BARRY PIKESLEY - DOWN MEMORY LANE
The following article is reproduced from "The Robins' Review" .
DOWN MEMORY LANE
36 years ago marked the advent of a brave new world for Non League football with the creation of the Alliance Premier League (APL), a new national competition for semi-professional clubs which was formed with the objective of the eventual champions being submitted for election to the Football League (those were the dark ages before automatic promotion was introduced).
Invitations to apply to join the APL were dependent upon your league position at the end of the 1978/79 season and also subject to compliance with specific ground grading criteria.
The original 20 members comprised 13 clubs derived from the Southern League Premier Division (SLPD), namely AP Leamington, Barnet, Bath City, Gravesend & Northfleet, Kettering Town, Maidstone United, Nuneaton Borough, Redditch United, Telford United, Wealdstone, Weymouth, Worcester City and Yeovil Town, together with seven clubs transferred from the Northern Premier League (NPL): Altrincham, Bangor City, Barrow, Boston United, Northwich Victoria, Scarborough and Stafford Rangers.
On Saturday, 18th August 1979, the Robins embarked upon their APL campaign at Weymouth’s Recreation Ground, thereby immediately undertaking their longest journey of the season. The Terras had concluded their 1978/79 SLPD campaign in sixth position, whereas Alty had been the NPL runners-up behind Mossley in the preceding season.
In contrast to their previous excursion to Weymouth (an FA Trophy Quarter-Final tie back in March 1977 which had finished goalless), Alty dominated proceedings in Dorset on this occasion but failed to convert their goalscoring opportunities and were forced to settle for what would ultimately prove to be an invaluable point gained via a 0-0 draw.
Both teams started rather cautiously and there was a sense that the fear of losing their first game in this new national league was inhibiting both sets of players. However, in the 57th minute, Alty almost broke the deadlock when Barry Howard set up Jeff Johnson inside the penalty area and although his shot eluded the home goalkeeper Steve Chalk, it was cleared off the line by Steve Dyer.
Notwithstanding the enforced absence of their influential captain John King (who was serving a one-match suspension incurred as the result of having been sent off in a pre-season friendly at Witton Albion), the Robins generally controlled the midfield possession and they created a trio of golden opportunities in the closing three minutes of the match.
Barry Howard unleashed a dangerous drive across the six yard box, which tantalisingly eluded his colleagues as well as the opposing defenders, and then a John Rogers header produced a fine save from Chalk. Finally, another header from Rogers hit the inside of the post but rebounded out to safety. By contrast, the Robins’ goalkeeper Colin Darcy enjoyed a largely serene afternoon.
For the record, the Alty team selected by manager Tony Sanders for that opening APL fixture was: (1) Colin Darcy (2) Stan Allan (3) Ivan Crossley (4) Mal Bailey (5) John Owens (6) John Davison (7) Phil Wilson (8) Graham Heathcote (9) Jeff Johnson (10) John Rogers (11) Barry Howard and (Sub/12) Mickey Brooke. The attendance was 1,527.
At the culmination of a momentous season for the club, Alty emerged as the inaugural APL champions, eventually finishing two points ahead of their nearest challengers Weymouth.
Incidentally, the match programme on that day advertised that a forthcoming attraction at the Weymouth FC Supporters Club comprised The Wurzels in cabaret, for which tickets were priced at merely (a surely irresistible?) £3.50 each.