Former Burnley winger reflects on 25th anniversary of Wembley final

Last Wednesday marked 25 years since Clitheroe’s FA Vase final appearance under the Twin Towers at Wembley Stadium.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 12:30 pm
Clitheroe FC at Wembley

Here, winger Dennis Hill looks back on an historic day, which, unfortunately, ended in a 3-0 defeat to Brigg Town.

“I remember going into the bookies beforehand. All our names were on a sheet in William Hill so we were all putting bets on ourselves to score the first goal.”

On the 25th anniversary of Clitheroe’s first, and so far only, trip to the national stadium, Hill recalls the moment his gamble almost paid off.

Clitheroe at Wembley in the FA Vase final in 1996

Hill, who was 22 at the time, and enjoying his first season at Shawbridge after signing from Lancaster City, was an 8/1 chance to open the scoring at the home of English football.

The former Claret backed himself to do the business, and, midway through the first half in the biggest game of his career, he almost did the unthinkable.

A cross from Chris Grimshaw on the right hand side, which dropped invitingly beyond the full back at the far post, was met with a thumping volley.

Hill thought he’d hit the headlines, while landing his sizable bet, but the effort travelled inches past the post, and the competition’s showpiece remained goalless.

Clitheroe Town FC - players collapse on the Wembley turf after their defeat to Brigg Town.

“I went into town with a few team-mates to go to the bookies before setting off,” reflected Hill. “All our names were on these betting sheets and I was one of the favourites to score first.

“I had the best chance of the game at 0-0 as well. Chris Grimshaw managed to get in a cross from the byeline after about 25 minutes.

“The ball went over the full back, which I’d anticipated, and I hit it on the volley, and it just went past the post. I don’t think we had too many chances after that.”

What a story that would have been. Just 24 hours earlier, Eric Cantona had netted from a not too dissimilar position, at the other end of the pitch, to land Manchester United the FA Cup at the expense of Liverpool.

Hill knew he was on hallowed turf. It had been a platform for many legends of the game – the scene of Geoff Hurst’s famous hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final, Ricky Villa’s glorious goal for Spurs in the FA Cup Final replay in 1981.

The late, great Diego Maradona, arguably the greatest player of all time, had also played at, what Pele had described as, the ‘cathedral of football’ in 1980, as did countless other greats.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Hill, who had a spell coaching Clitheroe’s Under 21s.

“It was an emotional day. We were in the home dressing room, where many legends of the game had been before us, we had a police escort to the stadium, we walked out at Wembley, and sang the national anthem.

“It was unbelievable.

“Not many people get to play at Wembley so it’s something to remember.

“It doesn’t happen often, particularly for a club that size, so it’ll go down in history.

“It’s a day that I’ll never forget.

“I still remember it vividly, but you’re not going to forget moments like that.

“We played the day after Manchester United beat Liverpool 1-0 in the FA Cup final. Eric Cantona scored the winner.

“It really was a special occasion. It’s a massive stadium and all the supporters were down one side near the dugouts.

“We had a tour of Wembley on Friday, we had a walk out onto the pitch, so it was good.”

But Clitheroe’s road to Wembley, which had been brilliantly spearheaded by Dennis Underwood and Gary Butcher, would be littered with potholes on the final stretch.

Carl Stead forced the breakthrough in spectacular fashion in the 37th minute to put Town in front, and then netted his second from the spot in the second half.

Town then scored their third and final goal with four minutes of normal time remaining when Steve Lampkin diverted Simon Roach’s effort past Carlo Nash – who was making his last appearance before a club record move to Crystal Palace.

Hill said: “As soon as they scored the first goal they were the better side.

“I think the occasion may have got to some of our players.

“It was just disappointing to get all that way and get beat.

“I just wanted to get off the pitch afterwards.

“Nobody wants to lose a final, especially not at Wembley.

“I don’t think there was anybody left in Clitheroe that day and we felt as though we’d let them all down slightly.

“We didn’t play as well as we knew we could have done.”

The Blues stayed at The Waldorf Hilton in London that evening before being welcomed back to the Ribble Valley by thousands of fans that had lined the town’s streets.

“We were treated like FA Cup finalists,” said Hill, who now turns out for the Vintage Clarets.

“On our return we had a massive civil reception, we had an open top bus tour around Clitheroe, and the town was packed.

“We couldn’t get off the bus because it was so busy.

“The atmosphere was incredible, it was a nice way to end it.

“We had some really tough games against clubs with much bigger budgets than our own on the way, but I think our togetherness and camaraderie carried us through in some of those rounds.

“We were a really close knit group.”

Hill, who was on Burnley’s books between 1988-1991, has a collection of cuttings and photographs from the day in a cabinet in his garage.

However, there’s just one thing missing. His medal!

“I’ve got a trophy cabinet in the garage, with a few cuttings pinned up in it, and I had to go down to double check the date when I heard it was 25 years. The time has just flown by.

“I can’t find my FA Vase medal, though.

“I’d put it in a drawer somewhere, in a ‘safe place’, but now I have no idea where it is.

“I’ve been without it for seven or eight years now.

“I need to get in touch with the FA to see if I can source a replacement.

“I hope it turns up somewhere.”