the tournament would return – and so would Whitby, who were looking strong on their way to a third-placed finish in the Northern League.
While the Northern League had contributed 20 clubs in the previous season, only seven would sign up this time around – with the number of entries down on the whole from 46 to 38.
Whitby entered at the first round stage, and the rules of the competition meant that no two clubs from the same league could play each other in either round one or two, often meaning that two clubs could meet for the first time.
The Seasiders’ first opponent was Didcot Town, who travelled to the Turnbull Ground on December 4th 1976.
They’ll probably have wished they hadn’t bothered, however, as they found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-0 defeat, thanks to goals from Don Burluraux and Bruce Ward (2).
Next up saw Whitby travel to Somerset, facing Western League side Welton Rovers at their West Clewes ground in Midsomer Norton.
Whether DCI Barnaby was in attendance is another matter – though if he was, he’d have been witness to not a murder, but a 2-1 Whitby win, with Ward at the double again.
When they could meet a fellow Northern League side is when the Seasiders would come unstuck, however, as they were humbled 3-1 by eventual winners Tow Law Town – their consolation coming from Gibson’s 90th minute penalty.
The final season, however, saw Whitby Town back to their successful selves.
This time, continuing losses meant the three mainland leagues remaining after the Isthmian League’s withdrawal were restricted to four clubs, while Jersey and Guernsey would be allowed two entrants.
The tournament was also rebranded as the Rothmans Overseas Knockout Cup, with the semi-finals and final played over a weekend in Jersey and Guernsey.
For the third consecutive year, the Seasiders qualified under the management of Keith Storey, beating Shildon 6-1 at the Turnbull Ground in a preliminary match to ensure the Northern League’s entrants, the goals coming from Burluraux, Ward (2), Wilson and Jones (2) – the only game they’d play on home soil in that season’s tournament.
That set them up with their rivals of the year previous – and the holders of the competition – Tow Law Town – the only all-Northern League tie of the round; the other ties sticking to the usual early round rules of pitting different clubs from different leagues against each other.
The Blues made no mistake on this occasion, after the previous season’s humbling, running out 2-1 winners over The Lawyers at Ironworks Road, courtesy of Burluraux and Ward goals yet again.
Storey’s side’s reward for the win was a long trip to Hungerford Town – now of the National League South - in Berkshire, with another seven-goal game about to ensue.
This, however, was much closer than the earlier Shildon seven-goaler – Whitby winning out 4-3, with two goals from Alan Jones, one from local Derek Hampton and another from Burluraux seeing Whitby through to finals weekend.
And finals weekend was particularly special for the club, with the Seasiders playing their first-ever games overseas – at St. Peter’s Port, Guernsey.
Backed by a number of supporters who had travelled for the weekend, Whitby’s first game in the semi-final against Bideford Town, at Corbet Field.
The Seasiders fell behind in the first half, with Burluraux levelling on 58 minutes, forcing extra-time with neither side managing to find a breakthrough after that point.
In the additional 30 minutes, however, Whitby would go on to edge out their opponents and make the final, with Jones popping up with a winner in the 99th minute.
A second final in three seasons – this time on overseas turf – brought something else unusual to the table too. Whitby Town playing in an unfamiliar colour.
An all-red strip was worn in the final – the first time Whitby had donned their original club colours since 1957, when they settled on royal blue following a 12-year on-off love affair with red after the Second World War.
And the colour served them well on this occasion as they faced up against Mangotsfield United, with the Seasiders running out 3-1 winners, thanks to goals from Hampton, Burluraux and Tony Boylan, with Derek Nutt pulled a consolation back for the South Gloucestershire side.
After that final – just the competition’s third, the tournament was disbanded.
The rising costs of covering losses became problematic, leaving the Seasiders as the final holders of the competition, and its most successful club with two titles to their name – with Northern League football coming out on top in all three seasons.