Rangers' epic Wembley win made club history
B ACK in 1972 the best non-league side in the country were undoubtedly Stafford Rangers, but unluckily for them it was way before automatic promotion was introduced to the Football League.
Rangers had fought through eight games to get to Wembley in the third FA Trophy to be staged at the famous stadium.
Ray Williams was the team's leading scorer, reaching 47 by the season's end, including hat tricks in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Trophy.
Over 12,000 Rangers fans made the trip to the twin towers to see if they could make history only a month after near neighbours Stoke City had lifted the League Cup.
It was a marvellously sunny day, and both sides were understandably a bit nervous early on. Rangers began to exert more pressure on their southern opponents and Terry Bailey, whose wife was due to give birth on the day of the final, hit a shot wide after a quarter of an hour. Skipper Graham Chadwick skimmed the top of the bar with a cross and Jimmy Lye blocked a Jim Sargeant effort.
Barnet threatened for the first time in the 36th minute when a Les Eason curling shot went straight to Milija Aleksic, the former Port Vale goalkeeper, who later won an FA Cup winners medal with Spurs. Ray Williams then hit a strong shot that Jack McClelland, the former Arsenal and Northern Ireland goalkeeper, did well to keep out four minutes before the interval. McClelland sadly died four years later from a brain tumour aged just 35.
Rangers made the game safe with a burst of three goals in nine minutes midway through the second half. It all began in the 67th minute when a Gerry Jones cross was knocked on by Bailey to Williams who scored with a fine hooked shot. With 74 minutes on the clock, Mick Cullerton played a one-two with Bailey before slamming home the second goal.
Two minutes after that it was all over when Bailey's third assist, this time a cross, was firmly headed home by Williams.
Sir Stanley Rous, the president of FIFA, presented the trophy to an ecstatic Graham Chadwick.
The next day more than 25,000 turned out to see the open-top bus parade in Stafford. The Stafford team of that memorable afternoon had many links to Port Vale. Manager Roy Chapman, (father of Stoke's Lee), Aleksic, Cullerton and Stuart Chapman (no relation to the manager) had previously played for the club whereas Bailey, Williams and Cullerton, for a second time, went on to play for them.
The team went on to win the Northern Premier League to complete the non-league double. In those days just one non-league team was chosen for admittance to the Football League, which usually ended in tears for the non-leaguers.
Despite Stafford undoubtedly being the best team, unfortunately for them Hereford United had defeated Newcastle United in the FA Cup that season and on a wave of euphoria they got the nomination even though they didn't win the Southern League.
Stafford went on to win the Trophy again in 1979. Barnet did reach the Football League after automatic promotion and relegation was introduced, going out again and coming back in.
Ray Williams was the talismanic striker who scored twice that glorious day. He says: "Going into the game I just had that goal feeling, like I had before the previous two rounds when I managed hat tricks each time. The Wembley surface was perfect, just like a snooker table. I thought if I couldn't score on that I might as well pack up as I had managed over 40 on some poor Northern Premier League pitches. I did score twice, and it was a great feeling. The fans were tremendous with their constant backing."
Ray moved to Port Vale for £3,000 a couple of months later, beginning a long association with the club, as he became chief scout after his playing days were over in 1980. He only retired from that role at the end of last season.
Mick Culler-ton scored the other goal. He says: "It was one of those days in which everything went right. We had a very good squad for that level of football with many players playing below their true level. We were confident whoever we played. I thought our best player was George Machin, who was outstanding. The semi-final win over Yeovil (4-0) was the most complete team performance I ever played in at any level and the final ran it close.
"Three years later I went back to Port Vale for £4,000 when the chairman told me he needed the money to build a new stand. In the end all they built was a toilet block so I make a point of going into it every time I go back there, being as I was responsible for it!"