Greatest day remembered: Down Wembley Way for Telford United's epic comeback

The greatest day in the history of Telford United?

Joey Owen rises to get in a header as he beats Tony Newcombe to the ball. Jimmy Murray is also on hand with Bill Carter in close attendance.
Joey Owen rises to get in a header as he beats Tony Newcombe to the ball. Jimmy Murray is also on hand with Bill Carter in close attendance.

It came 50 years ago, when the team travelled to Wembley on May 1, 1971, for their date with destiny in the FA Challenge Trophy final.

And there was a mass exodus from Telford to London of around 12,000 fans who saw their heroes emerge victorious in the most dramatic circumstances.

Facing Hillingdon on the lush Wembley turf, Telford were 2-0 down at half time. There was a dressing room conference in which player-coach Ron Flowers was the principal speaker, and the second half was a very different story.

First, Joey Owen narrowed the deficit in the 53rd minute, and, in so doing, equalled Jack Bentley’s club record of 42 in a season. And then with Hillingdon tiring under the Telford onslaught, it was Bentley himself who headed home the equaliser in the 81st minute, and immediately disappeared under an avalanche of delighted teammates.

Joey Owen's goal which started the Telford United comeback in the second half.

In the final few minutes, Hillingdon’s confidence and stamina almost visibly evaporated, and it was Mickey Fudge who scored the winner which clinched the cup with just four minutes remaining.

Telford had won the highest accolade that non-league football had to offer – the FA Challenge Trophy was a relatively new competition designed to give non-league clubs a chance to savour the Wembley big time.

And the Telford skipper who led the team to glory was Graham Carr, who would a few years later become the father of Alan Carr, the comedian and television personality.

The Telford team that day was Irvine, Harris, Croft, Ray, Coton, Carr, Fudge, Owen, Bentley, Jagger, Murray. Sub: Hart.

Skipper Graham Carr is chaired on a lap of honour after the Wembley victory 50 years ago.

The big Wembley occasion saw a depleted attendance at Molineux, where First Division Wolves were playing Burnley, with some Wolves fans preferring to head down south for a sentimental glimpse at their former favourite, Jimmy Murray. They were disappointed that Flowers was not playing, but with Murray and Joey Owen, there was a strong Wolverhampton flavour about the Telford team.

The next day they all returned to a tumultuous reception as they went on a tour of Telford in an open topped coach before arrival at the Bucks Head ground in Wellington where are crowd of several thousand were waiting and chanting – “Owen for England” was one of the more optimistic chants.

Skipper Carr paid a warm tribute to the fans who had carried them through, and others taking the microphone included Ron Flowers and club chairman Frank Nagington.

Some of the massive Telford crowd cheering their team as they parade round the Wembley pitch after winning the FA Challenge Trophy on May 1, 1971.

And president Tom Stone said that Telford Development Corporation was making a grant of £5,000 towards improving the Bucks Head ground.

“I want to ask all of you to subscribe and we can make this a ground fit for a Football League club,” he said.

This was greeted with chants of “Telford in, Shrewsbury out, Hallelujah.”

Telford supporters at the Bucks Head about to board their coach to head southwards on the morning of the match.

And as the players and guests left for tea in the Telford United Social Club, the fans drifted away at the end of a memorable day.

Apart from the sporting glory, the victory was also great publicity for the new town of Telford, and a flying start for Telford United which had adopted that name in 1969 – previously it was Wellington Town.

Sadly the original Telford United went bust in 2004, but thanks to the efforts of fans a new team arose from the ashes and is the team bearing the same name that we know today.

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