Part three of the Mark Burke Chronicles features the 1986/87 season. It was not a memorable season league wise but it did see a good FA Trophy run and it was the season when Mark consolidated the centre back position he was to fill for many seasons to come having been flitting between full back, midfield and central defence in his initial Top Field career.
Alan West was still manager and the majority of the previous season’s squad were retained although John Woodward had retired with Mark initially replacing him at right back.
The season started with a 1-0 victory over a Bishop’s Stortford team which included former Canary Micky Nunn and local lad Colin Hull who would play for Hitchin in the future. Alex Ellisdon started for Hitchin at left back having been released by Luton and at centre forward for Hitchin was a very young Mark Smith at the start of his spectacular career, playing alongside Robbie O’Keefe who had joined permanently from Wealdstone.
Mark Smith (9), Steve Miller and Robbie O’Keefe look on as Mark Burke puts a header towards goal. Note the grass bank behind the Bedford Road goal where the terrace is now and a young Gary Prutton supporting.
The first league game saw Bromley win 2-1 at Top field with just 191 attending. Centre forward John Mawhinney made his debut as did winger Trevor ‘Nosey’ Parker did for a second time after a spell at Barnet.
There followed a 3-0 defeat at Slough which saw keeper Tony Luff go off injured with Nicky Holloway surprisingly taking over the gloves and a 1-1 draw at Bognor with Mark again in midfield. John Hawkins replaced Luffy who would be injured for sometime.
Mark continued to play in central midfield with Ian Lindsay and scored his first league goal in the 2-0 win over Bishops Stortford with a diving header.
Next Wokingham came to Top Field and Jon Bone made his debut as sub for the injured-Mark Burke! Three successive defeats meant it was a poor start to the league season. But there was a bright spot with a 3-1 win over Hayes who had a number nine who went on to have a magnificent career -none other than Les Ferdinand.
Les was to return to Top Field as a QPR scout and is pictured with school children from William Ransom School and Hitchin players Neil Pugh and Darren Gibb in the background.
Despite taking the lead there was a 6-1 thumping at Grays in the FA Cup for whom former Fulham striker Tony Mahoney scored twice.
Yeovil came to Top Field and won 2-0 with Alan Pardew again in the team. There was to follow 2 victories in succession, one at home in the league cup against Billericay and the other away in the league to local rivals St Albans City.
In the league defeat away to Harrow, who included Colin Payne at right back, Steve Fountain was sent off which meant Mark would come back into the team after recovering from his injury sustained against Wokingham in August. His first match back was playing at centre back away to Tilbury in the first qualifying round of the FA Trophy which saw a 3-1 triumph.
Two more league defeats against Slough and Tooting followed before a 1-0 win over Croydon with just 150 attending.
The next game was interesting as it was in the General Motors Acceptance Corporation Cup (GMAC Cup). This was formerly the Bob Lord Trophy which was contested by just the Conference clubs. But in this season it was opened up to all teams in the premier divisions of the Northern Premier, Isthmian and Southern Leagues. The GMAC CUP only lasted for three seasons being won by Barnet, Horwich RMI and Kettering. Hitchin were drawn away to Carshalton in the preliminary round and drew 1-1 on a Tuesday and lost the replay on the Thursday 2-1 with just 81 present.
The next notable fixture was the Herts Senior Cup tie at home to Watford who were managed by Graham Taylor. It incidentally was the fifth game we played in just 13 days. Included in the Watford team were some very famous names – Tim Sherwood, Luther Blissett, Nigel Callaghan, Neil Smillie and in goal a 16 year old David James who went on to play for England. We won 5-1 with Robbie O’Keefe and Carl Stock each scoring twice. Mark remembers the game as one of the highlights of the season.
Stock also scored twice at Hampton in the F A Trophy in a 2-1 win on a quagmire of a pitch and Mark remembers Alan West thinking Stock could be his long term replacement however he was to leave for St Albans the next season. In the Hampton ranks that day was Dwight Marshall who went on to play 128 games for Luton.
Carl Stock who returned to Top Field at the 80’s reunion in October last year.
The 4-1 defeat at home to Hendon saw another former Hatter Iain Dowie score twice. He would go on to become a Northern Ireland international and played for West Ham, Crystal Palace and Southampton in addition to Luton Town.
In the Wallspan Cup Hitchin played Baldock at home in a tie held over from the previous season. We suffered a shock 2-0 defeat to a team that included Ian Donnelly (father of Brett, Callum and Luke) and Gordon Bickerstaff (father of Josh) while Colin Cardines scored one of the goals.
We then won four matches on the trot including an FA Trophy triumph over Carshalton and a 6-1 win over Walthamstow Avenue who had Graham Kingham the current Baldock Town chairman in their team.
We would lose on penalties to St Albans in the semi-final of the Herts Charity Cup. This game saw Club Captain Steve Fountain limp off injured and make his final appearance for the Canaries. With his relocation to Essex he decided the journey to Hitchin was too much and decided to sign for Basildon to play his football more locally. This led to Mark moving to central defence where he would remain for the rest of his career.
