Wembley Stadium was in Southern League Hereford United’s sights in the winter of 1971 and they were also bidding to silence some bragging from the north of the country. Flashback recalls the match which saw a scrap between two big fishes from different parts of a small pond.
It was billed as the non-league Battle of Britain – a clash between north and south, with the victorious team emerging as uncrowned kings of semi-professional football.
Although Hereford United and Macclesfield were meeting at only the quarter-final stage of the FA Trophy in March, 1971, it was widely believed that the victors would stroll on to win the cup at Wembley.
Partisan supporters of the other quarter-final sides did not agree, but the bookies did. United were 2/1 favourites to lift the trophy, with the northerners 4/1 second favourites.
Until the previous season the chance of a non-league team playing at Wembley was considered to be practically impossible, but the advent of the FA Trophy changed all that and the lure of the twin towers proved to be a mighty incentive.
And there was some added spice. Macclesfield winger Dennis Fidler had threatened in the Manchester Evening News: “We’ll murder Hereford”.
United chairman, Frank Miles, was not impressed. There had been similar posturings from Kidderminster Harriers earlier in the season after good results in the unimportant Border Counties League and Frank well remembered how ‘all the hullabaloo’ ended with egg on the Aggborough faces.
When it really mattered in the FA Cup United thrashed the Worcestershire side 5-0 with two goals from Brian Owen and a connoisseur’s hat-trick – a left-footed strike, a right-footed shot and a header from Billy Meadows.
So why were Hereford and Macclesfield rated so highly?
Macclesfield made soccer history by becoming the first winners of the FA Trophy and had retained the Northern Premier Division title.
Before their trip to Edgar Street they were unbeaten in 17 matches and, as Fidler pointed out, they had a number of Southern League club scalps in their cup victim collection.
United were also flying. They were one point behind leaders Romford in the Southern League and had no fewer than five games in hand.
In the FA Cup they had defeated football league side Northampton Town in a replay and their bid to gain entry to the league was gaining momentum with the production of a 10- minute documentary film to support the campaign.
There was a thriving social side, too, with the Hereford United Entertainment Committee staging another of their popular dances at Park Hall, Wormelow. Topping the bill were hit paraders ‘The Equals’.
But in that memorable match on March 13, 1971, the sides were not equals. Far from being murder victims, Hereford put Macclesfield to the knife in a comfortable 2-0 victory.
In fact, it was the northern club’s defenders who were corpse-like in the third minute when Dudley Tyler sent over one of his trademark crosses and Meadows rose high to head the ball home.
Two minutes into the second-half there was more delight for the home supporters in the 9,412 crowd.
Owen was fouled on the edge of the box and Bruce Walker – nicknamed Rivelino after the Brazilian superstar – thrashed in a tremendous shot. Goals direct from free-kicks were a rarity in non-league football in those days but Walker’s was a gem.
United then only had Hillingdon Borough standing between them and their ‘coronation’ at Wembley. Optimism was rife throughout the city, for United had crushed the Londoners 4-2 and 6-3 in completing a league double.
Over 4,000 fans made the trip to neutral Filbert Street in two special trains, coaches and cars – and they looked on in horror as the hot favourites were outpaced and outwitted in the first half which saw them trail 1-0.
Hereford dominated the second-half but John Charles’s charges missed several gilt-edged chances and saw Jimmy Langley’s side clinch victory with a second goal three minutes from time.
It was heartbreak for Hereford, but at least they had silenced Macclesfield’s boasts.
Macclesfield, however, had the last laugh many years later.
When United’s survival showdown against Brighton ended in tears they found themselves out of the Football League and in the Conference.
Taking their place was – Macclesfield.