Steve Fountain was used as the mould for Wreck it Ralph and he would definitely have been given the nickname Ralph.
We continued to make progress in the FA Trophy with a 1-1 home draw followed by a 4-2 replay victory over a Boreham Wood side that contained current QPR manager Mark Warburton. Mick Every scoring twice in the replay having returned to the side after a lengthy absence through injury.
In between the Trophy matches against Boreham Wood there was an excellent 3–1 league victory against Farnborough Town.
Hitchin saw the New Year in with a convincing 4-0 away win over Bishops Stortford on New Year’s Day but then would suffer successive defeats at Bromley and eventual champions Wycombe Wanderers.
Next up was the big FA Trophy game at high flying Conference side Barnet who had Barry Fry as manager and the infamous Stan Flashman as chairman. Included in their team were Eddie Stein brother of Brian, Dave Sansom brother of Kenny, Keith Alexander and Robert Codner who would go on to play in the League. Also playing for Barnet that day was Kevin Millett and Steve Mahoney who would both turnout for Hitchin in later years.
We drew 1-1 in front of 1,031 fans and Mark remembers playing alongside Paul Grant at centre back who had been given the job to man mark Keith Alexander. It was Granty’s first time playing in the centre of defence and was a bit of a gamble by Westy but Granty did a magnificent job in his bright blue Profi Addidas football boots and we earned a replay. However, during the match Granty was injured and would not be available for the replay. Tony Luff saved a penalty from Dave Sansom at the goal at the bottom of the famous Underhill slope.
In the replay 813 were at Top Field but unfortunately we were well beaten 5-0 with Gary Roberts scoring twice. Barry Fry did notice Lee Payne playing up front for Hiitchin and at the end of the season would take Lee to Barnet. In a whirlwind Payney was soon sold on to Newcastle United in the top flight and in no time he was making his Football League debut against Manchester United.
Another heavy defeat followed as we lost 4-0 to Stevenage in the Herts Senior Cup at a time when they were in a lower division.
Yeovil beat us 2-1 in front of a crowd of 1,704 with Richard Wilmot making his 1st League appearance for the Canaries. Yeovil lined up with a potent strike force with former Stoke City striker Paul Randall being joined by former Bristol City and Sunderland forward Tom Ritchie up front. Yeovil were vying for the League title with Wycombe Wanderers this season but would finally end up as runners up.
We exited the 4th round of the league cup at the hands of Bognor Regis after extra time before thrashing Oxford City in this season’s Wallspan Cup.
Mark scored his second goal of the season in the away win over Walthamstow Avenue but we followed this up with a loss 1-0 at home to Stotfold in the next round of the Wallspan Cup.
A loss, a win and a draw against Croydon, Carshalton and Dulwich Hamlet respectively saw the Canaries pick up 4 points towards their fight for survival.
The next game to highlight was the 5-0 home defeat to Windsor and Eton. It will long be remembered because keeper Tony Luff was sent off for punching his own player Andy Paine.
I contacted Tony to get his reflections on this incident 33 years on and he was very honest and gave a great insight in to what happened. I asked him first what led to the incident and this is what Tony said:
“Andy Paine gave me a bad back pass and I think he must have mishit it. Dave Regis who was Cyrille’s brother was playing for Windsor and Eaton and he nipped in to score. Andy blamed me and I blamed him but I gave him a double fist punch as I thought I was in the right. I would always put my hand up if I was in the wrong but Andy was never going to do this.
“All I know I should have done it on the training ground. I let manager Alan West down as well as my team mates and myself and more importantly to me my Dad who was watching the game and sitting right in front of the incident. Andy did deserve it though– he was a pain in the arse at times but was an ok player as far as I can remember. It was a good job chairman Basil Plewes came and calmed me down in the dressing room because otherwise I think I could have knocked the stand down! I went to see the referee after the game in his dressing room to apologise. if you could have seen his face when the door opened , I think he thought I was going to lose it again but I shook his hand and he was great with me as he refereed me on a number of occasions and knew it was totally out of character.
“The worst thing after the incident was all the national press attention. They tried to phone me up asking about what happened for about a week afterwards. I just got my Dad to answer and to say no comment as I was still living at home thank God.”
Barry O’Keefe, Robbie’s brother, took over the gloves from Tony in the Windsor game. Mark believes the reason Luffy was sent off was because on the Saturday before this match there was an incident in a match between Norwich City and Luton Town where Ashley Grimes was sent off for an altercation with one of his own players. That player was Rob Johnson who would go on to represent Hitchin in future years. Ironically, Luffy and Rob are friends having grown up in Bedford together.
A 2-1 defeat at Barking captained by George Borg was followed by a 4-1 over Carshalton – the fifth time the two clubs had met this season.
Whilst it had not been a very successful season for Hitchin, Mark established himself in the team as a Centre Half and was voted Players’ Player of the Year plus he received The Faithful Few Supporters Player of the Year.